Have you ever met the Mother of Beer? Likely not, since she’s actually a Sumerian goddess.
The first evidence of beer production dates back thousands of years in ancient Mesopotamia, where ceramic vessels from 3400 B.C., still tacky with beer residue, were discovered by archaeologists in recent history. What’s more, a poem from 1800 B.C. harks a “Hymn to Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer. The ode recounts the world’s first homebrew recipe, crafted by female priestesses.
Since, the boozy fermented beverage has won the hearts of many across the globe—but the production has long since moved to the hands of men. Still a male-dominated industry, the surge of American craft beer has inspired many women to try their hand at brewing, selling, managing, or otherwise becoming a part of the phenomenon.
Wilmington’s beer scene is no different, and this Mother’s Day we’re taking the time to celebrate the mothers of our local beer—women in Wilmington’s brewing industry. (And congrats to Michelle Savard of Wilmington Brewing Company and Emily Barlas of Flytrap Brewing, who will be actual mothers soon!)
BROOMTAIL CRAFT BREWERY – LISA OWINGS
Although she is not hands on in the brewing process, Lisa Owings is involved in almost every aspect of Broomtail Craft Brewery, including brainstorming new ideas for production which her husband, Barry Owings, owner and brewmaster, will execute. “I pretty much run all the daily operations of Broomtail, which entails quite a bit. However, I don’t brew—I leave that to the professionals!” she quips, noting her favorite brew from Broomtail is Moe-Beer, a brown ale named for their dog, Moses.
“My personal experience as a woman in the industry has been really positive,” Lisa tells. “I think people are very receptive to women in the beer industry. Right here in Wilmington we have some great women making their mark in brewing, [including] Kelsie Cole at Front Street Brewery. There are incredible women in key roles at every brewery in Wilmington. Also, there are very talented women in other areas such as distribution, marketing, promotion, etc.”
Overall, Lisa says she’s really enjoyed being a part of the Wilmington brewing community. “It’s a great network that’s cohesive and willing to help and promote one another,” she shares. “It’s been very rewarding to be able to be involved and help raise money for important causes. I love the people we’ve met and the regulars we have that come into our taproom. We’ve been able to make great friends and have a lot of fun along the way.”
FLYTRAP BREWING – EMILY BARLAS
“When the brewery first opened, I was often asked if I liked beer before meeting my husband,” Emily, co-owner and brewery manager of Flytrap Brewing, tells. Her husband, brewmaster Mike Barlas, began his career as an avid homebrewer. “I haven’t heard that in some time now and I believe that shows how women are becoming more of a presence in the beer industry. Locally, women are working to challenge stereotypes by being involved in all things beer—from brewing to pouring to enjoying. It is great to look out in the taproom and see that about 50 percent of our customers are women.”
“My role is to help the brewery and taproom best represent our vision,” she explains. “I work to ensure things are running smoothly and that our staff has everything they need to provide a welcoming environment to enjoy our brews. Duties constantly vary, from working on day-to-day operations to bigger-picture projects. I especially enjoy planning and executing events, as well as working to support local artists, musicians, and non-profits.”
Emily’s favorite offering from Flytrap is the Saison. “It’s light, crisp and refreshing—perfect for this time of year,” she describes. “I also love our special-release sours, especially after having seen all the time and care put into them.”
Though Emily says the perception of women in the brewing world is changing, she believes there is still room to grow. “I’d love to see more female brewers in breweries—and with that, for it to not be a surprise,” she urges. But she is thankful to call Wilmington home. “The Wilmington brewing community is constantly growing and changing, as we all do. It is such a special and supportive group, and we are lucky to have this collaborative community to be a part of.”
FRONT STREET BREWERY – KELSIE COLE
Perhaps the most pivotal step forward for women in Wilmington’s brewing community was the late 2014 announcement that Kelsie Cole would become North Carolina’s first female head brewer. Cole climbed her way through the ranks at Front Street Brewery, beginning as a hostess during her freshman year at UNC Wilmington. Today, her duties include “yeast whispering, liquid preparation, valve management, beer education, troubleshooting, and overall production management.”
“Being a woman in the beer industry at first felt intimidating,” Kelsie divulges. “I’ve always been a tomboy and had mostly male friends throughout childhood, so naturally I felt as though I’d fit into the craft beer industry. I found although being both young and female, this was not as fitting as I had presumed. I’ve had to program an entire part of my brain that I was not typically used to utilizing: problem solving. Not to say women aren’t natural problem-solvers, but I definitely think men have a more proactive mind to fixing things and troubleshooting, which is about 90 percent of brewing. With a lot of support and willingness to train, however, I’ve found most males in the industry are positive influences.”
