In early March I met one of my Maryland homebrewer friends (Bill!) and his buddy from North Carolina at the Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett, NC for the weekly Friday afternoon (3:00 pm) brewery tour. The tour is $5/person and includes a brewery pint glass. I’ve been on a lot of brewery tours and still enjoy them if the tour guide is knowledgeable, passionate and aims his/her talk at both craft beer newbies and geeks. The brewmaster at Red Oak, Chris Buckley, is one of the best brewery guides I’ve encountered.
Chris was trained in Munich and took the Rheinheitsgebot oath — the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 — and sticks to it by only using water, malted barley, yeast, and hops in his beers — no additives or preservatives. His beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized. He told us how the Purity Law was established by Duke Wilhelm IV to originally prevent brewers from using the grains used to make bread (wheat, spelt and rye) in order to prevent famine during years of bad harvests. Brewers back then could only use barley. And for health safety reasons only hops were allowed for bittering and flavoring. Nowadays, malted wheat, rye and spelt are allowed but only if top-fermenting ale yeast is used. If brewers are making bottom-fermenting lagers, like at Red Oak, they must stick to malted barley. Many German and German-style breweries like Red Oak still stick to these regulations.
Red Oak makes three styles with the addition of a seasonal style now and then. They just released Big Oak, a Vienna-style lager, brewed to the strength of a bock, but it wasn’t available in March when I was at the brewery. I tasted the three they had and they are all top-notch. The Hummin’ Bird was my favorite — a really nice surprise, clean and pure, wonderfully refreshing with a lot of good body to it.
- Hummin’ Bird — helles or light lager
- Red Oak – amber lager
- Battlefield – bock (dark) lager
Chris and his assistant (over here from Germany) make really good beer — each a great example of its style. The tour is informative and aimed at all levels of understanding. You’ll learn how beer is brewed and see where it’s all done from boiling to bottling or kegging. At the end of the tour, it’s tasting time! You’ll get your free pint glass at the office door on your way out. Also, if it’s available, pick up some Brewmaster’s Malt Jelly made by the brewery’s owner. It’s great on toast!
Make your way to Red Oak one of these Fridays. You’ll learn a lot and enjoy fresh delicious beer.
Red Oak Brewery
6901 Konica Drive
Whitsett, NC 27377
(Exit 138, I40/85)