Local brewers to discuss lessons learned, craft boom at ‘Asheville at the beach’

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Ironclad Brewery hosts a discussion on the growing local craft brewing industry in April. Courtesy photo.
Ironclad Brewery hosts a discussion on the growing local craft brewing industry in April. Courtesy photo.

As yet another brewery gets set to open in Wilmington, area craft beer makers are joining forces this spring to share lessons learned and what’s coming next for the city fast becoming a drinking destination.

Timed with NC Beer Month, fledgling Greater Wilmington Brewers Guild is hosting an informational event in April featuring representatives from existing alehouses, as well as those that are currently in the works. Homebrewers and general beer enthusiasts will have the opportunity to ask the experts what goes into tapping a passion for craft brews, and there will, of course, be some local selections to sip.

The event is a precursor to what Ironclad owner Ted Coughlin predicts will be a transformation of the Port City into an “Asheville at the beach.” Boasting more breweries per capita than any other city in the country, Asheville is now home to more than 20, including heavy-hitters Highland and Sierra Nevada.

Wilmington has a little ways still to go – there are currently eight in the area – but Coughlin believes it won’t be long until the city is knocking at Asheville’s door. Capt’n Bill’s Backyard Grill is planning to open its onsite brewery, Bill’s Front Porch, in the spring. Another three, Coughlin said, are planning to pop up this year in downtown Wilmington alone, with another four in the works across New Hanover and Brunswick counties. Coughlin did not want to speak in further detail about those businesses ahead of official announcements from the owners.

But New Anthem is one of those three downtown ventures, Ed Wolverton, CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc. confirmed. The brewing company’s owners Aaron Skiles and William Hunter have been busy renovating an old warehouse in the 100 block of Dock Street, Wolverton said, with tentative plans to open this summer.

“We’re just now getting to the numbers – when you started getting to 10 or 12, that is beginning of the draw,” Coughlin said. “I was really surprised last fall that people [at Ironclad] were saying, ‘I’m here because of the breweries.’ We’re not even marketing outside the region and it’s already happening.”

And that’s good news to Coughlin.

“The more breweries, the better,” he said.

Unlike most industries, craft brewing is not driven by competition. In fact, Coughlin said, it’s quite the opposite. And that’s where the guild, a group of the area’s brewers formed last fall, plays an important role in collaborating for the benefit of the entire community.

“We feel the more breweries that come to the area, the more beer tourists will come…Our top mission is to promote the craft beer industry within Wilmington,” he said.

Bringing in those tourists, Coughlin added, has a domino effect on the local economy. In his visits to 300 breweries across the country, Coughlin has learned one thing: Craft brew tourists aren’t your stereotypical beer drinkers.

“They are often professionals. They’re well-educated and have expendable income…This is not the $2 all-you-can-drink crowd. It’s not the college crowd,” he said.

Having 30-somethings up to active retirees come to Wilmington for a weekend on the brewery scene, Coughlin said, means they’ll be booking hotel rooms, eating at local restaurants and shopping around town while they’re here.

“We’re reaching the point where we’re going to see that impact,” he said.

“The Growth of Breweries in Greater Wilmington – Future plans” is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 2 at Ironclad Brewery, 115 N. Second St. A schedule of topics and speakers will be released closer to the date of the event.

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

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