When you think of homebrewing and craft beer, destinations like Portland, San Diego, or pretty much all of Colorado come to mind. However, there’s been a quiet but booming beer scene in North Carolina, now home to over 100 craft breweries. At the center of this beer craze is Raleigh, which hosts more breweries than any other city in North Carolina.
Raleigh has been rooted in beer since the 18th century, with the founding of Isaac Hunter’s Tavern. According to local lore, the tavern was a hotspot for the founding fathers of North Carolina–who loved it so much, they decided the state’s capital should be located within ten miles of the tavern, putting Raleigh and its beer on the map.
However, the recent surge in craft beer has only happened in the last decade, with homebrewing as a major driving factor. Just in Raleigh alone, there are five well-established homebrew clubs, almost a handful of homebrew shops, and many homebrew competitions throughout the year.
The symbiotic relationship between craft brewers and homebrewing is strong in the area. The growing appreciation is amazing to watch, and each side continues to push the other to create and perfect something magnificent. So much in fact, it’s difficult to keep up with the ever-changing beer scene, which begs the question: What’s next?
Raleigh Beer Tour
Start your tour downtown. There are four breweries and plenty of beer bars and bottle shops to check out. To get around, you can either ride the R-Line (free, eco-friendly bus service that connects you to everything in downtown Raleigh), or choose to walk. It’s not a big city so if you’re up for some exercise, go for it.
First stop is in the warehouse district with Crank Arm Brewing Co., which showcases re-purposed bicycle crank arms as tap handles. The head brewer, Michael Morris, is a four-time Great American Beer Festival winner, who still pumps out delicious brews. Also, the brewery is an extension of Crank Arm Rickshaw, which delivers the brewery’s beer in the downtown area by bike.
Crank Arm features about three to six beers and is earning a reputation for their experimentation. For instance, their Unicycle Single Hop Pale Ale uses different hops every time it’s brewed, while their White Wall Wit, a Belgian classic, has a twist that features Citra hops that gives a wonderful citrus aroma.
Leaving Crank Arm, walk through the warehouse district–a still-emerging scene of artisan shops and art spaces–and head over to Boylan Bridge Brewpub just Northwest of Crank Arm. Boylan Bridge started out as a “labor of love in the kitchen.”
Boylan Bridge offers up one of the best views of downtown Raleigh and also serves food, so chill out with some brews, bites and city views. The brewery is also dog friendly and features live music on the first Saturday of the month.
From Boylan, head up the street to Trophy Brewing Co.–a tiny three-barrel nanobrewery that is nothing short of innovative. The brewery takes a playful approach to craft beer that leaves the drinker surprised.
Also, if you didn’t get your fill back at Boylan Bridge, Trophy offers a uniquely delicious range of pizza that is almost as popular as their beer.
The last brewery in the area is Clouds Brewing. A newcomer, Clouds Brewing is turning the heads of beer drinkers upside down with their self-service tap wall called the “Downpour.”
They use Radio-frequency identification technology that starts a tab and allows you to pour your own beer–and you pay by the ounce, not by the pint. The restaurant’s own beers are expected to start pouring in the fall of 2015.
There is a slew of beer bars in Raleigh, with what seems like a new one popping up on the already impressive resume quicker than you can finish a pint of beer.
Located just south of Clouds Brewing, Flying Saucer Draught Emporium offers a 25 percent discount on food for AHA members and has an extensive draft beer list that’ll surely have you crossing off a few on your bucket list.
Next to Flying Saucer is the hyped-up State of Beer Bottle Shop that has a taproom, a filling station and a rather extensive food menu.
Further up the road is Stag’s Head, a new bottle shop and taproom where you can lounge on leather couches and rest your feet, and the three-story Raleigh Beer Garden, the new face of the thirsty tourism industry that has a 366 tap selection–all on draught–with 144 of those from North Carolina.
Last but not least, the Raleigh Times Bar named after the city’s discontinued newspaper and housed in their old building. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a rooftop deck with an awesome and huge local tap lineup.
Grab a seat at any of these craft beer bars and relax for a while. Touching all of these places can take up an entire day and cover quite a bit of walking. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Raleigh’s beer scene.
