Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography. Check out his instagram at @brianlantzphotography
Photo provided by Brian Lantz brianlantzphotography.com IG:@brianleelantz
Zac Brown is the head brewer at Waterman’s Brewing Company. Recently I asked him about his experience in the brewing industry and he had a lot of interesting things to say.
Where are you from?
I was born in Manhattan, NY but raised in Teaneck, NJ which is about 7 miles from my original home in NYC. I have lived in 11 states of the US and spent time in Brazil as well.
What first got you into brewing?
I was a Home-brewer in college, like many professional brewers used to be. I Home-brewed a lot and volunteered my time outside of work at any brewery or brew pub in my local area that would let me get my hands on a real brewing system.
Being from a music performance and music business background, brewing and the craft beer industry always appealed to me. I see music as a mix of art and science and brewing is absolutely the same type of trade. I also saw parallels between the business of music and craft beer.
In my later college years, I wrote my papers about the beer industry more so than the music industry. Much like I was a trumpet performer and had a role behind the scenes in the music industry, I always dreamed of being both a brewer and involved behind the scenes on the business side of things. I am now living that exact dream I had over a decade ago.
What is the first beer you made?
Technically, my friend and I brewed one of those Mr. Beer kits as our first Home-brew in college. I soon after bought a two bucket Home-brew set up from Williams Home-brew Supply. We brewed an all extract pale ale for our first batch on my Home-brew set up. My first solo batch on the commercial scale was a Double IPA at Long Trail Brewing Company.
What is your favorite beer to make?
The majority of my career, to this day, was spent at a very traditional English style brewpub in San Francisco named Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery. I gained a love and affinity for English Bitters and Porters while there. Any recipe of mine that blends many different colors and styles of malted grain always holds a special place in my heart and my fascination with that creative and mathematical element of brewing is something I always enjoy. My current recipe for Knotthead ESB at Watermans fulfills that criteria perfectly.
What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?
After being notified that I was getting laid off from my job as the Director of Ticketing for a non-profit World Music presenter in NYC, I reached out to a friend of a friend who brewed at Long Trail Brewery in Vermont for advice. At the time, I had grown tired of the negative characters in the music industry as well as the lifestyle it required me to lead. This friend, one of my best to this day, offered for me to come up to Vermont to interview for a Shift Brewer opening they had at the time. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I did.
After five interviews in one day, I was hired as an entry level Shift Brewer and needed to learn how to brew on a 60 barrel, 4-vessel Brewhouse within a month of starting. I enjoyed the culture of the company and the people I met there, so I figured it would be a good first step in to professional brewing. When I moved out to California to pursue the next stage of my career, I focused on smaller brewing systems that allowed me to be more creative. I haven’t turned back since.
Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other breweries do not?
The basic process of brewing, from a step-by-step perspective, has to be the same for every brewery to fulfill the fundamentals of brewing science. However, every brewery I have worked at has had slight differences in process and technique based on both equipment restrictions and/or brewing technique of the founding Brewmaster. I stick to the fundamentals that I was taught from the several Brewmasters that trained me and have developed my own technique as a result of my various influences. I would say my approach to the brewing process is fairly standard with an emphasis on the English Brewing style tradition.
What is one thing you want your consumer to take away after trying your beer?
My favorite piece of feedback at Waterman’s is when a customer enjoys a beer they expected to dislike based on the style name or color of the beer. With many beers in the 4-6% ABV range, I hope to find a match for every customer that walks in the door regardless of their preconceptions about beer in general. Styles like the ESB, Grisette, and Copper Ale have all filled that gap for many unsuspecting customers here so far. I hope to keep that going!
Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography . Check out his instagram at @brianleelantz
Jim Deaton is the head brewer at Bill’s Front Porch. From Jamestown, NC, he has been passionate about beer-making even before he was legally old enough to drink it. Deaton realized that while he wasn’t old enough to buy beer, he could definitely make it which ignited his career. Since creating his first brew, a double IPA, he has created many beer styles including his favorite to make, a class German style lager.
Photo provided by Brian Lantz brianlantzphotography.com IG:@brianleelantz
When asked what made him want to start brewing on a larger scale he said, “[I] Volunteered to help build a commercial brewery in Blowing Rock and worked my way up into a lead brewer position. It allowed me to make beer for the masses, not just for my friends and me.”
