In Southern Neighbor’s younger years it touted a recurring bar review, Setting the Bar. Contributing editor Tyler Fleming resurrected this section in Hillsborough this month.
As a creature of habit, Mystery Brewery shouldn’t be a place that I prefer. When I choose to drink, I typically go with some kind of lager, a brand that I know I like and can trust. Friends smirk when I order the same beer at the bar that I currently have sitting in the fridge. What can I say, I like what I like. At Mystery, there is no such thing as habit.
Mystery Brewery is possibly alone in only having seasonal beers. You heard me, they constantly rotate their taps — by season, month, week or until the casks run out.
“We make it once and we don’t make it again,” Arwen Hernandez, my bartender, told me, when I foolishly didn’t do my homework and asked about which seasonals they were offering.
When one walks into the bar, it clearly doesn’t have the same pretentious, urban feel of many of the Triangle breweries. First, it isn’t in Hillsborough proper. It is fairly remote with just a handful of restaurants surrounding it and a railroad running nearby. The bar is kid-friendly, board games line the back wall and many of the beers are named after nerdy themes from “Dr. Who” or other fandom culture shows. The bar’s patio area is also dog-friendly, which can only be a good thing.
While I was there, the staff joked about adopting dogs and about past drinking experiences. Hernandez, who has worked at Mystery for two years, was friendly and willing to answer any questions I had.
There is a good mix of local townies and outside visitors to the bar, and while we sat there, we witnessed the bar-tending staff interacting with regulars while also explaining the menu to newcomers.
The experience is good and all, but that isn’t why you come. While it is somewhat easy to make an IPA or any kind of lighter ale feel summer-y, I was most impressed by the lightness of their stout. Generally, when I think stout, I imagine something heavier, to be drank over a long period of time in winter.
While the Papa Bois, a 7.5 percent alcohol tropical stout, was heavier than the other beers we had, it had fruity undertones that made it feel more light and fit for a summer drink. I am not sure it would be my go-to on a 100-degree day, but that is personal preference.
I know I’ll be back to get another round of “Chance of Rain,” a 4 percent modern session IPA, which was what our bartender recommended. Like I said earlier, I didn’t expect to be this into an IPA, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly hoppy like what seems to be the trend right now. It was consistent with the fruity flavor profile of the other beers we tried, which balanced well with the hops.
The prices are consistent across beers, topping off with a very reasonable $5 for 16 ounces of whatever beer is on tap. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try more beers but also want to drive home, they offer 10 ounces for $3.50 and 5 ounces for $2.50 — which is pretty affordable even on my college student budget.
Overall, if you’re so much of a creature of habit, maybe Mystery isn’t for you — but that is a lousy reason to not give it a shot. I’m sure you’re going to try something you don’t quite like, but there are also a lot of great beers. And if you go to Mystery and find your favorite beer is no longer on tap, Hernandez is prepared to serve you another great pint.