People are lined up three bodies deep at the bar inside Raleigh’s Tasty Beverage bottle shop on a recent Thursday night for one purpose: to drink Ponysaurus beer.
The tasting event – a chance to taste the entire lineup of one of the Triangle’s newest breweries – had started 45 minutes earlier. The craft beer nerds in the crowd had already bought almost every one of the 156 bottles that brewer Keil Jansen brought to sell for folks to take home. Plus, every 20 minutes or so, another one of the Ponysaurus kegs emptied and the beer’s name was wiped off the bar’s chalkboard menu.
While Ponysaurus may be among the latest additions to the Triangle’s craft beer scene, it’s not your typical brewery; it’s actually a nanobrewery.
There is no official definition of a nanobrewery, but the common industry understanding is a commercial brewery using a three-barrel system or smaller. Ponysaurus is one of a half-dozen nanobreweries operating right now in the Triangle, with at least one more on the horizon.
Control and independence
For most brewers, opening a nanobrewery is a financially feasible stepping-stone to a commercial brewery dream. For Jansen of Ponysaurus, it means he could continue to hone his craft while selling the beer to the public without owing a large amount of money to a bank or being beholden to investors. Plus, a nanobrewery produces at such small volumes that brewers can continue to be creative without risking too much money if an experimental brew doesn’t turn out as expected.
“It’s total creative control and independence,” said Jansen, who left a job last year as a Durham special education teacher to start brewing beer full-time.
Jansen first partnered with his longtime friend, Nick Hawthorne-Johnson, founder of The Cookery, a food business incubator and event space in Durham. When Jansen started looking for someone to develop Ponysaurus’ brand and marketing plan, he and Hawthorne-Johnson found another partner, David Baldwin, a former McKinney executive who had started his own firm, Baldwin&. “Nick, David and I run the show,” Jansen said. “We only answer to each other.”
Graduate or stay small?
Eventually, Ponysaurus will move beyond its one-and-a-half-barrel system and likely out of the nanobrewery realm.
Within a few months, two of the Triangle’s nanobreweries hope to graduate to the next level, leaving their smaller brewing systems behind.
White Rabbit Brewery in Angier hopes to be brewing on a four-barrel system in the next two months, and upgrade to a 10- or 15-barrel system by the end of the year. And Gizmo Brew Works, formerly Roth Brewing Co., in North Raleigh hopes to upgrade from its current two-barrel system to seven barrels by June.
But not every nanobrewery owner has bigger dreams. Tim Harper of Starpoint Brewery is content with his three-barrel system operating in a two-story garage outside his Carrboro home and has no plans to leave his day job in information technology.
“I don’t rely on the income,” Harper said. “I just relied on it to make a better product.”
Back at Tasty Beverage, the bottle shop’s aisles are packed with beer connoisseurs sipping the brewery’s Reserve Ale and the Videri Chocolate Stout.
Among them is Chris Vuocolo of Raleigh, who was drawn to the tasting event by the brewery’s name alone: “The name Ponysaurus was so freaking brilliant that I had to come and find out what the person who came up with that name would do with beer.”
(Before he had a name for his brewery, Jansen said, he told a friend that he wanted the image on the labels to be either ponies or dragons. His friend responded, “Why would you choose?” That’s what led to Ponysaurus.)
Standing in another aisle and enjoying a Ponysaurus Reserve Ale was Troy Harris, 38, of Cary. He was marveling at the Triangle’s craft beer scene, which seems to evolve so quickly that it’s difficult to stay on top of all the breweries — nanos or otherwise.
“They keep doing those maps,” Harris said, “and they are always out of date.”
Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl