Reopened 2006 in Wilmington’s historic downtown, FRONT STREET BREWING now saddles ex-Capitol City and Thoroughbreds Grill brewmaster, Kevin Kozak. Rustic tan-cemented two-storied Victorian saloon had tin-embossed white ceiling, wooden tile inlet, exposed pipes, stain-glass divided front dining, mezzanine balcony, and sky-lighted wood mural bar upon July ’08 visit.

Reasonably priced burgers, sandwiches and salads complemented stylistic beer variety. Though corn-dried wheat-strawed-hay-leathered lemon-bruised herbal-tinged Lumina Helles Lager, soapy raspberry-fronted wheat-honeyed cranberry-melon-faded River City Raspberry Wheat, and spritzy banana-clove-centered butterscotch-vanilla-infiltrated orange-soured Hefeweizen were a bit washed out, soft dried-fruited fungi-blunted German Alt and a batch of stronger beers hit the spot.

Boozy pine-lacquered caramel-malted temptress Port City IPA retained dazzling citric zest. Peat-malted whiskey-snatched red-fruited chocolate-smoked fig-dried Dram Tree Scottish Ale truly ruled.

Incredible coffee-roasted molasses-thickened black chocolate-y Russian Imperial Stout retained cognac insistence, roasted nuttiness, and tobacco chew nuance to gooey anise finish.

Sour red-orange-fruited fig-date-teased hop-blanched Belgian Red and lemony apricot-fizzed maize-dried Kolsch suited summer solstice.

During July ’09 revisit, I found three more Front Street ales flowing from the front-windowed silver brew tanks on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Interestingly, the mild hickory-smoked Milds Davis Stout retained the same penetrating hazelnut coffee theme and hop-roasted cocoa thrust as the even better oats-charred chicory-pinched American Brown Ale.

Grapefruit rind-embittered lemon pith-soured American Pale Ale maintained light caramel malting.

In a tiny sea green store tucked away off the causeway east of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach’s Lighthouse Beer & Wine had a superb microbrew selection. Found Terrapin’s Side Project Roggenrauch, Rye Squared Imperial Pale Ale, and Golden Ale; Azalea Coast’s IPA and Fokker Ale; Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen; Duck-Rabbit Amber; Highland Imperial Kashmir IPA; and French Broad Wee Heavy-er Scotch Ale.

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