Nanobreweries flourish across the Triangle

aweigl@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2014 

  • The Triangle’s nanobreweries

    Ponysaurus

    Owners: Keil Jansen, Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and David Baldwin

    Story: Jansen is a well-known local homebrewer as a member of TRUB (Triangle Unabashed Homebrewers) and the organizer of the Brew Durham fundraising events. Since October 2013, Jansen has brewed beer on a one-and-a-half-barrel system at The Cookery, a food business incubator and event space in Durham. Jansen’s fermentation tanks are housed on a 27-by-11-foot platform above The Cookery’s front doors, and Jansen has to use a scissor lift to reach the tanks.

    Beer lineup: Eight beers. Among the most popular at the recent Tasty Beverage event were the Reserve Ale, a Belgian dark strong ale; the Fig Saison Ale; and the Videri Chocolate Stout, made with cocoa nibs from the Raleigh chocolate factory.

    Where to buy: Poole’s Diner and Wine Authorities, both in Raleigh; Geer Street Garden, Mateo Tapas and Watts Grocery, all in Durham.

    Info: ponysaurusbrewing.com

    Starpoint Brewing

    Owner: Tim Harper

    Story: Harper, 53, says he started homebrewing eight years ago and won several beer competitions. He wanted to get better at brewing beer but didn’t want to quit his information technology job at the UNC-Chapel Hill. Instead, he built a two-story garage on his Carrboro property to brew beer on a three-barrel system, which enables him to do the work by himself or with a small crew. He sold his first beer in June 2012.

    Beer lineup: Five beers plus a seasonal. Beer geeks really like the Duh!, a double India Pale Ale made with wheat and rye.

    Where to buy: The beers are often on tap at Triangle bottle shops and restaurants, including Southern Rail Restaurant and Bar, Taylor’s Taproom and Acme Food and Beverage in Carrboro; Margaret’s Cantina in Chapel Hill; The City Tap in Pittsboro; and Local 22 Kitchen and Bar in Durham.

    Info: starpointbrewing.com

    Gizmo Brew Works

    Owners: Former Roth Brewing Co. regulars Bryan Williams, Matt Santelli, Elizabeth Morgan, Bryan Shaw and Jeff Sgroi bought the North Raleigh brewery in January 2013.

    Story: Six regulars of Roth Brewing Co. came together to purchase the brewery in early 2013. They changed the brewery’s name to Gizmo Brew Works in April 2013, a nod to the owners’ engineering backgrounds. Five of the original owners remain. They hired brewer Tyler Cox, who previously worked at Carolina Brewery and Foothills Brewing. Cox is brewing on a two-barrel system now but plans to upgrade to a seven-barrel system by June.

    Beer lineup: Three year-round beers, one seasonal brew and two to three other beers. The most popular beer for growlers is the Palisade Wasp IPA. The most popular at the brewery’s taproom is the Alternating Current Atbier. The most popular draft beer at bars, bottle shops and restaurants is the Black Stiletto Stout.

    Where to buy: The taproom is open 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, 4-10 p.m. Fridays, and noon-10 p.m. Saturdays. It is at 5907 Triangle Drive, in a North Raleigh industrial park. ( Descriptive directions are on the brewery’s website.) The website also offers a complete list of stores, bars and restaurants that sell the beer.

    Info: gizmobrewworks.com

    Sub Noir Brewing Co.

    Owners: Michael Stagner and Brennan Watson

    Story: Stagner, 32, and Watson, 35, avid homebrewers and college friends, may operate one of the smallest breweries in North Carolina. Since June, they have been brewing beer on a half-barrel system. The 600-square-foot brewery and taproom are tucked away off Raleigh’s East Whitaker Mill Road between Wake Forest Road and Atlantic Avenue.

    Beer lineup: Up to five beers plus one rotating draft beer from another local brewery. Their most popular beer is the Hi-yo! Saison, a hoppy Belgian-style farmhouse ale.

    Where to buy: The beers are only available at the brewery’s taproom at 2039 Progress Court, Raleigh. It’s open 6 p.m.-midnight Fridays and 2-8 p.m. Saturdays.

    Info: subnoir.net

    Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co.

    Owners: Chris Powers, David “Woody” Lockwood and David Meeker

    Story: The three men are partners in the Busy Bee restaurant and bar in downtown Raleigh. They had so much fun working with breweries to develop barrel-aged and specialty beers that they decided to do it on their own. They hired experienced homebrewer Les Stewart, a longtime friend of the trio. Trophy Brewing celebrated its one-year anniversary this week.

    Beer lineup: Six beers. The most popular are The Best in Show, an American Saison, and whatever barrel-aged beer they are serving, which right now is an aged Imperial Stout.

    Where to buy: The beers are available on tap at the brewery and restaurant at 827 W. Morgan St. or to take home in growlers. The beer is also on draft at Fullsteam in Durham, and Poole’s Diner and Bida Manda in Raleigh.

    Info: trophybrewing.com

    White Rabbit Brewing Co.

    Owners: Ken Ostraco and Anthony Dibona

    Story: The two men knew each other through their children’s swim teams and their wives’ jobs. A conversation in the backyard led them to create this brewery named after the White Rabbit character in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Their beers have fanciful names, such as “Drink Me Cream Ale,” “Alice’s Blonde Ale,” and “Dunkin Dormouse Octoberfest Ale.”

    Beer lineup: Twelve beers and four seasonals. Among their most popular beers this time of year is the Vanilla Bourbon Tea Party Porter.

    Where to buy: Eight beers are always on draft at the brewery’s taproom at 219 Fish St., Angier. The taproom is open 6-10 p.m. Thursdays, 6-11 p.m. Fridays and 3-11 p.m. Saturdays. It is also available at The Pickled Onion in North Raleigh, County Seat Sports Grille in Lillington and the Applebee’s in Fuquay-Varina.

    Info: whiterabbitbrewery.com

    Coming soon:

    Holly Springs Nano Brewing

    Owners: Mitch Woodward, Zach Woodward and Ethan Woodward

    Story: Mitch Woodward, 55, a longtime homebrewer, enjoys his work as a water quality expert for N.C. Cooperative Extension, and so decided to open a nanobrewery with his sons, Zach, 28, and Ethan, 24. They plan to open a nanobrewery at 100 N. Main St. in downtown Holly Springs in 2015.

    Beers: “It will be a wide variety because we want to have fun,” Mitch Woodward said. “We’d rather do an endless rotation of variety.”

    Where to buy: Check back in 2015.

    Info: hollyspringsnanobrewing.com

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

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