Crank Arm Brewing: Focusing on the Nuts and Bolts. And Gears. Lots of Gears.
This Kickstarter-funded brewery is tucked in at West Davie and Dawson Streets, near Fiction Kitchen, (James Beard Winning) Ashley Christensen’s Poole’s Diner, and Red Hat Amphitheater. The crowd had a slightly higher “bro quotient” than our typical Durham scene, but we were visiting on a late-night Friday, after a concert at Red Hat with a high bro fan base (Do I like bro music? Or do they like my music?), and, hey, it’s in Raleigh so that happens from time to time.
Walking in felt like we were showing up at someone’s garage party, if you know anyone with a modern, attractive, well-lit, and expensively designed garage. The theme here is gears and bikes: they host a stationary bike contest, the art is made from bike parts, bike chains line the back of the bar, there are pedi-cabs in the main area, the logo is a gear, and many of the staple beers are appropriately named. It works. Be prepared for at least a few guys in … very small biking shorts.
Our standout beer for the night here was, far and away, the All Mountain Mint Milk Stout followed by our other favorites Flying Scotsman, Dunkelbiken and Rickshaw.
- Whitewall (4.4% ABV, 23 IBU) is a Belgian wheat with citra. The beer was really popular with the crowd, with a strong citrus flavor, but we found it good, not great. The nose was a bit like cleaning solution, but an expensive organic kind from Whole Foods.
- **Rickshaw (7.2% ABV, 54 IBU) is an American rye ale. This was a really nice beer, reminiscent of a Terrapin rye (not derivative, but in an “If you like Terrapin, you’ll like this” way), smooth on the front, hops on the finish, but not overpowering, especially given the ABV.
- Unicycle (4.8% ABV, 35 IBU) is Crank Arm’s single hop pale ale. I thought it tasted like it was made with pot; my husband got that on the aftertaste. It could be because we were leaving a marijuana-heavy concert (we don’t partake, but we don’t judge), but it was more likely that it was the unobjectionable floral, earthy funk in the hops.
- **Flying Scotsman (5.2% ABV, 22 IBU) is the 80 schilling Scottish ale. It’s light-bodied coffee with a little cream, and it’s an exceedingly drinkable session ale. We’d like a pint, please.
- Dunkelbiken (5.5% ABV, 13 IBU) is the German style dunkelweizen with a light nutmeg/clove spice, a toasted caramel nose and a great reddish brown color.
- **All Mountain Mint Milk Stout was the cask beer of the night and a standout beer. It’s made with Crank Arm’s neighbor Videri chocolate and Hargett Street’s Oak City Coffee Roasters, and these downtown Raleigh businesses all pair perfectly in this beer. The name says it all: mint, chocolate, stout but it’s not too heavy and perfectly executed.
- Trail Bandit (6.5% ABV, 13 IBU) suffered a bit from over-promising and under-delivering, partially because it followed the truly exceptional All Mountain. It’s another Videri chocolate beer billed as a peanut butter milk stout. It was good, but the peanut butter didn’t quite carry the water it needed to here, but it was still a solid stout.
It was a busy evening at the bar, but we were able to find a place to sit in short order, the bartenders were happy to talk to you about the beers when they had a moment, and there were a few white-bearded old timers at the bar sharing their beer wisdom with the young’uns. It was fantastic weather, so the outside porch was full of people having a great time with giant Jenga (apparently hard to play while sampling all the beers).
We visited Crank Arm as an afterthought (it had been on our list for a while and we found ourselves nearby), but it is a worthy destination in itself for a night of beer drinking with friends. We’ll definitely cycle this brewery into our rotation.
Virginia Fitt lives somewhere on the border of Orange County and Durham city limits, and loves risk-taking brewers who use local ingredients, sours, Bretts/wild ales, strange collaborations, and all good beers.