WILMINGTON — The sprawling Bill’s campus off Market Street is getting even bigger with the addition of a new brewing facility and future plans to build a taproom beside it.
A large warehouse next to the sand volleyball courts of Capt’n Bill’s has been outfitted with a 15-barrel brewing facility, expected to triple production capabilities as Bill’s Brewing Company expands its reach into Raleigh while looking to enter the Charlotte craft beer market.
The new brewing facility takes up roughly one-third of the building; most of the space is used by a company that makes police uniforms. But once the timing’s right to continue building, owner John Musser envisions a rooftop bar overlooking the sand volleyball courts and a mezzanine over the brewhouse.
The original 7-barrel brewhouse inside Bill’s Front Porch will keep brewing, allowing both simultaneous operations to hit a total of 3,000 to 3,500 barrels per year once in full production, according to head brewer Jim Deaton. Last year the brewery produced around 1,000 barrels; he said the new brewhouse will be able to make the same amount of beer in one day as they currently make in a week.
Five new fermentor tanks and six new storage tanks will also give Bill’s the additional production space it needs to diversify its products — particularly the German lager style, which requires longer fermentation periods — without tying up production of its flagship beers like the Wave Break IPA.
“We like to play around with our lagers too, because if you get stagnant in the market, no one wants to seek you out anymore,” Deaton said. “IPAs are king right now and they’ll always be king. But as far as having good enough product breadth — where you can offer a little bit of everything to everybody — that’s kind of where our niche is right now.”
Deaton, trained as a classical German brewer at Blowing Rock Brewing Company in Boone before joining Bill’s, believes the lager style will be one of the industry’s bigger trends in the years ahead, especially in coastal markets like Wilmington that gravitate towards low-alcohol options. Lagered beers at Bill’s, like the Pilsner, black lager, brown sugar Baltic porter, and Munich dunkel, will no longer tie up tank space as they have until now.
The brewery will also look to broaden its distribution channels in the Raleigh market — it currently has around 50 accounts with restaurants and bottle shops in the Triangle, compared to 100 in Wilmington — while pushing further west into Charlotte and perhaps Greensboro and Winston Salem. Once the new brewhouse reaches closer to its 7,900-gallon capacity, Deaton said they may even go statewide with limited distribution.
For Deaton, the brewery’s growth is reflective of the growth of the entire Wilmington craft beer scene. And for Bill’s, its next big venture is moving west.
“People who got their foot in the market early have done well for themselves; they’ve started to expand and are able to reach out to different markets,” Deaton said. “And Wilmington as a city has become an Asheville East, more or less. We’ve got really good breweries putting out fantastic beers, and people are starting to seek out our beer at other places. You can only supply so much beer to your local market. Wilmington will drink beer all day long, but you can’t drink as much as what we make.”
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