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The Taste of Late Autumn

As the season darkens, so does our beer — making Wilmington a true Port-er city

By JaSon Frye

Autumn. On the tongue it tastes of apple and

pumpkin; wood smoke; the tannic rot of leaves; crisp, clean frost; vanilla; coffee and caramel and chocolate. It tastes and smells like porter.

Even the colors take on the characteristics of porter and its darker beer cousins, from the mahogany of fallen leaves to the rich muddy marsh soil at low tide to the black waters of the Cape Fear River. Everywhere you look, everything you smell: porters and stouts and dunkels and bocks. Porter-style beers are just a little older than Wilmington itself. The first beer of its kind was called “Entire,” not porter, when it made its London debut in the 1720s. By the time Wilmington, then New Liverpool, was founded in 1739, Entire had become a workingman’s drink and was especially popular among the porters who labored in London’s ports and in her crowded streets. Fitting then to drink a porter in Wilmington, a key port to the young colony of North Carolina and a major port to this day. As summer, which can persist here well into October, withdraws its heat and humidity, we swap summery lagers and citrusy, hoppy IPAs for the dark, robust beers of fall. It’s a strange transition for some, but for others, it’s long awaited refreshment. Downtown dwellers know Cape Fear Wine and Beer on Front Street for the punk rock spilling noisily into the street, or by Josh, the vested, bearded bouncer checking IDs at the door. Beer aficionados know it for an entirely 28

Salt • November 2013

different reason. Inside this dim bar — one part Beowulf’s mead hall, one part modern-day watering hole — are hundreds of beers, many in bottles; a dozen or more on draft. Near the ceiling, shingles espousing the brews du jour hang from single nails. This time of the year, the selection is thick with decadent dark beers like Evil Twin Blackout Imperial Porter, a potent pint that weighs in at a whopping 10.2 percent ABV. When the bartenders pour a pint of it, the brew is shockingly dark. One sniff pulls fall into your nose — slightly smoky, a little char, a little bit like leaves after a rain storm — and the first sip of the silky beer is savory, finishing with a bitter, coffee-like bite. And it just gets better from there. For some. For others the scene goes like this: A couple approach the bar, study the shingles, settle on the Evil Twin. They order and the bartender promptly passes over their pint. She tastes it. Her eyes light up, then close as she rolls it around her mouth. She passes the glass to him. He drinks deep, one big swallow. He makes a face and says, “It tastes like soy sauce.” Then he orders a saison, a style of spicy pale ale, to wash the umami away. Finding a bottle to enjoy at home — preferably with a porterhouse steak — can be a challenge if you’re not familiar with the style. Enter Lighthouse Beer and Wine. This tiny blue cracker box of a building is something like the TARDIS of beer (with a sizable corner devoted to wine). Walk through the screen door and the ceiling is there, pressing you down, and a head-high rack of beer dominates the space. More beer stands in stacks on the floor. More on shelves. Even more in coolers. The selection of more than seven hundred beers is overwhelming — unless you ask for help, that is. Inquire about porters and stouts and discover the breadth of the The Art & Soul of Wilmington

PhotograPhs by james stefiuk

Cape Fear Wine and Beer

November 2013 Salt  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

November 2013 Salt  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington