Top 10 North Carolina Breweries

Top 10 NC Breweries
Posted by: Mike  /   Category: Top 10 and Top 5 Lists   /   11 Comments

Since March Beer Madness ended (thanks to everyone who voted!), I’ve gotten a lot of questions about who I think should have won. In response to that question, here is a list of my 10 favorite breweries in North Carolina. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. Feel free to comment at the bottom of this post, but remember this is just my opinion… I’m not stating it as fact. All I ask, is to keep things respectful. The glory of beer is that there is no right or wrong answer… what you and someone else really like or hate may not be the same and that’s OK. Good thing there is enough beer to go around to fit everyone’s personal tastes. With that in mind… Here’s my list:

Lynnwood Grill & Brewing Concern Logo10. Lynnwood Grill & Brewing Concern

I had a lot of trouble deciding on this spot. Obviously there are going to be a lot of really amazing breweries left of the list but I went with Lynnwood. They aren’t quite as well known as a lot of other Raleigh area breweries but have been doing some really good things. They are starting to expand their range of brews (recently released a couple of sours) and I expect they will become more and more popular in the very near future.

Beer to have: Hop on Top – This is probably my favorite IPA brewed in Raleigh. It is one of their full time brews that is not only is available at their place (This brewery is also a restaurant), but has been known to be on tap at other places around town.

Olde Hickory Brewery Logo9. Olde Hickory Brewery

Here’s our 2015 March Beer Madness winner. Not sure what else I need to say about them. They’ve been as consistent as they come for as long as I’ve been drinking craft beer (and even before… They’ve been brewing for 20 years). I would say they are probably best known for their stouts (see below), but across the board, everything is pretty solid.

Beer to have: Event Horizon – This is their bourbon barrel aged stout brewed with honey. It is released towards the end of the year each year. It’s a lot easier to obtain now than it was a few years ago so if you haven’t had it before, look for it later in the year.

sub noir logo8. Sub Noir Brewing Company

In my opinion, this is the best kept secret in Raleigh. I can’t believe how many I people I talk to that have never heard of or been to Sub Noir. They brew a wide variety of amazing beers, including the best sours in Raleigh. They even do a beer they make with Count Chocula cereal. They recently expanded their tasting room, so do yourself a favor and head over there some weekend. Just don’t drink all the sours before I get there.

Beer to have: Cassis – This is their Flanders Red brewed with black currants. They brew a handful of sours and you really could pick just about any of them… but this one is my favorite.

Fonta Flora Brewery Logo7. Fonta Flora Brewery

I just recently made my first trip to Fonta Flora with much anticipation. I had tried several of their beers at tastings/bottle shares and I knew after trying a few, that they were in for big things. Being at the brewery was no different. They didn’t have a couple of the beers I wanted to try on tap that day, but everything I had was really good. I have a strong suspicion that as I get the opportunity to try a much wider variety of the things they offer…they could be moving up this list.

Beer to have: Funky Monkey – This was a one off that was a 100% Brett variant of their Brass Monkey saison. We did a flight of all 8 of their beers, and this was the clear-cut favorite. The only bad thing about this beer is that they wouldn’t let me get a growler of it to go because it was the last keg they had of it. Hopefully it’s something they do again, so more people can try its deliciousness.

Green Man Brewery Logo6. Green Man Brewery

This brewery is the 2015 March Beer Madness runner-up. Head brewer Mike Karnowski knows his stuff and brews (in my opinion) the best sours in the state, and some of the best out there. Mike will be leaving soon, so hopefully he has left his recipes in good hands so they can keep churning out amazing brews. Even if not, there are still a lot of high quality beers done by Green Man to keep them as one of the state’s best.

Beer to have: Bootsy and Snozzberry (Yeah, I cheated and listed two.) – Both are just ridiculously good. As word has gotten out how amazing they are, these beers have become that much harder to obtain. Your best bet is to be at the brewery on their release date (both in the Spring this year) because after that, it’s tough.

Noda Brewing Company Logo5. NoDa Brewing

There are a lot of really good breweries in Charlotte, but NoDa is my favorite. Although a lot of people knew about them before, they have really come on strong in the last few years. They distribute quite a few beers via their 16oz tall boy cans, but some of their best stuff can be found only at the brewery.

Beer to have: Hop Drop & Roll – How could I not go with their gold medal winning IPA (and no… I usually don’t put a lot of stock into winning medals). Their other canned IPAs (Hoppy Holidays and Hop Cakes) are both fantastic, but if I had to choose one beer that I thought I could drink for the rest of my life… HDR would be a frontrunner. Hell, I’m well on my way. If you check my untappd account, you’d see that HDR is, by far, my most checked in beer.

trophy logo4. Trophy Brewing

Despite the fact that their pizza is amazing, I like their beer better. They do such a wide variety of things, and the fact that they use such a small brewing system, things are constantly rotating in and out, so there is always something new to try. Of course this can also be a bad thing, because if you don’t get there soon after a beer good goes on tap, it’s gone. However, I’m not gonna complain when they build their new space and increase their capacity.

Beer to have: The King – This is their peanut butter banana belgian dubbel (say that 5 times fast) that they brewed for Extreme Beer Fest a few years ago, and it was so popular, they keep bringing it back. I know some of you are like…”what the hell, that sounds awful”, and then others are like “Wow, that sounds amazing,” but trust me… it’s the latter. They usually brew it a couple times a year.

Wicked Weed Brewing Logo3. Wicked Weed Brewing

Some of you may be surprised that with my well documented man crush on Wicked Weed, that they come in at #3 (and not #1) but here’s my justification: They do a lot of beers that I really love, but because they operate on such a large scale system, they also do a few beers that I’m not so much a fan of. They keep expanding, so I’m really excited to be able to get my hands on more of their stuff without having to travel to Asheville.

Beer to have: This is a tough call for me here, so I’ll cheat again and mention a couple. Freak of Nature for the hop heads, Dark Age for the stout lovers, and Black Angel for the sour fans. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Burial Beer Co. Logo2. Burial Beer Co.

The first time I went to Burial shortly after they opened, I couldn’t even find the place. Once I did, I was in love. It’s a lot easier to find now that they’ve expanded, but everything about this place is awesome. It’s one of those places, where I’ve enjoyed every beer I’ve tasted.

Beer to have: Skillet Donut Stout – This was the first beer I had from Burial at a beer festival before they were even open. It impressed me then, and impressed me even more when I went to the brewery for the first time and they served it with a donut hole. That’s definitely one way to get on my good side.

Haw River Farmhouse Ales Logo1. Haw River Farmhouse Ales

To defend this pick, I’m gonna tell you about my experience at the grand opening. First off, this was my wife and I’s first date night away from our newborn son last fall. I went with moderately high hopes, but had no idea how excited I would be leaving. They had about 10 beers on tap that day (several of which were collaborations), but every single one was above average to excellent in my book. Even the mushroom brown ale (collaboration w/ Deep River), which didn’t sound like my cup of tea, because I don’t like mushrooms and brown ales aren’t my favorite, was really good. When we left, I told my wife, that I thought Haw River would be the most popular brewery in the state for craft beer drinkers within a few years. I think they’re well on their way.

Beer to have: Major Arcana – This is a dark blackberry sour aged in brandy barrels… Need I say more? But really everything that head brewer, Ben Woodward, does apparently turns to gold, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.


About the Author

They say good people drink good beer... I must be a saint.


  1. Anonymous May 6, 2015 at 11:54 am  /  Comment Reply

    This is fine if it is truly just supposed to be your 10 “FAVORITE” breweries in the state, which is what you mention it is in the article, but your title and graphic state it is the “top 10 breweries”, which to me would suggest the 10 BEST breweries. Subtle, but important, difference here. Your reasonings for a “favorite 10” list are sound. If this were supposed to be a real “10 best: in the state list, Id say the vast majority of readers would disagree with many (certainly the majority) of your choices.

    • Mike
      Mike May 6, 2015 at 12:12 pm  /  Comment Reply

      I think all lists like this are going to be based on opinion. No one can claim a “best brewery” because of the subjectivity of it. If you think the vast majority would disagree with me…tell me which ones would be on your list.

