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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Carolina roadtrip

John Barecki's first contribution to the Buzz just might land him a job with the North Carolina tourism board.

John (left) with the owner of Sam's Quick Shop,
a craft-beer destination in Durham, NC
By John Barecki

During the 1st through the 6th of November, 2011, I was lucky enough to travel down to North Carolina with my girlfriend to visit my sister and her family in Raleigh and our beer brothers in the South. The trip down through Ohio and the Virginia’s was full of fall beauty, with mountains appearing as warm blankets of red and yellow, eventually turning back to green the closer we came to the Atlantic coast. While there, we decided to head to downtown Wilmington, NC, where David Lynch filmed most of Blue Velvet. After perusing the little shops we came to Front Street Brewery, a cozy wood-laden seating and bar area similar to most of the Ionia Avenue bars here in Grand Rapids.

Operating on a 600-bbl capacity system Front Street puts out four flagship ales and three to four special releases, all of which are very drinkable. We were able to try the newest special release, a black-as-night coffee stout with superb smoothness and amazing notes of java. It was definitely one of the best I have had in that style. After a nice flight-sampling of everything else on tap we enjoyed fresh-from-the-coast crab cakes and grilled fish tacos that were both top notch.

Front Street, Wilmington, NC
The following day I decided to see who else provides the community with life-giving liquids (aka beer)—call it my obligation as a Siciliano's employee. We drove to Sam's Quik Shop in Durham, only 25 minutes northeast of Raleigh and not far from Duke University's campus. Arriving at what looked like an old supermarket from the 1970's I wondered what treasures I might find within. Inside there were several shelves stacked floor to ceiling with beers from all over the place. There were also cold beverages in the coolers, a selection of glass wear, and North Carolina wines and meads.

Looking at Sam's was like looking into a mirror version of Siciliano's, minus the brewing equipment. As I chatted with the owner I found out that they have been selling so much Bell's and Founder's that they can't get it fast enough. (It's always good to see our hometown suds doing so well in other places.) I was able to pick up most of the well-known Carolina craft brews such as Duck-Rabbit, Mother Earth Brewing, and Carolina Brewing Co. They also have several non-Carolina breweries which are still unavailable to us in the North, some prized Belgian's, for example, and a nice bomber selection. In general, Sam's Quick Shop is one of those rare finds you wouldn't think would hold such a nice selection. We were pleasantly surprised by the friendly staff and great prices, and I recommend stopping by if you're ever near Durham.

Another shot of Sam's Quick Shop
(notice what the customer is carrying)
Coming to the close of our journey we decided to hit the local farmer's market. We found a lot of local goodies: pecans, beans, and peanuts, all in season, and fresh made bread and local honey. We then headed into downtown Raleigh to a well-known taphouse called The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. This franchise runs from Texas to North Carolina, all with a large selection of draft-handles and bottles to choose from. We enjoyed a couple pints of Sweet Water 420 Extra Pale Ale, some Carolina Brewing Co. and had some lunch from their small but satisfying menu. I had a tasty sandwich consisting of salmon lox, capers, jalapeno-pesto cream cheese and red onion. It was exceptional. We capped off the night with a round of disc golf at a local park, some great food and good company.

Overall, this trip is in my top ten places to see and experience. We met some really cool people, saw the beauty of the mid-Atlantic coast and experienced some high-quality "liquid" Southern hospitality. I highly recommend taking a trip down South, first for the scenery and second for the variety of places that will entice all of your senses.

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