by Eric Ginsburg
Craft beer has experienced a revolution in the Triad in the last year alone, with three new breweries opening their doors and two more under construction. The pioneers aren’t being left behind, with core beers growing in prestige and a slate of more experimental brews always in rotation.
It’s an exciting time to be a beer drinker in the Triad. We visited every brewery in Winston-Salem, High Point and Greensboro, trying every beer we could and talking to the people behind the beers to give you the best look at what’s happening. Everywhere we went, we realized just how rapidly the industry is evolving locally, including some significant steps being taken this week across the Triad.
Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Co: 840 Manly St., W-S
It was a busy Saturday, with several beer events going down throughout the Triad amidst Hoots one-year anniversary week, when co-owner Eric Swaim texted me to say he arrived at Westerwood Tavern in Greensboro with a keg of Hoots’ malty extra special bitter.
“The owl has landed,” he wrote, playing off the company’s affinity for the bird.
Hoots, which only started serving its own beer this summer, recently expanded to a handful of Greensboro locations including Gibb’s Hundred, Hops and Westerwood, and Swaim said it’s moving remarkably fast. As he took a breather from the weekend’s activities, sharing a pint at the end of the bar, it seemed clear that despite the breakneck speed, Swaim is loving this.
Swaim started the brewery with a couple friends, bringing on brewmaster Dave McClure, and built the actual bar themselves. The first tenant at the West End Mill Works, the bar is every bit as convivial and distinct as the men behind it. With donated owls all over the place and several taps protruding from an old diving helmet, the character of Hoots is undeniable.
Hoots’ beers trend darker, including the Payne Road Stout named for a haunted road in Rural Hall, co-owner Eric Weyer said, and a wildly popular and impressive Oktoberfest that Hoots debuted at its one-year anniversary party. They sold 20 percent of it that night.
There’s the 100 Days Porter and the Gashopper, a good gateway IPA named after the gas station next door.
Hoots premiered its wheat beer at Triad City Beat’s six-month anniversary party in August under the name Triad City Wheat, a move we’re not quick to forget. The brewery is now on its last keg of the Wheel Bite Wheat, the official name, but Weyer said there’s a good chance Hoots will end up offering it year round.
The brewery’s name truly says it all: Small Batch operates on a one-barrel system, sometimes hardly producing enough for consumption at its tap room and restaurant on the other side of the wall downtown. With that 32-gallon-at-a-time approach, the only beer people can regularly find on tap is the Limonhead, a citrusy IPA.
And that’s the point. Small Batch’s proprietors want to experiment, to introduce people to new things and encourage them to explore new beers as well. That includes a gose that is out now, a somewhat sour beer with added sea salt that it is hard to imagine anyone not appreciating.
Small Batch is also coming out with two pumpkin beers both made with real pumpkin puree, including one debuted at an Oktoberfest beer dinner thrown with Graze last week and a Black Mountain Chocolate Pumpkin Imperial Porter.
Small Batch also puts serious focus on its food, hitting a mid-range price point with fantastic fare. Just reading some of the rotating menu options — which currently include braised goat nachos made with local goats that eat the brewery’s spent grain and the Morning After sandwich — is a mouthwatering experience.
There are other solid beers in Small Batch’s repertoire that are out now, including the Brown Brown — a brown ale — and the Percolator Mocha Stout on nitro, but it would be criminal not to mention the best named beer around: Mr. Mizzle’s Magical Elixir Double IPA, a 9.3 percent beer named for owner Tim Walker’s dog. Love it.
Keep an eye out for announcements about Small Batch’s birthday celebrations scheduled for Nov. 8. They’ll be bottling an imperial Limonhead, a twist on the flagship, for the one-year anniversary.
Gibb’s Hundred Brewing: 117 W. Lewis St., GSO
When Gibb’s opens this Thursday, the date set for its soft launch, none of the brewery’s own beers will be on tap yet. Sasha and Mark Gibb have already moved into the renovated space on West Lewis Street near the Railyard downtown, and with a gorgeous open tap room ready to go, they plan to take the first big step this week and add their own brews as soon as possible. Mark, who worked for brewhouse and fermentation tank manufacturer SMT Food & Beverage Systems based in Martinsville, Va., said their core beers will run the spectrum.
“We want to hit a broad range of styles to educate people on all that beer can be,” he said.
That includes five flagship beers: a milk stout, a pale ale, an extra special bitter, a Berliner Weisse and a wheat beer.
To help get the brewery rolling, the Gibbs launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for barrel aging, sour and cask conditioning and to help cover music licensing. As of Monday, 40 percent of the brewery’s $15,000 had been pledged.