A true hop head, Kelsie’s favorite beers at FSB include the Port City IPA, Papa Doble Double IPA, and the Absurdity Belgian IPA. “Because I put my heart into anything I do, I feel as though my influence on Front Street is a quality factor,” she adds. “I’ve put in place a lot of things, as far as quality control and general practices go, that weren’t necessarily intact prior to my head role in production. From wort production, yeast maintenance, and beer education for our front of house staff, I feel as though my attention to detail and overall great care for our beer directly influences the quality.”
If given the chance, Kelsie says she wouldn’t change a thing about the public’s perception of women in the beer industry. “Every brewery or industry-related conference I’ve been to, I’ve met so many people who are nothing but supportive of and encouraging to women in the beer industry,” she reveals. “I’ve received many handshakes, hugs and fist-bumps from both men and women when they find out I’m a 26-year-old head brewer. I think the overall public is just as open-minded and encouraging to women getting involved in our successful and fast-growing industry.”
She notes that Wilmington’s specific beer scene is very young—but adds that the community has deeply seated roots. “Places like Front Street and Cape Fear Wine & Beer have been pioneers in developing a beer culture here and have existed for one to two decades,” Kelsie says. “To see other ‘competitors’ only helps build a beer culture full of supportive beer enthusiasts and brewers themselves. As long as we all devote our time to both producing and selling a quality product, there’s no reason why Wilmington’s beer scene shouldn’t thrive within the next couple years. I’m proud of the fellow brewers in our community that have been so supportive and have helped put Wilmington on the beer map.”
GOOD HOPS BREWING – PATRICIA JONES
Patricia Jones is a mother herself to a brewer, John Garcia of Lookout Brewing in Black Mountain, NC. It is their relationship that was part of the inspiration for Patricia and her husband, Richard, to start Good Hops in Carolina Beach, where Patricia is the business manager. “I oversee operations so that the business of brewing is possible and maintained,” she informs.
“I truly would love to be that person at Good Hops that is a breath of fresh air when I enter the room. However, brewing beer is a business,” Patricia tells of her influence on the brewery. “As a microbrewery we are very task-oriented and labor intensive. I pray I am the assurance that we can get it all done and done extremely well and survive! I do not want to merely exist but to thrive! I am extremely passionate about the craft beer scene and our role in the communities we call home.”
Her favorite Good Hops beer, Donna Golden Ale, seeks to support the brewery’s hometown. “This beer is named posthumously for a beautiful person,” she shares. “It is the very recipe for my 50th birthday beer our son surprised me with and was one of his first beers brewed by both of our breweries. The proceeds from the sales of Donna Golden Ale go to support local community and charitable events. It is well received by our patrons.”
Patricia says she is proud to be a part of Wilmington’s fledgling craft beer industry. “We have the opportunity to be a part in creating a new scene and it is fun to motivate each other with the thought that we are part of history,” she details. “We are the pioneers! But most rewarding is the support we have received from the community. I am honored and humbled!”
While she notes the craft beer industry is very inclusive and collaborative, Patricia says she would love to see more women in the brew house. “I love when I see women in the science of brewing as well.”
WATERLINE BREWING COMPANY – DANI REWITZER
Dani Rewitzer got her start in the brew house, to put it simply, by working her butt off in all aspects of the brewery. “I am a jack of all trades, acting as an assistant brewer, cellar(wo)man and bartender,” she tells. “I love being involved in day-to-day activities, whether it’s brewing, brainstorming, or just opening the taproom. Early on, I was a part-time bartender and I put countless volunteer hours into the brew house before I had any kind of job in the brewery, but I worked hard to create a position for myself. I’d like to think my contributions have created a role that is both essential and necessary to help things run smoothly as Waterline continues to come into its own as a young brewery, and that it makes things a little bit easier on brewmaster and owner Brian Bell and owners Rob and Eve Robinson.”
Dani’s favorite mainstay on the Waterline lineup is the Rye IPA. “It’s our biggest, boldest beer, to me. Sure, the Tripel packs a little more punch (ABV), but the Rye is a fearless take on a classic style, and it pays off. This month we’re featuring a Scottish Wee Heavy, which I happen to be very partial to.”
