WILMINGTON — Ten local breweries have partnered on several collaboration beers to benefit the work of Wilmington-based Nourish NC. The nonprofit feeds a growing population of hungry children in the Cape Fear region.
Covid-19 has not only slashed the income of families already challenged to provide healthy food options for their children, but it has forced breweries and nonprofit organizations to drastically reconsider modes of operation — more canning beers for the former, more virtual fundraisers for the latter.
Such was the case for NC Nourish’s pandemic-friendly 2020 Gala To-Go, featuring do-it-yourself dinner kits curated by the chefs at Wilmington’s True Blue Butcher & Table restaurant (think burgers and steak options). The kits are paired with bottles of wine or four-packs of the collaboration beer.
Late Wednesday morning the sounds of Tap Hopper’s canning line echoed from the garage door of a new 15-barrel brewhouse at Bill’s Brewing Company, next to the sprawling sand volleyball court complex of Captain Bill’s. Co-owner Donnie Stone and brewer Jim Deaton were on site as 16-ounce cans of Halfway to Nowhere — a West Coast-style IPA brewed alongside the brewers of Front Street, Edward Teach, and Broomtail — rolled out of the mobile canning unit.
The midtown brewery was churning out 16 barrels of the IPA (equivalent to about 2,400 16-ounce cans), which will go toward the gala, and be sold at brewery taprooms and bottle shops throughout the city.
Elsewhere in Wilmington, New Anthem head brewer Aaron Skiles was canning Highway of Diamonds, a Belgian table beer, brewed in collaboration with Salty Turtle’s Dan Callender and Waterline’s Dani Bearss. Skiles said he chose the low-ABV style because it drinks well with light salads, chicken, and fish plates.
Meanwhile, Wrightsville Beach Brewery owner Jud Watkins was finishing a small batch of Hoppy Hunger Heroes, a hoppy amber ale created with the brewers of Mad Mole and Flytrap. He said they recently got together for “socially distanced beers” and settled on the hoppy amber ale because none of them had brewed that style before.
Watkins said the decision to join the collaboration efforts was a no-brainer.
“It was a really easy choice when [Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance’s president, Ellie Craig] called up and said, ‘Hey we need to do a beer for Nourish NC.’ We’re happy to help those guys out any time,” Watkins said.
Craig, who is also Front Street Brewery’s sales and marketing manager, was sitting next to Bill’s marketing manager Nicholas Alexander in his new office beside the brewhouse on Tuesday afternoon. Deaton and fellow brewer Harrison Parker were in the corner of the room evaluating one of their new beers, the Camaro Crash Helmet double New England IPA.
A stack of 2020 NC Brewers Cup medals sat on Alexander’s desk: a gold for their Party in the Back New England IPA, a bronze for their Merganser Black Lager (a German style Deaton learned from a brewer during his days at Blowing Rock Brewery in western North Carolina), and a bronze for their Wave Break American IPA.
“This was an opportunity for our brewers to get together and learn from each other, learn new brewing techniques, new educational experiences for them: ‘Let’s see how you do it. What are your recommendations on this?’ sort of thing,” Craig said. “And that’s what we’re all about. The craft beer industry is really unique in the sense that there’s so much camaraderie; there’s so much collaboration already, and any opportunity we get to work together, we jump at it.”
“That’s what this industry’s all about: evolution, techniques, the evolving technology and the science behind everything,” Deaton added. “Having four different brewers coming from four different backgrounds is pretty cool. And, at the end of the day, I think we made an awesome beer.”
Alexander said the creation of one beer, using all the same ingredients, can differ in many ways from one brewery to the next.
“I could give Ellie [Craig] one of our recipes and she could brew it on their system — it’s gonna be different than what we have here,” he said. “That’s the coolest part about beer: It’s so hard to copy and paste anything. It’s such a creative process; no two beers are the same.”
About 25 miles to the northeast in Surf City, Dan Callender found it particularly helpful to brew next to Bearrs from Waterline, as they both like to use coffee in some of their beers.
“She has extensive knowledge of coffee,” Callender said. “It was awesome to hear her perspective — what she’s found with certain origins of coffee and how it mixes with beer.”
The idea for a collaboration came about when CFCBA’s former president, Jeremy Tomlinson, met with Steve McCrossan, executive director at NC Nourish, toward the end of the summer. Several months earlier, McCrossan helped CFCBA create a grocery pick-up program for craft beer and service industry workers who were jobless because of the statewide economic shutdown due to the pandemic.
Ellie said collaborations at this kind of scale are rare in Wilmington, but CFCBA members at the most recent board meeting agreed to focus on more in the future: one, as a way to promote the alliance’s new consumer-focused brand Craft on the Coast, and two, to continue true collaborations in line with the alliance’s “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy.
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