UPDATE ON APRIL 4, 2019: Burlington Beer Works will begin offering sampling flights today. Four 5.5-ounce pours for $7. Yay! Time to get some samples!
About a week and a half ago, on March 16, Burlington’s much-anticipated downtown brewpub took part in a street festival held to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, or rather St. Patrick’s Day weekend. To call the soft opening a success would be significant understatement rivaling the observation that Duke is winning a lot of close basketball games lately and that Zion Williamson is becoming somewhat better known outside Durham.
For Burlington Beer Works (for more read a previous post) it was a smashing success. Only the first floor was open at the Front Street site but it was packed with customers and people stood two and three deep at the bar. I bumped into dozens of folks I know, and some I hadn’t spoken to in a few years. Everyone had smiles on their faces and a cup of freshly brewed beer in their hands. As I worked my way through the crowd, I asked those I knew what beer selection that had made. It was an assortment. A few had amber ales. One or two had stouts. A few had the IPA. All touted their choices highly and with enthusiasm. It was that kind of afternoon. Tons of good cheer all around.
Once I got close enough to order, I selected the saison, a style of ale I either love or feel indifferent about. I thought this would be a good test based on my preferences. My first taste was a revelation. It was light, flavorful without being overpowering, smooth and fun. I turned to my wife Roselee, raised the cup to eye level and said, “This is fabulous.”
We ventured outside to the Main Street sidewalk, which has enough room for outdoor tables should the restaurant and brewery decide to offer seating there. I bumped into my friend and now retired Alamance-Burlington School System Superintendent Bill Harrison who was also sampling a brew concocted just a few yards from where we were standing. Amazing when you stop to think about it. We quickly agreed that Burlington Beer Works was just just about the best addition to downtown since Zack’s opened in 1927.
“I hope it’s a success,” Bill said and I quickly nodded in the affirmative. “This could be the difference for downtown,” I added.
There are several things working in the brewpub’s favor. It’s located in the center of the most successful downtown revitalization efforts. It’s unlike any other restaurant in Burlington at the moment in terms of atmosphere, amenities and beer. It has a successful chef (Sam Forbis) who has great ideas, and it has a general manager (Tracy Schmidt) who is experienced and has assembled a strong staff. Importantly, head brewer Jeremy Hunt is producing high-quality and interesting beers that will flow from the eight taps designated for Beer Works brews. They have a cool new sign, too.
We were pressed on March 16 and couldn’t stay much longer than 30 minutes. I only had time to sample the saison. So I’m curious about how the rest of the beer lineup stacks up. The grand opening is on Saturday (March 30) but the Beer Works has a soft opening underway now. The first floor only is open starting at 4:30 p.m. A small food menu is available and Hunt says his American Wheat beer is on tap. He expects to have more ready for the grand opening just days away. It’s a ton of work.
“The beers we will have available during the grand opening are an amber ale, pale ale, oatmeal stout, saison, American IPA, American wheat, and (if I get it kegged) an Irish brown ale,” he said via social media message on Wednesday.
I asked for more details and he forwarded a menu for opening day. It reads:
Amber (5.8 ABV or alcohol by volume)
Easy drinking; nothing is too assertive; great beer for sitting in the pub and having a few.
American Wheat (5.5 ABV)
Orange aroma; light, crisp; a warm weather refresher.
American IPA (7.3 ABV)
Pineapple and grapefruit with a hint of evergreen on the nose; smooth mouth feel and a sneakily bitter finish.
Pale Ale (6.8 ABV)
Tastes like apricot jam; bitter finish
Saison (7.9 ABV)
Fresh, floral, melon, spring.
Oatmeal Stout (7.6 ABV)
Creamy, chocolate, caramel, hint of smokiness.
I want to try them all as soon as possible — as well as any other concoctions Hunt comes up with in the coming weeks. It might take some time. Often brewpubs offer flights — a sampling of four to six beers served in small glasses. Hunt said flights won’t be available at Burlington Beer Works right away but they have an alternative. “We will eventually have flights. We are also selling half pints,” Hunt said.
Pints were $5 during the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and according to the menu that price will continue. I’ll probably stop by on either March 28 or 29 as the countdown to opening day on March 30 beckons. But I’m not sure what beer I’ll sample next.