Monday, June 24, 2024

Pender County’s first brewery Salty Turtle expanding, eyes distribution

When co-owners Dan Callender and Dean Kelley realized demand had exceeded beer-making capacity, they doubled production and are now planning to distribute kegs statewide.

SURF CITY — Marine-owned, Marine-operated Salty Turtle Brewing Company has nearly doubled its beer-making capacity while preparing for keg distribution to Raleigh and Charlotte.

Co-owner, general manager, and active-duty Marine Dan Callender said the 10-month old brewery has leased 1,200 square feet in an adjacent building to make room in its brewhouse for two additional fermenter tanks and one bright tank, which is used to hold and carbonate beer in preparation for future keg distribution. Grains, hops, kegs, and other ingredients and supplies are now stored in the secondary building.

The new seven-barrel fermenters arrived on Oct. 8, expanding the brewery’s fermenting capacity from 18 barrels to 32 barrels at any given time.

“I anticipated the brewery doing well the first year but not to this effect,” Callender said. “This summer wiped us out of beer. When July 4th hit we were slowly diminishing our supply: we weren’t keeping up fast enough to replenish our stock. Even if we brewed 24/7 we didn’t have enough fermenters or tank space to brew.”

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Callender and co-owner Dean Kelley, a former Marine who runs the brewhouse, then decided to open ten guest taps with beers from four of Wilmington’s breweries: Waterman’s, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington Brewing Company, and Bill’s Brewing Company.

Now, as they approach their one-year anniversary in December, Callender said they have surpassed their goal of 400 barrels — one barrel is equivalent to roughly 200 gallons of beer, he said — and are well on their way to producing 500 barrels by the year’s end.

A niche market in the state’s fourth-fastest growing county

Callender and Kelley became friends while brewing from their garages in Holly Ridge.

“My wife was going on a run through the neighborhood and saw a garage sale, where if you bought something you got to try some free homebrew,” Kelley said. “So I was like, whatever, we’ll walk over there and look at what they got; met Dan, and that’s kind of how it all started.”

“Surf City has never had a brewery here. Pender County has never had a brewery here. We just told ourselves, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s beat everyone to the punch,'” Callender said.

A San Diego native, Callender focused on creating the laid back, brewery-on-every-corner atmosphere of his hometown, one that meshed well with Surf City’s beach culture. Meanwhile, Kelley’s brewing philosophy was from the beginning straightforward: keep it simple and stick to true beer styles across the spectrum, from IPAs all the way to the brown ales in the winter.

Three new fermentation tanks were added to the brewhouse at the end of the summer to keep up with growing demand. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough) 
Two new seven-barrel fermenter tanks, pictured far left, were added to the brewhouse last week to keep up with growing demand. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Callender now has his eyes on the population growth that is reaching capacity in places like Wilmington and Leland and pushing north to Hampstead and Surf City. Large-scale developments like Waterside across the street from the brewery are popping up throughout the area, Callender said. Meanwhile Camp Lejeune and Stone Bay — a military base with growing numbers of special ops Marines — are expanding their footprint in towns like Surf City and Holly Ridge.

Pender is the fourth fastest-growing county in North Carolina, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates reported this past March. 

As Pender County’s coastal population of permanent residents continues to grow, Callender said that Surf City’s influx of summer tourists adds another incentive to expand its roots in Pender County.

“We’re going to outgrow this facility within the next year, for sure … We’ll be in the same predicament next summer, where we can’t keep up, if we don’t expand,” Callender said.

Looking towards distribution and future growth

Increased production capacity in the brewhouse has opened the door for Salty Turtle to begin supplying kegs to bars and restaurants in Raleigh and Charlotte, Callender said. Although higher profit margins come from in-house beer sales, Callender sees this distribution channel as a crucial way to expand the brewery’s market.

“A lot of those people have beach houses in Topsail Island, or vacation out here during summer and spring,” Callender said. “It’s another way of advertising.”

With the sort of production numbers Salty Turtle has experienced in its first year of business, Callender and Kelley — plus a third partner, investor Zach White — are looking at several banks for options to increase their capital and provide new opportunities for expansion.

Although Callender predicts competition in the future, he welcomes it.

“We get a lot of day-trippers from Wilmington,” Callender said, adding that he believes the Wilmington craft beer market has hit capacity. “I’m sure there’s going to be another brewery here in this area too, and we invite that, because it becomes a destination — versus people just going to one brewery. There are a lot of bottle shops [in the area], but not another brewery.”

Mark Darrough can be reached at

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