Hot Takes, Quick Tastes: Highland, Green Man and Unknown

In Beer Reviews by Ryan

We take beers from North Carolina’s Unknown Brewing, Highland Brewing and Green Man Brewing for a spin on the tasting paddle.

We have a longstanding practice here at Guys Drinking Beer of not accepting samples from breweries or PR firms of beer that isn’t available in the Chicago area or Illinois. Our thinking is, why tell you about a potentially great beer that you won’t be able to get your hands on?

However, a few months back we were presented with an opportunity to sample beers from a few North Carolina breweries and took a flier on offerings from the bustling beer state who’s brewers have received national acclaim for their creativity.

Could we drone on for 1000 or so words on each beer? Probably. But we won’t. Instead, consider this a “tip of the iceberg” series of recommendations on things you can drink in North Carolina.

Highland Brewing Company Mandarina IPA

Highland Brewing Company, the dean of craft brewing in the beercation city of Asheville, has been around since the mid 90’s and — from my vantage point in Michigan — is doing a pretty good job in both keeping up with current trends in craft brewing while sticking with some staples.

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The Mandarina IPA hits the trendy note of [insert fruit infused IPA here]. Thankfully this IPA, brewed with oranges, is actually light on the citrus and leans a bit more tropical. Some IPAs are enveloped by the fruit they’re infused with, but not this one, and I can get behind that.

Highland Brewing Company Thunderstruck Coffee Porter

Lower in ABV than I’d like a roasty winter porter to be (5.9 percent), Thunderstruck Coffee Porter still ticks all the right boxes. A mellow roastiness mingles with fresh brewed coffee, vanilla beans, a touch of smoke and moderate hop bite on the finish.

Highland Brewing Company Highland Pilsner

I’m a sucker for a good pilsner and the Highland Pilsner certainly fits the bill. I tend to like my pilsners a touch hoppy and sometimes grassy (see Victory Prima Pils), however this one was a bit more biscuity with an underlying honey sweetness. And I liked it. There were also notes of cracked black pepper, pears and plums, all co-mingling with a distinct earthiness.

Highland Brewing Company Gaelic Ale

This amber is Highland’s most often brewed beer, making up over half of the brewery’s annual production, and boasts near-perfect balance of malt and hops. The first stat is kind of amazing in this day and age, right? An amber ale — not an IPA — making up over 50 percent of a brewery’s annual production. For what’s seemingly becoming a castoff style, this amber ale intertwines caramel sweetness with spicy hops, a floral bouquet and a distinct breadiness. Off all the beers I sampled out of North Carolina, the Gaelic Ale is the one I wanted more of.

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Green Man Brewing Thriller

Man, this was a fun one. Released around Halloween, this blood orange saison was brewed with blood oranges and beets, the latter giving the beer its reddish hue. Citrus from the blood oranges alongside earth and must dominated the nose of this nearly 8 percent ABV saison. A zesty, citrus zing opens up the palate followed by a creamy sweetness and rustic saison funk. Thriller is equal parts tart, crisp, sweet and dry.

Unknown Brewing Dos AK’s

Dos AK’s from Charlotte’s Unknown Brewing Company was billed as a Mexican mole-inspired imperial stout brewed with cacao nibs, chipotle peppers, coriander, poblano peppers, cinnamon, grains that mimic the taste of raisins, and hops that have a taste akin to pineapple, per a press release. Sadly it only delivered on about a quarter of those ingredients.

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As imperial stouts go it was a solid offering with velvety smooth notes of chocolate and cinnamon on the nose and palate with hardly a trace of alcohol, despite clocking in at over 9 percent ABV. Unfortunately the spiciness I was longing for never materialized, even after letting the beer warm for a while. I’ll give Unknown an “A” for effort but this one, sadly, fell a little short.

All of the above were received gratis from the breweries. If you’ve got a beer you’d like us to try shoot us an email. We don’t say “yes” to every offer. But, who knows, maybe you’ll catch us on a good day.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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