The Sixth Sense of Beer: Crafting at Check Six Brewery in Southport, NC

Written by Debra McCormick

“I don’t remember not drinking beer,” says Noah Goldman, co-owner and operator of Check Six Brewery in Southport. “My grandfather would give me and my cousins a shot of beer every morning after my grandmother would leave the house for work. He had barrels of Schaeffer beer in the basement, stacked to the ceiling,” he motions upward to emphasize that last point, a visual image that has stayed with him his whole life.

Goldman’s grandfather knew beer. He ran a clandestine brewery in the 1920s in New York City during Prohibition, but he lost it all, including the family home, in a card game. “It was never spoken about in our family after that happened. No one dared to talk about it, ever. We just didn’t,“ says Goldman. From this family legacy, Goldman has inherited a sixth sense about beer, which he credits in part to his grandfather, but he also believes it’s in his genes, from his German lineage. “I can taste a beer and just know if it’s right or not.”

Goldman and his business partner, Tim Hassel, co-own Check Six Brewery. The idea for it came five years ago during a cub scout meeting for Hassel’s son and Goldman’s grandson while living in New Jersey. The scenario is easy to imagine: two men are enjoying a beer together and one says to the other, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to brew our own beer?” Suddenly, Goldman remembers that his cousin, Norm Weiss, has equipment for making beer in storage in his attic, and he also possesses the vital knowledge for making it. With one phone call, his cousin brings the equipment to Hassel’s home and soon they have preliminary batches ready for tasting.

Encouraged by the positive feedback from their friends and members of Tim’s squadron (Hassel serves in the New Jersey Air National Guard), they decide to go after their dream and begin the search for a location. The laws in New Jersey regulating breweries are restrictive and taxation is high, so they turned their attention south, where flexible laws and lower taxes make a business venture more feasible. Goldman was already familiar with North Carolina from his travels to the Outer Banks. After Southport was chosen as the location for their brewery, building it took two years, and they have been in operation for the last three.

Goldman tells me his brewery is attracting patrons from as far away as the Midwest and Southwest. People go on beer tours after they learn about breweries from brewery maps or vacation guides, such as ncbeer.org (North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild) or Yelp. “It’s a thing,” says Goldman.

It was only natural that an aviation theme would be chosen for their brewery, given that Hassel is an F-16 pilot in the New Jersey Air National Guard. “Check Six” is an old aviation expression used by pilots since WWI to refer to the blind spot in a pilot’s tail end, making him vulnerable to attack from enemy aircraft. From this imagery, a nifty company slogan was created. “When it comes to beer we’ve got your six,” says Goldman. That assurance is delivered when one peruses the choices currently on tap: Flying Circus Hefeweizen, Aerial Aggression Double IPA, and the Broken Prop Pilsner. Coming soon is 50 Cal Kolsch (made in the style from the Kolsch region in Germany) and Curtiss Jenny Brown Ale. Their Stormandy IPA recently won the award in a local beer tasting contest held in Wrightsville Beach. The aviation décor in the taproom is interesting and consistent with the brewery’s theme: framed photographs of famous WWI fighter pilots are neatly lined along one wall in a corner room where patrons play darts, models of vintage WWI fighter planes hang from the ceiling, and on the farthest wall to the right hangs an old wooden propeller from a WWII plane used to train fighter pilots. It came from the airfield that is now the Southport airport, used back in the day of pre-WWII 1938 as a training airfield. The airport manager gifted the propeller to the brewery, and it inspired the name for one of the beers currently on tap—Broken Prop Pilsner.

The integrity of their product is the most important thing for Goldman and Hassel, and this is achieved by using quality ingredients. They use the best grain—barley, wheat, and oats — locally whenever possible. The best hops and yeast are equally important. There are different strains of yeast and a variety of hops that yield different flavors after they are added to the “wort,” a German term for the sugary liquid from the grain after it has been boiled at a precise temperature. Depending on the type of hops used, blends will carry notes of flowers, pine or chocolate. Their IPAs mostly carry notes of grapefruit. Yeast will also affect the taste: some add tones of cotton candy or bubble gum, or if the temperature is changed, hints of cloves can be noted.  

The possibilities are limitless, and this is where the fun is for Goldman. It is the sheer joy of creating different beer styles and knowing that there are so many different outcomes available. The experimentation is exciting, as well as the anticipation of how patrons will react to a new blend and his sixth sense never leads him astray.