The assistant brewer is often asked what it’s like being a woman in the brewing world. “My experience in the beer industry is one of hard work, persistence, and dedication,” she says. “If you’re willing to put in the effort and the time and the sweat and the sacrifice, then the reward is immeasurable. I am fortunate enough to be part of a very welcoming community both at Waterline and throughout Wilmington, as a woman and as part of the industry, and I’d prefer to think that my gender or size has nothing to do with how well I accomplish my job.”
For Dani, she wishes she could change the fact that women brewers are “any kind of spectacle.” “I brew and work in the cellar because it’s what I enjoy doing, because beer is important to me, and because I’m better suited to lifting 50 pound bags of grain, working 10 to 15 hour days, and leaving the brewery encrusted with junk that would be unrecognizable by sight or smell to any civilian. I love that, and that’s it. There’s already quite a few women working the industry just in the immediate area, and I feel like it’s pretty well accepted that anyone who is willing to put in the time and the effort is able to make a place for themselves in the brewing community.”
A Wilmington resident for only six months, Dani is a newcomer to the area’s beer scene. “To be honest, the industry and the beer scene are what I consistently describe most when people ask me how I like it here,” she muses. “Everyone is so supportive of each other, there’s a great community between brewers and breweries and bottle shops and all the local businesses, and everyone has been more than enthusiastic and supportive in the process of making it a career. I feel incredibly fortunate to be so involved at Waterline, and I can’t begin to describe the appreciation I have for my friends, my coworkers, my employers, and the unique community that is Wilmington’s beer scene.”
WATERLINE BREWING COMPANY – EVE ROBINSON
“As the Operations Manager of Waterline Brewing Co., I do a little of everything,” Eve Robinson, wife of brewer and owner Rob Robinson, tells. “My primary duty though is overseeing the tap room. I hire and train the ‘taptenders,’ pour beers on weekends and other surge periods, and I act as the brewery hostess and tour guide by ensuring customers are greeted warmly and given a tour of the brewery where I explain the brewing process on our 5-barrel system. If they’re interested, I also can tell the story and history of our building, the 1940’s-era former Jacobi Hardware Warehouse. I’m also in charge of booking food trucks for the weekends, coordinating special events and parties in the taproom, and working outside beer festivals. I’ve even been known to deliver a sixtel keg or two when needed.”
Of Waterline’s offerings, Eve’s favorites change depending on season or Brian’s new releases. “Right now it’s our Waterline Wee Heavy, but I probably drink the Kolsch more often because it’s lighter and low ABV.”
Customers often tell Eve she’s the “heart and soul” of Waterline. “I believe my passion for the building, the community, our customers, and the craft beer industry has a huge impact on the overall feel of the taproom and brewery. When customers comment on how comfortable, relaxing and inviting the taproom feels, I believe this is a direct reflection of myself, my husband Rob and partner Brian.”
In fact, Eve loves that so many of the breweries in Wilmington are owned and operated by husband-and-wife teams and families. “This is probably why we all get along so well. We have developed a close friendship and respect for each other’s businesses. Even though we don’t see each other very often, we promote and support one another, and encourage customers to visit them all. Also, I want to be sure to say thank you to the Wilmington Ale Trail magazine because in it, we are all united in print, too!”
She muses that everything in the craft beer industry right now, and especially in Wilmington, is exciting. “Craft beer manufacturing is one of the fastest growing businesses in America. In 2013, when we picked Wilmington to start Waterline Brewing, there was only one brewery in town; now there are eight with more opening soon,” she reveals. “Being a co-owner of a brewery allows me the opportunity to meet the most wonderful people, to develop friendships with the other brewery owners and our awesome taproom ‘regulars.’”
WILMINGTON BREWING COMPANY – MICHELLE SAVARD
Michelle and John Savard made their mark on the Wilmington brewing community first by opening Wilmington Homebrew Supply, no doubt fueling the many homebrewers who have gone on to open their own production facilities in the area. Since expanding to add Wilmington Brewing Company in 2014, the Savards’ roles have grown as well. “I operate day-to-day brewery and homebrew shop marketing, communications, accounting/bills—basically all the front of the house operations,” Michelle explains. “I love our business. It is happy, it is very challenging, and mostly very rewarding. Our team is family and I love doing what I do.”
