Barstool: Kernersville Brewing Co.

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Welcome to the state’s smallest brewery.

At least, that’s what brewer Eric Lauten calls it.

“This is all I have,” he said, opening a horizontal refrigerator like the kind you might keep in your garage. Four skinny sixtel kegs are there, along with brewing ingredients like hops and yeast. The dwindling stock indicates the popularity of Kernersville Brewing Co., which has taps at four downtown Kernersville locations.

The brewery is a room next to Angela’s Ale House, its home base, and is accessible through an outside door in the same building that houses Giada’s Trattoria. About 12 by 20 feet, it’s just big enough to fit a one-barrel brewing system and five two-barrel fermenters.

Lauten saw an advantage in starting small.

“If we screwed up, it’d be cheaper,” he said.

Now a burgeoning business in downtown Kernersville, the brewery started in a kitchen. Lauten’s uncle Dwight brewed beer for years at home, making enough messes to warrant turning an old tractor shed into a brewhouse. Lauten focused on making wine and eventually helped his uncle with beer. They brewed up to 45 times a year, sharing their creations with friends and family.

Dwight Deal wanted to upgrade, but a full-on brewery seemed too much to Lauten, who also works as a financial advisor.

In the meantime, friend Angela Slaydon approached Lauten, asking if he wanted to attach a brewery to the restaurant she was starting. Lauten also got a tip from Big Dan’s Brew Shed, a supply store in Greensboro, that 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Co. in Danville, Va., was selling a one-barrel brewing system. The confluence of events pushed Lauten in the nanobrewery direction, and a year ago, Kernersville Brewing poured its first beers at Angela’s Ale House.

Customers now sit on diner-style stools along the bar and at silver tables in the dining room. A Swiss customer asked Lauten about the Kӧlsch-style ale. Lauten, who maintains close connections to his family in Germany, uses German ingredients, but said Kӧlsch cannot be legally called Kӧlsch when brewed outside of the Cologne region. That’s why so many breweries today call the beer “Kӧlsch-style,” he said. Lauten, a Kernersville native, calls his beer “Kӧlschville.”

In addition to several other styles such as porter, stout, Irish red and blonde ale, Lauten also makes house beers for J. Pepper’s Southern Grille and Smitty’s Grille, both about a mile away from the brewery. The Peppers Pale Ale, made with habañero peppers, is his “best-selling beer,” he said. “It’s fruity on the front end with heat on the back; not too spicy. I brew it nonstop.”

Due to the high demand for his beer, Lauten has decided to scale up. While scouting locations in downtown Kernersville, he recently found a building similar to Wise Man Brewing in Winston-Salem. But renovations would push the price tag to above $1 million, an expense Lauten simply can’t afford. Still, he’s determined to stay in the area.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the city,” he said, mentioning that Kernersville officials changed a mid-1800s law that breweries cannot be built within town limits.

Lauten envisions a bigger facility having a taproom and a German-style beer garden. Once he has larger equipment and the ability to ferment at lower temperatures, he plans to brew lagers, a double IPA and a brown ale.

He’s heard rumors about another brewery coming to Kernersville.

“I hope Kernersville becomes a destination place for craft beer,” he said, a trend that he and his uncle Dwight will have helped to begin.