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Beer Reviews

Fearrington Winter

Fullsteam Brewery
Durham, NC

Style: Porter

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Asheville may be the jewel of craft brewing in North Carolina, but it’s far from the only place you’ll find delicious, locally brewed beer in the Tar Heel state. In fact, much like California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, Wisconsin, and other states with well-known craft brewing centers, North Carolina’s craft beer culture is both diverse and far-reaching. While we only spent a brief amount of time in North Carolina on our spring vacation last year, we were able to sample a nice cross-section of NC brews thanks to stops at craft beer superstores Appalachian Vintner and Bruisin’ Ales in Asheville and The Charleston Beer Exchange in Charleston, SC.

One of our takeaways was from Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, about a 3 hour drive northeast of Asheville. Raleigh-Durham is one of the most overlooked metropolitan areas in the country and is home not only to over 1.2 million residents, but plenty of highly regarded craft breweries as well as major research universities Duke University (Durham), the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and North Carolina State University (Raleigh). The only thing better than the beer in Raleigh-Durham might be the basketball, and Nigel is a fan of both.

Fullsteam promotes itself as a “farm to table” brewery- check that, “plow to pint”- and is proud to accentuate its southern roots. Advertising “Beer from the Beautiful South,” Fullsteam focuses on local ingredients to give a southern touch to traditional styles. Still a small operation, Fullsteam only bottles in 22 oz. bomber form and cannot be found outside of the Carolinas. Nothing about Fullsteam is standard, as even the more typical styles have a local, southern twist to them. It’s a boutique brewery if there ever was such a thing.

I purchased my bomber of Fullsteam in South Carolina at the Charleston Beer Exchange. Eager to take home as wide of a sampling from the region as possible, I figured a winter porter would be a prime candidate for cellaring a few months. Brewed with coffee beans from the Fearrington House Inn in nearby Pittsboro, NC and fresh Georgia pecans, it sounded delicious. Fullsteam brews a different Fearrington offering for each season, each one utilizing different local ingredients in conjunction with the Fearrington House Inn.

Fearrington Winter is much livelier than expected for a porter, with a strong pop of the bottle cap revealing a nice waft of coffee-scented vapor. The pour is heavily carbonated, with a pillowy tan head rising quickly to the top of the glass then dissipating nearly as quickly after a few seconds. A foamy tan head lingers throughout, topping off a beer that’s as black as night otherwise.

Aromas are heavy on the coffee side, lacking much in the way of nutty pecan. The roasted malt typical of a porter pairs nicely with the roasted coffee, and all that roastiness wouldn’t be complete without a hint of smoke. As the beer warms, a strong inhale brings out a touch of sweet sugars and nutty pecan, but I was hoping to get more of a pecan balance in the aroma. After all, aroma plays a major role in taste and I’m holding out hope that there’s a touch of pecan pie in the flavor.

Ultimately the flavor mirrors the aroma in most aspects. It’s clear that coffee is the dominant player throughout. I’m fine with that since I’m a huge fan of coffee-inspired ales, but again … I was hoping it was a little more diverse than just a coffee porter. Roasted coffee and roasted malt make for a solid porter profile and the nuttiness of the pecans comes through at times, giving it a further earthy profile. As the beer warms, there is an underlying sweetness that begins to come through. Sugary notes begin to become more present, as do the pecan notes. While the smokiness continues to indicate it’s a porter, the sweet, creamy notes begin to hint at a milk stout. The dark, roasted profile keeps this squarely in the porter category, but the sweet, creamy notes that come through towards the end are a nice change of pace in a beer that was on the verge of being one-dimensional. The carbonation present on the pour resonates in the mouthfeel, as it’s a lively beer that tickles the tongue with a bubbly profile throughout.

I was a bit torn on the rating for Fearrington Winter, so I broke it down to a few key elements. First and foremost, is it a good winter beer? It is, as the dark roasted malt and coffee are undoubtedly soothing on a chilly North Carolina winter night … after all, it was warming on a frigid January night in Wisconsin, so mission accomplished. Secondly, is it a good southern take on the porter style? I would say yes, though I was hoping for more pecan in the profile. Lastly, if it’s a coffee pecan porter, does it pay tribute to all of those elements? Coffee, check. Porter, check. Pecan, not so much. However, there’s enough pecan in the profile to suffice, so I’m pushing it to the four-mug threshold.

When discussing the hubs of craft beer in the United States, North Carolina has earned the right to be part of the discussion. While many outside of the Southeast may be skeptical, the craft beer culture in the Tar Heel state is second to none, and it’s not just limited to Asheville. Fullsteam is a prime example of this, and it joins a number of other craft breweries in the Raleigh-Durham region as well as other parts of North Carolina to drive that point home. If visiting the Carolinas, be sure to check out Fullsteam and their unique line of southern-inspired ales.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 26, 2015.
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