I sat at the elbow seat of an L-shaped bar with a flight of beers in front of me.
They were from Raleigh's Trophy Brewing Co. Sitting to my right were Trophy's owner Chris Powers and head brewer Les Stewart. But, before telling me about each glass, Powers explains the name of the brewery—a three-barrel brewhouse that produces about 550 gallons a week.
"When I was looking for a space, the ideal location was an old trophy shop. But we didn't get that," he says, talking about when they opened in 2013. "When we started holding tastings, we'd asked people to bring in an old trophy in exchange for beer." He paused and turned to point at the array of trophies adorning the walls. "And, soon after, we incorporated it into our tap handles."
Stewart, who started as a homebrewer in 2005, describes the first beer of the flight—Teacher's Pet—as an "America IPA with floral hops with soft hop character." This beer, probably more than any beer in the brewery's line, is the most accessible for the non-craft beer, macro-drinking layperson. Then it gets interesting.
"It's an unusual style," says Powers of our second beer, the Rose Gose. "It is a German light sour made from an area with high salt content in the water."
After a few sips, Stewart explains his take on the gose style. "We added sea salt to the flavor profile to achieve that. Usually it has coriander in it, but in our homespun recipe we changed it by adding rosemary."
The rosemary notes are faint, the body is light and the ABV is low. It is highly drinkable. Stewart enthusiastically adds, "My mom is in love with this beer!"
Then the tasting talk veered into epiphany beer.
"The first beer that made me realize what craft beer could be was Victor Brewing Co.'s Golden Monkey," Stewart says. Powers recalls Fayetteville's Mash House IPA as his first. "This was right on the tale end of Pop the Cap," he says. Pop the Cap was the 2005 law that lifted the ban on beer being more than 6 percent ABV.
Neither claim to favor a particular style. In fact, Stewart answers with a resounding "No!" when asked. "It just depends on your mood, or what you are eating or what time of the year ...." he pauses for a second, then leans in and says, "Or the phase of the moon" and then laughs.
Stewart directs us back to the tasting.
"The Tripel Crown is a Belgian-style Tripel aged in tequila barrels," he says. This beer is complex. Gone are the typical clove and banana notes, replaced by a sweetness brought on by the agave from the tequila. Unlike bourbon distilleries that embrace the craft beer industry, tequila distilleries for some reason prefer to be unnamed. "All I know is that the barrel came from South America," Powers says.
Next on deck is a coffee porter. Stewart explains how he adds five gallons of cold Slingshot coffee to the brew. It has an extremely roasted nose and I half expect it to taste like a shot of espresso. But Stewart says that adding the coffee cold minimizes the astringency.
We finish tasting with Double Death Spiral, a double IPA with huge citrus notes and a clean, unassuming finish. This isn't a hop bomb, nor will its bitterness peel the enamel off your teeth like many double IPAs.
We close out the tasting and conversation by discussing the local beer scene. "There's a lot of variety available," Powers says. "Brewers are now changing what they are making because of a smarter, beer-educated clientele."
That allows brewers such as Trophy to be more creative and make such brews as a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine that they will bottle by the time you read this. They will call it White Elephant.
"I mean, who doesn't want to get the White Elephant?" Powers asks.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Flight time."