The new year in North Carolina beer means more than bottle releases and new breweries.
The industry and scene is poised to establish itself as a national player and become one of the top craft beer producing states once Sierra Nevada starts production outside Asheville later this year.
As part of a series, I asked an informal panel of more than two dozen North Carolina brewers, industry pros and über-enthusiasts to look at whats ahead in 2014 for the states craft beer world. Below is an edited transcript of their answers.
Sean Lilly Wilson, chief executive officer, Fullsteam Brewery in Durham: With the launch of a number of new, experimentally minded breweries, the maturity of existing breweries and the influx of established, diverse regional breweries, North Carolina is in the upper echelon of craft beer states.
North Carolina is not only the state of Southern beer, but were inevitably in the conversation as one of the top 10 beer states in the nation. Im hopeful that 2014 is the year we anchor our position for decades to come.
Erik Lars Myers, CEO and head brewer, Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough: There are two main things I see coming: a lot more local ingredients, and a lot of new breweries. And cider. Its the next new thing. We have a bunch of up-and-coming cideries that Im really excited about.
John Federal, production manager and brewer, Raleigh Brewing: There are a lot of new, small breweries that are opening up in the state, which is great. But a lot of them are being opened by homebrewers or groups of craft beer lovers that have a seemingly large learning curve to overcome.
I hope the newer ones really strive to produce quality products that are interesting to the public to help drive the entire state to become more nationally recognized.
Anne Fitten Glenn, author, Asheville Beer: Sierra Nevada is doing test batches now and will be distributing in 2014. Having that brewery open here will take the North Carolina craft beer scene to a whole other level.
Daniel Hartis, beer writer, Charlottebeer.com: Nationally and locally, I see more breweries turning to homegrown ingredients whenever possible. In North Carolina, that could mean hops from places such as Echoview Farm, malt from Riverbend Malt House, or locally harvested yeast, as Haw River Ales did recently.
J.D. Schlick, co-owner, Beer Study in Chapel Hill: It will be interesting to see whether breweries that are going in the right direction now can keep it going in this new calendar year. Does oversaturation of the market start happening as well?
Brent Manning, co-owner, Riverbend Malt House in Asheville : I see it serving a number of new, smaller markets. Breweries are opening in Asheboro, Cary, Saxapahaw, Wilson, Tarboro the list goes on. Brewers opening in these markets are bringing craft beer to an expanded audience, and I think it is great news for beer lovers across the state.
Bobby Bush, Hops & Grapes in Hickory: I think the opportunity for medium to large size craft breweries is dwindling in North Carolina and everywhere.
The bigger the business, the harder it becomes to find shelf space in retail outlets and tap handles in bars/restaurants. Staying relatively small and local will prove to be the only business plan that works for new companies thats where state regulations, which allow brewery bars, are very helpful.
Les Stewart, head brewer, Trophy Brewing in Raleigh: I believe that we can continue to work with local producers of malt and hops and make use of ingredients indigenous to this region. We should be creative in cultivating twists on styles that can reflect this part of the world.
We even have the means to propagate wild yeast native to our state. Maybe Im being naïve, but if we do this collectively in the upcoming years we could perhaps sow the seeds for a cultural heritage of beer that will be uniquely ours.
Adam Harold, director of beer programs, All About Beer magazine: I wouldnt be surprised to see some breweries struggle. As most of the smaller start-up breweries are draft only, the fight for tap handles will grow stronger. Without the ability to package and compete for shelf space, growth for these guys will be challenging.
I also would suspect more bottle shops will open. These are great for the consumer not only as a place to pick up a variety of local and regional beers but also to meet other people with similar interests in craft beer.
What Im tasting
As an early holiday gift, my brother gave me Homefront IPA from Center of the Universe Brewing in Richmond. The West Coast-style India pale ale is brewed with orange peel aged on Louisville Slugger bats a unique combination
Though I was initially skeptical, the beer proved intriguing and the sweet orange streak through the middle was tasty. The wood-aging imparted little flavor unfortunately. Info: cotubrewing.com.