WILMINGTON — Asheville-based Hi-Wire Brewing is planning to open its fifth taproom inside an old, 1950s-era car dealership at the corner of Princess and 11th Street sometime in November.
The move will bring one of the state’s most well-known craft beer producers to Wilmington, which is building its own reputation as an ‘Asheville East’ — as some in the local industry have referred to the town’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
The brewery has been awarded by some of the industry’s premiere beer competitions since it opened in 2013, receiving two gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup in Nashville, and numerous medals at the NC Brewers Cup.
Once built, the nearly 8,000-square-foot taproom will be the brewery’s fifth, following two in Asheville, one in Durham, and a fourth in Knoxville, Tennessee. Like those in Durham and Knoxville, the Wilmington taproom has been designed with an open-spaced industrial layout, with areas for two outdoor beer gardens, a shuffleboard, a ‘soccer pool’, and ping-pong and foosball tables.
Twenty-one taps will serve all the brewery’s beers, including flagships like the Hi-Wire Lager and Hi-Pitch Mosaic IPA, in addition to seasonals, specialties, sours, and one-off pilot releases. There will also be three guest wines and a local cider on tap.
Hi-Wire co-owner Chris Frosaker said the move to Wilmington could raise some eyebrows due to the ongoing Covid-19 economic shutdowns, but he was confident in the company’s move to the coast.
“This is a gamble,” he said, laughing. “I think a lot of people might say we’re kind of nuts for doing this. But we believe in our brand, and we believe in North Carolina beer.”
Wilmington, he said, checked all the right boxes when considering a new taproom location: a solid distribution partner in Coastal Beverage, a growing craft beer market that is not yet oversaturated with breweries, and a population comparable to other mid-size cities like Durham.
Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic that has battered America’s small business sector, Frosaker said sales in eastern North Carolina have actually increased this year, just as they have each year since they began selling in the region.
He sees the neighborhood, one he and others have called the Soda Pop District due to the former Coca-Cola bottling plant a few blocks west of the future taproom, as similar to other areas now home to Hi-Wire taprooms: up-and-coming and poised for growth.
“We don’t want to be on the corner of Main and Main,” Frosaker said. “We like rehabbing old buildings and being a part of positive growth in under-developed neighborhoods.”
Like those in Durham and Knoxville, the Wilmington taproom will not house a production facility — “We feel like we can make the best beer at home under a watchful eye,” he said — but it will serve all the brewery’s flagships and specialty beers, including its barrel-aged sours that can only be purchased in the brewery’s taprooms.
The move is more of a marketing strategy than anything else, according to Frosaker.
“For us, retail locations are a very important part of our brand,” he said. “People now five hours away can experience Hi-Wire first-hand, which they may have been unable to do before.”
Hi-Wire now distributes to eight states — North and South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio — after expanding to Virginia in April. The brewery began distributing to Wilmington in 2015.
Frosaker expects construction to begin soon after he obtains a permit from the city, which should occur in the next two weeks, he was told.
The building was purchased by Paramount Group, based out of Charleston, in the summer of 2019. Before the sale, it was home to Carolina Carburetor Specialists, which opened shop in 1983.
Paramount bought the property, located at 1020 Princess Street, for $1.1 million, according to New Hanover County land records. The building was constructed in 1946.
Paramount President Andy Hewitt said the opening of a Hi-Wire taproom in Wilmington was “significant” for the city’s craft beer and food scene. He was originally put in touch with Frosaker when he heard the brewery was looking to expand to Wilmington.
“Our intentions for the building — wanting to maintain the vibe of the building and its original features — and their vision for a taproom aligned perfectly,” Hewitt said. “They’re going to be a great anchor for that neighborhood.”
Paramount hopes to lease a smaller space in the building to a restaurant, according to Frosaker. If all goes accordingly, the additional tenant will open in the former dealership’s showroom facing Princess Street. The taproom will be built behind it, towards Market Street, where the car mechanic’s area was once located.
Barring a shutdown order from the local or state government that would prohibit the new taproom from opening, Frosaker expects to be open “in some kind of capacity” this fall.
“We probably won’t be packing a thousand people in there for an opening party, but we’ll be able to open up and safely have some beers,” Frosaker said.
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