Fermental is one of Wilmington’s more unique watering holes – a bit quirky, but home to many loyal patrons who appreciate its laid-back atmosphere, live entertainment and wide selection of beer, wine and snacks.
“We’re a little weird,” said Steve Gibbs, who co-owns the shop with his wife, Kristen. “We’re not the typical bar. We’re not sterile. We do things a little differently. You walk in and there might be polka music playing. We’ve had a pickle-eating contest. We don’t draw a Super Bowl crowd because there’s no TV, but we still like to have fun.”
Fermental’s business practices may be off the beaten track, but the bottle shop has been quite successful. That’s not surprising given that Gibbs has 25 years in the beer and wine industry. Before opening Fermental, Gibbs’ experience included stocking and receiving, sales, working for a distributor and owning his own bar.
Gibbs already knew he liked the freedom and creativity that accompanied owning his own business. Thus, when he got the idea to combine retail and service, he was ready to make the leap. At Fermental, he built a shop where folks could shop for spirits while they had a drink, grab something to go for the weekend or have a few drinks and then head home.
“The idea was to make wine and beer more approachable to people,” said Gibbs. “Fermental’s a place where people can buy a full bottle of wine at retail and consume it rather than paying the surcharge a lot of restaurants charge.”
What Gibbs had thought would remain a lazy little gathering spot in the Ogden area turned into an overnight success.
“We started very small,” said Gibbs. “We didn’t know what to expect. After the day we opened, it just never stopped. It was a little overwhelming.”
In addition to increasing the number of tables and chairs, he added entertainment. At first, Gibbs chose musicians he knew, then he screened bands seeking to play there.
Gibbs also invited food trucks to park next to the shop, a move that was good for his customers and gave food truck owners more exposure.
“It’s always been a nice gathering place for people,” Gibbs said. “Customers become like friends and family. Customers come in who don’t know each other, and in a couple of months they are best friends. It’s a space for people to be comfortable and not judgmental.”
The number of different beers Gibbs serves has grown from 400 to 1,800, and he now serves 300 to 400 different wines.
To stay abreast of trends in the field, Gibbs does in-depth research. He regularly meets with wine distributors to taste their new wines. Although he also used to taste every new beer he sold, the rapid growth of the brewery industry has made that impossible. However, Gibbs reviews every line in the weekly inventories that beer distributors send him, and he does business only with breweries he trusts.
Additionally, Gibbs continues to serve well-loved staples such as beers from California, Germany and Belgium.
Those who enjoy trying new beers that are on the market can find many of them at Fermental.
“We can offer customers all of the new beers instead of people going to each brewery individually,” he said.
Fermental’s extensive line of quality beer and wine and its unique atmosphere didn’t go unnoticed. In 2020, right before Fermental’s seventh anniversary, it was named Best Beer Garden in the state by the Brewers Association.
Then, in 2021, Fermental almost came to an end. Gibbs learned that his landlord wanted to sell the property.
He began scouting for a new location, and downtown Wilmington and Hampstead were among the areas considered. After nearly giving up, Gibbs found the perfect spot at 600 S. 17th St. in the Cargo District. Gibbs will turn the former service station into a new Fermental with its own charm and funky vibe.
Gibbs said the new space has a number of advantages. One, it will fit in nicely with other nearby businesses, which include a distillery, a tattoo parlor and other cool spots. The new building is also larger, which will allow Gibbs to serve more draft beer and wines by the glass and provide more seating. Also, there will be lots of free parking – a perk that wasn’t available at the Ogden location.
Gibbs expects the Cargo District Fermental, which will open in midto late-June, will bring in new business. Not only will the beer garden attract people who are shopping in nearby stores, it will also be more convenient for customers who live in areas such as Leland and Monkey Junction. Also, though they may not frequent Fermental as often, many of his Ogden customers have promised to follow him.
Even so, Gibbs isn’t planning to desert his Ogden clientele if he can help it. There may be a second Fermental there in the future. There’s a need for it in that area, he said.
For Gibbs, Fermental isn’t just a job. It’s a way of creating community in a world that is fast-paced and, too often, disconnected.
“There was a moment five years ago when I’d worked all day, the sun was going down and there were a lot of people at Fermental,” he said. “I looked around and thought, ‘I can’t believe I pulled this off.’ It’s just great to make the friends I’ve made here and to see my customers make new friends.”