Wrightsville Beach Brewery, freshly opened to the public on January 21, will rank high on your lists of favorite hangouts. This beautiful, homegrown brewery features some of the most interesting people in the Port City.
Owner Jud Watkins, once a commercial fisherman, grew up in Wrightsville Beach and often gathered with friends and family to enjoy local seafood. Yet at each get-together, he and his father wondered why they never had any local beach beers to go along with it. At the time, only Front Street Brewery was open across town.
That was the beginning of the dream that has just become a reality. In honor of his late father, with whom Watkins dove into the world of home brewing, he is now venturing into the life of brewpub owner and production brewing. The story seems more like a feel-good American movie than your typical restaurant opening.
Chef David Owens says, “Of all the restaurants I’ve opened, this is the scariest.” And he has opened a lot. Born in Ireland, he has been a chef in 23 different countries, has earned three Michelin stars, and has even cooked a meal for Vladimir Putin. So why is this local brewery venture scarier than Putin? Because it’s the lifelong dream of a father and his son, and Owens feels that pressure daily.
“Please tell people to come,” were Owens’ last words to me, and although I simply chuckled, I should have assured him that they will.
First of all, Owens cooks with integrity. He doesn’t use fish that he can’t drive to pick up, which means he’s buying his seafood from local fisherman. You won’t see farmed salmon, flounder or grouper on his menu, but he may serve you some African pompano or sheepshead fresh from the ocean. He is the kind of person who inspires you to be better, eat cleaner, and think about the environment: No GMOs are allowed in his kitchen, and he uses the leftover grains from the brews in his pizza crust to reduce waste.
Brewer Kevin Zelnio started his professional brewing career in a barn in Sweden. Trying to forget about the brutally cold weather and high European taxes,
Zelnio brewed beers for the people in the small village in which he resided. They convinced him it was good enough to sell, and soon he had his own microbrewery, Bryggeri Fängelset, which you can still visit if ever traveling through northern Europe. Lucky for Wilmington, that weather eventually brought him back to the States. Although he did admit to being a regular consumer of Icehouse in college, he now loves creating his own beers using ingredients like parsley, sage, rosemary, ginger, orange peels, and honey. A stout, an amber ale, and their Puppy Drum Pale Ale will be the first beers on tap, but Zelnio has plans for many more brews in the near future. His specialty is session beers—beers that are only three to five percent alcohol. Such beers can be consumed on a lunch break or at times when someone may want to enjoy a few but not get excessively intoxicated.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery is committed to keeping the environment in mind as well as giving back to the community. Eighty percent of spent grain will be donated to a local cattle farmer, and the bar and tables were made with wood from the trees that used to be on the property. Before the first pour has even been served, Watkins and his crew have agreed to donate 11 percent of profits from the “beer of the month” to local charities. In a world plagued with greed and waste, these are the kind of business owners one can be proud to support.