Check out Deaton’s work at Bill’s Front Porch and don’t be afraid to give him some feedback! Deaton says, “ Brewers are always seeking perfection. [The] more constructive feedback we receive, the better we can make our beers for you. Good or bad its always nice to see some responses about a specific style of beer. Don’t hesitate to ask questions; this is my love, my passion, and my career. I love talking to customers about specifics regarding the brewing processes.”
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.
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.”
This will be an ongoing series on local bottleshops. Our aim is to see what makes them different and the history and backgrounds of the owners and managers. This series will be in collaboration with the Port City Brew Bus.
Fermental Beer and Wine
7250 Market St.
In March 2013 when Fermental Beer and Wine opened its doors—the doors to a funky little 1940s bungalow, that is—in Ogden, some may have mused that owner Steve Gibbs was taking a risk. After all, Ogden is surely outside the downtown hub of the Central Business District, and his neighbors the barber and locksmith don’t exactly make for good bar hopping. But the bottle shop was swiftly embraced by the growing population in north Wilmington—and then some.
The space inside is quaint. A small bar with three draft options, a cooler with singles, and around the corner a living room with the coziest couch—literally, folks sink the second they sit down. Meander through the other rooms, still laid out like the home it once was, and peruse the to-go offerings. From six packs to bombers to stacks of wine, Fermental has a taste to cover all palates. Outdoors, guests can gather at a picnic table under a canopy of café string lights and stars.
“As one of north Wilmington’s first alternatives to the local bars and restaurants, Fermental continues to grow and cultivate itself to its surroundings,” Gibbs, who spent 15 years in the industry—from retail to wholesaler to supplier—before opening his shop, explains. “As a resident of the Ogden area myself, it seemed like a likely spot to offer unique beer and wine to the community, and I feel a lot of other businesses have joined us along the way. A lot of folks aren’t interested in the downtown scene and some don’t even like crossing Gordon Road after 5 p.m. And if you’re driving, it’s better to stay close to home. Not only do we offer some of the best pricing and selection of beer/wine in town, Fermental is a place to bring your family, your friends or meet new friends. Fermental is family. Many parents bring their children along with them, as well as pets and picnics and out of town guests. We are casual and comfortable and offer a space to relax, congregate, and/or celebrate. Fermental is a fun, quirky, casual space that invites people from all age groups and backgrounds into a general revelry of good beer, fine wine and culture.”
Gibbs shares that the goal for growth at Fermental is to move at a slow and steady pace. “Outside, we started with three picnic tables, a few outside lights, and no stage. What was once barely walked-upon green grass, has now turned into a beer garden of straw and mulch along with various games, seating options, flowers, hop bines and more. Plans to continually grow and improve this area are always in progress. Sometimes people give us things—other times we build, find, or purchase.” Gibbs beckons folks to stay tuned for tether ball and additional landscaping this winter.
Indoors, the aesthetic remains warm, inviting, and comfortable. “My wife, Kristen, picked out all the colors inside, which was sort of a red-wine-meets-barley-and-hops theme that transitioned into an earthy, comforting vibe. Focusing on the original wooden floors, we went with several wooden structures inside for display and seating, utilizing old wine crates for shelving and thrift store/Craigslist-ing most of the rest. All of our coolers are secondhand and were quite a feat to get inside the building. Overall, a plan really wasn’t made for design, we just painted and put things where they seemed to fit; and remarkably, it all came together. We are drinkers, not designers, but I guess we have an eye for composition. As a whole, Fermental keeps changing, growing, adapting, building, and pushing along. Honestly, we have outgrown the space but have no plans to move away from our little corner in Ogden.”
Fittingly, the Gibbs recently welcomed a daughter with his wife Kristen, born October 8, 2015. “As we continue to grow, so has my personal family, which can add a new perspective on things,” Gibbs quips. “But for now, we’re planning on staying where we are and continuing with our current state of affairs, perhaps in larger formats. Look for occasional bigger bands playing in 201; additional taps are currently in planning at what will become a newly designed main bar; possibly a more regular outdoor bar in the beer garden next season; additional off-site events; and we’re still crunching in as much beer as we can into our limited interior, but there seems to always be more room. More food truck rotations, more events, more people, and more amusing attributes to keep Fermental fun.”
In the meantime, Fermental carries on with free weekly wine and beer tastings every Friday evening, and occasionally wine and brewery reps are on-hand to offer detailed education and giveaways. Every Friday and Saturday Fermental hosts live music in the beer garden, “alongside a rotating cast of local food trucks,” Gibbs shares. Monthly events run the gamut, from cheese pairings to book clubs, art shows to rehearsal dinners. “With the introduction of Wilmington Beer Week in October, we have an exhausting library of things to do and things to drink,” Gibbs notes. “It’s all for the love of beer, wine and community.”