“Since we opened the doors to our small homebrew shop in March 2012, the growth of the brewing community in Wilmington has been thrilling to watch,” Michelle adds. “Our personal growth (adding a brewery, taproom and moving to our now very big building) has been both stressful and amazing. We’ve made lifelong friends through the brewing industry, and I am so grateful to be a part of this community and excited to continue to watch it grow!”
For Michelle, being a woman in the beer industry is, in short, fun. “Yes, of course, there are those who have asked me, ‘Do you actually like beer?’” Michelle unveils, to which she replies, “Yes I do, very much! But for 99 percent of the time, every day is a new and fun adventure being a woman in a mostly male-dominated industry. Women are doing all kinds of work in the beer industry: brewing, advocating, marketing, owning, accounting, event-planning, the list goes on and on, and I would encourage any women out there who want to be in this industry to go for it!”
While relaxing oceanside or perusing Wilmington’s downtown shops are popular options for sunny summer days, the North Carolina coast still gets its fair share of downpours. An afternoon thunderstorm may seem like a damper on vacation, but the Port City offers a plethora of unique indoor activities aside from the typical TripAdvisor recommendations. From touring a rescue facility for local sea turtles to joining a free brewing demonstration, Wilmington offers fun days regardless of the weather forecast.
PORT CITY BREW BUS
With eight breweries to see in Wilmington, the safest (and arguably most fun) way to experience a good chunk of them is by joining a tour on the Port City Brew Bus. From three different pick-up locations around town, each tour includes guided tastings and facility tours, as well as beer education, water, and snacks along the way. Each tour hits three breweries depending on pick-up location; guests may visit Broomtail Craft Brewery, Flytrap Brewing, Good Hops Brewing, Wilmington Brewing Company, or Waterline Brewery. Private tours for groups of 10+ can be booked with pick-up and drop-off locations anywhere in the Wilmington area. And should you find a beer you just have to take home—Port City Brew Bus offers a cooler for growlers and crowlers so you can savor them after the tour, too.
WILMINGTON HOMEBREW SUPPLY
Founded by John and Michelle Savard in March 2012, Wilmington Homebrew Supply outfits local homebrewers with all the hops, malts, and equipment they need to create their own craft suds. While the store has since expanded to include Wilmington Brewing Company, where John is brewmaster, the shop still hosts Free Brewing Demos each Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Each demo is a different brew, while WHS’ experts teach skills to recreate the beer at home—though you don’t have to be a homebrewer to check out the demo!
MONSOON OF MUSEUMS
HANNAH BLOCK HISTORIC USO WWII MUSEUM
From 1941 to 1945, Wilmington’s USO facility hosted big band dances, music recitals and more for 35,000 military visitors per week, inviting service members from neighboring Camp Davis, Camp Lejeune, and Fort Bragg. In years since, the Hannah Block Historic USO Building has been a community center home to Thalian Association Community Theatre, Azalea Festival, and the Arts Council of Lower Cape Fear. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the center is now managed solely by Thalian Association, where they offer classes in visual and performing arts. The auditorium stages plays and musicals by local theater companies. For daily visiting, the World War II Wilmington Home Front Heritage Coalition maintains the building’s WWII museum, where clothing, newspapers, and more from the era can be viewed.
MUSEUM OF THE BIZARRE
Home to a slew of oddities and curiosities, the Museum of the Bizarre showcases creepy and strange exhibits such as a Bigfoot imprint, Houdini’s Ouija board, and a Chupacabra hand. Located in downtown Wilmington next to the Cape Fear Serpentarium, the Museum of the Bizarre also features local legends such as the Fort Fisher Mermaid, Joe Baldwin’s Maco Lights signal lantern, and several movie props from the area’s local film scene. Visitors also can take photos to commemorate their trip, such as inside the jaws of a shark or as a mugshot letting friends know where all the fun was had.
WHQR MC ERNY ART GALLERY
Established by opera lovers in 1984, WHQR is Wilmington’s public radio station. Housed in historic downtown, WHQR’s studios provides the public with a custom-designed library and gallery for performances and exhibits. The art gallery is named for MC Erny, an enthusiastic supporter of WHQR from its beginning. It features monthly rotating exhibits from local artists, with opening receptions during Wilmington’s Fourth Friday Gallery Walks from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH MUSEUM OF HISTORY
When visitors can’t hit the beach, they can visit Wrightsville Beach’s museum to learn about one of North Carolina’s most renowned beach towns. Located in the old Myers Cottage, the museum offers a scale model of Wrightsville Beach circa 1910, during Lumina Pavilion’s heyday. Guests also can learn about the town’s hurricane history and the relationship between people and the natural environment of the area.
