It is just past eleven a.m. when Chris Atkins and Aaron Caracci take seats at the bar.
The two head brewers of Chapel Hill's Top of the Hill have worked for weeks to get to this moment, this day, this sip. It is April Blues Day, the microbrewery's alternative to April Fools' Day. They're here to celebrate the annual return of the town's signature seasonal beer, Blueridge Blueberry Wheat. Like most others in the serving room, Atkins and Caracci both hold a Blueberry Wheat. It is amber-hued, illuminated by sunshine. Berries bob along the foamy surface, swaying with each sip.
"To be perfectly honest," Atkins confesses, "I don't know how to explain its success."
The drink debuted in 2008, after general manger Guy Murphy spotted a blueberry lager on a trip to Boston. In the years since, the flavor's popularity has poured through Chapel Hill, helped in part by April Blues Day. Last year, on April 1 alone, the brewery sold three thousand pints. Though it's easy to assume that anything "blue" will be a hit in Chapel Hill, where even the sky is seen as a Carolina fan, Blueberry Wheat's star isn't confined to campus. In 2010, it won "World's Best Flavored Wheat Beer" from the prestigious Beverage Tasting Institute. It has scored awards at the World Beer Championship and the Carolina Championship of Beer. Caracci credits this success to subtlety, particularly compared with mass-market fruit beers. The garnish imparts a fruity bouquet, but the beer itself evokes lightness and brightness. Without the berries, one might even have trouble identifying the namesake.
"You can't drink more than one," he says of the too-sweet competition. "We try to accomplish a delicate balance, a drinkable beer."
"We want to keep that beer flavor," Atkins confirms, "with a hint of blueberry."
April Blues Day is not so subtle. There is a raffle for pony kegs. There are themed shirts ("Vote Red, White and Blueberry 2016"). There is a photo booth. The students flow up the stairs like kids to a Christmas tree. In Chapel Hill, it seems, April (minus Monday's bad game) through September is the most wonderful time of the year.
Atkins glances around the room, filling though the clock has yet to strike noon. He sports steel-toed rubber boots, an April Blues Day T-shirt, and tired eyes.
"When it was released, it was just another beer," Atkins says. "It was never intended to be any kind of star. "
This article appeared in print with the headline "Tar Heel Blue"