Road Trip Report: Outer Banks, NC

Why, you ask, would we bother writing about beers in North Carolina, much less on the barrier islands that are prone to having whole stretches swept into the ocean at the faintest whiff of a hurricane?  Because we know a lot of you go there, and there’s no use pretending you don’t.  It’s a shorter drive than many of our daily commutes when you think about it, plus if you’ve grown up anywhere south or east of RVA over the past few decades (which is something like half the Commonwealth), you’ve probably witnessed all the growth from Corolla on down to Hatteras.  That includes what is actually the most storied craft beer scene not named Asheville.

Plus, our biggest article after we launched VBR was about a place down in Cape Hatteras.  So click on it, and ye shall receive.

Road Trip Report:  OBX
Breweries:  5
Bottle and Growler Shops:  3
Good Taplists:  2

Weeping Radish Brewery (Jarvisburg)
The oldest, most venerable craft brewery in North Carolina dates back to 1986.  At one point, Weeping Radish had facilities on Roanoke Island and in Kitty Hawk, but has since consolidated to a production-based spot about 25 minutes off the Outer Banks, on Route 158 near the equally venerable Cotton Gin.  A visit will get you a quaint dining room and a staircase leading up to an overlook for the brewing area.  The banners, awards, articles, and other memorabilia up there are filthy rich with craft beer history.

I’ll be honest, what originally drew me back to Weeping Radish were my childhood memories of visiting the old locations with my parents.  Their jobs for the Department of Defense frequently took them to what was then West Germany, and they delighted in having fresh German-style beer and food “down at the beach.”  When it came time for us all to actually move over to Germany for a few years, it became both my crash course in the cuisine and my original nostalgia trip later on.  So let’s be honest, if you’re looking for avant garde brews then you’re in the wrong country…literally and figuratively.  The beers are true to the spirit of the Rheinheitsgebot, fresh, mild, and quenching.  The food is the true all-star, and you’ll probably find yourself taking home some sausage!

Outer Banks Brewing Station (MP 8.5, Kill Devil Hills)
You don’t necessarily need to care about beer with a conscience, because these folks have plenty of it.  Founded in 2001, OBBS is one of the more lively spots between Corolla and the southern tip of Nags Head, drawing enough business to actually stay open year round.  Their main seating area feels right out of a Munich festhaus, all oaken beams, benches, and the smell of fresh batches of wort behind the glass-enclosed brewing area.  The real attraction, however, is the outdoor biergarten and “beer truck,” where they serve a full menu and have several corn hole areas as well as a large pirate ship playground for the kids.  The biergarten also

If you visit, we suggest an early or late appearance to snag the best tables outside…and here’s hoping they increase the seating capacity (and shade!) in the biergarten sometime soon!

Lost Colony Brewery & Ales (Manteo)
Originally Full Moon Brewery & Grill, Lost Colony was started by a former pilot who used to give aerial tours of the Outer Banks.  They’re open a good chunk of the year, from basically college Spring Break until Columbus Day (if you’re playing it safe).  On our most recent visit, they said that while they’re looking to branch out into bottling, they don’t expect to distribute much further than OBX – the same sphere where you can currently find an entry on just about every single draught list in the area.  Their two most popular are the Lost Colony Blonde Ale and the Buxton Brown; in addition to the Brown, try to get your hands on the Hatteras Red, Holy Hand Grenade Imperial Stout, and the xx Pale Ale.

If you visit their spot in the Town of Manteo, be forewarned that their (small) dining room is super popular for lunch and early dinner hours.  Poke your nose in there if you want to look at swag, but we suggest plopping down in the attached pub instead to grab a flight and a meal.

Northern Outer Banks Brewing Company (Corolla)
Northern OBX is fairly new to the scene, with a fairly limited taproom that is by appointment only.  As of June 2018, they’ve released five beers so far, with their Corolla Pale Ale starting to catch on in a few restaurants.

1718 Brewing (Ocracoke)
If you’re adventurous to put in the extra 2.5-3 hours of driving, waiting, and ferrying from the main entrance of OBX to the quiet isle of Ocracoke, then you’ve probably earned some fresh local craft beer.

Bottle & Growler Shops
Even as recently as three years ago you would basically have been up a creek if you were looking for craft beer.  Harris Teeter is not even a decade old, and a few of the bigger gas stations/beach shops used to have a “decent” selection…by 2010 standards.  I thought I was a hot shot for snagging a keg of Hoegaarden for my wedding around the same time…but I had to order it 90 days out, and they didn’t even know it required a European tap.  Somewhat cool story:  my groomsmen were so petrified when the commercial tap couldn’t connect that they had our photographer hold us hostage for an extra 20 minutes so they could rush the keg back and swap it out for two cases of bottles instead.  They then took turns monitoring my glass for the next few hours, swiping it from my hands to fill it up from the bottle and return it to me.  I didn’t know until I was too drunk to care…though I was fairly surprised to find an Amber coming out of the tap when I finally got to it myself.  It turned out that they convinced the keg place to throw in a sixtel of Fat Tire for free.  And yes, we made it through all that beer, most of a full keg of Bud Light, two cases of wine…let’s just stop there.

