written by Eric Ginsburg // painting by Theresa Rizzuto
Another year in beer, and there’s more of it being made around here than ever. Plenty has changed on the local scene in 2016 so far — the opening of Brown Truck Brewing in High Point and Joymongers in Greensboro, added bottleshops, countless beer releases and three brewmaster changes affecting Foothills, Natty Greene’s and Pig Pounder.
Before the end of the 2016, we’ll see the opening of Wise Man Brewing in downtown Winston-Salem, and we recently learned about plans for a new brewing concern called Good Creature hoping to drop anchor in the heart of Greensboro. There’s been no apparent progress on the launch of Mansfield Brewing in the Gate City, but more than enough other things happened on the Triad beer scene in 2016; more on that later.
Regardless of how much you know about local beer, the 2016 Beer Issue is for you. That’s because we’ve broken it down so newbies can quickly come up to speed and snobs can flex their knowledge.
The 2016 Brewer of the Year
In one of our most popular reader polls of the year, Triad CityBeat readers selected Calder Preyer of Preyer Brewing in Greensboro as the 2016 Brewer of the Year. The contest was close, with Ian Burnett of the new Brown Truck Brewing in High Point ranking a close second, followed by the Third City’s other brewmaster Todd Isbell, who’s held down Liberty Brewery & Grill for years (and who later passed Preyer and Burnett in the online poll, though we’d already hit our print deadline last week).
There are two main takeaways from the results: You cannot overlook High Point when it comes to craft beer, and while Preyer Brewing is one of the Triad’s newer breweries, it’s already a powerhouse.
We wanted to know more about the beard behind the brew at Preyer, where the taproom offers everything from a popular red IPA to a magnificent gose sour beer, as well as frequent one-off specials and some of the most comfortable taproom seating in the Triad. Here’s what Calder Preyer had to say for himself.
TCB: When did you get into brewing?
Calder Preyer: I liked to drink beer [laughing]. I decided I wanted to make it, got a homebrew kit for Christmas when I was 22 and just went from there.
TCB: Do you remember the first beer you made?
CP: Some kind of IPA that I badly scorched the malt and it ended up being more like a hoppy brown ale. It was from a kit. I was pleased with it but I’m sure if I were to try it today, I would be horrified.
TCB: What’s the most enjoyable thing about being a professional brewer?
CP: Just that it’s such a different mix of so many different skills. I get to be creative you know, when I’m making the recipes, but there’s also a lot of physical labor, the process of brewing. And I also get to use problem-solving skills when you know, like the glycol chiller broke or the keg washer broke. It’s just a wide range of different skills and things that I do every day. It’s not tedious and monotonous and I’m doing something different every day and I get to use lots of different parts of my brain and my body. Nobody tells me to cut my hair off [laughing].
TCB: What’s the worst part?
CP: Just the fact that, you know, I’m not just a brewer at a brewery but a small business owner and the president of a small business. A lot of the stuff I deal with is that kind of thing. Bills, all the accounting, all the things that go on with trying to run any kind of small business is something that we deal with and just going through that small business struggle can be rough. The first few years of a small business can be tough. I never get despondent when I’m in the brewery working but sometimes when you’re sitting there writing check after check paying bills you’re just like, “Ugh, there’s a lot of money going out.”
TCB: What doesn’t the average beer drinker understand about the job of a brewmaster?
CP: I think just how much cleaning. How physical it can be. I said that it’s not tedious and boring but that’s in the sense that every day is different. There are a lot of tedious, boring things that you do in a brewery that we do a lot. We clean a lot. I don’t think the average beer drinker understands how much we clean, and how physical the job can be when you’re brewing a double batch and, you know, when you have a really busy week in your brewing schedule and at the end of the week, you can barely move. I often say I’m a glorified janitor. At a big brewery that’s often not the case for the head brewer; they have cellar men cleaning tanks and all that kind of stuff. And I do have two assistant brewers now, so…
TCB: Do you have a favorite of your beers?
CP: Really I tend to drink a lot of our new stuff. I think our gose is a really well executed beer, I think our gose’s really solid. I wish I could drink more of it but it gives me heartburn [laughing]. The beer we put out [Sept. 29] is really good — that New New Citra Fresh Hop Pale Ale. I really just tend to drink whatever’s new and not very high alcohol because I’ve got two young kids and I work all the time and barely ever sleep.
