Maybe I’m a slow learner, but it took several tours of working breweries before I started to understand how beer is made.

But from my first brewery tour onward, I enjoyed the tall, gleaming kettles; the smells that were bready, then spicy, depending on the stage in the process; and the Rube Goldberg wonder of the bottling lines and the mechanical label affixerslike toy trains for grown-ups. In small breweries, the tour guide might be the brewer, wearing knee-high rubber boots. In huge breweries, like the Heineken complex in Amsterdam, the guides wore Heineken-green uniforms and delivered their corporate scripts with enthusiasm.

I remember touring the Orval monastery brewery in Belgium and having to make way for busloads of uniformed school children who had been brought on their annual field trip to see this local religious and commercial center. Over here, you won’t be competing for space with schoolchildren being taught the economic and spiritual importance of beermore’s the pity. But as the warmer weather coaxes us out of our houses, a stop at a local brewery can be novel entertainment.

Here are some breweries within a short commute. Each has a story to tell. You’ll appreciate the hard work that goes into your brew and get a chance to taste a range of beers you might want to stock at home. Some brewery tours allow children, others do not; check before you go.

Carolina Brewing Company

140 Thomas Mill Road, Holly Springs, 557-2337,

CBC tops the list. It has been open for 15 years and has offered tours on Saturdays nearly every week. That comes to more than 750 tours, so the trio who run the brewery know what makes for a good visit. This has become a regular stop for Holly Springs neighbors whenever they have out-of-town visitors.

  • Schedule: 1 p.m. Saturdays
  • Appointment: Not necessary
  • Fees: None
  • Restrictions: You must be at least 21 to tour the brewery.
  • Bennies: Carolina Brewing Co.’s seasonal beers in bottles are available for sale at the brewery only.

Triangle Brewing Co.

918 Pearl St., Durham, 683-2337,

Tucked away in eastern downtown Durham, Triangle’s Belgian-inspired and American-style beers are available on draft locally and in limited bottled editions. Take advantage of the tour to get to know the location, then come back for a night of local music.

  • Schedule: 1:30 p.m. Saturdays; gates open at 1 p.m.
  • Appointment: Small private tours by appointment
  • Fees: None
  • Restrictions: No one under 21, except babes in arms.
  • Bennies: Ask about the mysterious Rufus and buy a growler of your favorite beer to take home.

Aviator Brewing Co. Tap House

600 E. Broad St., Fuquay Varina, 552-8826,

This is one of the state’s newest microbreweries, with a range of styles and attitude to spare. Ask founder Mark Doble about extracting free hospitality from Belgian monks.

  • Schedule: 3 p.m. Saturdays
  • Appointment: Not necessary
  • Fees: None
  • Restrictions: “Children are welcome. If they misbehave we put them in the fermenter.”
  • Bennies: The Tap House is open 3 p.m. to midnight weekdays, noon to midnight weekends. The brewer offers small classes on beer styles and the brewing process, $35. Sign up at

LoneRider Brewing Company

8816 Gulf Court, Suite 100, Raleigh, 442-8004,

Cue the Sergio Leone soundtrack and drop by to discover the hideout of Shotgun Betty, Deadeye Jack and their beery companions. You’ll be supporting one of the most community-minded local breweries.

  • Schedule: Biweekly, alternating Fridays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m. Check
  • Appointment: Not necessary
  • Fees: None
  • Restrictions: Over 21 only; visitors who are obviously children are OK.
  • Bennies: The tasting room is open to purchase pints of LoneRider beer Thursday and Friday 4:30–9 p.m. and Saturday noon to 6 p.m.

Big Boss Brewing Company

1249 Wicker Drive, Raleigh, 345-2227,

With many incarnations happily behind it, Big Boss is now Raleigh’s senior brewing company.

  • Schedule: 2 p.m. the second Saturday of each month
  • Appointment: Not necessary
  • Fees: The tour is free. Samples are $1 each for up to three.
  • Restrictions: None
  • Bennies: The on-site taproom, where you can buy seasonal specials and taproom-exclusive beers, is one of Raleigh’s best-kept beer secrets.

Brewpubs & more

If you’d like to grab a bite after your brewery education, Boylan Bridge Brewpub in Raleigh (201 S. Boylan Ave., 803-8927,, where brewer Mark Fesche gives tours on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and by appointment, or on the spot, if he can manage it.

Take a tour: Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours ( includes Boylan Bridge on their Raleigh walking tour. Newly formed Beltline Brew Tours ( specializes in three-to-four-hour bus tours of breweries in the Triangle and beyond. Watch for their growing list of circuits.