Buy-TicketsTickets are now available for the 12th annual World Beer Festival Raleigh, held at the N.C. State Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 1. 

For years, barbecue was the first culinary item people might have considered when thinking of North Carolina, but that has changed. Now one of the fastest growing states in the beer industry, the Tar Heel State boasts nearly 200 brewers from the Atlantic Ocean inland to the Appalachian Mountains.

Among the cities gaining increased attention is Raleigh, where 17 breweries are spread across the state capital with two businesses—Lynnwood Brewing Concern and Trophy Brewing—each running two locations. From hop-forward IPAs to puckering sours and even classic European styles like porters and Vienna lager, it’s a great time to be a beer lover in Raleigh.

Taking on all the city has to offer over the course of one day isn’t just daunting, but with the rapid growth of Raleigh’s beer scene in recent years, may actually be impossible. Set aside a couple days and instead of rushing from one location to the next in order to cram it all in, enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of what’s making—and changing—for Raleigh beer.

The Outskirts

If you’re flying into Raleigh-Durham International Airport; getting in a quick hike at William B. Umstead State Park; or are coming from nearby Durham, two breweries offer great stops on your way into the city.

Sumit Vohra of Lonerider Brewing Co.
Sumit Vohra, CEO of Lonerider Brewing Co. (Photo by Jon Page)

Lonerider Brewing Co. (8816 Gulf Court, Suite 100) is the perfect place for outlaws, even if you’re not on the lam. With a taproom nicknamed “The Hideout,” this Wild West themed brewery welcomes those that want to pony up to the bar or enjoy the Carolina sun. All beers fit the thematic bill—including Peacemaker Pale Ale and Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen—but don’t miss out on the Sweet Josie Brown Ale, an easy drinking brew with hints of caramel and chocolate. Just in time for spring, a new grapefruit saison started making the rounds in March, too.

Gizmo Brew Works (5907 Triangle Drive) can be found just 2 miles away. Tucked between warehouses, spot the brewery’s home by the dark green door prominently featuring a hop cone and you know you’re in the right place.

Along with seasonal and specialty brews, year-round beers include a stout, IPA and wheat. Keep an eye out for the latest specialty release, which have recently included a coffee pale ale, hop-forward sour and more.

Compass Rose Brewing
Compass Rose Brewery is one of Raleigh’s newest breweries. (Photo by Bryan Roth)

Still hovering several miles from Raleigh’s downtown, a short ride on 540 East will take you to Compass Rose Brewery (3201 Northside Drive, Suite 101). “Chief Navigator” and brewer Thomas Vincent is deep in the local brewing community, having also worked at Big Boss Brewing Co. and Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. Settle in for a pint of his Agave Cream Ale, a perfect sipper for North Carolina’s warm spring and hot summer.

At the southernmost point of Raleigh, grab a five-ounce sampler or full pint, but make sure you have a snack before visiting Brice’s Brewing (1822 Garner Station Blvd.), which typically keeps some big beers on tap, including a Belgian-inspired tripel and quadrupel. Don’t be surprised to find an imperial stout or two, either. Specialty one-offs are also popular, like a recent release of Warm It Up Mole Porter, made with star anise, cinnamon sticks, roasted cacao nibs and habaneros.

Five Points

If your palate needs a reset—or an ease into a day of tasting—stop by Nickelpoint Brewing Co. (506 Pershing Road), where its European-style brews are true down to its IPA, which is guided by the more balanced, classic English take while still offering citrus and pine flavors. Don’t miss out on Nickelpoint’s Vienna Lager, which has earned recognition at the North Carolina Brewers Cup.

Next door (518 Pershing Road) is Neuse River Brewing Co., which focuses on Belgian-inspired recipes. At the taproom, admire beer signs made from reclaimed wood sourced from an old tobacco barn in nearby Creedmoor and lookout for beers like Caleb’s High Noon, an imperial IPA made with Simcoe, Columbus and Centennial hops.

Big Boss Brewing
(Photo courtesy Big Boss Brewing)

Big Boss Brewing Co. (1249 Wicker Drive, Suite A) is the oldest active brewery in Raleigh. Brewmaster Brad Wynn has made local favorites for years, including Angry Angel kölsch and Blanco Diablo wit, but has stretched expectations with Big Boss’ Strange Cargo rotating series of beers that spend time in bourbon, wine, tequila and brandy barrels.

