There are so many breweries in the Triad now that it’s easy to lose count.
This area’s brewery openings have come in successive waves, with a long lull after the first one lapped at the beach. A decisive second wave delivered a bounty of beer, rapidly tripling the number of brewpubs in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. Now a third wave is taking shape, proving once again that the tide is still coming in.
Technically, Red Oak came first, operating as the lone Triad brew operation for years before relocating east to Whitsett. But at best, that could be considered a trickle.
The first wave of craft beer hit the Triad more than a decade ago, as mainstay breweries launched in each of the three cities: Natty Greene’s in Greensboro, Liberty in High Point and Foothills in Winston-Salem. We’ll spare you the details — if you aren’t already familiar with your city’s crown jewel of brewing, you’re either new in town or this issue probably isn’t for you — but suffice to say these titans formed the vanguard of the modern craft era here, and remain the largest purveyors of beer in their respective cities.
It took half a generation for more breweries to pop up in the Triad, but once the second wave started cresting, it crashed down hard.
In Greensboro, Gibb’s Hundred Brewing, Pig Pounder Brewery and Preyer Brewing opened in relatively quick succession. In Winston-Salem, Hoots Beer Co. and Small Batch popped up, the former inside the hip West End Mill Works and the latter next to the Benton Convention Center downtown.
And while only one brewery bolstered the scene in High Point, Brown Truck hit the ground running. In 2016, it won Very Small Brewing Company of the Year (nationwide!) at the venerated Great American Beer Festival, taking home a gold and two silvers for its beer the same year. Its success hasn’t gone unnoticed in High Point, but Triadians in other cities have yet to really give Brown Truck its due.
Two more breweries opened at the tail end of the second wave — Joymongers in Greensboro (more on them later) and Wise Man in Winston-Salem next to the former Ziggy’s music venue on the north end of downtown after originally intending to open in the heart of Greensboro.
Together they brought the total number of breweries to five and four in their respective cities, with High Point’s two putting the total number at 11. That’s not including breweries in outlying communities, including Red Oak, Kernersville Brewing and Four Saints. And it’s only counting Foothills and Natty Greene’s once each, though Foothills opened a southwestern taproom and Natty Greene’s grew with the Bunker across from the Greensboro Coliseum (and ran a taproom in Raleigh for several years too, by the way).
Even so, 11 is quite the jump from one apiece for the three Triad cities just a couple years earlier.
Welcome to the third wave! We’re just getting started.
Winston-Salem rang in the beginning of this phase with the opening of Fiddlin’ Fish, a brewery and taproom adjacent to Broad Branch Distilling (similar to Hoots and Sutler’s Spirit). A large patio adds to Fiddlin’ Fish’s appeal, as does its proximity to Wise Man, making a walking brewery crawl from Wise Man down to Small Batch more practical with this pit stop.
Over in Greensboro, Natty Greene’s pivoted to its Kitchen + Market at Revolution Mill, a rehabbed textile plant in the city’s northeast, operates a kitchen, market and store.
No other breweries have officially opened in the third wave, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more arriving soon, and almost all of them in Greensboro.
Progress is visible from the street at Little Brother, which is moving into the space long occupied by the Idiot Box comedy club across from Natty Greene’s downtown brewpub. Little Brother plans to open quietly at the end of this month and will run a four-barrel system, spokesperson Brittany Wilson said, making it bigger than Small Batch but still on the petite end of the spectrum. The brewery plans to feature a “resident brewer” program to showcase area homebrewers, according to its website, which will be pretty exciting if executed well.
Two months ago, we broke the news about plans for LevenEleven, a nanobrewery operated by Derrick Flippin and Dan Morgan in conjunction with Big Dan’s Brew Shed’s new location by the Greensboro Coliseum. Flippin said last week that renovations are underway, and they hope to open by December. These guys are heavy hitters, and will undoubtedly put out high-quality specialty product.
As part of its relocation to the former JP Looney’s building in west-central Greensboro, Fat Dog’s announced that it would be adding a three-barrel nanobrewery system. The beloved dive bar and restaurant — formerly a neighbor to Hops Burger Bar — is already up and running at the new, larger site, but General Manager Somer Griffin said the brewery side is still under construction. Fat Dog’s hopes to be operational by early 2018 at the latest, she said, adding that they’ll still sell other companies’ beer alongside their own product.
It’s still out on the horizon, but we can see the early signs of a fourth wave headed our way.
Oden Brewing — slated for an empty shell near the intersection of Tate Street and Gate City Boulevard near Greensboro’s Glenwood neighborhood — hopes to open by next summer. Like most of its predecessors, Oden won’t operate its own kitchen, instead relying on food trucks, and the owners are putting in a 10-barrel system, making it most similar to the Joymongers model.
Oden will help the brewing industry expand beyond the core of downtown, a trend that began with the third wave and appears to be continuing.
In August, Greensboro’s Joymongers Brewing announced that it would expand operations with a taproom and barrel-aging facility in Winston-Salem’s West End neighborhood. The move makes Joymongers the first of the Triad’s newer breweries to open a second location; Foothills runs two facilities in Winston-Salem and Liberty operates a brewery and grill in Myrtle Beach, while Natty Greene’s closed its Raleigh taproom in the lead-up to opening its massive Revolution Mill campus. It maintains its downtown brewpub.
Joymongers, however, will be the first brewery to operate in multiple Triad cities. If any of the area’s smaller breweries can do it, Joymongers is the one for the job, given its massive output through on-site sales and the experience of veteran brewmaster Mike Rollinson, who helmed Natty Greene’s brewpub for years.
The barrel-aging facility — a rarity around here — and taproom will be around the corner from Hoots, facing Hanes Park and the Tap dive bar.
There are other changes on the horizon, too. Gibb’s Hundred bought a building on State Street, and plans to relocate from its current downtown location in the next six months. The move will give the brewery more production space, owner Mark Gibb said, which is much needed as Gibb’s Hundred approaches its third anniversary this weekend.
Gibb’s Hundred will be just about the only bar in its new pocket of town, making this shift reminiscent of Natty Greene’s step into Revolution Mill. Whether others will follow suit or if a brewery will open in Gibb’s Hundred’s current Lewis Street building downtown remains to be seen.
Stuck at sea
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from XII Tribes Brewing in High Point, or anyone involved with the imagined Mansfield Brewing in Greensboro’s Spring Garden Street area. And while the folks at Good Creature — who said a couple years ago that they’d like to open in downtown Greensboro — confirmed last week that they’re still planning to move forward, there’s no visible progress on any of these three breweries.
There’s plenty of other action to be excited about though, and it’s clearly high tide for craft brewing in the Triad. It’s not clear when, or if, we’ll peak, but it’s telling that none of these operations — regardless of which wave they came in on — have closed. Maybe the start-up costs are high enough that it prevents people from getting into the industry without sufficient capital, but it’s also worth noting that craft beer still accounts for a small percentage of overall beer consumption. That means, at least hypothetically, that if local breweries grow smartly, the tide could swell for years to come.