As the year ended and I looked back at 2015, I realized that one of the highlights of the year for me was an overnight trip to Kinston, N.C. That struck me as a bit funny; a decade ago, who would have thought that the little old textile and tobacco town in Eastern North Carolina would boast one of the state’s coolest neighborhoods for foodies and beer-lovers?
The transformation of downtown Kinston into a genuinely hip place to visit began in 2005 with the opening of Chef and the Farmer — which gets my vote for the best restaurant in the state. But another big step came in 2009, when a pair of Kinston natives opened up Mother Earth Brewing a couple of blocks from Chef and the Farmer. I’ve enjoyed Mother Earth’s beers for a few years now, but I was in for another surprise when we made our first visit to the tap room last summer before grabbing dinner at Chef and the Farmer. Maybe the name “Mother Earth” led me to expect an unassuming hippie motif; I certainly did not expect the gorgeous, airy, chic but still very comfortable tap room that I found. It easily ranked as one of the nicest tap rooms I’ve visited in North Carolina.
Just get a load of that beautiful weathered-wood floor, with the modern light fixtures hanging down around the stainless steel bar, which is fronted by frosted glass backlit with a cool blue. It’s a seamless integration of old and new elements, making a space that is like a cross between a trendy LA club and a down-home beach bar. And the story behind the space is fascinating.
Founders Stephen Hill and his son-in-law Trent Mooring took over an ugly old building that once served as a drive-through pharmacy (among other past lives) and turned it into this stunning tap room and production facility. In keeping with the Mother Earth ethos, they used reclaimed bricks to make the walls, and wood from a tree that fell during Hurricane Floyd for the beautiful floor. Giant solar panels on the roof provide much of the power to run the facility. In the outdoor beer garden, a 2500-gallon cistern collects rainwater, and a Big Ass Fan overhead covers as much territory as nine regular ceiling fans while using 66 percent less energy. A plaque on the side of the building shares those facts, and proudly boasts that the fan “can improve the efficiency of our heating and air conditioning units by as much as 30 percent.”
It’s no wonder that Mother Earth became the first production brewery in the country to win the Gold award from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
This brewery, whose motto is “Peace, Love & Beer,” truly walks the walk when it comes to honoring the planet. It also produces beautiful labels featuring enchanting paintings of natural landscapes by local artists. And the beer behind those labels is excellent. The combination of great beer, a beautiful tap room, an earth-conscious business model and a thriving downtown food-and-drink scene have made Mother Earth a true destination brewery, attracting visitors from around the East Coast and beyond.
Let’s get to the beer we tried on a perfect summer afternoon:
Park Day Bohemian Pilsner – Malty backbone with hop forward balance from tettnang German hops. This was one of Virginia’s favorite pilsners (not one of her favorite styles). Clean, crisp and flavorful. I almost never order a pilsner, but I ordered a pint of this one after finishing our tasting flight.
Beach Street American Wheat Ale – An exceedingly drinkable summertime beer with a 3.7% ABV. Light in color but cloudy, with notes of peaches or apricots. Virginia exclaimed, “I think it’s great, I would drink it on the beach.”
Porch Pale Ale – Virginia chirps, “I would drink this on the porch!” 5.7% ABV with mild to moderate bitterness. This beer uses Citra hops, giving it that grapefruit taste.
Cask-Conditioned Sisters of the Moon IPA – This is more robust than the others we sampled, with a 7.0% ABV. Virginia doesn’t like the foamy head, but I dug it. Smooth fruit up front with a bitter finish. The standard Sisters of the Moon is one of Mother Earth’s best-sellers, but I enjoyed this cask-conditioned version as well.
Golden Globe Sticke Altbier – 6.1% ABV. Very malty, with caramel and toffee notes, copper color, still kind of light. Mellow roast flavor. Traditionally fermented in cooler temperatures, lagered cold. Altbier means “old beer” and sticke means “secret.” Good stuff.
Dark Cloud Dunkel – The kind of beer you want to sip as you watch a summer storm move in across the Coastal Plain. Light lactose, malty, hint of roasted flavor, a touch of coffee. Like a coffee you’d drink on a summer afternoon. Another of Mother Earth’s most popular beers, with good reason.
Snow Flurry Rye IPA – This winter beer was not available when we visited in the summer, but I enjoyed a pint recently in Durham and thought it was very unique. You get a strong scent of juniper on the nose that complement the rye fruity hop bitterness perfectly, making this a neat multi-layered beer. Highly recommended.