Across Atlantic Avenue, a quarter-mile away, Lynnwood Brewing Concern (1053 E. Whitaker Mill Road, Suite 101) has a second space in Five Points as a production facility after solely functioning as a brewpub at 4821 Grove Barton Road. The brewpub is still open, but visit the larger brewery and taproom for a selection of more than a dozen beers. Grab a bite to eat at a food truck outside or lounge on comfy living room furniture adorned with steampunk table lamps. Fan favorites include the fruity Mosaic Pale Ale and Coconut Porter, which offers a taste of the island fruit you can’t miss.

Sub Noir Brewing Company
Sub Noir Brewing Co. is one of the smallest breweries in the state. (Photo by Bryan Roth)

A short walk around the corner will take you into the almost 1,000-square foot tasting space of Sub Noir Brewing Co. (2039 Progress Court). With it’s unique “small, but cozy” feel, the brewery bills itself as Raleigh’s “boutique” brewery. You’re apt to find a diverse lineup that could include a chocolate stout made with Count Chocula cereal, a ginger tripel, brett saison or a wild ale aged in grape brandy barrels. Upstairs at Sub Noir is a seating area styled like any home’s living room with couches and cushioned chairs while downstairs is something of a playroom, with a chalkboard wall and old school gaming systems.

You Can Always Go Downtown

Old brick buildings remind you of Raleigh’s past in the city’s Warehouse District, where you’ll find bicycle-themed Crank Arm Brewing Co. (319 W. Davie St.). Among the beers you’ll find on tap at Crank Arm are a collection of up to six seasonals, but hop heads will love to try the brewery’s Unicycle Pale Ale, which rotates one signature hop for each batch.

Crank Arm Brewing
The cycling theme at Crank Arm Brewing carries through to its beer names, like Unicycle Pale Ale. (Photo by Bryan Roth)

Stop by Clouds Brewing (1233 Front St.) for an array of year-round sessionable offerings, all under 6%. During a weekend of drinking through all that Raleigh has to offer, it may be a welcome change of pace. The Wolkenbrau Lager was recognized with a gold medal at the 2016 NC Brewer’s Cup and the El Hefe Hefeweizen is a perfect translation of the brewery’s name—a cloudy Bavarian beer made with 60 percent wheat in the grain bill.

A combination of taproom, brewery and market, Little City Brewing and Provisions Co. offers a cozy, coffee house kind of ambiance, but with seating for about 100 people and food truck options. The IPA and double IPA are favorites, but don’t overlook the amber ale or milk stout. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask about the Jalapeno Serrano Ale, a pale ale made with Cascade and Centennial hops and spiced with the namesake peppers.

It’s OK if you feel overwhelmed at Oak & Dagger Public House (18 Seaboard Ave., #150) where more than 20 taps, a full “Southern fusion” menu and a bottle shop, known as the Research Library, greet you. Cask-poured beers are an option, so too are specialty batches. Recent experiments have included a “hoppy bock” and smoked porter. Don’t overlook the Old World style of bitter for a perfect pint to share over conversation with friends.

Depending on how empty your stomach may be, Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co. offers two different food options to pair with its beer. At the original brewpub (827 W. Morgan St.) you’ll find six beers on tap and an array of pizzas, like local favorite Most Loyal, which includes basil pesto, herb roasted chicken breast, mozzarella, roma tomatoes and honey.

Trophy Brewing Maywood
Trophy Brewing’s new production facility. (Photo by Joe Bruno of Oak City Productions)

If a food truck and beer hall seating sounds better, swing by Trophy’s production facility (656 Maywood Ave.) where drinkers can choose from a dozen beers that may include Milky Way, a salted caramel sweet stout, or dry-hopped saisons. Linger in the taproom, where through glass windows you’ll spot fermenters in Trophy’s brewing space named after Star Wars characters.

Trophy Brewing Star Wars Fermenters
Fermenters at Trophy Brewing’s new production facility bear the names of Star Wars characters. (Photo by Bryan Roth)

If enjoying beer across Raleigh has you thinking about how you can make it yourself, an ideal stop is Raleigh Brewing Co. (3709 Neil St.) which shares space with sister homebrew business Atlantic Brew Supply. Peruse packages of hop pellets and grain after sipping on Raleigh Brewing’s classic English bitter, City of Blokes, or Hell Yes Ma’am, a Belgian style golden ale.

Heading Home and More on the Horizon

After visiting one, some or all of the more than a dozen brewery locations in Raleigh, check out some of Raleigh’s notable bottle shops and bars.