PRECIPITATION TO PARTICIPATION
BATTLE HOUSE TACTICAL LASER TAG
Battle House isn’t the run of the mill laser tag facility. Rather, its mission-based “battles” focus on specific gaming scenarios in an urban environment, spaced out between separate two-story buildings and unique structures and obstacles for dodging and navigating. In fact, even the armory is stocked with more than 30 laser tag guns—each varying in size, weight, and capabilities, from sniper rifles to machine guns. Battle House is built to emulate modern warfare video gaming, but the camaraderie that’s culled after a day playing this game surely will be a memory that lasts.
CAPE FEAR ESCAPE ROOM
With locations near Mayfaire and in downtown Wilmington, Cape Fear Escape Room: The Real-life Exit Game can easily accommodate visitors no matter where they’re staying. Also known as puzzle or quagmire rooms, escape rooms ensure teams work together to uncover clues to beat the clock and escape the trap. In just 60 minutes, guests will try their luck at breaking free from one of three games: Time Traveler, Cape Fear Manhunt, or Port City Speakeasy. But the team must cooperate to make it out in time!
CAPE FEAR RAPTOR CENTER
As part of the Rocky Point Animal Hospital, just outside of Wilmington, Cape Fear Raptor Center is a unique opportunity should your vacation forecast call for rain. Private, advance appointments are required to tour Cape Fear Raptor Center, but once inside guests will meet several educational ambassadors and may even experience an ongoing treatment or surgery on one of the rescued birds of prey, such as Bald Eagles and owls. Additionally, CFRC Experiences can be booked in advance to check out the hawks, ospreys, and more up close.
KAREN BEASLEY SEA TURTLE RESCUE AND REHABILIATION CENTER
Located in Topsail Island, the Karen Beasley center works toward the conservation and protection of all species of marine turtles—both in the water and on the beach. During their work to educate the public about the threat of extinction for sea turtles, the volunteers often must rescue, rehabilitate and then release sick or injured turtles. The Topsail Turtle Project watches over nests and mothers and hatchlings along the island’s 26 miles of coastline. Tours of the rehab center run Thursdays and Saturdays until June, when the hours increase through the fall.
Wilmington Ale Trail hosted a blind taste test of 16 different stouts and porters to crown local and international winners
This winter, in the hopes of discovering the most delectable dark beers in town, Wilmington Ale Trail held a blind taste test of local and globally popular stouts and porters. Seven of Wilmington’s beer professionals gathered to try 16 different beers, pitting the brews against each other to discover the best of both the local and international offerings.
The beers were judged based on the Beer Judge Certification Program and American Homebrewers Association scoresheet, on points including aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression. The judges assessed the beers for stylistic accuracy and technical merit. Of the 16 beers, two local brews and two international stouts rose to the top.
4/3 Brewing – Milk Stout – Wilmington, NC
Browar Witnica – Black Boss Porter – Witnica, Poland
Broomtail Craft Brewery – Grande Rappe Imperial Stout – Wilmington, NC
Broomtail Craft Brewery – Rappe Imperial Stout – Wilmington, NC
Check Six Brewing Co. – Dugan’s Chocolate Stout – Southport, NC
Check Six Brewing Co. – Harley Pope Imperial Porter – Southport, NC
Flytrap Brewing – Stout – Wilmington, NC
Front Street Brewery – Tiny Tim’s Christmas Porter – Wilmington NC
Good Hops Brewing – Water Spout Stout – Carolina Beach, NC
Great Lakes Brewing – Ohio City Oatmeal Stout – Cleveland, OH
Ironclad Brewery – Teach’s Chocolate Stout – Wilmington, NC
Lagunitas Brewing Company – Imperial Stout – Petaluma, California
Samuel Smith’s Brewery – Organic Chocolate Stout – Tadcaster, United Kingdom
Westbrook Brewing Co. – Udderly Milk Stout – Mount Pleasant, SC
Wilmington Brewing Co. – Blair’s Breakfast Stout – Wilmington, NC
Wells & Young’s Double Chocolate Stout – Bedford, United Kingdom
Caleb Churchwell – owner of Bombers Bev. Co., 10+ years experience in the craft beer industry including retail and supplier, Certified Beer Server
Aaron Dowling – manager of Lighthouse Beer and Wine; degree in Brewing Technology from World Brewing Academy; six years homebrewing experience; Certified Beer Server
