Malt-clad Beers at Ironclad Brewing in Wilmington

Ironclad Brewing is within walking distance of the old shipyards where its namesakes were crafted and the history of downtown Wilmington is woven into this bar. Down by the waterfront in Wilmington, NC, Ironclad Brewing is 0.3 miles (7 minute walk) from Flytrap Brewing and 0.2 miles (3 minute walk) from Front Street Brewing–a great walking beer trail on the coast.
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We visited on a warm Saturday afternoon in late November. Despite a steady 25  or so people in the bar, the lone bartender did an exemplary job serving everyone and engaging with patrons. The interior is a beautiful renovation of a historic building that preserves the brick elements, resulting in a beautiful refined space with an industrial-chic feel and nice lighting that can serve as a sports bar (a giant projection had a football game on while we were there) or a beautiful event space (a young couple was looking at it for a wedding reception while we were there, so they do private events too!). There’s additional space upstairs, with an atrium overlooking the main level, but it was blocked off on Saturday afternoon. The only downside was that the food selections seemed pretty limited: jerky and granola bars. Don’t let that deter you, though, as there are dozens of great restaurants nearby at the Wilmington riverfront.
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There were nine Ironclad beers on tap (eight originals and a special cask version of the stout), and we tried all but the DIPA. When we started our tasting flights: we’ll admit to being pleasantly perplexed. Pint glasses of hops varieties were spread around the bar (like catnip for beer geeks) and helped set our expectation for hops-forward beers.

But the beers had a strong malt backbone — with some nice luxurious malts like Caravienne (used often in Belgians) showing up in unexpected places. The hops play a great supporting role in the English-style Ironclad beers, adding complexity and herbal, bitter and floral flavors. The selections here included all great beers that I’d drink again (I’m a malts fan), but the standouts here are the special casked stout, the pumpkin beer, and the lager.

Fishtail Pale Ale – 5.9 abv. This was the first style-bender that rebutted our hops expectations: it starts with a clear malty nose. The Fishtail is smooth and easy drinking, but has more caramel flavors than you expect from a pale ale.

Lydia’s Lager – 5.8 abv. The Lydia’s Lager is a lager you can use as Exhibit A to rebut people who think most lagers are flavorless. This deceptively styled beer (it’s actually a Munich Helles Lager) packs lots of flavor — it has a golden color and a malt nose and gives you a layered malty beer with nut flavors. As someone who typically doesn’t reach for a lager, I’d pull this out as a delicious drinkable lager.

Old Baldy’s Golden Ale – 6.0 abv. The Old Baldy’s is a cloudy gold (it’s unfiltered) with an ABV a little higher than you see in some goldens. Although it has the same malt nose and backbone, this one finishes a bit with a bit more hoppy bitterness than you’d expect after trying the pale ale and lagers here.

White Squall Brown Ale – 6.2 abv. The White Squall is a Northern English Brown Ale and will appeal to those who enjoy nut browns. This lighter brown ale has a twist in the white chocolate from Ghirardelli, which adds some sweetness and nutty flavors. The malts are present but balanced and refined, and while we both enjoyed it, my husband has a soft spot in his palate for a good brown.

Defender IPA – 6.3 abv. This is the one beer (that we tried here) where the hops really come to the forefront in this American Style IPA. It has pine wood flavors and light bitterness. However, true hop heads might be better off going for the DIPA: this one has a balanced hop profile.

Gib’s Pumpkin Ale – 6.6 abv. Pumpkin beers. They’re tough to review, and it’s not easy to stand out in a saturated pumpkin beer market. But this is one of the best we’ve tried lately. You get the expected allspice, cinnamon, cloves and ginger on the nose. The spices shine and then fade out to let the pumpkin take center stage. The Gib’s embraces the vegetable nature of the pumpkin, which helps to define the beer as different from others that rely almost entirely on spices. The bartender wasn’t sure what it was brewed with (turns out it was powdered pumpkin) to infuse the beer with a healthy dose of vegetal flavors. Also, it’s named after the resident brewery ghost. 🙂

Teach’s Chocolate Stout – 6.1 abv. The Teach’s chocolate stout is a solid easy-drinking stout, and it wasn’t a standout.

However, Teach’s Chocolate Stout Cask with Vanilla Biscotti Coffee was the spouse’s favorite beer of the two-brewery day. He thought it was a perfect winter holiday beer. The Chocolate Stout, which didn’t shine alone, is perfect when paired with other rich flavors. We enjoyed the very strong vanilla coffee aroma, the bready sweetness and toasted nut flavors that came through with the solid body of the stout.

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.

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