On the morning of Saturday 3/8/14 we woke up to a beautiful view of the Currituck Sound in the northeastern corner of North Carolina. After a hearty breakfast at a roadside café that just so happened to be the home base of the popular monster truck, Grave Digger, we drove just a few more miles south to the oldest microbrewery in the state, Weeping Radish Farm Brewery. If you have been paying attention to our travels, you know that NC has a booming craft beer scene and it all started here with the work of a Bavarian native, Uli Bennewitz. After moving to America he had a vision to share the delicious beers he had grown up with and decided to open up a traditional German style brewery and restaurant in NC’s popular Outer Banks. So he went to work and ordered brewing equipment to be shipped from Germany, later finding out that his grand vision was an illegal one. At that time it was against the law in NC to sell a brewery’s beer directly to consumers (a 3rd party distributor was required) so in 1985 Uli spearheaded changing those silly laws with a local senator and won, finally opening up his brewery in Manteo on July 4, 1986.
We ended up sleeping in our van in Kinston, after we had left Mother Earth then grabbed some food across the street at Boiler Room. The next morning we made a trip to Farmville, NC on Friday, 3/7/14, to meet with the guys of Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery where Tony, who is the bartender for the taproom, jumped out of the front door and posed for a picture right when we pulled up. At that moment we already knew we would have a good time at this brewery who specializes in making only dark beers, even though we had not even gone inside yet.
On the morning of 3/6/14 we kept ourselves busy playing catch up with some writing before driving a couple hours to Kinston for a tour of Mother Earth Brewing. After our detailed tour courtesy of Kevin Graham, we chatted with the Account and Taproom Manager, Sean Maloney, over a flight and also had to opportunity to speak with the brewery founders, Trent Mooring and Stephen Hill. Mother Earth has been making award winning beers since they opened for business in October 2008 with experienced Brewmaster, Josh Brewer, at the helm. Of special note, after three years of renovation and hard work to increase environmental sustainability, in February 2012 they were the very first brewery in the country to become LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) gold certified by the US Green Building Council.
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.
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.
After our short-lived visit to Winston-Salem, NC, we made a trek to Haw River Farmhouse Ales on Monday, 3/3/14 to visit with Nick Mangili – a friend of ours who we met when he was a brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Company back in Dallas, TX. He is now brewing test batches for Haw River Farmhouse Ales since they’re not actually open just quite yet. This brewery is going to be incredibly unique, utilize local ingredients including a house yeast they collected from their backyard on their own, and will be opening sometime later this year.
On the 1st of March we trekked north from Charlotte to downtown Winston-Salem where we were able to visit the original location of Foothills Brewing, their West 4th Street brewpub . The brewery was founded by two couples, the Bartholomaus’ and Masten’s, who met in 2002 and had already purchased the building for the brewery by 2003. After tons of hard work on the business plan and support from a Winston-Salem rebuilding initiative, they celebrated their opening with a big party on St. Patrick ’s Day 2005. All four individuals play a vital role in the company’s success with the help of their ever growing team, currently at over 100 individuals. Jamie Barthomaus serves as President and Brewmaster, Sarah Bartholomaus operates as COO, Matt Masten is CFO, and Meredith Masten is the brewery’s Comptroller. As the Foothills’ popularity shot through the roof over the previous years, they maxed out space at the brewpub – we were told of the ‘joys’ of double brewing 7 days a week – and at the tail end of 2011 opened up a massive 48,000 sq. ft. production facility several miles away in Stratford Industrial Park. On this afternoon, Sarah agreed to meet with us at the pub to share her insight into all things exciting at Foothills Brewing.