Southern hospitality and locally-sourced ingredients combine to make brewing in the Triangle less like an industry and more like a community
For Ethan Butler, going to a local brewery is a lot like going to church.
Butler, a UNC-Chapel Hill adjunct lecturer and craft beer enthusiast, builds relationships with the people there, learns more about something he’s interested in and feels part of a community.
“Being able to meet up in a space that’s literally dedicated to something that is intended to be creative and bring people together, it’s just a nice place to find yourself,” Butler said.
That community feel is by design, local brewers say. They work to create a sense of place with their beer. They use local ingredients, contribute to the economic food chain and collaborate with each other to create a beer scene that’s both vibrant and distinct.
“Right now if I had to choose (a favorite beer), I would say our Plott Hound Pale Ale,” said Scott Maitland, proprietor of Top of the Hill restaurant, brewery and distillery. “Ninety-six percent of it is actually North Carolina agricultural ingredients.”
The money stays local
In the Triangle craft beer community, the money stays local, explained Nikko Carlson, head brewer at Starpoint Brewery. Brewery owners buy ingredients from farms in the area and distribute their product to local bars and shops. Customers visit those bars and shops, providing more money for more local ingredients and more beer.
After the beer is brewed, it often ends up on tap at bars in the area and on shelves of local retailers. One such retailer is Beer Study, which has an independent Carrboro location and a Durham location that shares its space with the Durham location of Starpoint’s brewery and taproom.
Starpoint brewer Nikko Carlson combining ingredients to make beer.
Adam Eshbaugh, host of 919 Beer Podcast and Triangle local, says the brewing industry has also helped the local economy by improving the appeal of the area. “Fullsteam (Brewery) is a prime example of what they helped start in Durham,” he said. “... There was nothing there when they moved in and now — you’ve got some nice things that have grown up around that area.”
Over at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro, brewing czar Will Isley is creating a beer using ingredients he found in nature preserves protected by the Triangle Land Conservancy. The conservancy is an organization that has permanently conserved 18,000 acres to protect natural habitats, support local farms and help people connect with nature.
The beer will feature rose tips, juniper berries and roasted hickory nuts. Isley also uses coffee from Carrboro Coffee Roasters, right across the street, to create coffee stouts.
“One of our goals as a brewery is to take advantage of the agriculture we have in the Piedmont,” Isley said. “I can get fresh ingredients at will.”
Small Brewery Advantages
Local breweries can often use their small size to their advantage to create new and interesting flavors of beer that are exclusive to their brewery.
“Being the size we are — that’s one of our advantages,” Isley said. “We can make weird beers on a smaller scale.”
Steel String Brewery creates flavors such as the Picklemania Dill Gose, made with dill pickling spices, the barbecue Sazon, a smoked saison with peppercorn and the Bohammie, a beer named for Isley’s great-grandmother. The Bohammie usually comes out around Christmas or Thanksgiving and tastes like the plum sauce with cloves and cinnamon his great-grandmother used to make.
Starpoint brewed Strawberry Summertime India Pale Ale with lactose to make it have a strawberry milkshake flavor that debuted for a limited time last summer.
Southern Hospitality in Brewing
Carlson says the culture of craft breweries is less adversarial in North Carolina compared to other brewery-heavy areas.
“I had a friend who told me that in Boston, you could be fired if someone caught you drinking beer from another brewery,” Carlson said. “Here if you’re at a beer festival and you forget some piece of equipment, people are willing to lend you a hand, even though, logically, it would be better for them if there were less people at the festival.”
Eshbaugh, the podcaster, sees this collegiality during 919 Beer’s Beericana Craft Beer and Music Festival.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie and cooperation,” said Eshbaugh. “We think it’s good for our local industry when our local product is on the shelves and on tap because that’s helping our local economy more than when another beer is on tap.”
In 2016, nearly 30 N.C. breweries, including Steel String, Starpoint and Top of the Hill, rallied together to create and sell a beer in response to N.C. House Bill 2. It was called “Don’t Be Mean to People: A Golden Rule Saison,” and they donated the profit to Equality N.C., an LGBT rights organization, and Queer Oriented Radical Days of Summer, an overnight camp for LGBT youth and youth of LGBT families with a special focus on the south.
‘Pop the Cap’ Bill creates boom
In 2005 the “pop the cap” bill raised the allowed ABV percentage from 6 percent to 15 percent. Since the bill passed, nearly 50 breweries opened in the Triangle and about 250 statewide.
“Every town has a brewery around here,” Carlson said. “It’s great for the craft beer community.”
Butler says the increase in the number of breweries has increased the quality of craft beer in North Carolina.
“In recent years, breweries in the Triangle have become a lot more consistent with quality as far as breweries opening where you can go in, and you know it’s gonna be good,” he said. “In order to succeed (in the Triangle) you need to be putting out a quality product.”
Eshbaugh appreciates the diversity in the craft beer community. He also says the brewing industry in the Triangle is going to continue to grow.
“North Carolina in general is just a crazy busy craft beer scene,” said Eshbaugh, “and it really doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”