ICYMI, beer is big news.1 Breweries are popping up all over the United States, exploding from not quite 4000 active beer permits to more than 4500 in just the past six months. And no, we aren’t even close to reaching peak beer. According to the Brewers Association, the same brewery per capita rate as in 1900 would give us 7,604 breweries now. Seems like there’s plenty of room left to brew.
Although North Carolina hasn’t yet cracked the top 10 brewering states,2 Raleigh is certainly giving it the Old North State try with its 10 operating breweries/brewpubs and five more now in the planning stage. The only logical conclusion from that statistic is that maybe we should start using Raleigh: it’s the place to be(er) as the new city motto everyone’s been racking their brains about. Or at the very least we could come up with a whole new BEER acronym: Brewery Entrepreneurs Embrace Raleigh.
All joking aside, these businesses quite literally mean business. According to Innovation and Entrepreneurship Manager Derrick Minor (@DerrickMinor), it might be an understatement to say that the City of Raleigh is “excited to see the continued growth and expansion of our craft beer industry. I am continuously reminded that not only do our breweries produce tasty beverages to be enjoyed by us all, but they also create jobs and tax base for our city.”
Minor went on to explain that the dollars-and-cents impact goes well beyond those 15 breweries. “From startup brewpubs to full production breweries, from local bottle shops to large-scale distributors, our craft beer community is an important part of our entrepreneurship ecosystem, as well as our overall economy.”
There probably isn’t a better poster child for Raleigh’s beer “entrepreneurship ecosystem” than 919 Beer (@919Beer). The story almost reads like a fairy tale, without the ugly frogs or evil witches. Here’s the Twitter version: “Boy needs escape from reality, hangs out with friends talking beer, learns a lot, lives happily ever after promoting local beer scene.”
The longer version is fascinating, and worth telling in founder Adam Eshbaugh‘s own words…
In June 2012 I was in desperate need of a “time-out.” My wife and I both had full-time jobs and our children were five and two. Work was particularly stressful/draining that summer, and I was in need of a diversion. So, I decided to start a “guys’ night” with a few of my friends who were in similar situations: most of us had kids, jobs we weren’t in love with, and wives who didn’t want to listen to our belly-aching.
I enjoyed several of our local beers, and most of my friends, at the very least, had a favorite local brewery they enjoyed. I also wanted to understand why I only enjoyed certain styles (mainly pale ales and IPAs), while some of my buddies only drank others. I wanted to at least develop an appreciation for styles I wasn’t familiar with. So, I decided to start a beer club that would go to a different local brewery every month, take a tour, taste their beers, and learn everything there is to know about each brewery.
Our first meeting was a Wednesday in July 2012 at Aviator Brewing Company. There were 10 of us. We met at 6 p.m., grabbed a pint, and took a tour. We asked questions that ranged from “what does this do?” to “what’s your projection for the next five years?” By the end of that evening, we’d each tasted, heard what goes into, and asked multiple questions about each beer on tap at Aviator. We had such a good time that evening that we continued to meet the second Wednesday of each month as a “club.”
After a few months, guys wanted to invite friends, and we started allowing more people to join us. We went from 10 to 20 in a few months. After the first year, we decided to stop calling it a club and open it up to the public. Instead of calling them “meetings” they became known as “Taste the Triangle” events. Fast-forward to the present: we are averaging about 50 people per event. We still have most of the original 10 each month, but it’s great seeing new faces each time who are excited to come out and learn about a new brewery.
The inspiration behind 919 Beer as a craft beer promotions company began in the spring of 2013. Six of us decided to take a weekend road trip to Hickory to attend the Hickory Hops Festival in April. After attending that festival and enjoying every minute of it, the wheels started turning…slowly. Then, the following month, Mark Doble of Aviator asked us to help him work an event with him in Charlotte. And later that summer, he asked us to help him by representing Aviator at Brewgrass in Asheville, one of the most well-known beer festivals in NC. It was on the ride back from Asheville last September that my now-business partner Wayne Holt and I started discussing the possibility of us organizing some festivals. We’d attended many, worked/volunteered at a few, and felt we’d gotten a good idea of what works best from all involved – patrons and breweries.
By the spring of 2014 we became a legitimate LLC. We had a logo, a lawyer, a growing tolerance, and a vision. We felt like Holly Springs would be a great place to host a craft beer festival for several reasons:
– it’s one of the fastest growing areas in the Triangle
– because of 540, it’s convenient to most areas in the Triangle
– the craft beer culture here is booming, thanks to CBC, Aviator, Bombshell, and Draft Line
– we live here!
The town was excited to have us, and we set a date and began planning for the first Beericana Craft Beer and Music Festival. To date, we have 62 breweries represented, 51 of which are brewed only in NC – not counting Oskar Blues or Sierra Nevada, or newcomer New Belgium, who are also pouring at the festival. We also have 12 local favorite food trucks, along with four NC-grown Americana/Roots bands. This is a distinctly craft beer festival. And, even more importantly, all beer will be poured by brewers or brewery representatives. This will not be a festival where you ask a question about a beer and your answer is a blank stare; the people pouring your beer are directly involved with it. They take pride in their product and we’re extremely proud to have them represent it at our event.
If that’s not enough to bring tears to your eyes about the power of home-grown entrepreneurism, maybe this will: Another recent beer story is the collaboration between 20-some NC brewers to craft a brew using only ingredients sourced from our state to compete in Denver’s Great American Beer Festival in early October. Technically competitors, these breweries are passionate enough about their craft and about putting the best foot forward for our state that they worked together to make it all happen at Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough last Saturday.
According to CharlotteBeer.com, this collaborative North Carolina Gose West3 mixes in “barley and wheat from Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House; muscadine grapes from Lu Mil Vineyard in Dublin, NC; fresh hops from several NC hop farms; and Outer Banks sea salt from Southern Shores, NC.” Raleigh-area breweries in on the fun include Bombshell Beer, Carolina Brewing, and Lonerider Brewing — yes, the very ones who recently made the news with the brilliant switch from bottles to cans. Less oxygen and/or sunlight gets to the beer and they go from undrinkably warm to chilled-to-perfection a whole lot faster — plus you can take them to the pool. Just because it’s in a can doesn’t mean it’s your father’s Budweiser.
While all these beer stories from the brewer’s perspective are cool, an even better idea for our city’s BEER definition might be Beer Enthusiasts Enjoy Raleigh, the perfect slogan for Raleigh Beer Week. Happening through August 31, it’s an annual celebration of all those successes. “Presented by people who care about what’s in that bottle,” the celebration offers behind-the-scenes connections with producers, special tappings, new bottle releases and the simple camaraderie of enjoying a well-crafted beverage in the 20+ locations that participate.
If you can’t make the Raleigh Beer Week fun, check out VisitRaleigh’s Greater Raleigh Beer Trail map on your own time. It’s kind of like the beer version of wine country’s Silverado Trail in Napa, minus the earthquakes. Last note: if you want to geek out and really dive into 919 Beer, check out their every-other-week podcast with Joe Ovies of 99.9 The Fan. It profiles a different brewing professional each time, and you can find it on iTunes, Stitcher and WRAL Out And About.
Whether you want to learn about it or just enjoy it, make sure you raise a toast to the Raleigh beertrepreneurs who are laboring over their brews as you head into Labor Day weekend.4 Three cheers for beer!