Gibb’s Hundred is already working to put out its first batches of beer, but there is no specific date yet set for an official coming-out party. In the meantime, in addition to opening its doors Thursday through Saturday and for special events, the brewery is reaching out to food trucks to set up out front. Though some local snacks — including Chad’s Carolina Corn, beef jerky and Hops Nuts — will be sold inside, the brewery won’t have a kitchen, instead following an open food policy for its landscaped front patio and indoor seating area by the bar.
Liberty Brewery & Grill: 914 Mall Loop Road, HP
The official restaurant of High Point University is in the thick of it. Last weekend the college celebrated its alumni weekend, and now it’s the middle of Furniture Market. Hardly halfway into the month of October, Liberty’s Oktoberfest beer ran out last week, to be replaced with an amber; next week it will start putting out its Winter Fest beer, an imperial India black ale.
With the university across the street, it’s no surprise that there’s a sign on the front door warning patrons that two forms of ID are required to buy alcohol, or that the brewery’s blackberry wheat goes quickly.
The beer is actually impressive and enjoyable, less fruity than others like it or even Liberty’s watermelon beer. Plus, it sounds much more appealing than a cocktail called “Bong Water” that is also popular with the college crowd here. I’d rather be drinking the Kolsch, featuring an unfiltered, dry hoppiness that is manageable for most palates.
Brewmaster Todd Isbell loves it here, looking outside or into the bar from his glassed-in brewery annex along the flank of the building. He shipped in from Colorado for the job way back when, and now teaches fermentation sciences at Rockingham Community College, training the next wave of brewers.
The best time to check out Liberty Brewery & Grill is on a Monday or Wednesday, when pints go for just $3, or on Fridays if live music is more your speed. And while Liberty is on tap at a few Triad locations, it doesn’t bottle its brews, so hopping on the beer trail is a must.
Preyer Brewing: 600 Battleground Ave., GSO
It’s hard for Nicole and Calder Preyer, who were born and raised in Greensboro, to believe they’re finally so close to opening a family-run brewery.
“It’s like that Talking Heads song, ‘This is not my beautiful house/ this is not my beautiful wife,” Nicole Preyer said, standing in front of the building that will one day house their brewing facility and tap room.
Located across the street from Deep Roots Market and sharing a building with the restaurateurs behind Crafted, Preyer Brewing is scheduled to open in early 2015. Construction on the renovated property — which, like the building where Gibb’s Hundred is opening, is owned by Andy Zimmerman — is moving at a pretty fast clip. The long room where the brewing equipment will go has about five to eight years of growth potential built into it, Nicole said, and is visible in the future tap room through large windows. Similarly, there are windows looking into the adjacent Crafted restaurant space, giving the building a connected feeling.
The Preyers don’t want to lock themselves into a particular style of beer, instead aiming for a portfolio of six constants and two to four seasonals. While they don’t intend to grow much beyond the Triad, they do hope to distribute to other bars in the area, as well as bottle their brews.
When Calder started homebrewing years ago it was with the intention of eventually opening a brewery, and the family considered several locations along the Downtown Greenway before settling on this spot at the northern edge of downtown.
Natty Greene’s: 1918 W. Lee St., GSO
I thought I knew the history of Natty Greene’s — two friends who met while attending UNCG opened a brewery downtown a decade ago and helped revitalize Greensboro’s core while putting out four core beers and a bunch of other brews.
That’s true, but first these guys opened Old Town Draught House on Spring Garden Street, then First Street Draught House in Winston-Salem, and then Tap Room on Battleground Avenue. The three venues all pushed the Triad beer scene forward by putting a bevy of craft beers on tap before opening what is now a downtown institution at the corner of South Elm and McGee streets.
Since 2004, Natty’s has put out more than 160 beers, but the company really took off when their beers were introduced early on to the Greensboro Grasshoppers stadium.
Now the brewery is in the process of retelling its story and shifting its focus to a new epicenter on West Lee Street across from the Greensboro Coliseum where it recently opened a tap room called the “Bunker.”
Much has changed in the craft-beer scene since the two friends became business partners, which is why they are emphasizing some of their smaller-run beers.
“It’s almost like the wine-ification of beer,” owner Kayne Fisher said. “That’s what’s happening. What’s hot is what’s new.”
And despite the perception of some, Natty Greene’s has plenty of variety in its beers to show off, be it an enjoyably subtle Red Nose seasonal with cinnamon, orange peel and ginger, due out soon, or one of its barrel-aged sours.
At the Bunker, Natty’s releases new beers from 5 to 9 p.m. every Friday, and this week the brewery is putting forward a Gueuza Lambic beer, a sour and tart barrel-aged drink.