Breweries A Little Further Out
Some of Raleigh’s larger breweries are just outside the downtown area.
You’ll need to either get a taxi or rent a car with a designated driver to get there and back, but it’s well worth the trip.
Start off at Big Boss Brewing Co. north of town and work your way south. This brewery features a unique taproom full of World War II aircraft paraphernalia paired with nooks and crannies for seating, darts, table tennis and a shuffleboard. The vibe’s a bit blue color but comfortable, welcoming all different types of characters.
The brewery opened in 2006, and is the oldest existing brewery in Raleigh and known for their Belgian beers. Brewmaster Brad Wynn previously worked at Victory, Wild Goose and Native Brewing before coming to Big Boss, where he’s brought his knowledge and experience to help create some of the best barrel-aged and sour beer creations.
Walk down one block to Blackjack Brewing Co. and hangout in their outdoor beer garden, which offers everything from giant Jenga to cornhole. Founded in 2015 by Ed Wenda, a former dentist who thought brewing beer was better than drilling teeth, this brewery has quickly gained popularity.
Just around the corner is Sub Noir Brewing Co., self-described as a “boutique brewery and imbibery.” It’s a little hard to find and they’re only open on Friday and Saturday, but it’s making absolutely wonderful beer.
To round out this portion of your tour, head a few blocks south towards Five Points, where you’ll find Nickelpoint Brewing Co., which prides itself on preserving European style beers. Founders Matt and Bruce Corregan, started off as avid homebrewers and have gone professional after 10 years of hobby brewing.
The final brewery in the area is Neuse Brewing Co., which opened in early 2015 and concentrates on Belgian-style ales and IPAs.
A short taxi ride across town from Five Points is Raleigh Brewing Co. This brewery, in conjunction with a homebrew shop, Atlantic Brew Supply (AHA Member Deal Shop). Co-founder John Federal even saves tap space for homebrewers to share their liquid gold.
Now, in this long quest for beer, it’s more than likely getting dark. However, the night is young! Head northwest towards Durham to visit three more breweries and more in planning.
Breweries On The Outer Edge
First, stop at House of Hops to fill up a growler or check out their 24 taps and worthy bottle selection.
Just down the road is Lynnwood Grill and Brewing Concern, a local joint that prides itself on serving the local community. They’re cranking out some amazing beers on their 10-barrel system.
Further up the road is Gizmo Brew Works, which started out with a 2-barrel inherited system (the smallest in North Carolina at the time) and has since upgraded to a 7-barrel system with plans for another upgrade. Their Black Stiletto Stout and Coffee Stiletto (Black Stiletto with two shots of espresso) are fan favorites.
The last stop on this leg of your tour is Lonerider Brewing Co., which boasts a Wild West-themed brewery and taproom.
And if you have time, check out Compass Rose Brewery, which is just nine miles east of Lonerider. The brewery is a rustic modern twist on the classic beer hall and has beer that covers the style gamut.
Local Homebrew Shops
We already mentioned Raleigh Brewing’s Atlantic Brew Supply, which offers a 5 percent discount to AHA members and is an official AHA industry supplier, but there are a few more homebrew shops you can check out in the Raleigh area.
American Brewmaster Raleigh is another homebrew shop that offers an extensive amount of brewing ingredients and equipment, with incredible knowledge and customer service.
The other shop in Raleigh is Fifth Season Gardening. As mentioned in their name, this shop serves not just the homebrewer but the home gardener and urban D.I.Y’er.
One last homebrew shop, which is actually outside in Durham, is Bull City Homebrew, another official AHA industry supplier and offers a 10 percent discount on all purchases for AHA members.
To find a shop near you, check out our Shop Directory for your next fun gadgets or new ingredients.
Raleigh Homebrew Clubs
Homebrew clubs and their members are some of the most avid and enthusiastic beer fans out there. So, with such a booming craft beer scene, it’s no surprise to find a handful of big, awesome and talented homebrew clubs in the area that form the backbone of craft beer in the area. Here are a few homebrew clubs in the area:
C.A.R.B.O.Y. – The name stands for Cary, Apex, Raleigh Brewers of Yore. Established in 1995, this club has grown to a membership of 70 and counting, and encompasses the “Research Triangle” of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. They hold monthly meetings on fourth Wednesday of each month.