Mario Espinoza – manager at Fermental; former intern at Mother Earth Brewing and judge at the Lower Cape Fear Homebrew Competition; Certified Beer Server
Steve Gibbs – owner at Fermental; 15+ years experience in the beer industry from retail to wholesale; avid IPA consumer and stout collector; Certified Beer Server; draught mechanic
Jim Koebel – Associate Exam Director for the Beer Judge Certification Program and holds the rank of Grand Master beer judge; expert review for The Beer Connoisseur magazine; began enjoying good beer about a decade ago and started homebrewing shortly thereafter
Justin Lewis – attorney with Ward and Smith, P.A.; member of the Real Estate and Alcoholic Beverage Law practice groups; experience includes assisting the craft brewery, winery and distilled spirits industries in understanding and complying with the complex rules, regulations and permit obligations enforced by various federal, state, and local agencies
Mark Anthony Mueller – brewery consultant and assistant brewer with Waterline Brewing; co-owner of the Port City Brew Bus, providing weekly educational brewery tours and style tastings for Wilmington residents and tourists; a student of both beer history and styles and considers himself a craft beer evangelist
#1 LOCAL AND #1 OVERALL – Wilmington Brewing Company Blair’s Breakfast Stout
Weighing in at 7% ABV, Blair’s Breakfast Stout was described by judges as possessing a strong coffee aroma—like cold brew coffee—and a bitter, roasted finish. The appearance offered good head retention of a light brown color, while the liquid was an almost opaque black. According to the judges’ notes, the flavor also offered an undertone of berry and sweet vanilla while the mouthfeel was rich and creamy with good carbonation. Out of 50 available points, Blair’s Breakfast Stout averaged at 38.2.
#2 LOCAL – Broomtail Craft Brewery Rappe Imperial Stout
This north Wilmington brew is 7.4% ABV and was ranked by judges at 30.6 points. Notes described the beer as featuring a “nice nose” of dark fruit, which carried into the flavor profile. Judges also picked up on a lighter mouthfeel and some tobacco and brown sugar in the aroma.
#1 INTERNATIONAL – Lagunitas Brewing Company Imperial Stout
The consensus on this 9.9% ABV beer was a smoky yet sweet aroma with a bit of dark fruit, such as figs and berries. With excellent head retention, Lagunitas Imperial Stout offered plums, molasses, and smoke in the flavor, along with bitter chocolate. The creamy beer featured medium carbonation and a warm mouthfeel. The stout’s average score was 37.2.
#2 INTERNATIONAL – Samuel Smith’s Brewery Organic Chocolate Stout
The Samuel Smith’s organic version rings in at 5% ABV and earned an average of 34.6 points. Many judges harped on the birthday cake-like flavor, though it wasn’t overly sweet, with an aroma of vanilla, maple, and dark brown sugar.
Many folks who enjoy craft beer have been loving Untappd for years—and if they haven’t heard of the brew-logging and rating app, they will soon.
Over five years ago, two friends on opposite sides of the country met via Twitter to develop what they hope is “the best possible beer-based social platform available,” according to their website. With nearly 3,000,000 users worldwide, CEO Tim Mather and CTO Greg Avola manufactured a simple, user-friendly space for beer enthusiasts to unite in their love for frothy beverages. Consumers can log, rate, photograph and provide a description for each craft beer they drink—also noting the location they enjoyed it and sharing with other Untappd friends. According to the Brewers Association, there were 3,418 craft breweries in America by the end of 2014—and the number grows every day. That’s a lot of beverages to try, and Untappd allows its users to keep track of them all.
Meanwhile, in Wilmington in 2012, a young local businessman founded Next Glass, an app using science to help consumers select the best beer and wine for their palates. Founder Kurt Taylor and his team use a state-of-the-art laboratory to test different beverages and break them down into over 20,000 molecular compounds to create the most accurate analysis for each sample. Then, based on what Next Glass users have already rated as their most and least favorite drinks, the app can suggest ratings for other beverages. The user simply scans the label and a hand-picked number will pop up, offering the percentage for which the user may like that drink.