There’s currently a great blueberry witbier on tap, made with real blueberries, and an imperial stout made with cricket and locus flour — yes, you read that correctly — will be available to try in three weeks.
After a planned expansion in November, Natty Greene’s will be out of production space at the Lee Street facility. When it finds a new home, all operations, including the restaurant, will likely be absorbed into one site. But in the meantime, the downtown Greensboro brewpub offers infused beers on Thursdays and fruit-infused beers on Fridays.
Foothills Brewing: 638 W. Fourth St., W-S
Hoppyum may be the top North Carolina IPA in the state and already in the Top 10 nationally for newly-packaged six-pack IPAs alongside titans like Sierra Nevada, but Foothills isn’t resting on its laurels, the brewery’s “marketing guy” Ray Goodrich said.
Foothills puts out an IPA of the month on First Fridays, often running out within nine days.
“Each month is like a technological feat,” said owner and founder Jamie Bartholomaus, a good-natured man with the aura of a well-coiffed Jerry Garcia.
And he’s right, especially considering each bottle has a label designed by local artist Kyle Webster and is even bottled.
Even though the brewery expanded its capacity by 72 percent last year, thinking that would be it for a while, popularity has driven then to build on that by another 55 percent. In the spring, Foothills will add a tap room to its brewing facility near Hanes Mall. By then, the brewery will have celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Foothills runs the gamut from the big leagues — its People’s Porter is available at the Washington Nationals’ stadium — to smaller runs, such as the People’s Coffee Porter which will be brewed with coffee beans Bartholomaus roasted at home and will bring in this week. But most of the brewery’s creations have a little bit of a hop bite — that’s Bartholomaus’ signature.
There’s also the Kolsch 45, a delicious beer created by Trey Lovelace and the winner of Foothills’ competition at the US Open Homebrewing Competition in Charlotte. After Lovelace won, Foothills brewed the beer and made it available on tap at its downtown restaurant and bar.
Foothills is quietest from 3 to 5 p.m., but a better time to come might be on first Saturdays, when Foothills offers a two-hour beer school that includes sampling.
Pig Pounder: 1107 Grecade St., Greensboro
Greensboro’s newest brewery, just 60 days into its brewing, managed to take home four awards at the North Carolina Brewers Cup. That speaks highly of brewmaster Sam Rose, whose Boar Brown and Mild Mud won gold and silver respectively in the English brown category. He also won silver and bronze for two English pales.
That’s Pig Pounder’s niche is English-style ale, less hoppy and boozy than many beers out there, owner Marty Kotis said.
“Americans tend to hop beer the way Starbucks makes coffee,” Kotis said, adding that they are going for a more refined and subtle approach.
The session beers are made with water trucked in from a well on Kotis’ farm in Summerfield. Kotis, a developer who owns much of the property in the immediate vicinity, spared no expense for the brewery or production process including paying more for malts shipped in from the UK. He’s also making cask ale across the street at Marshall Free House, one of the restaurants Kotis owns.
Even though the brewery is young, Pig Pounder is adding two 15-barrel tanks this week that will double its capacity. In addition to the tap room and Kotis’ restaurants, the beers were recently added to several local bars including Jake’s Billiards and Mad Hatter in Greensboro. And Kotis is talking about expanding the brewery next door to property that he owns.
Kotis is exploring the possibility of opening a new brewery with a different brand, either in a smaller town in the Triad or in Myrtle Beach, where he already has business interests. He is also under contract for a beer garden in Greensboro, which he said might be opening downtown, he said.
There are also plans for a food trailer called the Pulled Piggy that will be parked outside the tap room most days, and patrons can now order food from Marshall Free House that will be delivered to Pig Pounder without a fee.
Red Oak is older than any of the breweries we featured, opening long ago in Greensboro before ultimately relocating its facility to Whitsett. It’s one of the largest North Carolina-based breweries, only putting out Bavarian-style lagers and focused on its three core beers: Red Oak, Hummin’ Bird and Battlefield Bock. While Red Oak played a foundational role in the Triad’s beer industry and continues to be a big player in the state, we focused on breweries in our immediate coverage area. Plus, we didn’t hear back from them before press time.
The brewery offers tours every Friday at 3 p.m.
XII Tribes Brewing, a new craft brewery planned for High Point, does not have a physical location yet. But the folks behind it are hosting a tasting event this Saturday in Jamestown. Look for coverage in next week’s Barstool column.
Four Saints Brewing, a “nanobrewery” in Asheboro, is also outside our coverage zone, and though we’re pretty strict about sticking to the three cities, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that the nearby brewery already has plenty of information about its brews online and is creating excitement down in Randolph County.