Trouble Brewing: How A Social Media Post Bubbled Over For A Wilmington Brewery

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Feb 16, 2024
(Stock Image)

Choosing beers for a taproom is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, said Alex George of Bowstring Burgers & Brewyard in Wilmington.

George, who is part of Bowstring’s leadership team, chooses what to sell at the Soda Pop District establishment on Princess Street based on customer requests. They often want local brews, and social media can influence which breweries are favored.  

This dynamic played out recently with an online dispute, criminal complaints, lawsuits and a local brewery getting pulled from menus across town.  

The beer from Edward Teach Brewery, 604 N. Fourth St., is described as “near-ubiquitous [or almost found everywhere] in Wilmington bars, restaurants, and grocery stores,” in its civil complaint against a former employee. 

Edward Teach beer, especially Teach’s Peaches, a peach and apricot wheat beer, was a staple at establishments such as grocery chain Lowes Foods, restaurant Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn on Oleander Drive and Castle Hayne bottle shop Tipsy Goat.  

These establishments and others stopped selling Edward Teach beer after a Facebook post dropped Dec. 29. 

In the post, local musician Madonna Nash described a Nov. 16 altercation that she said involved the owner of the local brewery, Gary Sholar; Nash’s daughter, also a musician, who goes by Asia Daye; and an individual associated with Daye. The post gained thousands of shares, comments and local eyeballs over the next several weeks. 

As of press time, neither Nash nor Daye responded to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s requests for comment. Sholar declined to be interviewed, but his lawyers provided some comments. 

According to a civil complaint filed by Sholar against Nash on Jan. 31, one of the impacts of the post was a “swift and multi-faceted boycott of ETB’s products.” 

Some bars and restaurants took Edward Teach beers off their menus, at least one grocery store took its beers off shelves, local musicians stopped providing their services and “a large number” of patrons stopped frequenting the brewery, according to the legal documents. 

Since the conflict began, two local breweries have launched their own peach wheat beers. Leland Brewing Company and Wilmington Brewing Company unveiled separate peach brews in late January. Officials at both breweries stated they planned to release the beers before the Edward Teach Brewery controversy.   

Wilmington Brewing Company on South Kerr Avenue launched its version, Pretty Peach, “at the end of dry January,” said co-owner Michelle Savard. The brewery had been in monthslong talks with Apple Annie’s Bakery about producing a spring-inspired, peach cobbler-flavored beer after collaborating with the local bakery on a pumpkin beer in the fall, she said. 

“The timing was interesting,” Savard said, “and we were talking to Apple Annie’s, and I think we just got a little lucky on that. I do think the timing for the demand, that it’s sold out now and that we’re going to keep it around, yes, I absolutely think that [the controversy] has something to do with it.” 

Savard said she received a request from Lowes Foods management to brew a lighter wheat beer around the start of the year while the brewery was already in talks with Apple Annie’s. Grocery stores do not usually reach out to them to ask for a specific brew, Savard said. 

Lowes Foods stores initially sold Edward Teach brews but discounted the brewery’s product after the Facebook post gained local attention and then took Edward Teach beers off shelves, according to the civil complaint filed against Nash.  

Lowes Foods representative Kelly Davis said the grocery store chain had no comment on the dispute but confirmed Edward Teach products have been removed from its shelves until further notice. 

“I think the Lowes call absolutely encouraged us to brew more of [Pretty Peach] because of their volume and how much they will be able to move through,” Savard said. “So, we went from a test batch to a larger production scale because of that reason.” 

While Lowes Foods has not kept Edward Teach beers on shelves since the controversy, local Harris Teeter stores had not removed them as of publication time, a store manager told the Business Journal. 

Edward Teach’s legal team filed a separate complaint on Jan. 25 against Erik Van Peterson, a former head brewer at Edward Teach, claiming he tampered with Edward Teach beers in two local Harris Teeter grocery stores. The complaint accuses Peterson of sticking scannable QR codes to the labels, linking to a Facebook page displaying statements about Sholar.  

Edward Teach’s legal representation noted in the complaint that “a significant portion” of the brewery’s revenue comes from selling its products in grocery stores.  

“As a direct result of viewing the Defamatory Facebook Posts linked from Peterson’s labels, ETB customers were maliciously induced not to purchase ETB products,” the complaint alleges. 

As of press time, Peterson had not responded to requests for comment, but Flying Machine Brewing Company issued a statement. 

“We have an intimate understanding of operating in a competitive market and know how important it is to have all retail products respected. According to the lawsuit, the named employee worked as Head Brewer for Edward Teach Brewery from August 2017 to February 2022. As correctly stated in the lawsuit, any actions that may have been made by this person would have been on his own volition and ‘not in any official capacity on behalf of Flying Machine Brewing.’ Furthermore, this person did not and does not manage any other person and is not in a department that has any responsibility for the sale of product to any retail establishments,” the statement read. “We in no way condone the actions represented in the lawsuit for any reason, and we believe such actions would be a violation of our company policy. Anything related to this matter will be handled internally and we will have no further comment.” 

Teach’s Peaches could be found outside traditional grocery stores in local bottle shops such as the Tipsy Goat. The shop’s owner, Anthony Heath, said he once carried Teach’s Peaches but is currently in “wait-and-see mode” until the legal wrangling plays out. 

“I have not ordered anything from them since the situation was made public,” he said. “I historically have not carried a ton of their stuff, but peach wheat was very popular in the market, so I definitely kept [Teach’s Peaches] most of the time, and I would do one or two of their other ones on occasion.” 

Heath said he received one keg of Leland Brewing Company’s peach beer on Feb. 6. 
Mark Said, owner of Leland Brewing Company, said the brewery’s new peach beer, Peach I Said What I Said, launched on Jan. 26. The beer has proven to be popular, and the brewery is having a hard time keeping it on shelves, he said. Leland Brewing Company distributes peach beer to Lowes Foods, Poe’s Tavern, Tipsy Goat and about a dozen other establishments, according to Said. 

Sholar’s complaint against Nash alleges that she published false statements about Sholar that have damaged his reputation and harmed his business. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction, which would require Nash to stop speaking about Sholar.  

Three other claims accuse Nash of interfering with existing contractual relationships, interfering with contractual relationships that would have been made in the future and “unfair trade practices,” which require money or commerce to be involved, said a Wilmington lawyer familiar with libel law. 

On Feb. 2, Daye and the other individual said to have been involved in the dispute, named in legal documents as Paige Grant, submitted criminal complaints against Sholar alleging assault on a female an communicating threats. Sholar turned himself in at the New Hanover County courthouse on Feb. 3. Sholar’s lawyers, Thomas Varnum and Edwin West of law firm Brooks Pierce, did not comment on the civil complaints but said Sholar is innocent of the criminal accusations.  

“None of the many other witnesses to the verbal exchange say they saw any kind of assault or heard any threats. Two neutral patrons who witnessed the incident have signed sworn statements attesting that Gary assaulted no one – period,” West said.

George of Bowstring said he’s never seen a brewery-related controversy of this scale before in the community.

The Wilmington brewery community is generally close-knit, Wilmington Brewing’s Savard said. People are always willing to lend a hand when one brewery needs a particular hop or malt bag. George said, “It’s just really unfortunate.”  
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