2015 in review: Craft beer puts Wilmington on the brew map

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The opening of Waterline Brewing this month rounded out a year of surging growth in the local craft beer industry. Courtesy photos.
The opening of Waterline Brewing this month rounded out a year of surging growth in the local craft beer industry. Courtesy photos.

This year was a big one for craft beer in the Port City.

With a rapid-fire influx of breweries, bottle shops and watering holes, 2015 was a turning point for putting Wilmington on the fast track to becoming a drinker’s destination.

Following the late 2014 opening of Bombers Bev Co.–a downtown beer store, bar and, often, music venue, husband-and-wife duo Kristy Gomez and Mike Duffy followed suit in early January with the midtown Hey Beer! Bottle Shop. Less than a year after opening, the couple added eight new draft pours to the store’s already hefty selection of more than 400 single brews.

Then a month later, Ironclad Brewery opened its doors on Second Street as one of a handful of downtown alehouses. That opening was just the beginning of a sudden surge of breweries popping up in and around downtown.

In March, Hops Supply Co. announced it had plans to launch a second restaurant–with an in-house brewery–in the former Bank Of America building on Front Street sometime in 2016. A few months later, Triangle-based Blackjack Brewing Co. unveiled its plans to relocate its pirate-themed establishment to the Wilmington area in 2016.

Just this month, Waterline Brewing took up shop in a rehabilitated section of the old Jacobi Hardware warehouse just under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. The late-year addition became the Port City’s eighth brewery, five of which have opened up within the last year.

Down in Carolina Beach, business was booming so much, so fast that the family-owned Good Hops brewery ran a successful Kickstarter campaign this summer to garner funds for additional Brite tanks and fermenters.

Wilmington’s emergence as a beer-lover’s paradise got some national attention, putting the city on the map as one of the “Top 5 Beeriest Beach Towns in America.”

It also prompted local brewers to join forces to create a guild that, among other initiatives, will help market Wilmington as a vacation spot for craft brew enthusiasts.

And it inspired Jeremy Tomlinson, co-owner of Port City Brew Bus, to create “Wilmington Ale Trail,” a print and online publication dedicated to all things craft beer has hit local newsstands.

“Every major town that has ‘x’ amount of breweries has some sort of ale trail publication or website so people can look and see what there is,” Tomlinson said in September.

The aim with “Wilmington Ale Trail” is much like that of the Brewers Guild: to market the area as a vacation spot for avid beer drinkers.

“We feel that we can become not only a destination for our beaches and the downtown area, but people can come here to go to breweries, as well,” Tomlinson said. “I do that. When I’m looking to go somewhere, I look to see what breweries are there…We already have a lot of visitors that come to town and this is just one more thing they can do.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.