carolina

Thirsty Thursday: Two Breweries, A Bar & A Pizza Place

Sat Edited Thirsty Thursday: Two Breweries, A Bar & A Pizza Place

Today’s Thirsty Thursday post was created out of a Super Saturday. Charlotte NC Tours recently ran a Microbrewery Bike Tour promotion, and seeing as how I dream of  pedaling around on a cruiser and sipping frosty beers on a near-daily basis, I purchased the tour in two seconds flat.

Last Saturday, a group of microbrewery tourists met in uptown Charlotte to bike about three miles east to NoDa (for those of you not familiar with Charlotte, NoDa is short for North Davidson). I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into when shortly before we left the group included a dozen boys and a lone female (me). I commented on how surprised I was that the tour was not more popular with the ladies. The response I received seemed tinged with sarcasm: “You’re surprised girls don’t want to ride bikes and get sweaty and drink beer?”

Yes, I was surprised.  What could be better than riding bikes and drinking beer on a beautiful summer day? Only skateboarding and shooting vodka, I think.* Fortunately, a second girl showed up to join the tour, and off we went.

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Our first stop was Growler’s Pourhouse where I desperately wanted an Ommegang Witte. Turns out I was in good company because there was none left. Forced to look to the remaining 16 taps, I chose a seasonal Old Hickory Ruby Lager brewed in nearby Hickory, North Carolina.

My review of the beer: it was good. I have no idea how describe a beer other than it tasted good or it tasted bad. That will soon change after I attend Summer School at World of Beer. Yes, that’s right, I am going to summer school to learn all there is to know about beer. I may have died and gone to heaven…

We left Growlers to bike to NoDa Brewing Company. Here I enjoyed a flight of NoDajito (in NoDa Brewing Company’s own words, a “Belgian Wit infused with mint leaves and lime zest”), Ghost Hop (White IPA), NoDaRyeZ’d (Double Rye IPA), and Monk’s Trunks (Belgian Pale Ale).

Again, noting my lack of credentials, my reviews are brief. The NoDajito tasted faintly medicinal, the Ghost Hop was light and crisp, the NoDaRyeZ’d (pronounced No-duh-rised) was memorable only in name, and Monk’s Trunks was light yet flavorful. Monk’s Trunks was by far my favorite, and I learned why after reading more about it on NoDa Brewing Company’s website: “The Belgian yeast brings out flavors of apple, banana, vanilla and grapes naturally through its fermentation, and it’s accented with seeds of paradise.” I like fruity beer.

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Clockwise from top: Beers at BirdSong, NoDa, and Growler’s Pourhouse.

Then across the street to BirdSong Brewing Company we went. Here I also enjoyed a flight, which was all I needed to tell the bartender because only four beers were available. Up On The Sun (Saison),  Higher Ground (West Coast IPA), Free Will (Pale Ale), and Lazy Bird (American Brown Ale). [Pictured left to right in the top row above].

Given my lack of ability to identify what makes a beer taste  good or bad, coupled with the fact BirdSong was our last stop, I’m not even going to pretend I can offer a legitimate review of these beers. What I can definitively say is I enjoyed the light Up On The Sun and Higher Ground. The Free Will was a very unpopular choice among all in the group. The dark Lazy Bird was my favorite beer of the day; it was flavorful but not at all heavy like some darker beers.

The tour ended back in uptown, so we meandered the city streets before heading over to Hawthorne’s on Seventh Street to eat dinner. I ate the best garlic knots in Charlotte (seriously, look at all that garlic and olive oil), a plate of tri-color tortellini with bacon and peas in cream sauce (so much for eating plant-based), and ordered the cannoli to go. The meal was wonderful, but the cannoli tasted as though it was filled with chalk whipped with flavorless cream. So sad.

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Unable to visit the breweries? Both NoDa Brewing Company’s and BirdSong Brewing Company’s beers can be ordered at many local restaurants (see the website for each – linked above – for details). Though it appears the Microbrewery Bike Tour was a special offer, I would recommend a Charlotte NC Tour whether you plan to visit Charlotte or if you are a Charlotte local in need of a staycation. Lastly, if any Charlotteans would like to start a bike gang to ride on our own accord to nearby watering holes, please leave a comment to express your interest.

*Updated to note: Upon further reflection, kite-boarding and piña coladas would also be enjoyable.

