Last issue, when you left us, we were sitting at the bar at the Carolina Brewery (460 West Franklin St.) in Chapel Hill, NC, facing the gleaming 10-barrel Bohemian brewing system, and sipping the wonderful work of brewer Jon Connolly.
What better place to start our tour of college towns than here? Chapel Hill is the quintessential college town. Most of us originally arrive in towns like this for the academics, but it’s the people, sports, culture and eclectic places to eat and drink that keep us coming back.
Liquor laws have changed since we were students. The minimum age to be served has returned to 21. Many of the silly tied-house restrictions and caps on alcohol content have also changed. What students drink has changed too. Not long ago, Saturday night keg parties featured either Miller or Budweiser.
So much has changed, in fact, that college towns are actually a magnet for hand-crafted beer. Students don’t think twice about ordering them. Faculty and visiting alumni reap the benefits as well. Just as folks have has traded their slide rules for laptops with wireless internet access, so, too, have they traded their macrobeer for local products.
So back to the Carolina Brewery, where we spotted an article from a local paper near the entrance claiming that Chapel Hill ranks number one in beer consumption. Okay, maybe it’s a little hometown bravado, but it’s a good sign for beer travelers when local writers support the local product.
Since its opening in 1995, Carolina Brewing has gained quite a reputation for not only its beer and food, but also for the support it lends to UNC athletics. Our first hint came as we noticed “Proudly owned and operated by UNC alumni!” on their home page. The second floor has a “Sky Box,” a private VIP lounge for watching major sporting events on a hi-definition plasma television. Carolina Brewing even offers a free shuttle to Tar Heel basketball games at the Smith Center.
Copperline Amber Ale and Sky Blue Golden Ale, their flagship beers, are impressive. The amber was a gold-medal winner at the World Beer Cup several years ago. There’s a formidable list of seasonal offerings too. The beers on tap are listed on wooden plates in front of the serving tanks. We’re sure you’ll find something to suit your palate.
And by the way, those CDs you see for sale at the bar are those of a band called The Imperial Pints, a rock band led by none other than Jon Connolly himself.
Brewin’ in Jayhawk Country
Free State Brewing Co. (636 Massachusetts Street) is a brewpub in the university district of Lawrence, KS. (We got a reminder of where we were from a bicyclist who bumped into our car from behind—a hazard of districts like these.) You’ll know that you’ve arrived when you spot the weather vane with a native bird atop the building.
Opening in 1989, Free State was the first legal brewery in Kansas in over 100 years. It’s housed in a renovated trolley station, and was an early participant in the rejuvenation of the north end of the downtown business district.
The brewhouse is a 14-barrel JVNW system. Many of the beer names have historical references. For instance, John Brown’s Ale is named for the violent abolitionist, and Brinkley’s Bock honors the doctor who hawked goat glands as a remedy for infertility during the Twenties. Your education continues on the menu, which has a map showing the origin of common foods we eat.
We enjoyed some very interesting beers (only $3 a pint and they offer samplers with five-ounce portions as well). They include Lemongrass Rye, whose unusual, and quite pleasing, flavor comes from the use of about twenty-five percent flaked rye as well as about 40 pounds of fresh lemongrass; and Harvest Ale, which celebrates the Northwest hop harvest, and checks in at 90 IBUs. By the way, Free State’s website tracks all of the beers it has ever brewed.
Free State Brewing Co. is a family-friendly place and even has a terrace out front with a few highly coveted tables for those willing to wait. And don’t forget to check out the picture of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. You are, after all, in Jayhawk territory.
Ready for Some Football?
As naturalized Midwesterners, we’re always up for a good college game. Let’s head on over to Lincoln, NE, where you can visit the Empyrean Brewing Co. (729 Q Street) and its accompanying establishments, Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill and FireWorks Restaurant, on the block behind. There you can celebrate your victory, or cry in a beer after a loss.
Located in the Haymarket District west of downtown, which is anchored by a passenger rail train station that is home to shops and the visitors bureau, the complex is so close to the U. of Nebraska football stadium that you can see the Cornhuskers red “N” on the outside. The brewery is named for what ancients called the highest point in the universe, a fiery sphere called Empyrean. And we thought the Great Plains were flat!
We sampled Lazlo’s wares on a drizzly fall afternoon. The interior is “industrial chic,” with minimalist decor. There’s a large mural leading from the bar to the dining room featuring a tongue-in-cheek description of the brewing process, including a “Shlub brewing system.” You’ll also find non-working brewing vessels (the real Newlands brewing system is in the brewery building behind) and malt sacks on display. Wooden carousel animals guard the stairs to the restroom.
The beer label artwork is some of the best we’ve ever seen. As for the beer, we enjoyed the ESB so much that we stayed for another round.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t take you to the place where we fell in love with college football, South Bend, IN. Both of us earned our undergraduate degrees at Notre Dame. (For the record, we didn’t get together until years later. But we did meet at a party the night before a Michigan-Notre Dame game. Over a few beers, of course.)
Things were very different then. Ara Parseighan was the football coach, the team won national championships, and we swilled copious amounts of macro-brew with our friends. And we waited anxiously to turn 21 so we could buy a membership at the Senior Bar, a ramshackle house outside the football stadium that was officially an alumni/senior club. On football Saturdays, 12-ounce plastic glasses of draft were five for a dollar.
Sadly, all of those are no more.
The house has long since been demolished, but a mere three miles away you can visit the Mishawaka Brewing Co. (3703 North Main Street, Mishawaka, IN) for great hand-crafted beers. Opened in 1992, it was the second brewpub to open in Indiana, and a family-owned establishment, something it still is today. Tom Schmidt and his wife, Barbara, are joined by their son Rick, who is the brewer, and his wife, Tami, who handles the restaurant operation.
We always find a nice sampling of ales available, including multiple pale ales and IPAs. Their most famous is the Four Horsemen Irish Ale, a deep reddish-copper colored Irish-style red ale brewed with six malts and three hop varieties. It won a silver medal in the Traditional Bitter category at the GABF in 1994.
This is another family-friendly establishment with good pub and restaurant menus. There’s even a homebrew shop between the entrance and the bar.
You might find it interesting to know that “Four Horsemen” is a registered trademark of the brewpub, not Notre Dame. We’re still wondering how the university’s lawyers fumbled that one. Regardless of who owns the name, we’ll just bet that Elmer Layden, Jim Crowley, Don Miller, and Harry Stuhldreher, the original Four Horsemen of the Fighting Irish, would approve of the beer.
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher. Maryanne Nasiatka is a writer and photographer. They travel as much as their budget permits visiting many of the places where great beer is brewed and enjoyed.