After waiting out another winter storm, on 3/4/14 we headed east from Greensboro to our first brewery visit in North Carolina’s ‘triangle’ which, for those unfamiliar, consists of the area between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We were very happy that afternoon for the opportunity to speak with Les Stewart, head brewer for Trophy Brewing Company. Trophy is a 3 bbl nano-brewery that was founded by Chris Powers and David Lockwood who also own Busy Bee Cafe, a popular Raleigh beer bar. The brewpub just celebrated their one year anniversary before our visit with a party in the roped off parking lot featuring some special release beers and has been seeing expedient growth since its inception. The restaurant and bar area are fairly limited in space and they were previously only open for dinner, however, have opened up their doors for lunch on the weekends to accommodate demand. While Les and his assistant brewer, Josh Wing, are certainly making some great beers for the area, he was quick to give a lot of the credit for the success and quick turnover in beers to the pizza. “Those guys do an amazing job,” he said about the kitchen staff who are busy turning out pies with many locally sourced ingredients as well as a meat and veggie feature pie every day – they even utilize the beers in the dough and sauce.
Trophy Brewing Co. boasts 6 taps from which they serve the vast majority of their production volume. They have received many requests for their beer from other businesses but don’t want to sacrifice supplying their own customers on site. There have been just a few times they were able to produce a surplus and were able to share a couple kegs to other accounts. Les explained that they are really just limited by fermentation space and are brewing 4-5 times per week to fill up their 3 single batch and 3 double batch fermenters (one of which was purchased mid-way through the year), leading to roughly 400 bbl produced in the first year of operation. One would expect things to slow down during the winter while the patio space remained unused, however, this past January saw record breaking sales with February performing even better.
Les shared that they still love to experiment frequently and look to improve each beer with every new batch. Brews often include locally sourced ingredients, where possible, especially local botanicals. With the nano brewing system, there is a quick turnover on the taps leading to a unique selection of beers upon every subsequent visit. A look at the brewery’s beers on tap now already shows a completely different line-up compared to our visit, excluding the single year round, Best in Show, a Belgo-American Saison with two-row, carapils, caramunich, and wheat malts featuring Citra hops and a blended Saison yeast. Most other beers are one offs, variations on previous brews, or are brewed on a rotational basis. The Unsupervised IPA was brewed by Josh while Les and the owners were on a brewery pilgrimage to Belgium. An Imperial IPA on tap during our visit was the Double Death Spiral which is still being tweaked to perfect the recipe. The remainder of beers on tap were the Long Shot Dark Saison, Hearty-wood Rye Quad aged in oak barrels, and an Imperial Stout aged in Finger Lakes rye whiskey barrels.
When we toured the brewing space we also saw a table full of ingredients for addition that day: Ginger and peaches to be added to a Berliner Weiss, cherries for a Biere-de-Garde, and lemon peel for a pink peppercorn Gose. Les also showed us his barrel aging space that contained some Flanders red ale that has been aging for nine months in French oak red wine barrels from McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks in Thurmond, NC. In addition, the Prichard’s Distillery rye whiskey barrels that had just been cleared of the quad on tap are soon to be filled with a Wee Heavy. There were even a couple Apple Brandy barrels for something special. Trophy has also been plenty busy with collaborations in their first year. Les has brewed collaboratively with Spike from Terrapin in GA and Nick from Hardywood Park Craft in VA as well as locals Raleigh Brewing Co, Lonerider, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and Deep River. Of interest, keep an eye out for more NC collaborations with Fullsteam and Olde Hickory in the near future. They have even collaborated with the Raleigh City Farm, brewing a fundraiser Saison with all NC ingredients, including two-row barley grown entirely within the city’s beltway.
Before opening, they had been giving away free samples of their beers, however, by bringing in a trophy one could get a full pour. Of course they quickly received hundreds of trophies which are on display at the brewpub and are quite fun to examine, ranging from waterskiing to disc golf to limbo. If you are ever in the triangle, be sure to stop into downtown Raleigh for a visit to Trophy Brewing Co. Enjoy a pizza and a truly unique line-up of beers during a nice day on the patio. Decide on your favorite and make use of their PEGAS Craftap to fill up a growler to go. This system uses a CO2 purge that reduces overflow waste and keeps your growler carbonated for several weeks so you can take the beer home and share with all of your friends. Trophy is open 7 days a week for dinner and late night hours as well as lunch on the weekends. Thank you very much to Les for taking the time out of his day to give us such a detailed look into his beers, to Josh for working ‘unsupervised’ while he did so, and to Chris for taking the time to chat with us when we ran into each other the night after our visit.
Author: Brandon Wurtz