High-flying suds over Fuquay

I’ve lived in Raleigh, N.C. for more than 20 years (plus college time in Chapel Hill, N.C.), and for most of that time, Fuquay-Varina was an object of hilarity. An FM radio jock’s riffs on “Two Flags Over Fuquay” comes to mind.

But the suburban creep that covered the Raleigh area has spread to Fuquay-Varina as well, and not without positive effects. I visited one recently with my friend, Buddy. At the end of a gravel road, at a tiny airstrip, is a pilot who makes beer. In the hangar. Next to his plane.

A discreet sign on the road directs thirsty travelers to Aviator Brewing Company where, on a warm spring day, groups of adults sipping brews, and their kids, heave horseshoes into two recently installed pits. The “tap house” is a corner of the hangar carved out for a handful of stools, a popcorn machine and a wooden bar. Shiny metal brewing vats sit beside the trim blue-and-white airplane. Unless owner Mark Doble is out flying (or working his real job at Hewlett-Packard), he’s there to meet, greet and talk beer while two helpers fill pints using tap handles shaped like wooden propellers.

Lucky for me, one of Buddy’s friends was leaving as I walked in, so I could claim a coveted seat. The place was jammed – maybe 25 or so in the little space. The Eagles were on the stereo, but Buddy says there’s often live entertainment set up between the plane and the vats (Russians playing balalaikas on one occasion, I’ve heard). The beer selections change, but I had the Old Bulldog ESB and Big Bolt Pale Ale – both great, neither too hoppy for me (I’m not into extremely bitter beer). Buddy sampled the Grade 5 Bolt, a mix of the pale ale and a Kraken Stout. Some of the beers are aged in old bourbon barrels.

The tap house is open only Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Doble is not bottling the beer, which means I learned what a growler is – a sort of take-out container for beer. Unfortunately, he was out of them when I was there. But if you don’t want to make the drive, Aviator, open only since last November, is getting local attention. It’s served at the Raleigh Times Bar, Flying Saucer and other spots.

Aviator Brewing is also having a beer dinner at Tir Na Nog in downtown Raleigh on Thursday night, May 7.