WILMINGTON — It’s been a long wait, but the owners of Flying Machine Brewing Company are finally breaking ground on Randall Parkway after nearly a year of planning and negotiating with the city.
Founders Grant Steadman and David Sweigart are confident it will be “worth the wait.”
“We first submitted plans in August of 2016,” Steadman said. “So we’re looking at 11 months, almost a year. But I think that shows we’re willing to be patient to get things right. We had a pretty detailed search for the right piece of land, the right neighborhood and we believe we found the perfect spot.”
Part of the delay came from negotiations with the city over concerns about noise from live music. But after meeting with area residents to address their concerns, the brewery founders changed their plans – including moving live music inside and adding sound dampening measures – to satisfy the city and residents.
“We are near a great neighborhood, and we were happy to meet with them and discuss their concerns,” Steadman said, “Since then, we’ve had tremendous support from our neighbors.”
Getting to work
Now Steadman and Sweigart have been joined by head brewer Carl Cross and are setting to work building a 16,600-square-foot facility. The brewery will have a nearly 10,000-square-foot area for production, with the rest dedicated to an inside taproom and a two-story outdoor patio, with a planned 25-30 taps between an inside and outside bar.
Steadman and Sweigart plan on opening with between 10 and 15 of their own beers. The extra taps – like the rest of the brewery – is being built for expansion, according to Steadman.
“We were very conscious of building in room for development,” Steadman said. “We want to make sure that we’re ready for our grand opening, but we’re looking ahead to the region … we’re definitely building room to grow into canning and getting our beer to North Carolina.”
The beer selection
Head brewer Carl Cross said the expansion-minded brewery will give his beers room to grow.
“So, there will definitely be 15 to 20 beers through the year, but some will be flagships, and some will be limited runs,” Cross said. “As we grow, we’ll be aging in beers in oak – some of those will be 2-3 years.”
Cross also said Flying Machine’s beer will run the gamut from “Old World Styles to new age beer,” with a focus on yeast because, as Cross said, “that’s really the soul of beer.”
Cross said the brewery will eventually feature a “beer lab,” to allow the team to experiment and study beers, as well as a blending facility. According to Cross, the blending room will give the brewery a chance to take some of the more experimental and exotic beers and blend them into more “approachable” drafts.
Experimentation is a big part of Flying Machine plan. As the name implies, the brewery takes inspiration from the Wright brothers’ famed flying machine. As Sweigart said, “it speaks to risk-taking and innovation in order to achieve great things – which is our goal.”
“Making something and then seeing your customers enjoy it, that became important to me. I wanted to focus on the more important things, interacting with people.”
‘I never wanted a cubicle job’
Head brewer Cross has traveled near and far from his native Winston-Salem chasing new beer ideas. Cross got hooked on home-brewing in college and went on to study brewing science in England. After that, he took a job cleaning tanks in Denver, just to be in the heart of the city’s growing craft beer scene. Eventually, Cross would travel to Vietnam to open a brewery before working in Charleston.
“I never wanted a cubicle job,” Cross said. “And I’ve been able to travel the world making beer.”
Cross, Steadman and Sweigart are all “born and bred in North Carolina,” Sweigart said. But while Cross got into brewing early, Steadman – a former full-time lawyer – and Sweigart – who worked in finance – made the change more recently.
Sweigart said, for him, it was about simplifying and getting back to basics.
“The financial world was good to me and I don’t regret my time there, but I needed a change. I need to do something more productive, back to the roots of our society, which is building something, making something hands on,” Sweigart said. “Making something and then seeing your customers enjoy it, that became important to me. I wanted to focus on the more important things, interacting with people.”
Likewise, Steadman said that he felt the need for a change.
“Being involved in the brewing industry allows for a lot of creativity and I have always appreciated how community-focused breweries can be,” Steadman said.
A complement, not competition
That community, for the Flying Machine team, means the craft brewing world of Wilmington. That can be tricky, as the area now has a dozen breweries with more on the way. But for Sweigart, the growing number of breweries is a blessing, not a curse.
“We’ve become friends with most of the brewers here in town. John and Michelle at Wilmington Brewing Company, Jud at Wrightsville, Aaron at New Anthem to name a few,” Sweigart said. “We’re really looking to complement that scene, to fit in with our thing, just to introduce and educate craft beer drinkers in a different way.”
Sweigart said he was particularly excited to be joining Wilmington Brewing Company in midtown Wilmington.
“There are breweries downtown and by the beach, and so we’re looking to just build on the community here,” Sweigart said.
Sweigart and Steadman said they know the building process will be a “long process, with lots of variables,” but that they’re comfortable with a goal of opening in the first quarter of 2018.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.