by Eric Ginsburg
By the time the clock struck the allotted hour and a veteran bartender at Old Town hoisted a box of giveaway beer taps onto the counter, people were already packed several deep for the release event. Several had arrived early, eager to be among the 50 to receive Old Town Brown tap handles, particularly the misprinted orange original taps.
Natty Greene’s, long Greensboro’s only brewery, has deep ties to this place. It’s one of three bars the owners opened and later sold to raise the capital to found the brewery. Old Town Brown, a dependable brown ale that can act as a great gateway or permanent favorite in the subgenre, used to be a year-round beer for the brewery, named of course after the bar.
But several years ago Natty’s switched it over to a seasonal offering, making the OTB available from January to March. This launch event, held Jan. 8 at the bar that is basically on UNCG’s campus, acted as its 2015 coming-out party.
Despite Natty Greene’s deep roots in Greensboro, the city may not always be the brewery’s home base. They’re being courted by places like Charlotte that know Natty’s is looking for a bigger facility and the next step.
Co-founder and owner Kayne Fisher, who mingled with guests at the release party, said they’re flattered at the interest Natty Greene’s is garnering.
“We are going through the exercise, yes, looking at all our options,” he said. “From a sentimental standpoint, yeah you never want to leave home. But from a business standpoint, it’s business and you have to see what city is going to support you…. We’re excited about Gibb’s and that Preyer is coming and others, but I’m not sure that the city is [excited].”
The brewery opened up the Bunker taproom at its facility across the street from the Greensboro Coliseum just over a year ago and its downtown brewpub has long been a staple, but it’s outgrown its space and the owners are looking for a much bigger one. Locally, smart money seems to be on the Revolution Mills complex in the northeastern part of the city, and a former steel mill behind the Nussbaum Center is in the running, too. Fisher said they’re keeping an open mind.
“I wouldn’t say we’re looking elsewhere, but we’re looking at our options and those options include a few other cities in the state of North Carolina,” he said, referencing the strong beer scenes with city support in Asheville and Charlotte.
But regardless of the next step, the attention at Old Town was on the booze. The pub even rolled out a beer cheese soup made with Old Town Brown, topped with bacon bits and chives and served with a grilled cheese that tasted best when smothered in the soup. A nice touch, to be sure, but the thunder remained with the beer itself, a dark and full-bodied beer that isn’t too filling and offers a smooth, malty taste.
Despite a change in ownership, Old Town maintains close ties to the city’s oldest brewery. Even outside the release party, where OTB pints were just $3, there are always several Natty’s options alongside the long list of craft beers and always $2 PBR pints.
That’s part of the beauty of Old Town — it is proximate to a college campus and sells cheap beer but still manages to be a hybrid venue that is too nice to be called a dive and is rarely packed with students.
It’s a testament to the impact and significance of Natty Greene’s beyond just the downtown institution. Natty’s (even though the trashy Natural Light doesn’t want us to call it that) is the cornerstone of Greensboro’s beer industry, a gateway into craft brews for an entire region. It’s troubling to think about the city’s future without it.
Visit Old Town Draught House at 1205 Spring Garden St. (GSO) or find Old Town Brown in bars and stores through March.