TCB: What are Preyer Brewing’s most popular brews?
CP: Our Lewis & Crunk West Coast-Style IPA. Our gose does really well too, and being as we just went through summer, our wheat beers. You know, we do have a regular wheat, we have a strawberry wheat, we do fruity wheat beer and stuff so those always do well, too.
TCB: Is there a beer you’re looking forward to brewing that you haven’t yet?
CP: We’re going to do an imperial cream ale eventually. It’s Nicole’s.
Nicole Preyer: Eric, I’ve been asking him for that beer for more than 10 years. Ten years.
CP: [Laughing] Imperial cream ale is something we’ll probably be doing soon.
NP: Mind Your Nanners will be an imperial cream ale with banana-y flavor.
CP: I want to get a barrel-aging program going, I’m just not a big bourbon barrel guy, so I’m just trying to find the right barrels for what we want to do, what we want to accomplish. Do something a little different.
TCB: What’s coming soon at Preyer?
CP: We’ve got a single-hop, sour-mash pale ale with an experimental hop variety that I’m brewing today [Sept. 30], an imperial oatmeal stout, we’ve got the return of our pumpkin imperial stout next week, and I think that’s everything that’s new for October right now. We made a pumpkin-spice beer with some extra wheat beer that we had and we’re calling it Basic. Basic American Wheat [laughing].
TCB: What do you think is next for the craft beer scene in the Triad?
CP: In the Triad? I think we’ll continue to see more breweries opening. I would hope, at least. I’m always happy to see more breweries opening because more people drinking craft beer is more customers for us, too. We don’t see it as a competition kind of thing. I think in the Triad we’ll see more breweries opening.
TCB: And what about beyond the Triad, what’s next for craft beer?
CP: It’s tough for us to answer because it’s kind of like we’ve had our blinders on, just working on our own little, tiny slice of things. Everyone in the craft beer industry is always worried about whether there’s a bubble, and whether there’s going to be some kind of shakeout with breweries. I don’t think there necessarily will be yet.
It’s just going to get tougher for a small, independent craft brewers to really stand out and make sure people know you are independently owned, to get eyes on your product because shelves are crowded. It’s tough to get taps. You’ve got to work that much harder to sell your beer, but otherwise I think with all these breweries there’s a great diversity in the market in terms of what products are available. It’s certainly never been a better time to be a craft-beer consumer.
It’s been hard for me to pontificate much about what’s coming though. We’ve just had our heads down, noses to the grindstone, doing our own thing getting off the ground and up and running.
TCB: Anything you want to add?
CP: I’m a head brewer, not a brewmaster. Brewmaster as a title, it means a lot.
TCB: Is that just you trying to be humble or is there a meaningful distinction?
CP: Um, both [laughing]. I mean, I’ve only been at pro brewing for two years now. I’m definitely not the best brewer on that list. I was very humbled and pleased to have won the poll, but I’m definitely not the best brewer that was on that list, in my mind. But we are constantly striving to make a better product here.
The Beginner’s Guide to Triad Beer
Foothills — 638 W. Fourth St., 3800 Kimwell Drive, foothillsbrewing.com
The Camel City’s longest standing brewery is the second largest North Carolina-based craft brewery, with a downtown pub and a tasting room and production facility complete with a lab on the southern end of Winston-Salem. Earlier this year, head brewer TL Adkisson took over as brewmaster at Foothills.
Hoots — 840 Mill Works St., hootspublic.com
Billing itself as a working-class kind of bar, there’s always some good, cheap beer available at Hoots. But the brewery/bar located inside West End Mill Works recently added a cocktail menu and added various events, including karaoke. Try the darker beers here.
Small Batch — 241 W. Fifth St., smallbatchws.com
Besides being the smallest of the breweries in the Triad’s cities, Small Batch is unique in other ways, like being connected to the burger joint next door and having the best website of them all — it says exactly what’s on tap and how much is left.
