Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Master of the brew, Carolina Brewery epitomizes hometown spirits

by Christie Hadden

As seen in Fifteen 501 Magazine 

If you were to cut a vein of Robert Poitras, he'd undoubtedly bleed Carolina blue. Poitras, a third-generation Tarheel, is devoted to his beloved state, and the community of Chapel Hill in particular.

While studying abroad in Switzerland several years ago, Poitras traveled throughout Europe and was fascinated by the unique flavors of food and drink that each small community cultivated. It's this local concept that inspired him to open Carolina Brewery in 1995.

Hometown creations
Carolina Brewery - the oldest of its kind in the Triangle - makes patrons feel at home by creating a relaxed environment.

"We wanted to create a 'Cheers'-like environment where locals and regulars could have their place," Poitras says.

The brewery also offers a loyalty program called the Brew Crew to reward customers. Members who sign up online are invited to free beer tastings and can earn points for various rewards, including serving as brewer for a day.

Head brewmaster Jon Connolly's concoctions have garnered various awards, including a Gold at the Great American Beer Festival for its Flagship IPA, a Gold at the World Beer Championships for its Copperline Amber Ale and a Silver at the World Beer Championships for its Sky Blue Golden Ale.

The establishment is focused being the best in its own back yard. Its fine beers are available in several locations from the Triangle to the coast. This summer, through a partnership with the Durham Bulls, Carolina Brewery will produce a new beer called The Bull Pen Pale Ale. The brew will be available at multiple locations throughout the park, including at a Carolina Brewery stand on the main concourse.

But it's not only about beer. Each quarter, the brewery creates a seasonal menu using farm-fresh products from throughout the region; the head chef even handpicks ingredients each day. Far from the typical bar menu, much of Carolina Brewery's cuisine is made from scratch. Popular favorites include hand-pattied hamburgers and barley grain focaccia pizza.

Culinary expansions
In August 2007, Carolina Brewery opened a wholesale beer production facility and adjoining restaurant in Pittsboro, where beer tours are given from noon to 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month. For early birds, the Hop Shop opens at 7 a.m. and offers fresh-baked doughnuts and treats from the brewery's pastry chef.

Music fans can enjoy the Summer Music Series at the Beer Garden, and the Pittsboro location hosts a farmers market beginning each April.

With all this activity, Carolina Brewery still finds time to give back to the local community. Last year alone, it donated to 95 charities including The Ronald McDonald House, where it provides and serves food several times a year.

There's no doubt that Carolina Brewery is an institution steeped in local tradition. It's a challenge to think of a better place to sit back and drink in the local flavor.

Christie Hadden is founder of My Restaurant Guru, a Triangle-based Web site that connects people with area restaurants. To learn more, visit www.MyRestaurantGuru.com.

If you go

Carolina Brewery has two locations, one at 460 W. Franklin St. in downtown Chapel Hill and the other at 120 Lowes Dr. in Pittsboro. Hours for the Chapel Hill location are from 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. Hours for the Pittsboro location are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. To learn more, call (919) 942-1800 in Chapel Hill or (919) 545-2330 in Pittsboro, or visit www.carolinabrewery.com.

Artichoke Rarebit

4 one-pound cans artichoke hearts
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
8 ounces sour cream
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
4 ounces golden or lager beer (such as Sky Blue Golden Ale)

Strain artichoke hearts and place in mixer on low for 3 minutes, or until artichokes are chopped. Scrape the paddle to ensure that all artichokes are mixed well. Add remaining ingredients slowly, and mix well. Heat mixture, or rarebit, in a casserole dish at 160 degrees until golden and bubbling.

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