On Friday, January 15, Next Glass and Untappd revealed the two companies have merged, wherein Untappd will become a subsidiary of Next Glass. Untappd will remain an independent entity while Mather and Avola will join the Next Glass leadership team. The merger will allow the Untappd founders to work on the app full time, as they previously developed the tool together in their spare time (across different time zones, at that), and hire more staff. Next Glass will gain access to Untappd’s millions of users, while Untappd will be able to speed up new feature development and international distribution.
In a press release, Taylor shared, “Our focus has always been on leveraging our science and machine learning to build amazing tools for consumers, breweries, retailers and bars. Together with Untappd, we have created a powerful combination that will provide millions of consumers and businesses around the world with an unprecedented experience when it comes to sharing, socializing and learning about all things beer.”
The Untappd founders shared the news on their blog, noting that Mather and Avola will continue to “steer the vision of the project.” The message states, “You will get new updates, cool features, and even more badges, faster. There will be no rebranding, name changing, or abrupt pivots. We will continue just as we have, building a world class social community for beer drinkers—only at a much quicker pace.”
We at Wilmington Ale Trail were curious what the merger will mean for the Wilmington beer community, which like many others, relies heavily on word-of-mouth business through spaces like Untappd. Caleb Churchwell, an owner of Bombers Beverage Company bottleshop downtown, believes the merger only will bring more good attention to Wilmington’s rightful spot on the beer-lover’s map. “As an avid user of Untappd for over five years, I’m very excited about the merger,” he touts. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Next Glass and meeting Greg Avola, and both are great people and companies—and their missions align. Everyone will be looking at Wilmington because Next Glass is based here, and it will bring more attention and awareness to our fast-growing craft beer community.”
Churchwell added that in the past Untappd and Next Glass have had differing effects on his business that will now connect and coordinate. “Untappd has provided a resource for customers to utilize in selecting beers that they haven’t checked into and by providing social media awareness for our business by customers checking into Bombers Beverage Company,” he tells. “We have seen Next Glass grow and have worked closely with them to enhance their database and software from a business and consumer standpoint. They have helped us get all of the data or inventory of our shop out to the public by streamlining that information into our website and social media outlets.”
At Wilmington Brewing Company, Michelle and John Savard note that Untappd brings the social side to a “log book”-style app, while Next Glass uses a more scientific method to guide users toward flavors they will like. “These two together may help bring both these elements into an easy to use and fun app. The Wilmington beer community continues to grow, so these apps can help make local beer more accessible—and maybe give you a recommendation on where you can grab your next local pint.”
Steve Gibbs, owner of the Ogden-area bottle shop Fermental, harps on the usefulness of both apps in the beer world. “Although we don’t see much in-store usage on the Next Glass app, I do know some customers use it to discover new items and look up ratings on various products. Both apps offer customers the opportunity to engage and educate themselves within the drinking community. No more drinking alone!” he muses. “It’s a great way to connect with fellow beer folks as well as see ratings that are more accurate and real time than Rate Beer/Beer Advocate. Personally, I use Untappd to see what locals are drinking and enjoying or not enjoying. It’s also a good way to look at other areas in town and out of town to see what is selling and what people are rating beers elsewhere. Both apps are a bit addictive like most social media. And beer. So all in all; a great addition to our coastal community.”
Gibbs is hopeful the merger will bring more beer jobs to the area as well as continue to push Wilmington further into the growing beer scene. “Recent national polls show the Port City as one of the top ten beer towns in the US. Not Raleigh, not Charlotte. Wilmington,” he adds. “Asheville’s on the list but we’re right behind them. It’s the beach and beers. My hope is we keep pushing forward and continue to develop ourselves as a major place for all things beer-related: breweries, bottles shops, and beyond. Download the apps, drink and have fun. Let’s make Wilmington number one.”
Acknowledging the addition of several breweries and bottle shops in recent years, Taylor offers his own opinion of how the acquisition will make waves in the Port City. “Having Untappd in Wilmington will help advance the city’s effort in making this a beer town,” he offers. “We have awesome breweries, the friendliest bottle shops, and now we can add one more feather to the cap. Untappd has millions of fiercely loyal users across the US, including tens of thousands here in Eastern NC. We’ve already seen a tremendous amount of excitement and support out of this group, and I think the fun is just getting started. We have a lot of exciting things ahead that will continue to build on and strengthen the incredible community, and we can’t wait to get the Untappd brand and (badges!) further involved in the Wilmington beer scene.”