Raleigh Times Brewer’s Guild – This club was formed in conjunction with the Raleigh Time’s Bar and was created to get members together to drink and discuss the proper planning, testing and process of homebrewing. Open meetings take place on the last Wednesday of each month start and at 7 p.m. You can also bring your own homebrews to exchange with other guild members.
Raleigh Home Brewers Association – Education, Appreciation, Inebriation – the Raleigh Home Brewers Association exists to fully enjoy all things beer. Formed in 2015, the RHBA has one simple mission, to expand the perceptions of what beer can be. From group brews and teaching events to tastings and competitions, the more than 70 members of RHBA are constantly seeking ways to improve and perfect their craft. Join them for a meeting, held the third Sunday of every month at Atlantic Brew Supply. Or enter their quarterly brew competition, the Oaken Cup Tournament.
Other homebrew clubs in Raleigh and the surrounding areas include Red Hat RDU Homebrewers, Circle of Trust, Apex BBQ Brew Club, Triangles Unabashed HomeBrewers (TRUB), Nash St Homebrew Club, White Street Brewers Guild. For a more complete listing of homebrew clubs in North Carolina, visit our Find A Homebrew Club page.
Fun Brew Activities
With all the breweries, craft beer bars and bottle shops, you can certainly do your own sight seeing. However, for the agenda-lover or worry-free adventurer, Raleigh has quite a few options for seeing all those breweries in a fun and safe manor.
Trolley Pub: If you have a big enough group, or like to meet others who love craft beer, sign up for a the Trolley Pub, a 14-person pedal-powered pub-crawling trolley machine. They offer two routes, downtown or warehouse/Glenwood, with both routes giving the option to visit many of the spots we’ve already mentioned. Tours last for two hours and prices vary depending on the amount of people and the day.
Belittling Beer Tours: Founded by William Holland, homebrewer and craft beer drinker, Beltline Brew Tours offers many different tour packages, each with its own twist. Beltline drives you to each stop and features a guided tour that’ll engage everyone from the casual craft beer drinker to the veteran homebrewer. If you’re looking to hit a few breweries with a trusted guide, this is a sure bet for you.
Safe Ride Home NC: So you’ve spent the whole day and evening checking out everything beer in Raleigh. Make a reservation with Safe Ride Home NC, which combines the convenience of a designated driver and the comfort of your own vehicle so you don’t have to leave it overnight. They also offer packages for large groups and for people who want to hop to different locations.
Greater Raleigh Beer Trail: What is no doubt a daunting and incredible feat, the Greater Raleigh Beer Trail is a map of all the breweries in the “Research Triangle” area, which can be a good starting point when trying to plan out a few days of brewery visits.
Courtyard by Marriot Midtown: If you’re visiting Raleigh, the craft beer doesn’t have to stop once you leave the brewery or bar. You can keep the craft beer coming even in your hotel room. Courtyard by Marriott Midtown offers a “Room with a Brew” package that gives you a Big Boss Brewing Co. pint glass and a beer from the Market or Bistro in the restaurant, plus a few more perks.
Annual Beer Events & Resources
- Raleigh Rare Beer Tasting
- Raleigh Beer Month
- Raleigh World Beer Festival
- Raleigh Beer Guide
- Natural selections: Wake county Science and Brewers Expo
- Lonedrider Brew It Forward
- Raleigh Fall Brew Fest
- BBQ Blues and Brews
- Snubbed: Why Raleigh isn’t a top 10 emerging beer town” by Dawn Wallace | Triangle Business Journal
- “What Makes Raleigh a Great Beer Town” by Glenn Cutler and Dave Tollefsen | NCBeerGuys
- “Touring the Raleigh Beer Scene” by John Frank | All About Beer Magazine
- Mike Dixon | AHA Member and C.A.R.B.O.Y. Homebrew Club member
- Jimmy VerVaecke | AHA Member and C.A.R.B.O.Y. Homebrew Club member