And a few other of my seasonal favorites
By Jason Frye
This is my favorite time of year. The air turns crisp. The first tinges of color touch the top of the tallest trees. At night, you need to cozy up to a little backyard fire unless you’ve remembered your flannel shirt, and even then, you might catch a chill.
Autumn is around the corner and everything says her name.
Unless you live here, in Wilmington, on the Southeastern coast of North Carolina.
Here, September and October are not fall months, they’re an extension of summer. Oh, we get some cooler nights and from time to time the breeze attains a wee nip, but the ocean’s still swimmable and everyone will sport shorts and flip-flops until Halloween. But the leaves — in my yard at least — don’t blaze with autumn color, they just turn crispy and fall off. Then I rake them up and put them in bags.
There’s something satisfying about raking the yard. Dividing the foliage floor with pulls of the rake. Clean squares of green grass emerge save circular mounds of leaves in the centers, like pips on a die. Move to the next section, repeat. One square becomes two becomes three, and the pips grow, setting the line. When the yard has become a grid, each pipped with a mound of leaves — boxcars if the lawn was a craps table — grab the bags and rake the piles into the bag. Soon, the yard is clean and the grass is green and I dare the wind to bring one more brown leaf down onto this pristine patch of land. Which it does, but by that time, I’ve earned a reward: a little fire in the yard, some music, a cold beer. Maybe cards at the table, a little Talking Heads playing, and that cold beer.
I love a sour beer or a wild ale, but the first beer that I actually liked wasn’t the Stroh’s I sipped as a tot in my grandfather’s kitchen, it was a stout. Dark and robust, rich, nutty, a little smoky, it tasted like fall. It tasted like everything good from my birthday (Oct. 10, if you’re planning to send a gift) and from the first drink, this style of beer gained my loyalty.
Which is why I’m glad I live in North Carolina. Our beer game has grown strong in the last decade, and our local breweries always offer a growler of some stout or porter that drives me to finish my leaf-raking, garden-prepping, chore-doing fall task just a little faster.
Blair’s Breakfast Stout from Wilmington Brewing Company brings me back to those fall days of my youth in West Virginia: the smell of my grandfather’s clothes after burning a cover crop off his garden, the tannic scent of oak leaves underfoot, the cold glass of relief for work-warmed hands. A growler or crowler (that’s a fancy name for a on-demand canned beer) of this will set you right.
And if you want something a touch sweeter, Waterline Brewing’s Oatmeal Stout — dark as black walnut stains on your palms — drinks a little lighter and has a touch of chocolate and bite of coffee in each sip. It’s an easy drink, one to have close at hand as you’re kneeling by your fire-pit, breaking the sticks you pulled from each pile of leaves — they’ll only poke holes in the bag and besides, they’re perfect for kindling your fire —and laying them over your tinder as evening rolls in, bringing the promise of a cooler night, one where you can sip and talk, maybe scoot your chair a little closer to the fire.
Wilmington Brewing Company is located at 824 Kerr Ave., Wilmington. Imbibe in their family-friendly taproom, beer garden or grab something to go. Call 910-392-3315 or visit www.wilmingtonbeer.com for menu and hours.
Waterline Brewing is located at 721 Surry St., Wilmington, under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Call 910-777-5599 or visit www.waterlinebrewing.com for hours and to find which local bars serve their brews.
Jason Frye is a travel writer and author of Moon North Carolina and Moon NC Coast. He’s a barbecue judge, he rarely naps, and he’s always on the road. Keep up with his travels at tarheeltourist.com.