So it was yet another weekend filled with great beer and amazing food, my favorite food in fact. Yup, Mac and Cheese!! I mean, whomever doesn’t at least like mac and cheese…what’s wrong with you?! Just kidding, maybe. Anywho, this past weekend was the Charlotte area Mac and Cheese competition and craft beer tasting. Boy, was I in heaven! It was hosted by Sugar Creek Brewing (one of my local favorites), included mac and cheese entries from 16 different restaurants, and over 55 craft beer samples from over 15 breweries. For a cheap ticket price, you got unlimited mac and cheese and beer samples which, in my opinion, was well worth the money. To add to the awesomeness of this event, it benefitted Project HALO (Helping Animals Live On), a local non-profit, no-kill animal rescue. How can anyone say no to that?? Well, apparently no one can because the event was sold out!

Due to the ability of mac and cheese (and beer) to fill you up, I was not able to sample every contestant but I did my best to get around to as many as I could. There was crawfish mac and cheese, smoked bacon mac and cheese, smoked briquette mac and cheese, regular creamy mac and cheese, some even served their creations up with coleslaw, a side of pulled pork or even roasted jalapenos. But my favorite was a super creamy spinach and artichoke mac and cheese (seriously, those are probably my favorite things in a pasta dish) from a delivery only place called Mac and Cheese Ministry based out of the Greensboro area. Turns out, a lot of others loved it too, enough that it won first place! Second place went to Rooster’s, a wood-fired kitchen restaurant in uptown Charlotte, and third place went to Pint Central, an upscale American-Argentinian cuisine restaurant with an impressive number of taps and bottled beer in Plaza Midwood Charlotte.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “umm I thought this was a beer blog?” and to that I would say yes, hold your horses, I’m getting there. So, without further ado, here are my favorite brews from the event, and there were a lot so it was a bit difficult to choose. Hi-Wire’s Gose at 4.2% ABV is a tart, light and lemony sour brewed with just the right amount of Pink Himalayan Salt to leave you with a dry finish but not overly-dry. It’s actually quite complex but very well balanced with no one flavor overpowering another. I said before I was trying to expand my palette in this direction and with the help of this gose, I believe it’s an invitation for more. Uinta’s Baba Black Lager at 4% pours basically pitch black (I mean it) and has chocolate and coffee notes with a robust malty flavor. Some people tend to shy away from dark beers for fear that they have overpowering or overly-roasted characteristics (lending to a sometimes unpleasant bitter flavor) but this black lager is very mellow and extremely drinkable. Once again, Uinta is on my list of top beers! New Belgium’s Citradelic Tangerine IPA at 6% is a beautiful amped up citrus IPA that starts off sweet but ends well balanced and crisp. With an earthy and fruity aroma I could already tell that it was going to be great before taking a sip. Everything you smell is everything you taste with this beer and I’m glad that’s the case. No one likes being disappointed by taste when something smells amazing. Finally, Frog Level’s Salamander Slam IPA at 7% is yet another floral and citrus hopped up IPA (can you see the trend of my favorites here?) that tastes as good as it smells. The great thing about this beer is that it has the perfect amount of malts to contrast the bold hops so it results in a minimally bitter IPA. This can be hard to accomplish, so these guys get an A in my book! While they are both hopped up and well balanced IPAs, I think I like this one just a bit more than the Citradelic due to the fact that it has more of an amazing floral/piney hop presence.

Beer tasting events, beer and food tasting events, events at breweries – whatever your pint of brew is, there’s plenty of beer out there to be had. While I enjoy heading to my local brewery or bar for a pint I already love, most times my favorite is trying something new and expanding my book of best brews. Tasting events are a perfect way to do this! Way back when, I use to shy away from them because I thought (key word: thought) I only liked one or two styles of beer. While there would be plenty in those styles to choose from, it limited my “options” and I felt I could never get my money’s worth. That was until I decided that they were just tiny sample sizes, and if I didn’t like it there were dozens more out there waiting for me to try. Pretty soon I acquired tastes for other styles, and although I’m still working on some (and there are so many more I haven’t had the chance to try yet) I like to think that my palette is rapidly becoming more refined and open to new flavors.