Sub Noir Brewing Company – Raleigh NC
If you are a fan of The Big Lebowksi, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Firefly, Monty Pyhon and/or the band Phish, you’re likely into cult classics. This might be just the brewery for you. Sub Noir is not some campy tourist trap with beers for the masses. They aren’t some college town brewery trying to produce beers with super high ABV to help frat boys get blitzed. Nobody is going to mistake them for a franchise brewery who wants to be the next Applebee’s or TGIF. No, this brewery is something different.
If you are planning a trip, you must come on a Friday or Saturday–that’s the only time this taproom is open. This place is tucked away in an unassuming industrial strip area where you would think you might be more likely to find a Roto Rooter plumbing service or a pest control service than a brewery. The Taproom is far from large or languorous; it is a small area with five or six tables (likely bought used) and folding metal chairs. One wall acts as a blackboard and a vintage Nintendo sits in the corner. The walls are sheet rocked and painted a pleasant color however very little was hung on them. The ceiling was unfinished, no acoustic tiles, just girders and the floor of the upstairs. One feels like they are attending a community watch meeting at the armory, not sitting in an established brewery’s taproom. There is no bar to speak of, just a chest freezer kegerator that acts as the service area next to it is a roll-away cart filled with glassware. The Taproom does have a flat screen TV that was showing women’s soccer the evening of our visit. It is unlikely a food truck will frequent this establishment, and they don’t serve food. Given the small space, I wouldn’t expect live music. But even with the small space, at no time during our visit was the taproom near capacity. It stayed about half full (or half empty) the entire time we were here.
Ok, so we have established I’ve not over sold this taproom, now I must tell you why I believe if you were to only visit five North Carolina breweries, this is one you should come to. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE BEER!
The beers at Sub Noir are masterful examples of the styles. They are not mere copies of what other brewers are doing; they are as unique, as they are enjoyable. Sub Noir doesn’t sell flights, but they will sell a half pint upon request, and with only three originals and one collaboration beer you will want to try them all. One more warning, Sub Noir doesn’t pander to what is popular. You’re not likely to find an IPA or American Lager. They sell beers that might be a little off center (Sours, Gose, Saison). If you typically only drink domestic American Lagers and sometime try an IPA, I’d suggest you venture outside your comfort zone. I have a feeling Sub Noir has introduced a lot of people to a larger world of beer types.
- Ohs Noes Gose: This old German style beer is known for its distinctive salty flavor. My friend at Check Six brewery might have said it best when talking about this beer style when he called it “the Gatorade of beers”. So true! I am a fan of this style given the situation: for instance after a workout or doing lawn work, no other beer is as refreshing. This is a fantastic example of what a Gose should be. If you like to drink sports drinks try this beer I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
- Magzilla: A bourbon barrel-aged sour ale that hits the mark. Sours are growing in popularity, but are still kind of an underground style among some North Carolina breweries. I think a beer like this can bring wine drinkers into the craft beer fold. If executed properly a good sour ale is a great summertime treat. My friend Ed, who is a sour beer lover, claims Magzilla is an example of a very well crafted sour, and I agree. A pint of this beer is well worth the drive to Raleigh.
- BBA Zee Count: This chocolate stout is another bourbon barrel beer. This is a smooth stout that gets its chocolate flavor in an unorthodox manner. The brewer used one of my childhood memories to add the nice coco notes: Count Chocula cereal. The head brewer told me that this was a trick he used in his home brewing days. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love it when brewers color outside the lines.
- Grace O’Malley: An Imperial Red collaboration between Sub Noir, Mystery Brewing, and Bombshell Beer Company. What a wonderful product this turned out to be. It has magnificent mouth feel and the smoothest almost creamy finish that was a pleasant surprising finish.
I started this review making reference to this brewery being something of a Cult Classic. I spoke with several of the patrons in the taproom; they seem very loyal to Sub Noir and are big fans of these uncommon beers. I’ve never been the type to join a cult but in this case all I have to say is “where is the Kool-Aid, er, um, sour ale”. I hope you stop in on a Friday or Saturday night and share your experience with us.