Hickory – On Saturday, April 23, nearly 2,000 festivarians attended the Hickory Hops beer festival in downtown Hickory, NC to enjoy beer, camaraderie, and beautiful summer-like weather. The 18th annual beer fest, featuring craft brewed beer from nearly 40 breweries, was the reason for the assembly and to recognize over 100 medalists and three Best of Show winners in the 15th Carolinas Championship of Beer.

The CCB starts with craft brewed beer. Each Hickory Hops brewery participant is encouraged to send bottled or canned beer in for judging. Two weeks prior to the festival, over 50 volunteers gathered at Olde Hickory Brewery to judge the unmarked beers for adherence to specific category characteristics. The beers, which totaled 128 entries from 25 breweries, were judged in 169 styles and sub-styles. When the first round finished two hours later, 28 beers had been awarded gold medals. 30 received silver and 25 bronze winners were also identified.

For CCB round two, a smaller group of certified judges convened to determine the best of the gold medal beers. Called the Best of Show round, three beers – usually first, second, and third places – were to be identified. But this time, the judges could not agree. A two-way tie for 1st place was proclaimed, along with the 3rd place finisher, as the three Best of Show winners.

Old Hickory Brewery and Southern Pines Brewing each received a shiny First Place plaque: Olde Hickory for its Seven Devils, a Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels; Southern Pines for its Mexican Lager called NAV. The two beers, though at extreme ends of the beer spectrum, were nothing, according to the judges, short of excellent. Olde Hickory head brewer Steven Lyerly and Southern Pines rep Andrew Johnson were on hand to accept their engraved plaques.

Joining the pair, from Fuquay-Varina, Aviator head brewer Mark Doble claimed the 3rd place prize for his spot-on version of a traditional German gose; a salty, slightly sour wheat ale that the brewery calls Aviator Gose.

Proceeds from this year’s CCB will be donated to the North Carolina Brewers Guild for use promoting the State’s 280+ craft breweries.

Photo: Andrew Johnson from Southern Pines Brewing, competition manager Bobby Bush, and Steven Lyerly of Olde Hickory Brewery