Friday, August 12, 2022

Flying Machine hits Wilmington craft beer market with new cans, eyes westward expansion

From left to right, Flying Machine head brewer Carl Cross, quality assurance manager Dean Moore, and Cask Brewing Systems rep Tim Warren inspect the label of a Vimana Kölsch can fresh out of the brewery's new canning system. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
From left to right, Flying Machine head brewer Carl Cross, quality assurance manager Dean Moore, and Cask Brewing Systems rep Tim Warren inspect the label of a Vimana Kölsch can fresh out of the brewery’s new canning system this week. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Wilmington’s newest brewery cans its first two flagship beers, gearing up for distribution throughout Wilmington — and out to cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.

WILMINGTON — Six months after its grand opening weekend, Flying Machine Brewing Company is completing its first two can runs — about 3,000 each of their top-selling Electra IPA and Vimana Kölsch — and will soon distribute to bottle shops and restaurants throughout the Wilmington area.

Stacked high in its 10,000-square-foot brewhouse, another 50,000 cans wait to hit the new ACS V5 — a micro-canning system that can package 40 cans a minute at full speed.

Head brewer Carl Cross was on lunch break Thursday after a morning spent tweaking the new system with quality assurance manager Dean Moore.

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Now that we got it in the building, we couldn’t be more excited,” Cross said. “We’ll get through these first two can runs and then we have another three full tanks that are ready to be canned, whenever we can push them through production.” 

Entering the wholesale game

Those tanks are filled with a Berliner Weiss, a New England Pale Ale, and an India Pale Lager (IPL) — three other flagships that complete the initial core lineup of Flying Machine’s distribution strategy.

Co-founder and owner David Sweigart said the goal from the beginning was to fill out a currently oversized brewhouse and expand westward, with eyes on cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Greensboro — places where they already have relationships through keg sales.

He said another three tanks will be installed in coming weeks to further expand the production capacity of the 20-barrel brewhouse, one of the city’s largest.

Mike Duffy, owner of Hey Beer Bottle Shop in midtown Wilmington, said he was excited to sell new cans from the neighboring brewery.

“They’re launching with a good, clean IPA and Kölsch, which is great for the warmer weather,” Duffy said.

Duffy was impressed with the brewery’s beer lineup and production capacity this early in the game.

A can of Vimana Kölsch comes down the new canning line. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A can of Vimana Kölsch comes down the new canning line. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

“Every time you turn around something new’s coming out,” Duffy said. “They’re very ambitious, in the mold of more popular brands like Bhavana or Burial with a variety of style … Their stuff is really sophisticated for being this early. I’m pumped to see what two years from now looks like for them.”

Sweigart maintains the brewery’s primary goal is to be a Wilmington-centered brewery with a unique taproom experience. But with a brewhouse that he estimates can reach up to 18,000 barrels of annual production in the future — and with a limited amount of beer he can push through the taproom — he also knows the wholesale portion of the business will, one day, “quickly leap past the taproom side” in terms of volume.

At the same time, he said the brewery’s ambition is carefully measured, shaped by the long-term forces of demand and supply.

“We’re not about hitting a number for the sake of a number,” Sweigart said. “We try to leg into stuff — being ambitious in our growth strategy but very thoughtful so we don’t hurt our taproom by potentially mismanaging the demand, and then our ability to supply.”

Brand loyalty in a ‘promiscuous’ market

Sweigart and co-owner Grant Steadman have ownership stakes in a Colorado brewery named Station 26. The owner there introduced them to brand artist Matt Taylor, who created the label designs for Electra and Vimana.

Sweigart said that both designs stick to Flying Machine’s core brand: innovation, risk-taking, and “pushing the envelope to create something great.”

The label for the Electra IPA showcases an abstract portrait of legendary pilot Amelia Earhart, reflecting a style he called “sophisticated steampunk” — artwork inspired by 19th-century industrial machinery.

“If you’re gazing across an aisle of cans, what’s going to pop? What’s going to connect your graphic design to the taproom to the vibe to the style of beers to the mantra of the brewery? All that stuff; it’s wildly important,” Sweigart said. 

New cans of the Electra IPA. Co-owner David Sweigart called the label designs "sophisticated steampunk," a style inspired by 19th-century industrial machinery. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Matthew Ray)
New cans of the Electra IPA. Co-owner David Sweigart called the label designs “sophisticated steampunk,” a style inspired by 19th-century industrial machinery. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Matthew Ray)

Sweigart said his goal is to create a brand that can add something unique to an already crowded market.

“You’ve had a growth in breweries around here,” Sweigart said. “There’s good and bad with that from a business perspective. But it should be everyone’s goal to create something unique. Craft beer drinkers are very promiscuous; if they have a bunch of different, unique venues to go to, that’s good for everybody.”

Meanwhile, Duffy said his customers at Hey Beer are becoming more and more familiar with the Flying Machine brand — important in an era where beer drinkers are no longer loyal, as they were decades ago, to a handful of domestic brands like Budweiser or Coors. The key, according to Duffy, has been the brewery’s willingness to develop a broad lineup of beer styles, not just becoming known as the “good IPA brewery” or the “good stout brewery.”

“It’s just a really good brewery; you can’t nail them down,” Duffy said. “If you get to the point where you do everything well, people become loyal to a brand and are just kind of down with whatever you do.”

In Pictures

The brewery's new ACS V5 micro-canning system. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The brewery’s new ACS V5 micro-canning system. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Head brewer Carl Cross, right, and quality assurance manager Dean Moore adjust settings on the new canning system. (Port City Daily photo?Mark Darrough)
Head brewer Carl Cross, right, and quality assurance manager Dean Moore adjust settings on the new canning system. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Cans of the Vimana Kolsch after a test run of the brewery's new canning line. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Cans of the Vimana Kolsch after a test run of the brewery’s new canning line. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Inside the brewhouse, finished cans of the Electra IPA. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Matthew Ray)
Inside the brewhouse, finished cans of the Electra IPA. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Matthew Ray)
Before the canning line, the brewery has sold 32-oz. crowlers to fill up inside the taproom. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Before the canning line was set up this week, the brewery has sold 32-oz. crowlers for customers to fill up inside the taproom. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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