Over New Year’s weekend, I went on a family trip with my in-laws to Wilmington, NC, where we met up with some long-time family friends from Columbia. It was a fun three day excursion to welcome in 2011. We went for a walk on the beach, ate seafood at the Fish House Grill in Wrightsville Beach, watched bowl games. And drank. A lot. Of beer.
In true Zokan fashion, when we rolled into town on Friday around 1:00, the first thing we did was stop at Front Street Brewery for lunch. This brewpub has a special place in Zokan family lore. My father-in-law had a good bit of business in Wilmington back in the day, so he frequented the brewpub often. (Rumor has it that Nicole may have accompanied him on a couple of these trips and had a beer or two when she may or may not have been of age…)
The brewpub’s facade is unassuming among the historic storefronts on Front Street, however the fermenters and brewhouse immediately greet you on the left upon entering, reassuring you that you’re in the right place.
While waiting for a table, we had our first round at the bar, which had seating for a dozen. I began with The James Brown, a seasonal brown ale. I’m not sure the Godfather of Soul would have enjoyed this one. I found myself slightly disappointed, as it was a little too bitter, lacked enough body and had a dusty character. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. It reminded me of a rye brown I once brewed that I wasn’t too fond of.
However, my faith was restored when I tasted Nicole’s IPA. This IPA achieved legendary proportions according to my father-in-law, so there was a lot of hype surrounding this beer. I must say, it lived up to the billing as a solid choice. Nice malt backbone with a gripping bitter finish. Not spectacular, but I was impressed.
We had lunch upstairs, which was a cozy, compact area with a low ceiling. The food menu wasn’t cutting-edge, but featured a lot of Irish bar-style classics. I chose the Brew-BQ burger, which included Scottish Ale BBQ sauce.
Of course, I had to get the Dram Tree Scottish Ale to go with my BBQ burger. The Scottish was miles above The James Brown. It had a big, sweet toffee malt flavor with a substantial body and lingering finish. I enjoyed it immensely with my burger.
On Sunday afternoon, the entire group of us, 12 deep, commandeered the front corner of the downstairs dining area to watch some NFL football. The Zokans were on pins and needles as the Packers were fighting for their playoff hopes against the Bears, and I was watching the one spec of hope I have as a Broncos fan, as Tim Tebow went up against the Chargers.
I started out my afternoon with the Coastal Kolsch. This was a tasty golden Kolsch with a bready malt flavor and clean finish. If I may be so bold, I would say it reminded me of the Kolsch I brewed last summer, so that made me feel pretty good.
Next it was onto the American Amber, which like The James Brown, didn’t seem to achieve a good hop/malt balance. I didn’t care for that one. I tried a sip of someone else’s Tiny Tim’s Christmas Ale, an Imperial Java Porter, a 9.2% coffee-malt bomb. Tasty, but so intense it would probably take me two hours to drink a pint.
I ended up coming full-circle and going back to the IPA to finish up the session. My palate was shot by this point and I needed a can’t miss closer to continue cheering on Tebow and his comeback of futility. Luckily, the Broncos came up just short and secured the number two pick in next year’s draft.
Even though Front Street Brewery had a few misses, there were more than enough hits that it did not come up short. It’s a great place to hang out, eat dinner, watch football, whatever you fancy. It has a solid lineup of beers, good food, a cool atmosphere, and waitresses in short jumpsuit skirts, which make it a place where I could become a regular, if I didn’t live 5 1/2 hours away.