Aviator Brewing Company owner Mark Doble learned his craft while playing around - as he puts it - on his family’s equipment at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City, Florida. During the hour or so I spent at the brewery last week, Doble played mostly nonchalant about the awesomeness of his establishment. His enthusiasm for what he has created was evident, however, as we stood in the small airplane hangar that houses his brewing facility and tap-room. The bar area is dimly lit, and decorated with Christmas-lights and old airplane propellers. On one side is a wall displaying several magazine articles written about the brewery since its opening last November, and on the opposite side sits Doble’s silver and blue Mustang.
The Mustang is an airplane, not a car, built by Doble from a kit before he even learned to fly. In 2002, after taking lessons, he flew the plane from his home in Florida to the Triple W airport in Fuquay-Varina where he eventually purchased a hangar, and in November 2008 the beer began to flow. Doble says that the tap-room is often packed on Friday and Saturday nights. Live music is offered frequently - the night of my visit the tunes were provided by Drew Questell and John Williamson.
Doble feels that the brewing industry in North Carolina is a great environment for collaboration, saying that building a strong community of brewing professionals will only ensure that there is a strong market for craft beer.
Just a few feet behind the bar begins the quarter of the building that serves as the brew-room. Doble operates a 12-barrel system utilizing a rarely seen flat-bottomed fermenter. This odd-looking open-topped fermenter does away with the need to inject oxygen into the wort and helps give the beer a smoother character by allowing natural air-flow during the fermentation process. Another interesting side-effect of the open-topped fermenter, says Doble, is that he gets to literally see the fermentation process as it happens: he showed me a series of photos from a recent batch in which the krausen (the goopy foam created by the activity of the yeast) could be seen sloughing off the top of the fermenter in huge globs and flowing out into the drainage system.
Hog Wild IPA was on tap during my visit to the brewery, so I had a few glasses. This one is so hoppy, it’s hard to tell if my head was swimming from the alcohol, or if it was just the pungent deliciousness of the hops. During a recent A/V Geeks screening at Tir na Nog, I was lucky enough to find that there was a keg of Aviator’s Big Bolt American Pale Ale on tap. The Big Bolt is - of course - a bit less hoppy than the IPA and is lighter bodied, but also has a sweet, smooth character to it that I have not experienced in other pale ales. I am a big fan of the sweeter beers - browns, ambers, etc - and Big Bolt seems to combine the best aspects of those styles with the hoppy flavor of an American pale ale. Tasty.
The tap room is open Thursday - Saturday 4pm to 8pm. Brew tours are offered on Saturdays from 3:15pm to 4:00pm.
Currently, Aviator can be found on tap at Tir na Nog, The Pit, and The Raleigh Times, as well as several other bars around the city. Doble plans to bottle by the end of March, and will be tapping a batch conditioned in bourbon barrels sometime soon. Stay tuned to New Raleigh for further info, or check out the Aviator website.