Beer Run: Bull City Burger & Brewery

beers at bull city burger&brewery in durham

I’ve never been to a brewpub where I could get fries cooked in duck fat to snack on while sipping a beer flight, but this is possible at Bull City Burger & Brewery in downtown Durham, N.C. While crunching away on the shoestring fries, the Hub and I sampled eight of the nine beers currently offered (remember, y’all, we don’t do IPAs).

I was first struck by how little aroma there was to the beers – except for the Capt. Hee-Haw American Style Peach Wheat Beer, which smacked me in the face with peaches. Unlike some beer fans, I don’t issue blanket condemnations of brews with fruit flavors, but after a few sips of this one, I felt like I was drinking potpourri.

Others were Bryant Bridge Gateway Golden Ale, Dr. Bartlett’s Ordinary Bitter, Parrish Street Pale Ale, Liberty Summer Amber Ale, Rogers Lager and Pro Bono Publico Porter, plus hsaWaknoW Ale that included cacao nibs from Elemental Chocolate in Raleigh, N.C. (The name is Wonka Wash spelled backwards.) Bull City provides an excellent sheet of information on their beers which includes the types of hops used in each. And I learned how the city of Durham got its name, so it was an educational day all around.  On the back are beer-related witticisms.

My favorites were the bitter, porter and chocolate ale. I liked the amber ale more as it got a little warm. The mild chocolate flavor of the chocolate ale would likely accent the chocolate in cakes or frosting, if used in baking. The porter had a nice coffee flavor and it would make a good ingredient in a meat marinade. The bitter would play well with most foods.

Overall, The Hub and I thought these beers were not as complex and interesting as some we’ve tasted, but pleasant enough – except for that peach wheat beer. Although the golden ale was forgettable; it might as well have been Bud. We bumped the glass of it as we were reaching for the fries, and when the bartender came over with a rag he saw which beer we’d spilled and said, “If I was going to knock one over, it’d be that one.”


Mother Earth Brewing

beer at mother earth brewing, kinston n.c.

The Hub and I used the Southern Foodways Alliance BBQ Field Trip as an excuse to finally visit Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, N.C. I’ve enjoyed the brewery’s Weeping Willow Wit at spots around Raleigh and was interested in tasting more. We had 90 minutes to kill between one meal and another. Hey, SFA, if someone had asked me, I would have told you there was nothing to do in downtown Kinston on Saturday afternoon except hit the brewery. So nearly 100 thirsty food fans poured in. The lone bartender was slammed but good natured.

We ordered a tasting flight. “You want all of them?” he said. You bet, we answered. That meant six on the regular printed card with little spaces for the glasses, plus four on the bar to the side.

the rest of the flight

This could be a really short post: I liked them all. Except the Sisters of the Moon IPA, of course. IPAs and I do not play well together. I handed that sample to @DurhamFoodie to help her wash down the ears of corn she snarfed at lunch.

The samples included both a conventional on-tap version of Dark Cloud, a Munich-style dunkel lager, and a nitro pour version, and it was interesting to compare the two. When nitrogen is introduced, the beer typically becomes less carbonated in texture and less acidic in flavor. I certainly noticed both qualities – the beer was as smooth and soft as water, but with a whole lot more flavor. We also compared the conventional and cask-conditioned versions of Second Wind, a pale ale.  Cask conditioning is a process in which a beer retains yeast for a secondary fermentation in a cask in the brewery. The beers are usually unfiltered. The difference in mouthfeel was striking, with the cask-conditioned version being ultra smooth.

The Hub thought a stout using cocoa nibs from Raleigh’s Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, N.C. might be too heavy for a hot June day, but he quickly admitted his error.

The brews change frequently as the brewers experiment and explore flavors. If it wasn’t a 90-minute drive, I’d hop over there regularly to see what’s on tap. Although the taproom doesn’t serve food, it was recently announced that Mother Earth will team up with Chef & the Farmer to open an oyster bar this fall.


