Drink All The Things: A Q&A with Tanya Lawrence
Saturday, June 9, 2018
Tanya Lawrence's Instagram profile describes her as a “Craft advocate, MENSA member, aviphile, naturalist, traveler, shell collector and questionable muse,” but there's more to her than what Instagram's character limit for description will allow.
She's also a jet-setting raconteur (for the Bourbon Zeppelin online newsletter, among other publications) a goodwill ambassador, general bon vivant and mistress of the #brewsteel.
Tanya is a great fan of craft beer in North Carolina, specifically Charlotte's craft beer scene, and did us the great honor of sitting down for some questions about craft beer, Charlotte's beer scene and the Higgs boson.
To start — what was your point of entry? What was the beer that first turned you onto craft beer?
Although most find it unbelievable, the first beer I ever tried was craft. I was 26 at the time, and as a consummate oenophile, had sipped nothing other than wine and spirits prior. On this occasion, however, I was visiting with a friend at a small, rustic brewpub in southern Maryland and had been tasked with ordering him an Allagash White. Mistakenly given two pints instead of one, the barkeep shook it off; insisting that I take the second pint of Belgian-style witbier for myself. The rest was history.
What got you started writing about craft beer?
The long and short of it is "beer tourism" — traveling to different cities, touring breweries, visiting taprooms, assessing the region's craft offerings and the like. When I first started photo-documenting my beer travels on social media, my "writings" were limited to captions and commentary; the latter consisting of any number of remarkable annotations I'd scrawl in my notebook during my brewery and taproom visits. However, as interest in these travels grew, and more and more questions were issued to me, I was prompted to begin providing additional information alongside the photography. Then, a little over a year ago now, Men's Health Magazine recognized me as one of the top women in beer to follow on social media — and wanting to in part earn that title, I've since focused more on photography-complemented writing versus writing-complemented photography. This simple shift in perspective and presentation has made my experiences in beer since, all the more gratifying.
What was your first North Carolina beer?
Highland Brewing Oatmeal Porter, without question. Highland was the first brewery I ever visited during my inaugural trip to Asheville, many, many years ago. At the time — and quite possibly still — the brewery was working with locally-based MANNA FoodBank, and offered complimentary facility tours to those donating non-perishable items to the bank. I thought this was wonderful and made sure to arrive with a tote filled with canned goods. In exchange, I was given a pint of the chocolaty smooth porter to accompany me on the tour. The entire experience was wonderful, filled with lovely people and soul-warming liquid. I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to Western North Carolina's craft scene.
As you hail from Florida, how would you compare Florida's craft beer scene with North Carolina's?
Statistically — in terms of craft presence and production — North Carolina and Florida (clocking in at 195 and 200 craft breweries in operation in 2016, respectively) aren't very dissimilar at all. The numbers of craft breweries in both states have exploded over the past decade, bringing about a sort of renaissance; encouraging beer tourism, out-of-state distribution, and collaboration. In both states, you'll find innovative brewers excelling at utilizing locally-sourced ingredients, and communities that in turn, elect to consume hyper-locally. While the state of Florida itself might edge out North Carolina in its attractiveness as a tourism destination (beer and otherwise), a climate that bolsters year-round beer-centric events and overall packaged-product movement (think can and bottle releases), the two beer scenes aren't all too different: be it the Old North State or the Sunshine State, you still have great liquid being made, great people making it and great people drinking it.
What is it about Charlotte that you enjoy? What is it about their beers that sets them apart and makes them exceptional?
First and foremost, my absolute favorite thing about Charlotte is its accessibility. If you've ever brought up a map of Charlotte while searching brewery locations, you'll find that nearly every facility is positioned around the center-point of the city. When I last visited, for instance, the most northward and southward breweries on my itinerary were still only seven miles apart. This is excellent for beer tourism. Additionally, many of the region's breweries serve food and small bites — I ate my weight in cheese plates and pickled vegetables during my last stop-in at Free Range — and if a more substantial meal is what you're after, dotted in between these numerous breweries and taprooms are any number of stellar restaurants and gastropubs. The breweries themselves are outstanding, and oftentimes family-friendly, open and communally-focused. From Wooden Robot, Legion, Salud Cerveceria, and Lenny Boy to NoDa, Heist, Free Range, and Resident Culture, there’s something for everyone and always plenty of options on tap. It feels good to take a moment to smell the roses in Charlotte; to kick back with a good book or a newspaper, a board game with friends or just chat with strangers-turned-friends. It’s the type of city where you could easily hop from brewery to brewery in a day, but you really don't want to … Charlotte's meant to be savored.
What's your favorite style of beer?
I'd never turn down a pour of lambic. [laughs] Gueuze. Saison, wild ales and farmhouse ales — these are my absolute favorite things to drink.
Have you sampled beers from other regions of North Carolina? What did you think of them?
I've spent an extensive amount of time in Asheville and regions northward toward Boone, the former being one of my absolute favorite craft beer scenes in the country. I've been visiting Asheville annually for over a decade now, and it's been exciting watching the region's breweries — and beer footprint — grow. Craft in Asheville is a community, and yet even with nearly 30 craft breweries within the city limits alone, I've never once experienced palate fatigue. There's something for everyone in Asheville craft — and thanks to the city's highly-skilled and innovative breweries, there's always something new to try each time I return.
What's your #1 beer at present?
I'm currently enamored with the sour IPAs from Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon, New York. While each of the five releases I've recently sampled have been stellar, their Peach Silhouette — a sour IPA brewed with peaches and lactose and hopped with Mosaic and Citra —- is thus far my favorite beer of the year. It's a peach bellini re-imagined.
Are there any North Carolina beers you're eager to try?
I'd love to sip The Darkening — a Montmorency cherry sour ale brewed initially to celebrate last year's solar eclipse — at Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin, and would be fickle to sip the 4th and 5th editions of Systema Naturae from D9 Brewing. This inconspicuous Lake Norman brewery is one of my absolute favorites in the state, and having fallen in love with the first three selections in this wild ale series, know that the fourth (brewed with elderflower and cherimoya fruit) and fifth (brewed with cherry and sunflower) would be no different.
You travel quite a bit and have visited Charlotte frequently. Are there any other regions of North Carolina you're looking forward to visiting in the future?
First and foremost, I have to make it to Morganton to visit Fonta Flora in the flesh. Despite having had the fortune to consume an absurd amount of their beer, I've never been able to make it to their taproom. Owing to the hours of operation never once aligning with the timings of my departures from Asheville and Charlotte, the brewery itself — which sits about halfway between the two cities — has always eluded me. I also want to sneak out to Durham-Raleigh at some point to check out their craft scene, and while wholly unrelated to beer, I'm looking forward to at some point heading back to the Outer Banks. I grew up summering in Corolla and Duck, and as an adult have journeyed there from time to time off-season, seeking solitude and scenery. I miss the beauty of the Atlantic coast with every breath, and can't wait to return.
Finally, where can people find you online and in print?
I moderate the Instagram page babels_cameron — devoted primarily to beer tourism throughout the United States — as well as the social networking page www.facebook.com/drinkallthethings, cataloging selected archived articles and personal interviews. I have additionally, for the past year, been the craft beer contributor for the online magazine Bourbon Zeppelin at www.abvnetwork.com/bourbon-zeppelin and I've recently signed on as a contributing writer for Bar Business Magazine; my inaugural articles of which go to print this month!