It’s a perfect sunny day in Oxford, North Carolina, and Mara Shelton and her husband, Paul, are rolling up the garage doors that connect their taproom to the patio at Tobacco Wood Brewing Company. The breezy air mixes with friendly voices, live music, and delicious aromas from the barbecue-fusion menu.
Since it opened in 2018, North Carolina’s first female- and veteran-owned brewery has been a gathering place for the community, as well as for visitors making the quick one-hour trip from the Triangle. “We wanted to create a low-key, public house-style pub with big community tables where everyone is welcome and everyone is comfortable,” Mara says.
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Today, locals and passersby on nearby I-85 appreciate the brewery’s hometown feel and big-city flavors. In the airy, 2,200-square-foot taproom where they serve 13 of their own beers on tap, a knowledgeable bartender pours pints and beer flights and, with a nudge, will tell the stories behind charming, funky beer names like Rocket Surgery (a juniper Kölsch) and The Original False Motivation (IPA).
“Oxford is a great small town,” Mara says. “We all know each other, and we’re all so excited for everything that’s going on and coming up in Granville County.”
Ready for a day trip? In addition to Tobacco Wood’s craft brews and brisket tacos, plan around these can’t-miss events and adventures.
Visit Local Galleries & Shop For Local Art
Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmoor — located at the edge of the woods down a picturesque country road — is well worth a visit. Founded in 1968 by two potters, Cedar Creek was once an old tobacco field and now serves as a gathering place where craftspeople, potters, and glass blowers hone their crafts in several studios. Plan to spend a couple of hours walking around the grounds and through the gallery, and prepare to be impressed. Many of the represented craftspeople also have permanent collections in the Smithsonian and Mint museums.
Explore The Cedar Creek Gallery. photograph by Chip Henderson
Then head to Main Street in Oxford, where you’ll find The Painted Ox, which is part art gallery, part clothing store, part rummage sale, and features more than 500 pieces, including everything from paintings to jewelry to pottery and beyond. Husband-and-wife owners David Rogers and Ann May Woodard wanted The Painted Ox to be a place to celebrate artistry and individuality in many forms — and to make it accessible to everyone. “Our love is for the arts,” May Woodard says. “One of our goals is to make the store affordable for everyone. We certainly have collectors that come in, but we take great pride in connecting people with something they love and can afford.”
Stop by the Painted Ox on Main Street. photograph by Chip Henderson
Attend the North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest
On the second Saturday in September, 16 blocks of downtown Oxford transform into a huge gathering of food trucks, craft brewers, local artists, and vendors. Celebrating its 16th year in 2022, North Carolina’s annual Hot Sauce Contest has grown from a storefront celebration into a favorite fall event.
“People love the challenge of ‘how much heat can I take,’” says Angela Allen, the director of the Granville County Tourism Development Authority. “Beyond hot sauce and barbecue sauce, we have nearly 180 vendors who sample and sell specialty foods: pimento cheese, salsa — even beer with a hot-sauce flavoring. There’s so much, there’s no way you can taste it all!”
Hot sauce lovers rejoice at this contest in Oxford. photograph by Chip Henderson
Though the contest draws people and vendors from all over, hot sauce and barbecue contest entrants must be made and bottled in North Carolina. They compete for three top spots in two categories and for bragging rights as the Best Overall in Hot Sauce and BBQ Sauce.
“Most of the entrants do their own pepper-growing,” Allen says. “Some create a hybrid where they mix different pepper varieties to create something different than the guy next door.”
Brave visitors put their taste buds to the test by entering the North Carolina Pepper Eating Contest, sponsored by nearby Bailey Farms, the largest pepper producer and distributor on the Eastern seaboard.
More timid tasters may prefer to visit the seasonal Oxford Farmers Market on Saturday mornings from 7 to 12 a.m., where they can find fresh produce, fruit, free-range eggs, baked goods, crafts, plants, honey, and seasonal items, all from vendors who live within 25 miles of town.
Explore the Outdoors
It’s no surprise that one of Granville County’s biggest events, the hot sauce contest, centers on the region’s agricultural heritage. If you’re visiting in the spring and are hungry for the season’s first strawberries, a bounty awaits at two local farms, fresh for the picking.
Pick up a bucketful of fresh strawberries in Granville County. photograph by Chip Henderson
And in nearby Creedmoor at Lyon Farms, strawberries are offered alongside other vegetables and fruits like blackberries, blueberries, and peaches. Want to cap your Granville County day with a farm-to-table meal back at home? Swing by and select your sides at Lyon Farms from a smorgasbord of seasonal goodies, with produce like radishes, turnips, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and red potatoes.
Make your next stop at the newly renovated Lake Rogers Park in Creedmoor. Bordering the west side of town, Lake Rogers offers serene lake views from its trails and boardwalk and is a favorite spot among locals to drop a line. Take a hike and explore the shore before eating lunch at a picnic table (there’s even a concession stand with drinks and snacks), or rent a boat and explore from the water.
Or choose from the more than five miles of walking trails at Ledge Creek Forest Conservation Area in Stem. Easy-to-moderate paths were designed to take advantage of the region’s topography and take you past ponds, through wildflower fields, and by Ledge Creek.
“It’s just what Mother Nature ordered,” says Derek Halberg, executive director of the Tar River Land Conservancy, Ledge Creek. “It is gorgeous terrain. You have everything from boulders and rocky areas to large oak trees that line the slope above the creek. With two convenient trailheads located near Stem, you can quickly get into the woods and really feel like you’re in nature.”
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