The Best U.S. Craft Beers to Sip this Spring

Candace Hobbs, showcasing the Jade IPA by Foothills Brewing Company, is the owner of The Grape & Ale (8521 E. Oak Island Dr., Oak Island) and a contributor to Southport Magazine. Photo by Kris Beasley

Candace Hobbs, showcasing the Jade IPA by Foothills Brewing Company, is the owner of The Grape & Ale (8521 E. Oak Island Dr., Oak Island) and a contributor to Southport Magazine. Photo by Kris Beasley

The explosion of craft breweries across the United States has opened up a whole new world for brew lovers. North Carolina is enjoying the same growth with a total of 86 craft breweries across the state as of November 2013. Unfortunately, not many have made it to the coast with distribution of their wares; however, it’s just a matter of time.

Last month, The Grape & Ale’s Brew Club members enjoyed six selections of beers perfect for the season, including four from within the Carolinas and Virginia. Using ratings from our Brew Club “rate night” events—where members gather to sample several different beers and scale them to select their favorites—and scores from RateBeer.com (RB) and BeerAdvocate.com (BA), two rating agencies that utilize reviews from their website members)—I’m able to determine the brews we carry on our shelves. Here are five we’re loving right now—and if you hurry, you may still find a couple of these selections on our two tap handles.

Black Perle Dark IPA
RJ Rockers Brewing Company
Spartanburg, SC
ABV: 9.5% • 94 Points RB and RA

RJ Rockers is perhaps best known for its Son of a Peach fruit beer, but they’re making waves with the “Ales from the Dark Side” limited series, of which the Black Perle is included.

This is a beer that is a good transition from winter to spring, as hoppier brews infest the shelves where porters, stouts and darker ales dominated through the winter. The Black Perle is a roasted take on the typical IPA, leaning heavily on malts but focusing the flavor with the German Perle hop.

Go To IPA
Stone Brewing Company
Escondido, CA
ABV: 4.5% • 96 points RB
Stone is recognized for its intense IPA’s, but the Go To was brewed to be a sessionable (easy drinking, lower alcohol content) IPA. There’s still full flavor—by way of pine and fruit notes—but you won’t regret having a few as you might with an IPA boasting a higher ABV.
To accomplish this, Stone employed “hop bursting,” a new technique wherein lots of hops are added during the final phase of the brewing process, beckoning out the extreme flavors and aromas—namely the iconic bitterness of hops. This brew was birthed just in March 2014.

Jade IPA
Foothills Brewing Company
Winston-Salem, NC
ABV: 7.4% • 97 points RB
Earning its moniker from the bold, citrus-laden flavor of Pacific Jade hops, this year-round NC IPA pairs tropical fruit notes with a white pepper finish. It’s a clean IPA, exuding freshness and getting more bitter with Chinook and Citra hops.

Citra Mantra
Otter Creek Brewing
Middlebury, VT
ABV: 5.75% • 96 points RB
Using the Citra hop and crisp malts, Citra Mantra is like candy, giving off hints of oranges and grapefruits within the subtle dryness of the hop. As an unfiltered Pils Lager, Citra Mantra is a good, drinkable choice for those breaking into the craft-brew mania—or those desiring something light for spring.

Optimal Wit
Port City Brewing Company
Alexandria, VA
ABV: 5% • 86 points RB
This beverage is brewed in the Belgian witbier tradition, meaning wheat is also used in the brewing process, imparting fruity flavors and aromas, often harping on banana and clove notes, through fermentation. Optimal Wit won the Gold Medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, which recognizes it as the best example of its style in the country.
Optimal Wit uses a particular yeast that gives off the aroma of plums, while tastebuds frolic in flavors of coriander, orange peels, and grains of paradise. The finish is crisp and the tantalizing fruit lingers, urging the drinker to take another sip.

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