What’s On Tap For Cape Fear Region

By Terry Reilly, posted Dec 1, 2017
Mike Barlas, co-owner of Flytrap Brewing, is just one of a growing number of brewers still investing in the area’s craft beer scene, which shows no signs of slowing down. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
As 2014 dawned in Wilmington, Front Street Brewery owned the market. Today, 20 microbreweries are open or under construction in the Cape Fear area.
That growth trend earned Wilmington seventh place on a list of top 10 U.S. cities for beer drinkers in 2015. Last year, Wilmington maintained that position, tying with Denver for seventh, according to
Asheville, Wilmington’s beer big sister, reigns No. 1 with 30 microbreweries launched in 25 years.
As the local craft beer scene moves at warp speed, some local brewery owners took pause to share their journey and lessons learned.
Broomtail Craft Brewery led the wave of new brew houses opening in 2014. Located on the edge of the Kings Grant and Summerfield neighborhoods in an industrial park, Broomtail realized immediate success.
“We were sold out after the first three months and could not meet demand with our three-barrel system,” co-owner Barry Owings said.
Owings erred on the side of starting too small.
“Looking back, starting with a 10-barrel system would have been better. However, we decided not to finance anything. But it would have made life easier today,” he said.
Six months ago Broomtail upgraded to an 8.5-barrel system but still can’t meet demand.
“Within two months we’ll be out of supply,” Owings said recently, adding that he is currently looking for property to build a 30-barrel operation in Pender County.
Last year Broomtail opened a second location called the Sour Barn to cater to the new sour beer trend. Once again, demand is strong. The first sour sold out the first week.
Good Hops Brewing, in Carolina Beach, opened a couple of months after Broomtail with a three-barrel setup. Expansion is not on the horizon for co-owner Patricia Jones.
“We believe in being debt free, and that’s where we are,” she said.
Good Hops has found a growth business in focusing on English Ales for its taproom and its 30 outside customers such as bottle shops. The pub pumps out about 1,000 barrels a year.
“We’re growing 12 percent to 17 percent annually,” Jones said, adding that locals make up 40 percent of the customer base.
Flytrap Brewing, a neighborhood pub in the Brooklyn Arts District, produces about 500 barrels a year. Co-owner Mike Barlas said he started with little more than a homebrew setup making 20-gallon batches before upgrading to a 100-gallon capacity last year.
“We do a lot of small batches and keep our core beers fresh. Our beers are clean and crisp with a lot of subtle complexity – a lot of flavors for a pleasant experience,” Barlas said.
To attract the neighborhood crowd, Flytrap hosts “crafts and drafts” activities on weekends that include succulent plantings, macramé plant hangers and macramé wreath making.
Of his start in late 2014, Barlas said, “It was so much harder than I ever thought it would be. I wish I knew how capital intensive it is, from an operation and growth standpoint. We put everything we had into it.”
The venture has created jobs including two brewers who recently graduated from the fermentation sciences program at Appalachian State University.
Next year, Barlas said, he plans to edge production up another 100 barrels while limiting distribution to a handful of restaurants.
Tim Hassel and Noah Goldman, owners of Check Six Brewery in Southport, planned to distribute their libations from week one when they first opened in 2015.
An explosion of local and statewide craft breweries and distributor problems, however, crept up behind them to limit their plans, said Hassel, who is currently an active duty fighter pilot in the National Guard.
“When we opened there were only a handful of area craft breweries, and we had a lot more accounts in Wilmington than we do now. No matter how good our beer – we’ve won several gold medals – the pressure of rotating taps from the many local microbreweries makes distribution difficult,” Hassel said.
Hassel has seen the number of North Carolina craft breweries rocket from 160 to more than 250 in less than three years, making distribution outside of Wilmington challenging. He has set his sights elsewhere.
“We have a new distributor, and we’re focusing on South Carolina, especially around Columbia,” Hassel said.
Check Six’s four-barrel operation that includes a bottling line on-site was thrown another curve involving its most popular bottled beer, a Vanilla Porter.
Given high demand and bad weather, a key ingredient – Madagascar vanilla beans – shot up from $82 to more than $500 per pound.
“We can’t afford to make it; it’s beyond being a loss leader,” Hassel said.
But in spite of setbacks, Hassel believes the craft beer business has room to grow.
“We’re nowhere near the saturation point,” he said. “Germany still has twice as many breweries per capita as the U.S.”
Waterman’s Brewing Co., located 400 yards from the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge, arrived on the scene in July.
Bob High, co-owner and a former brewer from California, warned that Wilmington is “dangerously close to saturation.”
To survive the growing competition, Waterman’s business model is not dependent on distribution. Instead, High said, hitting the right size for the market matters.
“There is a sweet spot: build large enough but with room to expand,” he said. “If small, it had better be a hobby because you can’t produce enough to make money. And for a massive system built for distribution, where is the demand?
Ico insights


Mc2 56882

Building Insights: Craig Stevens

Scott Byers - Majestic Kitchen & Bath Creations
Susan 2 april242017

Beneficiary Designations: Are You Up to Date?

Susan Willett - Old North State Trust, LLC

The Toughest Job There Is

Corey Lewis - Cape Fear Jobs

Trending News

Open For Business: New Announcements (Sept. 19)

Johanna Cano - Sep 19, 2018

Power Outages Remain In New Hanover County

Christina Haley O'Neal - Sep 20, 2018

Tips On What To Do Now For Storm Damage

Vicky Janowski - Sep 19, 2018

Open For Business: New Announcements (Sept. 20)

Johanna Cano - Sep 20, 2018

Downtown Recovery Ongoing, Flooding Still An Issue

Cece Nunn and Christina Haley O'Neal - Sep 19, 2018

In The Current Issue

WordPress Conference Cancels Due To Hurricane   

WordCamp Wilmington was among the events canceled because of Hurricane Florence....

Love, Lydia Bakery Moves In

Lydia Clopton opened Love, Lydia in July at 1502 South Third St. The location was previously a home that was remodeled into the bakery....

Marpac Adds Tools For Better Sleep

Wilmington-based Marpac is crashing further into the sleep industry with a line of products to help people get shut eye....

Book On Business

The 2018 WilmingtonBiz: Book on Business is an annual publication showcasing the Wilmington region as a center of business.

Order Your Copy Today!



2018 Power Breakfast - Dishing on the Restaurant Biz
2018 WilmingtonBiz Expo - Keynote Lunch with Eric Dinenberg, Rouse Properties
2017 Health Care Heroes