Wilmington Brewing Company readies limited bottle run, full-time canning operation

"This is not an April Fool's Day Joke, I promise."

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Wilmington Brewing Company opened in 2014 and has grown steadily since. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Wilmington Brewing Company opened in 2014 and has grown steadily. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — The owners of the Wilmington Brewing Company affectionately call their location “midtown,” but they might also call their ever-expanding brew house “ground zero” —  in a good way.

Now the home-brewing store that helped launch the careers of several of Wilmington’s up-and-coming brewers is ready to expand again, this time with a full-scale canning operation.

John and Michelle Savard, husband and wife owners. Michelle Savard said, 'We love doing this. There's been some rough spots, for sure, but we've pulled through. Right now we're happy as clams.' (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
John and Michelle Savard, husband and wife owners. Michelle Savard said, ‘We love doing this. There’s been some rough spots, for sure, but we’ve pulled through. Right now we’re happy as clams.’ (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Owners John and Michelle Savard said, after taking a brief respite following the birth of their daughter, June, it was time for the next thing.

John Savard said, “We’ve grown very quickly, when we opened in August (2014) we were only making about 100 gallons a week.”

Demand quickly outpaced production, Savard said.

“After a few days we were down to the bottom of the barrel. It was like a hundred degrees in the shade and all we had left was some dark porter,” he said. “‘We promise it’s cold,’ we’d tell people. So, yeah, by day 10 we had ordered more tanks.”

A little over a year later, the brewery was producing over a thousand gallons per week. By 2016, the husband and wife team were joined by Cellarman Anthony Zent and Head Brewmaster Blair Ferguson. The Brewery was handling its own tap-room, but also 90 draft accounts in bars and restaurants around town.

“Places like Fox and the Hound and Copper Penny just tear through our Tropical IPA,” Savard said. “We have our own cooler for it, whenever we get spare time, we brew it and keg it. We don’t ever want to have to tell a thirsty person we don’t have beer for them.”

John Savard, said, 'we were up at four or five this morning to start brewing.' Once the beer is ready, Savard said it would take a team of four about two hours to can and package them. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
John Savard, said, ‘we were up at four or five this morning to start brewing.’ Once the beer is ready, Savard said it would take a team of four about two hours to can and package them. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Last week, the latest brewing tanks were installed and the Savards expect the canning line to be installed in early April. The line, manufactured by Wild Goose Canning, will be able to can around 22-30 cans per minute. Savard said, “Wild Goose is going to come down April 7 for a few days, to make sure everything works, but we hope to be able to produce about 70 cases a week.”

Savard with the new equipment just installed at Wilmington Brewing Company to help gear up for the canning launch next month. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Savard with the new equipment just installed at Wilmington Brewing Company to help gear up for the canning launch next month. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

The cases, 24 16 oz. cans – starting out with the brewery’s Tropical Lightning IPA – will be sold on location at Wilmington Brewing Company. Wilmington-based Wide Open Tech will be doing the graphic design for the cans and packaging, according to Savard, who said, “they’ve been great, their trying to give us a design that kind of captures our attitude. Something cool that catches people’s eye, make them say, ‘hey, what’s that?'”

Savard said he hopes to see cases and cans at bottle shops around town like Brewer’s Kettle and Cape Fear Wine and Beer.

“We’re not looking for something crazy. We’re still one-tenth at the level where we’d go with a distributor,” Savard said, referring to the North Carolina law that requires breweries producing over 25,000 barrels to distribute to bars through a third party.

“We’d have to brew three times a day, every day to get there,” Savard said. “But we are stepping it up to produce enough for canning. And we have had some bottle shops in Raleigh and places like that offer to pick up our beer and take to their locations, so that’s really very flattering. But, in the immediate future, we’re still making beer for Wilmington.”

Michelle Savard added that the brewery will be releasing a limited-run of bottled beer, aged in a barrel from the Justin Vineyard in Paso Robles, California. Listed as Wine Enthusiast’s 2015 American winery of the year, Justin sent barrels especially for the beer, the “Goblin Queen.”

Cellarman Anthony Zent (left) and Head Brewmaster Blair Ferguson (right) inspecting some of the competition's beer. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Cellarman Anthony Zent (left) and Head Brewmaster Blair Ferguson (right) inspecting beer. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

“It’s our first bottled selection,” Michelle Savard said, “so there’s only about 59 gallons worth. That sounds like a lot, but it’ll go quickly we think. But it should help hold people over until the canning gets going later in April.”

Wilmington Brewing Company will release the Goblin Queen on April 1, at the end of the Cape Fear Craft Beer Week.

“This not an April Fool’s Day Joke,” John Savard said. “I promise.”

Wilmington Brewing Company is located at 824 S Kerr Ave. in Wilmington’s “midtown” region. The taproom and brewing supply store are open Tuesday – Thursday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.