Breaking from Baking: Isle of Palms

Instead of baking, I spent this past weekend enjoying a short break on Isle of Palms – just outside Charleston, South Carolina. Since I have no recipes to share, I hope you might instead enjoy a few photos from the beach. Spring is just around the corner…

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The IOP beach is littered with broken sand dollars. I found this sand dollar about a minute after I remarked, “I wish I could find a whole sand dollar.” Thank you, Universe.

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A Bird (and me, bundled up on a cold day, in the background).

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My favorite, and I suspect most photographed, IOP backyard.

Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

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For the first five and a half years I lived in Charlotte, I never visited a North Carolina vineyard. Now as I approach the six year mark, I have experienced two vineyard tours in six months.

Near the end of last week, a friend called and asked if I would be interested in going on a winter winery tour on Saturday. Since I bake on Saturdays, my first reaction was to decline, but something compelled me to be a little spontaneous.

Though I felt very guilty about turning my back on baking, I am so glad I had an opportunity to get out of the kitchen as it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I also justified writing a post about my experience rather than a recipe since it’s now the month of Valentine’s Day, and I started off my first winery tour post with a remark about just that day.

Unlike the summer tour of mountain vineyards, the winter tour took us to Albemarle – home of the famous Kelly Pickler (American Idol) and the infamous Mary K. Mary K is the friend who invited me along on the tour, and her home grown knowledge provided us unauthorized insights on the tour.

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I should make it clear, just as I am not a foodie, I am also not a wine connoisseur.  My level of expertise tops out at knowing what differentiates champagne and sparkling wine (the answer is geography – only grapes grown in the Champagne region of France are allowed to be labeled champagne). But just as I enjoy learning about baking, I also enjoy learning about wine, and it doesn’t hurt when vineyards are located less than an hour’s drive from my front door.

The grapes grown in the Albemarle area are big, fat, round, juicy, sweet, seedy muscadines.  To get an idea of the size of a muscadine, think of another variety of grape as a marble, then think of a muscadine as the shooter.

I prefer a light, white wine like a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. (I have also come to enjoy Pinot Noir, but that’s about it when it comes to red.) Given I like a sweet wine, I thought I would really like wines made from muscadines, but there can be too much of a good thing. For the most part, the wines had such a sweet taste I didn’t care for much more than the taste poured in my glass. On the other hand, not one to typically care for a Chardonnay, I really enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnays served at these wineries.

Vineyard One: Stony Mountain

Located on Stony Mountain, with a view of the Uwharrie Mountains and the lower Yadkin Valley, this vineyard offered the prettiest view. The Uwharries are the oldest mountain range in North America. Like people, mountains shrink with age – this range tops out at just over 1,000 feet.  Stony Mountain Vineyard is the place to visit if you enjoy dry red wines, and they have a nice selection of fruit and muscadine wines. Their Riesling may have been the best wine I tasted all day, but unfortunately, the wine’s nose left a lot to be desired.

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Me & Mary K

Vineyard Two: Uwharrie

I once read or heard that consumers who are not familiar with wines often select a bottle based on an appealing label. If that is true, then Uwharrie should sell a lot of wine – their labels are colorful and compelling. In addition to lovely bottles, I would rate this vineyard as home to the most personable owner. Though we enjoyed wonderful hospitality at all of the vineyards, the gentleman at Uwharrie was a natural public speaker who educated us on both wine and the wine-making process. I tasted my favorite Chardonnay of the day at this vineyard, and though it was not a part of the tasting, two groups who purchased the Cabernet loved it. 

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Vineyard Three: Dennis

By the time we reached Dennis Vineyards, our tour bus full of people was 18 wine tastings deep. Bless the ladies who poured our remaining nine tastings, as things were getting a bit rowdy. Dennis Vineyards was the first vineyard to open in Stanly County, and the 12th vineyard to open in the state. Today, Stanly County is home to 15 vineyards, and North Carolina boasts over 100. I too was 18 wine tastings deep when I wrote those numbers down, so any errors are unintentional and my own. Here, I enjoyed the best-selling Bramble, made not from grapes, but from blackberries and raspberries. The gentleman at this vineyard also provided a tour, but I can’t tell you any more about it as my friends and I opted out of the tour and into an unauthorized field trip across the street to enjoy the view from the Gazebo.

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If you are an out of state resident planning a trip to North Carolina, an in state resident planning a day trip, or just want  to learn more about the state’s vineyards and wineries,  resources abound at visitncwine.com. Cheers!