Big Boss Brewing, Raleigh NC

The Big Boss taproom looked like the kind of place where I shared pitchers of light beer in college: Dark, lots of black wood, TV over the non-nonsense bar, old sofas and armchairs in adjoining rooms. If the TV had been showing “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I would have been completely transported back to the end of finals – except that the draft offerings were much, much better.

The brewery and taproom is located at the end of an industrial street, but don’t let that throw you. Food trucks often park outside to feed thirsty patrons. When we went, it was American Meltdown, which offered creative grilled cheese sandwiches (unfortunately for the dairy-allergic Hub) and flavored iced teas.

I’ve sampled Big Boss’ bottled beers many times, so I went for the specials, Saucey Pants, Monkey Bizz-Ness and V for Victory, with Blanco Diablo, which is available in bottles but I’ve found sometimes difficult to locate. For me, V for Victory, described as a Vienna-style beer, had a medicinal flavor. Not my favorite. Monkey Bizz-Ness, a Belgian-style ale, grew on me more and more as the beer got a little warmer. I would like to see Saucey Pants, a saison, paired with food because of its intricate flavors. That would be interesting.  I always love a witbier, so Blanco Diablo was a no-brainer.

The genial tap-master knew how to lay out a flight in the retro metal holders, and wrote the names of the beer on them with an orange Sharpie. It was a pleasant trip back in time, with much improved beverages.

Food News Roundup

Thank you, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, for not stooping to using one of the plethora of lame rib puns for the headline on the detailed ribs article here. The photo alone should get you running to the grill. It’s in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), too, plus a recipe here for she-crab soup.

The Feed With Care column in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) explains how a parent can work with the school of a child with food allergies. It’s here.

A profile of Sara Foster and her new cookbook is in the Winston-Salem Journal. Read more about the founder of Foster’s Markets in Durham and Chapel Hill here.

We’re in the sweet heart of peach season, and Our State magazine has a collection of reader-submitted recipes using peaches here.

Beer here, beer there, beer everywhere. Check out the latest news about beer in the Tar Heel State at NCBeer.

Recipes from the Wisconsin State Fair are in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, here. I know how y’all love those state fair recipes, and it’s still a month or so away from North Carolina’s.

Board up windows and stock up on batteries before a hurricane? Not JaneLear. She got ready by preparing Tomatoes Irene.

Food News Roundup

Ah, pimento cheese. I can say I knew you when, before the gourmets got their hands on you. So can Kathleen Purvis in her witty and fitting piece in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here. She also firmly roots it as Southern, which I’ve always known in my PC-eating bones but a historian now confirms it. Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., it was our family’s peanut butter – we always had it around. My mother, who loved anything that was frozen or came from a box, actually made it from scratch occasionally, which shows its hallowed place. It’s also in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) here.

The Attack of the Squash Creatures has begun. The CSA I belong to just says “take all you want.” The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has recipes for squash pancakes and secrets to getting the very moist vegetable to hold together. It’s here. (Ignore the rather unappealing photographs.)

Cucumbers are another invader, and I’m seeing plenty of those, too. But, Cucumber Bread? The Salisbury (N.C.) Post has the story and a recipe, which the writer says she has tried out, here.

If you’re headed for Asheville, N.C. this coming weekend, you can combine tasting microbrews with an outdoor movie. To celebrate its third anniversary, Wedge Brewing will sponsor a showing of the moonshine-running classic “Thunder Road.” The details are in the Asheville Citizen-Times, here.

I’ve never been sure what’s in butterbeer, but a Kansas City woman would know. The Kansas City Star has an article on her ultimate Harry Potter parties with tips on throwing you own. It’s all here. The final Potter movie debuts Friday.

The Portland Oregonian talks about how chefs are getting into canning and preserving, making their own condiments and pickles. It’s here. (But, please, can we can the “can-do” headlines on every canning article?)

