The fun of the craft brew scene explored through four Sandhills towns
By Mary Giglio » Photography by Brandon Williams
According to the North Carolina State Brewers Guild, our state is home to over 320 craft breweries. As a beer lover in the Sandhills area, you don’t have to travel to Raleigh, Charlotte, or Asheville anymore to experience the fun of
Curious to explore the craft beer scene our area has to offer, I set out on an adventure with a forensic accountant who happens to be a home brewer, a Covid-displaced bartender who is also an amazing photographer, a sarcastic dental hygienist in training, and my sister who hates beer. Okay, she likes ciders and seltzers but we nominated her as the designated driver for our quest to explore the beer landscape in the Sandhills. Between all of us, we could ask the right questions, have some laughs, and find out the unique features of each brewery.
Each brewer/ owner/ manager/ or beertender we met was equally delightful and enthusiastic about their place of employment and happy to tell us all about their beer process and most importantly, let us taste their beers.
We decided to hit up all four breweries in the Southern Pines/Pinehurst/Aberdeen area as well as local places that specialize in and sell craft beer: Southern Pines Brewing, Pinehurst Brewing, Railhouse Brewery, Hatchet Brewing, Sly Fox Underground, and the new location of the Growler Store. We also ventured to Sanford to check out Camelback and Hugger Mugger on another evening and were excited to share what we found only
30 minutes away!
All the locations our tasting group visited are registered on “Untappd”, an app for consumers to find like-minded people to offer “cheers” and to rate beer. This app can also add a fun dimension to an evening out with friends. Whatever your mission, below we share the fruits of our recent beer tasting pursuit. Beer Me!
Pinehurst Brewing Company
Pinehurst Brewing Company will be putting out a Weizenbach Belgian for fall. As well as “Ode to Donker” which is a Belgian quadrupel. Eric, formerly of award-winning Heist Brewery in Charlotte, was happy to take us back and show us around the production facility. He even gave us cans of their well-known, easy drinking lager 1895, and Pivot, their award winning IPA to take home! Thanks Eric! Eric is also known for his big stouts and is coming out with a new one to try as well! As the only brewery in town with a full kitchen, we made sure to get some beer cheese dip and NC-style smoked brisket sandwiches while we were there. Personally, I love the wood fired pizzas and can’t wait until live music starts up again. Pinehurst Brewing boasts tons of indoor and outdoor space for effective social distancing.
Hatchet Brewing Company
Hatchet Brewing has a beautiful indoor/outdoor space on Broad Street in Southern Pines across from Grinders and Gravy. Ordering food from local restaurants is encouraged. I saw live music there a few weeks ago and had a great time! Hatchet has about 20 beers of their own on draft and several guest taps including cider, kombucha, and a seltzer. It’s awesome that Hatchet is nominated for Best Place to Work in the Pines. Team-building and a warm sense of community is emphasized. Hatchet Brewing was started by Mike and Greg. Their “patch” logo comes from involvement with Special Forces and the 82nd Airborne, and stands as a reminder that no success is earned alone — it takes a team. In addition to Hatchet’s popular Hazy Afternoon IPA and my favorite, Berry the Hatchet Raspberry Wheat, Mike is brewing a non-traditional Oktoberfest for fall. With their two-barrel pilot system they are able to try different beers and see what beers people enjoy the most before making more. The two partners have created a space for people to connect and relax and when it comes to beer, give them what they want.
Southern PInes Brewing Company
Every bartender has at one point heard or said “There is water in beer” as an excuse to continue drinking. It’s true, beer is just water, yeast, malt and hops. However Southern Pines Brewing Company has the coolest technology to help them perfect each beer including an advanced water filtration system! They can literally create water profiles that match the minerals and taste of each area of the beer they are brewing. For example, their Oktoberfest Marzen has a Munich water profile.
The craft brewery delivered their first keg to O'Donnell's Pub in 2014. I remember working at the old Mellow Mushroom back then, and the guys would come to clean the lines and I would have pints lined up to be filled with Man of Law as soon as they were ready! If you want to learn about beer, I highly recommend booking a tour with Micah — you learn so much about hops and flavor I don’t even know where to begin. Advanced home-brewers would definitely enjoy picking his brain. For fall, Micah and his team plan to come out with a “Spaghetti Western” which is an Italian Pilsner. A cool tie-in: the art on the can was designed by Craig from Valhalla Tattoo.
The Sly Fox Pub
The Sly Fox Pub is a British Pub with amazing food, 16 taps,
and — many people don’t know this — Sly Fox has a package beer store attached to it called The Underground. Diners can peruse the store after a meal and purchase beer to take home from all over North Carolina and the world. Our group enjoyed a pub burger and some butter chicken while trying to take over the Untappd board! My favorite beer on draught there is the Weihenstephaner hefeweizen from the world’s oldest brewery. Ian, the manager, informed us they celebrate Oktoberfest every year by adding a German food menu to their British offerings. Pop in this fall when they plan to have several pumpkin and dark beers available.
Southern Pines Growler Company
One of the most interesting places we went that included an owner with the best stories was Jerry at what locals refer to as simply “The Growler.” Jerry grew up in Germany and has been around great beer ever since he can remember. Luckily the store had just moved to its new location at 160 W. New York Avenue before Covid-19 shutdowns so there is now plenty of room for social distancing indoors and outdoors at the handsome new facility. Brandy, the co-owner, scours the entire state of North Carolina for the newest and best tasting beers and brings them in. With 40 beers on tap that constantly are updated, there is something for everyone. Home brewers can find the equipment and hops needed for basic home brewing available in the shop, too. This fall expect to see spiced ciders, Oktoberfest beers, Mad Elf, and more. Outside food is welcome and there is now a snack menu available, it’s simply a great place to meet up with friends.
Three branches of the military are represented among the new Railhouse owners: Army, Navy and Airforce, and they are excited to announce they can once again self-distribute in Moore County and look forward to showing up on more tap handles locally. Railhouse produces 17 of their own beers on draft including “Mandatory Fun” which our group really liked, plus a couple of seltzers such as Pina Colada and Tropical. One of my favorite features at Railhouse is their “Beer Forward” board. Friends or coworkers can leave a note for future patrons, giving them a free beer. According to Scott, it becomes a cycle of generosity and brotherly love. Another special aspect here are memorial plaques for fallen military brothers and sisters as you walk in. A newly designed tap wall and an updated interior has made Railhouse look cozy and welcoming, and their streamlined menu includes some delicious sandwiches and appetizers. Stop in and try an easy drinking light beer they have developed called Red, White and Barley, and this fall brewers plan to bring back the beloved Railhouse Vanilla Porter.
Camelback Brewing Company
Camelback’s logo comes from the nearby Deep River bridge that was restored and makes for some really cool merchandise. The food at Camelback is amazing! A giant club sandwich with a side of house-made chips served with a dill Ranch dipping sauce, kitchen manager Randall Yow’s grandmother’s recipe, was our favorite discovery. Natasha canned me a cold oversized beer to-go with their nifty instant canner. There is plenty of indoor and outdoor space for social distancing, and with its location right next to Lowe’s Foods in Sanford, it’s also the perfect spot to support a local brewer before or after (or to avoid) grocery getting. Live music is outside on most weekends.
Hugger Mugger keeps a James Creek Cider on tap and has 18 of their own beers on draft. I love love the tin wall behind the bone-shaped tap handles, adding warmth and interest to the interior which combines the influence of the knights of templar with modern art and a historic-looking building. Outside is spacious with picnic tables and pretty lights and room for food trucks. We tried a few of their staples and a few of their sours and dark beers, and were impressed by the selection and taste.