Monday, April 9, 2018

Durham, Craft Beer, Lemurs, and American Tobacco


Durham North Carolina is near the tail end of the Route 15 Wine Road, but instead of wine, this region is creating a craft beer heritage. It is also the home of Duke University, named after its major benefactor tobacco industrialist Washington Duke. Duke's son, James Buchanan Duke was also a major benefactor to the university as well as the owner of the American Tobacco Company (the successor to his Father's tobacco company) which eventually controlled over 90% of the American cigarette market by the early 1900s. Duke also founded a power company that grew into Duke Energy and supplied power to the hundreds of area textile mills and tobacco manufacturing plants. Today the former American Tobacco warehouses are a major redeveloped area in downtown Durham adjacent to the Durham Bulls stadium and several craft breweries, distilleries, Bull City Ciderworks, and Honeygirl Meadery. In fact, the Bull Durham Beer Co. is the only craft beer company located inside a minor league ballpark.

Another attraction in Durham is the Duke Lemur Center (DLC), "the world’s largest and most diverse collection of lemurs – Earth’s most threatened group of mammals – outside of Madagascar". The DLC is situated on 80 wooded acres two miles from the main Duke University campus and provides a living laboratory where lemurs and their close relatives could be studied intensively and non-invasively. It's budget is partly funded through private tours of the facility such as a Walking with Lemurs tour where our future primatologist spent 90 minutes up close with a trio of Crown Lemurs. The tour also included meeting Mongoose Lemurs, Collared Lemurs, Red Ruffed Lemurs, Black & White Ruffed Lemurs and Aye-Ayes.

After visiting the DLC, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder showed Durham's seven craft breweries were are only a few minutes away so we headed straight for Fullsteam Brewery for lunch and beer. The brewery's mantra is to "brew distinctly Southern beer that fosters agricultural pride and prosperity in a post-tobacco North Carolina. By buying local to brew local, we aim to improve the quality of life of local farmers, foragers, and agricultural entrepreneurs. We seek to pioneer a Southern Beer Economy...one pint at a time." That translates to using at least 10% local ingredients such as the 30% local Humidity Pale Ale - brewed with local triticale, a wheat/rye hybrid. This is a solid beer, full of flavor and balanced seamlessly with bittering hops. My favorite was the Paycheck Pilsner brewed with southern sourced barley and corn with a tasteful and refreshing German style (with a six pack coming home).  There are also more unique beers in Fullsteam's portfolio such as a half dozen IPA styles; the Working Man's Lunch, a brown ale brewed to mimic the southern tradition of RC Cola and a Moonpie; the Carver Sweet Potato Lager, made from 200 pounds of North Carolina and named to honor Dr. George Washington Carver; and the Coffee Is For Closers Porter - inspired by iced coffee and made with Muddy Dog Sumatran Coffee. There's a lot of experimentation going on here.

There's also a  lot of experimentation going on at Ponysaurus Brewing where I would recommend visiting in the evening to enjoy the fire pit -- and the Fig Saison. That's what attracted me to the brewery and the beer is complex and delicious. Similarly, the Oyster Saison is as complex but in the mineral direction. The Ponysaurus Réserve Ale is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale featuring plenty of brown malts and Belgian candy syrup made in-house; the 10% abv is never felt. Finally, the Rye Pale Ale rounded out my sampler, light spices and balanced bitterness. Well done.

The final beer of note was the Van Gogh Breakfast Stout from Durty Bull Brewing Company.  The was poured a couple spots around town and is brewed with with local coffee from Joe Van Gogh. It is truly a delicious breakfast stout which could easily replace the  warmer staple. Cheers to the Bulls.
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