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.
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!
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.