This list is by no means all-inclusive.  Your favorite search app or Untappd will have other suggestions, but we can at least vouch for the selections and availability for these spots.  Happy hunting!

Chip’s Wine & Beer (MP 6, Kill Devil Hills)
In addition to the single best bottle, bomber, and pack selection within 50 miles, Chip’s also has a full service bar and growler fill station.  You can get local beers ranging from southern VA to South Carolina, and their connections are good enough to have scored fresh kegs of Founders KBS and CBS.  They also offer wine, cigars, and flavored olive oils.  All in all, it’s a good way to spend an hour just planning your week’s worth of libations.

Growlers 2 Go (Duck)
Originally hailing from Richmond, this semi-chain is your best bet to keep on sipping Virginia beers while you’re in the OBX.  We’re not just talking Devils Backbone…I’ve scored growler fills from Champion, O’Connor, Coelacanth, Parkway, Port City, and even Green Flash-when-that-was-still-a-thing-in-VA-Beach.

Buffalo City Jug Shop (MP 9.5, Kill Devil Hills)
Some more unexpected rarities can be found at Buffalo Jug – at least by OBX standards.  Just opened in late 2017, they’ve already cast a retail net wide enough to snag keg distributors for Captain Lawrence, Mikeller San Diego, Victory, TRVE, Allagash, and a host of other national brands.  Their North Carolina selection is also full of variety in terms of depth and breadth, from Durham (Starpoint) to Raleigh (Trophy), Charlotte (Wooden Robot) to Asheville (Burial and Highland), Corolla (Northern OBX) to Ocracoke (1718).

Bacchus Wine & Cheese (Corolla)
Their focus may be on other niceties, but it’s one of the most concentrated bottle and can selections from local breweries around.  It’s worth the hike up to the northern end of Route 12 if you don’t plan to make it to the breweries themselves.

Butcher Block Market (Corolla)
Go here for kegs, and nowhere else.  They often have 100+ in the fridge…and no, this is not the site of my wedding day debacle.  With age comes wisdom (and Google Maps).

Restaurants and Bars
The Outer Banks is really about the sort of cocktail that will knock you on your butt, then have you find yourself face down in the sand the next morning.  The mixed drinks down there give new meaning to the phrase “Hurricane Party.”  As a result, a fair number of establishments have by-the-numbers tap lists with macros, larger craft brewers, and perhaps 1-2 local breweries.

Here are the places we go when we want more a different kind of happy hour on the beach, and we’re not already going to OBBS or Lost Colony.  Once again, this isn’t meant to be a definitive list by any means:

Red Drum Bar and Grille (MP 10, Nags Head)
More famous for their shrimp mac n’ cheese, snapper, and other seafood fare, you’d be surprised to find a 20-deep craft beer tap list at Red Drum.  The two bar areas actually make up the majority of the “seating,” and its cozy arrangements are good for catching a lunchtime kickoff once the beach season starts to wind down.  On our most recent visit, I was quite impressed by kegs from Foothills, Mother Earth, Wicked Weed, and even Devils Backbone.

Barefoot Bernie’s (MP 4, Kitty Hawk)
As with other restaurant entries on here, I will admit to going back to Barefoot Bernie’s in earlier days more for the food and cocktails than the beer.  Diversity is a wonderful thing, though…  If you want to pair something more than an Orange Crush with some pretty righteous mango slaw, you may not find a better spot.  These days, Bernie’s is going 20-deep behind the bar, to include some forward-leaning sours, hazy IPAs, and infusions.  It’s also a great spot to find out what Sierra Nevada is doing over in Asheville, as they always seem to have 3-4 less common kegs on hand.

Lucky 12 Tavern (MP 11, Nags Head)
We used to get Legend Brown Ale in pitchers here back before most of the other joints in this list diversified.  That’s good enough for me.

Sunset Grille and Raw Bar (Duck)
There’s a fairly good chance we’re sending you here because of the view.  There’s a slightly smaller chance we’re sending you here because the in-house Pale Ale is made by The St. George Brewing Company and is, in fact, one of the best beers they make.  But it’s really the view.

The point is, if you’re going all the way down to the Outer Banks just for the beer, you’ve got your head in the sand.  There’s lots to recommend to make your own little beach party, but it’s all about sinking your toes into the 80-some miles of sand.  Then you can grab beer and a few crabcakes before sinking down into the couch to sleep away the afternoon.  Cheers!

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