“Our largest annual event is Arts & Drafts: a celebration of art, music and of course, beer,” Gibbs begins of his yearly September soiree. “We collect, harbor, order, and beg for some of the best, rarest, oddest, and most celebrated beers from all over; tapping them in an all-day extravaganza of beer accompanied by an afternoon into the evening of live music from multiple musicians. The day begins with a beer garden full of local artists, sculptors, and craft makers spread through every free inch of space in our backyard, selling and showcasing their talents in an endless array of media. Throw in a few food trucks alongside some of the area’s best artisans and you’ve got one hell of an adventure. This may possibly be moved off-site in the future to accommodate a larger group of artists and the crowd, but for now we’re still squeezing in just over 20 creative folks in a welcoming variety of artistic genres.”
So, what beverage does Gibbs enjoy most of all? “Over the past few years this has become a difficult question to answer,” he starts. “There are so many beers available, and there are new releases every day. I love wine too, but my background in wine has driven me to beer. Ask most wine sales reps and they’ll share a similar story: After tasting and selling wine all day, nothing beats a cold beer. But if you include that ubiquitous desert island aspect, it would have to be: a super fresh American IPA. Green, juicy, chewy hops that coat your teeth and gums, cloyingly begging for another sip of that super-ripe goodness. Preferably local, but any brewery that can push it to market with the oily, dank, hop residue still intact is fine with me. A few examples include: Stone Enjoy By, NoDa Hop Drop N Roll, Victory Dirt Wolf, Knee Deep Hoptologist, and Wicked Weed Freak of Nature.”
As for new beers available in our market, Gibbs remains a fan and consumer of Wicked Weed and Knee Deep Brewing. Yet it’s a Midwestern brewery that is making its mark on his tongue as of late. “I am continually amazed by the beers coming from Prairie Artisan Ales out of Tulsa, Oklahoma,” he reveals. “The sours these folks are releasing are by far some of the best I’ve ever poured into my mouth. Their recent series of dry-hopped golden sours are a deliciously funk-driven, tropical mess of flavor and aroma that dances across the palate, inviting another sip, another bottle, another pint. Not to mention their Prairie Bomb!, another classic from Oklahoma, is a big, sturdy, imperial stout aged on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla, and chile peppers. A top-rated beer across the board, this bottle of blackness is perfect for the upcoming colder months. As Prairie grows, I would expect to see more greatness and deliciousness arriving from these folks in the coming year. We currently have multiple shelves of their products, just ask!”
This entry is part of a periodic series about the growing craft beer industry in Wilmington, N.C. The series is shared with our friends at the Port City Brew Bus. Check our blogs to stay updated on the series. We’ll profile a different brewery in each addition. We begin by looking at the history of Wilmington’s craft beer industry.
In 2012 Rich and Patricia Jones helped their son John Garcia, open Black Mountain’s Lookout Brewing. In 2013 they returned to their retirement home of Carolina Beach and spent the next six months opening Good Hops Brewing. With a craft beer boom in full swing the Jones’ felt the focus was on the I.P.A. style. So they decided to focus on less hoppy styles like their flagship brew Donna Golden Ale.
“We Love the Beach,” Jones said of the couple’s decision to open in Carolina Beach instead of Wilmington. After opening the doors in June of 2014 the brewery quickly became a community institution. Realtors are regular supporters says Jones, “they either bring clients by or pick up beer to have available.”
The brewery includes a family-friendly taproom and outdoor seating area, free of televisions, “I love the fact we don’t have T.V.s, it makes people entertain each other,” says Jones. The taproom’s intimate, community feel allows for conversations, often about the beer. Their reputation for helping local charities in the community has spread; in the first six months alone they donated 38 kegs for events and benefits.
Maintaining a strong relationship with Asheville breweries, specifically their son John at Lookout has helped the Wilmington scene grow in Patricia’s opinion, “we talk everyday with our son,” she says. Almost 70% of their clientele are new customers through word of mouth, often from other breweries. “We get customers that come in and say I just came from your son’s brewery or I just came from Wicked Weed,” says Patricia.
Distribution remains a priority with taproom sales a close second. Rich and Patricia believe quality is most important and have decided not to bottle or can for now. They don’t want the pressure of “filling shelves” to affect the quality, “It’s important that Wilmington continues to put out top quality beer.” When people ask why a style isn’t on tap Rich will often reply, “we’re waiting on the beer.”