      • Anonymous May 7, 2015 at 9:37 am  /  Comment Reply

        It is a given that this is a highly subjective type of list, so I will try and carefully select only a few of what I think are the “most” objective omissions here. I think my top two “omissions” would be Foothills and Fullsteam. Both offer a full lineup of beer styles, both have won numerous awards, and both are just overall fantastic operations. While slightly on the more “subjective” side, I would throw mother earth and mystery in there. I also have a fond place for Big Boss because they were one of the first in Raleigh (2006), years before almost anyone else was doing much in Raleigh, they were bottling, kegging, and having kickass brewery tours, and there is something to say for being a pioneer in a market. They certainly helped those that have come after them. And not that I am a huge personal fan, but I know duck rabbit has won a ridiculous number of awards for some of their beers as well, so that woudlbe an example of a brewery that wouldnt be on any of my favorites lists, but could possibly be on some of my “top” lists. Hope that all makes sense to you.

        • Mike
          Mike May 7, 2015 at 11:25 am  /  Comment Reply

          I see where you’re coming from. I guess I just have a hard time looking at beer objectively because I don’t put a whole lot of stock in winning medals, which I agree would be the most objective way to do it. Most of the panels that decide those winners are trying a high number of beers in one sitting and I think it would be hard to distinguish and truly decide between that many at once. Also, you never really know what the competition is. Shaun Hill (from Hill Farmstead), to my knowledge, has never entered any of his beers into any beer contests/festivals. Even though they have no medals, they are widely considered the best brewery on the planet.

          With that said, Foothills was definitely one that deserves strong consideration, although it barely missed out on my list. The others you mentioned are necessarily my favorites (some I like more than others), but I agree with you that there probably is a large contingent of people that would have them on their list as well. Thanks for your input.

          • Anonymous May 7, 2015 at 12:07 pm  / 

            Hey, I’m just ecstatic that we can now even HAVE a “discussion” like this based upon breweries just within North Carolina! Thanks for the thoughtful, articulate response. Now if only our politicians could have a back and forth more like this!

            Keep drinking NC beer :)

  2. Larry G. Jones May 6, 2015 at 3:02 pm  /  Comment Reply

    I think your list is pretty spot-on in my opinion. Personally I can’t render an opinion about Fonta Flora Brewery because I have “yet” to try anything by them. Lynwood Brewing Concern, Sub Noir Brewing, Trophy Brewing and Haw River Farmhouse Ales will always make my personal list because of the quality and diversity of their beers. I enjoyed reading your column today in the N&O and look forward to more to come.

    • Mike
      Mike May 7, 2015 at 9:08 am  /  Comment Reply

      Thanks Larry…although I think you have me confused with someone who writes for the N&O because that gig hasn’t been offered to me yet. Do I have a doppelganger out there?

  3. Olaf May 7, 2015 at 8:14 am  /  Comment Reply

    Thanks for sharing. One of my favorites I didn’t see listed is foothills. Did they come close to cracking the top 10?

    • Mike
      Mike May 7, 2015 at 9:11 am  /  Comment Reply

      Foothills definitely was a strong contender. As with a lot of other really good breweries, it fell just a little short of making my list. I just recently visited their new taproom and it’s a really cool place to go, hang out, and have a few beverages.

  4. Chris May 8, 2015 at 3:13 pm  /  Comment Reply

    Just a fact check correction for you – the Woodfruit mushroom brown ale at Haw River was a collab with Deep River, not Sub Noir. I also like that people argue with your list because it means there are clearly more than 10 great breweries in NC. If no one argued and we all agreed with this list, then it would be a pretty sad state of affairs for NC beer. See you soon, buddy!

    • Mike
      Mike May 8, 2015 at 5:05 pm  /  Comment Reply

      As always…Chris Creech knows beer better than I do. Thanks for pointing that out so I can make the correction…I guess I got it confused with Dust Bunny…that was the Sub Noir/Haw River collaboration now that I think about it.

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