Beer Run: Fullsteam Brewery

The Hub and I carry the GPS every time we venture into Durham, N.C. In the 20-some years we’ve lived in Raleigh, N.C., we get lost most times that we hit the city limits. Maybe it’s the UNC bumper sticker that makes the car want to veer away in terror from the Land of the Evil Empire. But Garmina did her job well in locating Fullsteam, which is in a brick warehouse down a side street in downtown.

Fullsteam has an interesting concept: Its beers aren’t just locally produced, but use as must locally produced ingredients as brewers can get their hands on. North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes, local grits and chocolate nibs from Escazu Chocolates in Raleigh find their way into beers. Brewers send out calls for such things as pears and persimmons for the Forager series and use whatever shows up.

The Hub and I sampled four beers: Carver, the sweet potato beer; El Toro Cream Ale, brewed using grits; Fullsteam Southern Lager; and Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale, brewed with six pounds of fresh basil in each batch.

Neither of us expected to like Summer Basil. The idea sounded too much like sticking a lime wedge in a bottle of Corona, which ruins the flavor of the lime. Surprisingly, it was our favorite of the four. The beer was light and refreshing, with a mild, but definite, basil flavor and aroma. Our environment may have contributed to our preference. It was 97 degrees the day we visited, and only the small bar area is air conditioned. It was packed for obvious reasons. We had to sit in the large warehouse area, with fans pushing the overheated air that came through open doors. No AC. Be warned. We also had to drink fast before our beers vaporized.

Carver was our second favorite. It does not taste like Grandma’s Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole –  the beer isn’t spiced. The beer has a rich red color and an earthy note to the flavor, both from the potatoes. I have had this beer before and didn’t like it at that time because it seemed bitter. I wonder if the beer had been mishandled in that location, because I didn’t detect that bitterness in the beer I sampled at the brewery. That’s the thing about craft beers – handling can make a difference. So, if you want to really know what a particular beer tastes like, sample it where it’s made.

We had split opinions on the other two. The El Toro had more sweetness, so The Hub liked it more than I did. I thought the Southern Lager had a good balance of bitter and sweet, but wasn’t as interesting to me as the Summer Basil and Carver.



Beer Run: Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing Co.

Visiting Natty Greene’s in Raleigh, N.C. feels like taking that fifth-grade field trip to Williamsburg, but with much better refreshments. Quotes from Revolutionary War figures George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock and others are written on the walls. And, of course, there’s a biography of the pub’s inspiration, Gen. Nathaniel Greene. Greensboro, N.C., where the brewery is based, was named after the general some years after he routed British forces in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781.

OK, put the elementary schoolers back on the activity bus – it’s time for beer. Natty Greene’s current beer menu includes seven year-round offerings plus eight seasonal quaffs. Most have suitably colonial names, like Stamp Act Spring Rye and Black Powder Imperial Stout. The pub doesn’t offer a tasting flight per se, but you can make your own by ordering taster-size glasses of anything on tap for $1.50 each.

Three of the seasonals were unavailable when The Hub and I visited. I ordered Hessian Hefe-weizen, Wildflower Witbier and Old Town Brown. The Hub got Guilford Golden Ale, Smoothbore Amber Mild Ale and Sir Walter’s ESB. Guilford, Wildflower and Old Town are available year round.

The biggest surprise for both of us was the Wildflower. The Belgian-style white beer is flavored with coriander, chamomile and orange peel – and it smelled like a perfume counter. But it had only a light floral aftertaste, not nearly as strong as it smelled. The flavor was refreshing, with some grassy notes. However, my food (a spinach salad with batter-dipped fried chicken strips, bacon and mustard vinaigrette) overwhelmed it. But on a warm day on a patio…primo.

My Hessian Hefe-weizen was complex in flavor, with clove and banana aromas and a slight, refreshing bitterness. I could definitely taste the advertised “hint of baker’s chocolate” in the Old Town Brown, along with the toasted malt. I fantasized about how this beer could be paired with a dessert, or used in a dessert.

