Pintful: Steel String opens in Carrboro, Triangle Brewing looks to expand

jfrank@newsobserver.comApril 30, 2013 

— From behind a concrete bar shaped like the body of a guitar, the first Steel String craft beers are pouring in Carrboro.

A fiddlin’ tune plays in the background as Cody Maltais, one of the four Steel String partners, explains how music helped inspire the beer.

Maltais, a mandolin player, and brewer Will Isley, a guitarist, both 27, played in a Chapel Hill bluegrass band called the Black Swamp Bootleggers. And fellow partner Eric Knight plays Dobro. Tying their music into the brewery seemed natural.

“I called up Will one day and I was pretty excited,” Maltais recounts. “I said, ‘Dude, I got it. I got the name. We’ll call it Six String. You play a guitar. Guitars are cool.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. Every bluegrass instrument has steel strings, we’ll call it Steel String.’”

For years, Steel String was the invisible Carrboro brewery. The partners, including Andrew Scharfenberg, 26, brewed at home and hyped their beer at festivals and local bars, handing out stickers, koozies and coasters well before they landed a commercial location for the operation.

The new seven-barrel capacity brewery opens Wednesday, but it took only the cracked door of a soft opening last week to draw hundreds into the antiqued, exposed-brick storefront in the heart of downtown. On Saturday, the bar planned to close at 10 p.m., but it was too crowded to hit the lights.

The partners call themselves “czars,” a nod to the language in their vision about mobilizing the people and the craft beer revolution. “Having your own business means you can call yourself what you want, and we didn’t want anything too stuffy like CEO or brewmaster, so we chose our own,” said Maltais, the financial czar and a former Marine. “Now what started as a joke is on all of our official paperwork and has stuck for good.”

Steel String is looking to stay small, just selling beer from the bar and a few other places in Carrboro and neighboring Chapel Hill. It can’t compete with Carolina Brewery in terms of production, nor the foot traffic at Top of the Hill, two established breweries less than a mile down the road.

But Maltais said that’s not the goal. “We just want to be a Carrboro landmark,” he said. “Craft brewing is growing fast enough pretty much any market can sustain a brewery.”

Triangle Brewing looks to upgrade

The best way to try all that Triangle Brewing Co. in Durham offers is to take the brewery tour. It’s offered at 1 p.m. Saturdays and is often packed.

But that will begin to change in the next year. Triangle plans to expand its production fourfold later this year and move into a new brewery within sight of its current location just outside downtown Durham.

“We are going to be bringing in a brand-new brew house, new fermenters, and hopefully, a tap room,” said Rick Tufts, the head brewer. “Right now, we are having trouble keeping up because we can’t brew enough, which is a good problem to have.”

The new, 30-barrel system will allow Triangle to expand its reach to Asheville and Charlotte and offer its seasonals and reserve series in cans. The habanero pale ale and imperial amber will roll out first, probably in early 2014.

The new brewery is anticipated to begin operating in September.

What I’m drinking

The recent Hickory Hops Brew Festival showcased too many good beers to list. But I can’t stop thinking about the Wild Belgian Amber from Southern Appalachian Brewery, a small outfit in Hendersonville.

Brewer Andy Cubbin said he sticks to classic styles and spikes the Belgian dubbel with a mix of three sour “bugs” to lend a complex tartness to the malty base. It comes in at 7.3 percent alcohol.

The brewery – in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada plant being built – only offers draft beer, and it’s hard to find outside the area. So go visit. The brewery is at 822 Locust St., Hendersonville. Info: 828-684-1235 or


Durham Beer Tour

11:15 a.m. Saturday in Durham

Beltline Brew Tours offers transportation to all three Durham breweries, starting at Bull City Burger and Brewery before hitting Triangle Brewing and Fullsteam. Tickets are $45. Info:

Brew Durham 4

1-4 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Saturday at the Cordoba Center for the Arts in Durham

The homebrew festival will feature 25 amateur brewers and a new Bull City Burger and Brewery offering during two ticketed sessions. The event is a fundraiser for The Scrap Exchange, a nonprofit creative arts center in Durham. Tickets cost $35 in advance or $40 at the door. Info:

Grand Opening Party at Steel String in Carrboro

6-11 p.m. May 10-11 at the brewery

Steel String Craft Brewery officially opens Wednesday but it will celebrate this weekend with two days of craft beer, music and food. The parties require $25 tickets. The brewery’s regular hours start Wednesday: noon-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Info:

Contact John at 919-829-4698 or On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

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