WILMINGTON — Catawba Brewing Co. will become brewery number 19 to join the Port City’s craft beer scene as it takes over Skytown Beer Company on New Centre Drive at the end of the month. It will be the fifth facility that the 22-year-old company has opened across North and South Carolina.
“We explored all options in order to keep our businesses afloat during the pandemic,” Skytown owner Hayley Jensen told Port City Daily.
Jensen and her husband Stephen Durley, as well as Carol and Michael Jensen, opened Skytown in 2018 — a sister location to their downtown taco eatery, Beer Barrio.
“Beer Barrio is very established and has remained busy,” Jensen said. “It is our first love, and we want to focus our energy on its success. We will be there full time. . . . When the Pyatts approached us with their interest [in Skytown], it was a good opportunity for both parties.”
The Pyatt brothers, Billy and Scott, along with Billy’s wife, Jetta, opened their first Catawba Brewing facility in the small — nonetheless, dry — town of Glen Alpine, located outside of Morganton, N.C. At that time, they were only selling kegs to restaurants and bars in the western N.C. region, some of which they service still today.
Eventually, they moved production to nearby Morganton in 2006 to expand operations and open their first taproom to serve customers onsite.
“This whole thing is really serendipitous,” Billy Pyatt said on Wednesday. “My brother’s oldest child is 22 today, and we think she’s going to work for us in Wilmington. She was born just as we were building our first brewery in 1999.”
To date, the Pyatt family has no external investments in their operations, despite expanding into Asheville, Charlotte, and purchasing the million-dollar Palmetto Brewery in Charleston in 2017. Pyatt said the opportunity to take over Skytown in Wilmington seemed like a natural fit. Only this time, the brewery will be expanding once more by running its first kitchen.
“We support local food trucks at our other locations,” Pyatt explained.
One sets up permanently at their Charleston brewery. In Charlotte, Catawba has a small catering kitchen.
“But we lease it out,” Pyatt said. “So we’re kind of nervous about running our first kitchen — but we have Daryl [King] that runs Skytown, and he is going to stay on with us and be our guy. He knows the equipment, understands a lot about how to cut down waste and get the food out.”
Pyatt said, with the help of general manager Mary Mayo, they will redesign the menu to be complementary to the Catawba portfolio.
“We’re beer guys first,” he said.
Every year the brewery churns out hundreds of varieties, including nine flagship beers. Some of the most popular are White Zombie White Ale and Huger Street IPA, according to Pyatt. The Wilmington location will have upward of 30 beers on tap and produce from a 5-barrel system.
Catawba’s Morganton location is a 30-barrel system with outdoor tanks, which pours 6,000 gallons of beer a year, Pyatt said.
The company repurposed its original 10-barrel system from Morganton and sent it to Charlotte to churn out 5,000 barrels in the piedmont region. It allows for many small-batch can releases, too, and production of kegs that bars and restaurants order from Catawba.
“For perspective, the average craft brewery, out of about 8,000 in the United States, fills about 16 or 17 hundred barrels a year,” Pyatt said.
In Charleston, Palmetto Brewing already had 100 tanks operating 20,000 barrels. The South Carolina facility also has a canning line and added hard seltzers to its lineup. Currently, it sells three flavors: raspberry and hibiscus, ginger and lime, and grapefruit and lime. The seltzers will be at Skytown, served solo or as specialty cocktails.
Catawba’s Asheville location is most comparable to how Pyatt envisions Wilmington: like a research and development lab.
“We put 50 or 60 new beers out of Asheville every year,” he said. “That’s how we learn what customers want or don’t want. If they do well, we try to make them into bigger distributed products. If they don’t, well, we learn something.”
Some of their recent specialty flavors have included a King Cake Pastry Stout in celebration of Mardi Gras. The brewery has released Black Is Beautiful, a collaborative effort in partnership with Weathered Souls Brewing Co. The latter was launched to bring awareness to injustices that Black and brown people face.
Pyatt said Wilmington will be focused on collaborations, too. He wants to work with local farmers, restaurants, organizations and other breweries to come up with specialty batches that use local and exotic ingredients.
“In Asheville, we made a sweet potato brew out of yams,” he explained. “We got together with these yam farmers and customers liked it so much, we did it again. I can see us doing something like that — or get together with a couple of Wilmington area brewers and do a special beer to help a charity. I mean, we’re known for that.”
The official celebration of Catawba Brewing Co.’s arrival in Wilmington — though scaled down to suit Covid-19 protocols — will fall in line with one of its most anticipated events of the year: the release of Peanut Butter and Jelly Time. This spring Catawba will set up outside in the parking lot of the New Centre Drive brewery to cheers its new home on the N.C. coast.
“PB&J is light brown in color, aged with real fruit and peanuts, and it tastes exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Pyatt said.
Annually, the company switches up the flavor profile of the “jelly.” This year will feature strawberry rhubarb as the main release.
“Then we’ll do some really small batches that are only available on draft and as tastings,” Pyatt said.
Around five or so various flavors, like peach, grape or raspberry, have been released in the past.
Catawba Brewing Co. officially will take over Skytown at the end of February. The grand-opening celebration is planned for April 2.
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