We found ourselves in North Carolina for Christmas this year and, in the spirit of our previous bar-ventures to Heinzelmännchen and Innovation Brewing, we decided to see what the Waynesville craft beer scene had to offer! Our first stop was this awesome little place called BearWaters Brewing Company (formerly HeadWaters Brewery). They’ve been in town for a little over a year and have A LOT to offer.
The actual brewery is in a great location because it’s right off the highway but still hidden away. Honestly it took us by surprise at first because our trusty TomTom started guiding us down a residential road but then we spotted BearWaters tucked away at the end of an office park with warehouses and garages (the old school VW van decorated in BearWaters’ colors and logo invited us down the driveway).
For being a small, local brewery in Waynesville, I feel like BearWaters’ doing things excessively right. I mean, this spot had just a great combination of all the right things. Their slogan – “go with the flow” – really sets the tone for the entire visit. They’re a family friendly brewery that also allows dogs, which is something you don’t see every day. The inside of the tap room was honestly one of the most comfortable brew atmospheres I’ve ever been in: well-lit, open, clean, and lots of bright colors (as opposed to a dark, closed-in, tavern-like atmosphere). Overall it was very inviting and laid back.
The most impressive thing about the entire visit was the knowledgeable staff (namely Jenna). She was so friendly and very open to helping a couple of craft beer novices learn how to taste beer, recognize different subtleties, identify unique traits, etc. It was really cool too because she wasn’t just knowledgeable about the BearWaters brews but beer in general: for example, she started talking to us about things like the familia that hops come from, which signaled to us that she really knows beer.
Jess and I really liked everything we tasted at BearWaters and we had a particularly unique experience because we both tried (and liked!) two beer styles that we don’t traditionally go for. I’m not a huge fan of stouts because I don’t like coffee but BearWaters’ stouts didn’t use a burnt or heavily roasted hops (which we learned is what often gives a stout the bitter flavor I don’t like) so it was super smooth and enjoyable. Jess isn’t a barrel aged fan because she doesn’t like bourbon, but we learned that BearWaters actually barrel ages their brews (instead of using bourbon extract or flavoring, which is apparently what happens with a lot of “barrel aged” beers) so the bourbon taste was a bit more mellow.
Like the previous pairings, I wanted to write up a menu based on what we tasted:
The ST NICK’S CREEK WINTER ALE had layers of citrus and ginger that you could taste in your sinuses. I’d pair it with some chargrilled crystallized ginger seitan medallions, lemon and clove baby brussel sprouts, and cherry glazed sweet potato planks topped with kumquat preserves.
We felt like BearWaters’ SLIDING ROCK ALE had what regular, mainstream beer is missing (almost like a Yuengling plus!). Very light but also a little bit of that depth you like in a beer. I’d enjoy this brew with a white balsamic and white wine coq au vin: braised chicken in white balsamic and white wine, served over an herb and smoked gouda/roquefort polenta cake topped with a lemon and hazelnut vinaigrette.
The BROWN MOUNTAIN DARK ALE had a heavy mouthfeel and reminded me of coffee and Cajun brined shrimp with a sweet coconut basmati rice, woody microgreens, and a toffee beurre noisette.
BearWaters got really creative with their NEAPOLITAN BLOWN APART! Jenna told us that this barrel aged stout was like a deconstructed version of the classic Neapolitan ice cream and you could definitely taste all of the layers. To counter this complex brew, I’d do a deconstructed fowl board: lemon jasmine tea brined duck breast with strawberry preserves and duck cracklings; roasted red pepper and rosemary grouse ballotine with a cauliflower puree and a chocolate balsamic drizzle; and pheasant terrine with candied pistachio crumble and a vanilla white port vinaigrette.
The chocolate barrel aged BOURBON BLACKBERRY STOUT used local blackberries and like I said, even though they used Maker’s Mark barrels, Jess really enjoyed this stout. It would go well with braised bear spareribs with a blackberry glazed new potato and asparagus hash topped with a chipotle bourbon mocha BBQ sauce.
The STIFF PADDLE IPA is one of BearWaters’ flagship beers. It was a very balanced IPA that had a citrusy start with some sweetness in the middle and no over-the-top hoppiness. I’d almost do a spin on the classic “Pigs in a Blanket” and pair this with some “Antelopes in a Blanket” stuffed with African black rice and wild mushrooms and served with a tomato rosemary cream sauce and a side of mashed celery root and turnip, all drizzled with a chocolate malt reduction.
Last but not least, BearWaters’ SNOWNADO STOUT was an awesome seasonal peppermint mocha stout with a real heavy mouthfeel. It’d go great with a simple but delicious maple coffee cake with a mint and white chocolate fondue.
We can’t say enough good things about this brewery (we’ll definitely be back asap!) and it’s only got us more excited to check out some other local breweries in WNC. Stay tuned for a fourth mountain brews post from another Waynesville microbrewery: Frog Level Brewing Company!