A few months after Brueprint Brewing opened in Apex in April, Draft Line Brewing opened its doors in Fuquay-Varina.
Draft Line, the area’s newest brewery, is just a block away from the restaurant run by Aviator Brewery on East Broad Street. In 2008, Aviator was the first of many microbreweries to start up in western Wake County.
Since then, the area has seen an explosion of the independent breweries, with Carolina Brewing and Bombshell Brewing in Holly Springs and Fortnight Brewing in Cary.
The region could see another brewery join the mix. If plans for an unnamed brewery in Apex come together, nearly half the county’s microbreweries will be in towns in the western part of the county. The rest, with the exception of White Street Brewing Company in Wake Forest, are in Raleigh.
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The brewery in Apex has been a possibility for two years since the town first approved zoning for an 18,000 square-foot building at at 950 Windy Road.
But the plans fizzled out because town rules at the time didn’t allow the development to add the separate zoning category required for a brewery. But next week, property owner KC2 Enterprises will go back before the Apex Planning Board, hoping to get approval.
“We have staff support at this point,” said Jeff Roach of Peak Engineering & Design, who represents the developer at town hearings. “When this came along a few years ago, microbrewery was not one of the permitted uses. But now it is.”
Roach said the area’s fast-paced growth is a large factor in why so many microbreweries want to be here.
“This is a nice little niche market, not only here (in Apex), but also in Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina,” he said.
Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs support two each, for example, while towns with similar-sized populations like Morrisville, Garner and Knightdale have none.
Aviator goes west
Aviator began the westward trend, starting in an old airplane hangar in Fuquay-Varina six years ago.
It now has three locations, including a popular downtown restaurant in Fuquay-Varina, and has inspired brewers, including Draft Line.
“They broke the mold, man,” Draft Line co-founder Scott Palmieri said. “(Aviator’s) Mark Doble, he took the big risk.”
Doble, who owns Aviator, credits the recent rise of microbreweries to the larger movement of people wanting to buy local and to know what’s in their food.
There’s also some hometown pride involved.
“People like to see their neighbors do well,” Doble said.
He’s no different, he said, and is rooting for Draft Line to succeed. A third Fuquay-Varina microbrewery, Hosanna Brewing Company, closed down earlier this year after just a few months in business.
Palmieri said by moving Draft Line a few hundred feet from Aviator’s main attraction, it created a larger magnet to draw area beer lovers.
Even with the mushrooming demand and supply of craft beers, Margo Knight Metzger said she doesn’t think the trend “represents a bubble.” Metzger is executive director of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild. She said craft beer sales make up 8 percent of the total national volume now, but will likely account for 20 percent of all sales by 2020 – a growth of more than 100 percent in the next half decade.
In North Carolina alone, the number of microbreweries has grown from 27 to 115 since 2006, when the General Assembly made it legal to brew beers with higher alcohol contents, effectively raising the ceiling for innovation.
“There are so many brewers opening that it’s hard for me to keep up with,” Metzger said.
Around the time the law passed in 2006, Palmieri started brewing beer in his kitchen.
Friends kept telling him it was so good that Palmieri partnered with Scott Wood to take the operation from the kitchen to a warehouse. Palmieri still works full-time in Sanford at the Coty cosmetics plant.
Doble and Palmieri both said there’s no bad blood between them on Broad Street. The only competition is who can brew a tastier drink.
“It’s a big pie,” Doble said of the market for craft brew fans. “But you know what? Even if it gets smaller, as long as we’re still making money, that’s fine.”
In Apex, Brueprint Brewing doesn’t have competition – at least not yet. That might change if and when the town’s planning board allows the new microbrewery zoning.
The property on Windy Road is across the street from the large Villages of Apex development. Roach, the engineer representing the developer, said that could give it a large built-in customer base.
Brueprint, though, hasn’t been taking anything for granted. The company is active on social media, letting fans know about new beers or when food trucks and bands will be at the bar.
Metzger, from the Craft Brewers Guild, said microbreweries are to Americans what neighborhood pubs are to Europeans, so it makes sense for them to be an active part of a community’s social life.
By nature, people who start microbrewing are generally friendly people, she said, who are brewing beer because they want to share it.
It may also explain why business rivals such as Palmieri and Doble get along.
“Craft brewers are very community-oriented people in general,” Metzger said.