In the craft-beer-lover’s world, there are two principles which tend to ring true. One, every season brings about a new batch of limited releases brewed with the weather in mind. For instance, every Black Friday, fans scramble to acquire even one bottle of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout. Meanwhile, each February, crowds engulf Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, California, for a glass of Pliny the Younger, a 10.25% ABV triple IPA.
Locally, Wilmington’s breweries purvey their own seasonal must-haves. And like any craft-beer aficionado, the brewers have their own personal beer traditions both at the brewery and at home with family and friends. Thus, this is the second rule of craft beer: Sharing with others is what it’s all about. Bottle shares are increasingly popular, where groups gather to sip rare and vintage brews from around the world, which friends either collected in their travels or traded with other beer fans in other states.
Perhaps there is no better time than the holidays to pull up a kitchen bar stool with loved ones and partake in the spoils of the season. (Not to mention increased travel means increased opportunity to snag good beer for next time!) Wilmington Ale Trail inquired with a few of our city’s breweries to find out their favorite holiday beer traditions—and to encourage our readers to revel in their own ceremonial celebrations.
Broomtail Craft Brewery
“At Broomtail we have our annual Christmas party, where we have some special beers saved for the occasion to share with our Broomtail friends,” owner Lisa Owings explains. “We also have a little something special we’ve been working on and a few interesting and hard-to-come-by beers that Barry [Owings, owner and brewmaster] brings back from his travels. Our special release this year is a collaboration brew with Lowes Foods. It’s a winter warmer ale called Jolly Elf which we delivered mid-December to Lowes Foods and will be available in our tap room. We enjoy getting everyone together to celebrate the season and celebrate great beer!”
Flytrap Brewing Company
“My holiday traditions tend to focus more around time spent with friends and family,” Mike Barlas, owner and brewer, shares. “Sure, some tasty brews are inevitably involved. Usually some careful selections are made from the beer cellar. Visiting breweries with family and giving gifts of great beer are a few of my favorite things. The holidays are for sharing some quality time and beers with people we love.”
Front Street Brewery
“Although I’ve been involved in the craft beer scene since I was legal to drink, at 26 I’m still developing traditions involving beer,” head brewer Kelsie Cole reveals. “There’s one release that I look forward to every year, simply because I was able to be at the brewery with my family for the release: Highland Cold Mountain. I know it’s a beer that gets a lot of hype, but to see a North Carolina-brewed beer accumulating such a strong following, it makes me proud. Since I’ve had the honor of being there for the release, I promised myself I’d buy at least one bomber every year as a tribute to that one fine memory.
“Of course I also have to throw in Tiny Tim’s Christmas Porter brewed at my brewery, Front Street. I always looked forward to this release when I was a server. Two of my favorite things blended together: a rich, robust porter and fresh, cold-steeped French Vanilla coffee. Now that I’m the one producing it, it makes it that much more special and sentimental.
“I’ll have to mention one more beer I look forward to drinking around the holidays: Brooklyn Black Ops. A few years back I tasted my first Brooklyn Black Ops and it was love at first sip. Bartending at a local craft beer bar at the time, I bought a bottle and managed to save it until last year’s holiday season. Feeling celebratory, I cracked open the 2012 vintage alongside a 2013 and 2014 with my family. I’m a firm believer that good things come in threes, so I don’t like to age anything over three years. The vertical tasting was magical.
“I tend to be more of a spontaneous spirit, so planning annual traditions doesn’t come easy. Whether it’s a well-made spiced brown or a delicious bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout, as long as I’m drinking and sharing it with the people I love during the holidays, I’m happy.”
Good Hops Brewing Company
“Our son owns Lookout Brewing in Black Mountain, NC,” Good Hops owner and brewer Richard Jones shares. “For several years now we receive beers from other breweries and customers. We save those and sit around the dinner table and share all of those wonderful beers.
“[As for at the brewery,] we do not brew a pumpkin beer because we love the other flavors of the season; this year we made an apple beer from Honey Crisp apples, a sweet potato beer (Batatas) from local NC sweet potatoes, and a Christmas Ale of local honey, cinnamon and ginger.”
Wilmington Brewing Company
“We brewed our annual Oyster Stout [on December 10th],” owner Michelle Savard details. “That seems to be our brewery’s holiday tradition. It’s fun to do something unique this time of year, and using oysters in our brewing process definitely creates some holiday cheer.”