Gibb’s Hundred — 117 W. Lewis St., gibbshundred.com
Home of a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival for its ESB, Gibb’s Hundred is part of downtown Greensboro’s rising South End area, next to Greensboro Distilling and across from the forthcoming Boxcar bar & arcade. Check out the patio, or all the board games.
Joymongers — 576 N. Eugene St., joymongers.com
The Triad’s newest brewery is also home to one of its veteran brewers, Mike Rollinson, formerly of Natty Greene’s. Rollinson has already cranked out a dizzying assortment of beers, from standard to strange, but all of them are good.
Natty Greene’s — 345 S. Elm St., 1918 W. Gate City Blvd., nattygreenes.com
Greensboro’s oldest brewery is best known for its downtown pub and year-round beers, but what it’s doing with sour and aged beers is particularly interesting. Look for special offerings at the pub as well as bottle releases and events at the Bunker near the Greensboro Coliseum. Brian Carter is the new head brewer at the pub, while Scott Christoffel — who oversaw the main production — left for Sugar Creek Brewing this year.
Pig Pounder — 1107 Grecade St., pigpounder.com
No other local brewery specializes in English-style ales, and Pig Pounder won gold earlier this year at the World Beer Cup for its Boar Brown. Owned by developer Marty Kotis, this pink brewery is now run by head brewer Blake Allison.
Preyer — 600 Battleground Ave., preyerbrewing.com
Make sure to read the Q&A with head brewer Calder Preyer, named the head brewer of the year for 2016 by our readers, to learn more about this brewery on the north end of downtown, located next door to Crafted: the Art of Street Food.
Brown Truck — 1234 N. Main St., browntruckbrewery.com
People in High Point are very excited about the city’s second brewery — as they should be. Brown Truck’s Ian Burnett ranked second in our head brewer poll, and when I went to check the brewery out, I found Liberty brewmaster Todd Isbell grabbing a pint.
Liberty — 914 Mall Loop Road, libertybreweryandgrill.com
The longstanding brewery and restaurant in High Point has been a go-to for locals and High Point University students for more than a decade. But brewmaster Todd Isbell really knows what he’s doing; he’s a brewing instructor, actually, and makes consistently excellent beers.
INTERMEDIATE: What’s new
The most noticeable changes to the Triad’s beer scene this year came in the form of two new breweries, but there are other important developments that keen observers still might have missed.
Women began playing a much more pronounced role in beer around here, which is especially important for an industry so dominated by white guys. We highlighted just a couple of them, including Leah Adams who is the assistant brewer at Preyer, Tiki Adkisson who runs Foothills’ lab (yes, she’s married to brewmaster TL) and Kate Weigand who helps run Bestway’s legendary beer wall.
We covered the reboot of a local Girls Pint Out chapter, a group led by Sarah Stephens and Carmen Allred that aims to create a community around beer for women. But there are other important stories we didn’t get to, including other women who have a hand in the brewing process, like Joymongers’ assistant brewer Christina Hobbs Worley. We hope the trend continues, and that the beer scene here isn’t so white by the 2017 Beer Issue.
Other noteworthy trends emerged in 2016, too; neighbors Preyer and Joymongers introduced crowlers to the Triad, and Wise Man intends to follow suit. The 32-ounce to-go containers are sort of like a growler in a can, requiring less cleaning time and longer shelf life, Wise Man proprietor Sam Victory said. Joymongers even printed up shirts claiming, “32 is the new 40.”
As sour beers rose in popularity, so did their availability in the Triad, including ones with fruits or vegetables like Hoots’ black raspberry grisette and Small Batch’s beet gose. Liberty released a Berliner weisse, Pig Pounder put out a basil saison and Gibb’s Hundred let me brew a similar beer, except with mint. If Pig Pounder is selling a sour, you can pretty much find one anywhere these days.
Insiders could rattle off dozens of other changes since the 2015 Beer Issue, but as far as the highlights, there’s only one more major shift — the arrival of Tap Hopper Tours. The bus-based company transports hop heads around Greensbeero, stopping at various breweries and occasionally a bottleshop or the new Greensboro Distilling. It’s the first of its kind in the Triad but similar to existing operations around the state, and the owners intend to expand to the surrounding area in short order.