#68 – Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

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On Wednesday, 3/5/14 we randomly ended up at Fullsteam Brewery on the same day that Brew Dogs was filming the first episode of their new season. I’ll touch on that a little bit at the end of this write-up, but the brewery has so much to offer that I don’t want that to be the main focus. Fullsteam’s beers are often nuanced and balanced and for the most part they don’t have in-your-face recipes (although there are some exceptions, like the Sour Working Man’s Lunch and the First Frost winter seasonal). They really strive for complexity through simplicity, and Carver Sweet Potato Lager is a good example of that – sweet potatoes are used in the recipe but, rather than going overboard with spices in an attempt to make sure it tastes like sweet potatoes (which would instantly turn it into a seasonal beer), they instead strip it down to the essence making it something more interesting that also pairs very well with food.

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Even though it was a madhouse at the time of our visit, owner Sean Wilson and bar manager ‘Camper’ Living-Water both made time to chat with us and give us insights into the Fullsteam Brewery. Sean informed us that he is interested in developing a brand that helps promote the idea of a southern beer economy and that “We’re big into establishing a Southern sense of place with our beer and developing the community in the process.” When they can, they like to use local ingredients, but that usually depends on availability and scale. El Toro Cream Ale and Common Good Kentucky Common are two beers of theirs that are brewed with 100% North Carolinian grain bills and, excluding the hops, they’re both made completely with local ingredients. Breaking off of that concept is an extremely unique idea that leads to beers in the Foraging Series: the brewery opens up the ability for patrons to bring in a certain crop, Fullsteam then purchases them near or at market price assuming the quality is good, and then uses those crops as ingredients in their beer. In return, the patrons receive a forager trucker hat that can only be obtained in this way and are not sold for any amount at any time. Some examples of crops used in the Foraging Series include persimmons, figs, pears, and honeysuckle.

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Fullsteam has around 8 beers that typically stay on year-round as well as a couple of seasonal/ one-off beers that rotate frequently. El Toro Cream Ale that I mentioned above is a light, simple, sessionable beer that everyone can enjoy and is perfect for sitting out in the sun. Common Good Kentucky Common is a sour that is comprised 2/3 of lactobacillus and 1/3 traditional blended to tame it and make it more of an ‘educational’ sour; it is made with rye, barley, and corn, as well as apple pomace they get from Foggy Ridge Cider out of Dubsport, VA. Working Man’s Lunch is a chocolate ale with Weizen yeast that is brewed with cocoa nibs. The beer was inspired by the old workingman’s lunch that consisted of an RC Cola and a Moonpie – if you taste the beer you will get a little of the Moonpie element, but they assured us there are not actually Moonpies in it. We also got to try the 2012 version of one of the beers from the Foraging Series called First Frost: a big persimmon winter strong ale that runs about 9% and, although it is strong, is not too boozy.

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Currently their beer is distributed locally in the region between DC and Charleston, and around 3,000 bbl are produced annually. The day after we visited was the third time they canned using a mobile canning unit and they are planning on eventually getting a canning line of their own. Some of their special releases are sold in bombers, like the Fearrington Winter and Fruitcake the Beer. A ton of events are held there like auctions, art shows, fundraisers, music at least once a week, and they also have cornhole, video games, ping pong, a jukebox, and allow dogs. On Sundays, they usually have bluegrass/ Americana/ folk music that is prevalent enough to set a good vibe, but not too loud to need to talk over. Although it is a family-friendly environment, they switch to 21+ at 9pm nightly and their hours can be found on their website. Big thanks to Sean Wilson and Sean ‘Camper’ Living-Water for hanging out with us on their busy day! (Read more about Brew Dogs below)

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[Me, Sean, Camper, Haggis]

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[Me, Head Brewer Chris Davis, Haggis]

Our visit was randomly and perfectly timed with the filming of the first episode of the new season of Brew Dogs. The goal for the Brew Dogs/ Fullsteam collaboration was to make the most caloric beer of all time, and they succeeded at doing just that! An imperial stout was brewed using chocolate and bacon, then ice cream was made with that beer, the ice cream was added back to the beer to make it a beer float, and finally more bacon was placed on top. It clocked in at over 600 calories and was indescribably delicious. Check out our photo page to see more, but you’ll have to tune-in to the show when it airs to find out more!

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Author: Michael Roberts

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2 thoughts on “#68 – Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

  1. With so many great NC breweries, this is one of my favorites. It didn’t hurt that like your trip Sean took time to talk us about the brewery and show us around.

    The Forager series is brilliant and the First Frost persimmon beer makes me want to curl up next to fire and read a book. Wish I could have tried the Brew Dog collab because I love me some bacon!

  2. Pingback: Michael’s Thoughts 3/24/2014 – Part 1 | Brews Travelers 365

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