The Hub is a fan of ESBs, and Sir Walter’s did not disappoint him. It was sweet and smooth. The Smoothbore Amber Mild Ale was correctly described as having a “slight caramel flavor up front, followed by just enough hoppy bitterness.” It reminded The Hub of one of his preferred commercial beers, Bass, but better.

The only bust: Guilford Golden Ale. It reminded both of us of (fill in your average pale gold flavorless mass-marketed beer here).

Food news roundup

Three chefs agreed on only one thing about cooking steaks in an article in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Find out what that was here as they discuss beefy things in honor of Father’s Day, which is this Sunday. Father’s Day seems to bring out the Fred Flintstone in food publications. The article is in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, too. There, Kathleen Purvis reveals her hatred of summer – finally, someone had the guts to do it. It’s here.

A – dare we say it? – gastropub opens in Durham, and the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) has the info here. Every time I hear that word, I think of a very old food show from Britain in which the host referred to food fans as “gastronauts.” No doubt the precursor of “foodie.”

I make jams and jellies because they taste better, and my friends and I have a good time in the kitchen doing it. GreenEats looks at DIY food from a self-sufficiency point of view, with reviews of books on the matter.

A plethora of ideas for summer entertaining can be found in Savor NC magazine, and they all look good. Ideas for using blueberries, too. Read more here.

A light and easy summer version of chicken pot pie is in the Charleston Post and Courier. Watch the how-to video here.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist John Kessler takes a road trip to Alabama. Find out what he ate on the way here.

JanNorris writes about an interesting event that’s going to happen in Palm Beach, Fla. The Palm Beach County Food Swap is designed for home cooks to swap goods. Read more here.

The flight of Al’s Night Hawk

The post on Twitter asked for information on “unheralded, unknown beer joints.” And it brought back to me the most unheralded, (but not unknown in its town) beer joint I’ve ever visited. It was the kind of borderline unsavory place that inspires scenes in novels and epic excuses to spouses. Pretty good for a place with little seating.

Al’s Night Hawk was located on the main drag through Salisbury, N.C., a bit off the street. The building, when I knew it in the early 1980s, had been built to be a drive-in burger joint in the ’50s. And it still served hot dogs, which I was advised by natives to avoid. Food was not the draw. You pulled in at most any hour, got a beer, and sat in your car and drank it. I was assured that its reputation was better than its appearance.

I was a reporter at the Salisbury Post, which was an evening paper then. That meant we went in early, and the deadline for copy was around noon. One winter day, a giant snowstorm threatened. The publisher moved up the deadlines so that carriers could get the paper delivered before the blizzard. He told the reporters and editors to put out a small edition, then go to our homes to hunker down. When we were done, a few little flakes were falling. We had a free afternoon off. We weren’t about to go home.

Two other reporters and I got in the managing editor’s car. The small town had locked up tight in fear of the white blast, but he knew one place would be open. We crept down the whitening street and saw the friendly lights of Al’s Night Hawk.  We were the only car in the lot, but that didn’t matter. The ME went in to buy the first round. After the fourth trip inside, the Al’s folks did suggest that they might be wanting to close, and the snow was starting to pile up on the hood. We admitted it was probably time to hunker.

Al’s is gone now. I don’t remember now what we talked about or what we drank, although I’m sure it was something cheap in a can. But I remember the feeling of being let loose from school on a snow day, with people I not only worked with but enjoyed being with. Even in a car in a seedy parking lot.

Virtual beer run

All I can say is, it’s about time. Wine snobs have had their phone apps practically since the first iPhone dropped. Now, beer fans have a choice of several apps that will help them find their favorite craft brews, match beer to food and locate pubs. The New York Times has a rundown of the offerings here. Some of the apps are limited – one, BeerCloud, only covers eight states.