I’m not entirely sure I’ve earned “regular” status at Lake Gaston Brewing, but with a rehearsal spot for my theatre company, Sweet Tea Shakespeare, just next-door at the Capitol building, I pop in to this buzzy brewpub a couple times a week. Their growing beer list and a selection of guest craft drafts make LGBC a place worth visiting for the local beer aficionados, and in recent months, they’ve demonstrated an evolving American food list that moves a step or so beyond that slog that plagues other places like this.
You may remember that LGBC took the place of the incredibly short-lived Airborne Brewing Company and seems to be enjoying the prospect of longevity in reverse proportion to the brief life of Airborne. On the Saturday afternoon I visited, the place might as well have been packed, with 30 or more patrons packed into the space that once held Horne’s breakfast and the incredibly good Off the Hook Taco Emporium. The place has a lot of history. Sandwiched between the impressive, hip Pressed goods and apparel store and the thriving Capitol Encore Academy, this little row of downtown Fayetteville is quickly moving beyond its status as a proof of concept even as is elevates downtown Fayetteville from its recent history as a place with antique stores, some offices, and other stuff.
What I like about Lake Gaston is its relaxed atmosphere and its admirable attempt at rustic authenticity, clad in plank wood, faux brick, and corrugated metal, the place feels warm and worthy. The amber glow of cafe and pendant lights works against, or possibly in concert with, a more traditional city bar feel up front. Where LGBC loses me every time I come in is the woefully unnecessary and completely adolescent playlist that drones too loudly in the background. It is one of the lone reminders of the strip mall Fayetteville just a few minutes down the road.
And so, their beer: I’ve enjoyed more than a few beers here and, while I have my preferences (these days, it’s a Flemish Red or a perfect Gose), I’m far from a snob. I want my beer to be almost experimental, if it can be. And if it can’t, I’d at least like it to be a version of normal that I can respect, on some level, for its competence.
El Jefe is a clean drinking beer of the experimental variety, a low ABV (4.5%), low bitterness (20 IBU), drinkable ale. A lambic — a style of Belgian beer that leaves fermentation up to nature, where wild yeast and natural bacteria create a wonky sourdough of an experience. Typical lambics mix in some fruit for good measure, but El Jefe swaps out the fruit for peppers. The result is a crisp, light experience — like a fizzy water that said hello to some peppers on the way to the glass. I found an almost astringent aftertaste, like the sharpness at the end of a sourdough or a fermented cheese or a bitter alcohol, but one that didn’t turn me off even if it did want me to keep drinking so that I could have more of the front-end experience of the beer instead of the back end. The overall effect is a citrusy, very mild take on the lambic, a fizzy water with funk that warms the tongue ever so slightly to the welcome tingle of capsaicin on the tongue.
If you find El Jefe too strange for your palette, consider washing it down with a behind-the-counter open secret: Blueberry Moscow Mule. You can’t possibly regret it.