ALLIES FOR ALES: Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance helps grow and expand ILM’s bustling beer community

Dec 13 • Drink Features, FEATURE MAIN, GRUB & GUZZLENo Comments on ALLIES FOR ALES: Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance helps grow and expand ILM’s bustling beer community

In the last two years, the spectrum of craft beer in the Cape Fear region has erupted with growth. Wilmington now hosts 10 bottle shops and will be home to a dozen—maybe more—breweries in 2017. With the surge of craft-beer tourism in town and across NC, Wilmington even has a brewery tour company: Port City Brew Bus.

Photo credit Brian Lantz

Photo credit Brian Lantz

Jeremy Tomlinson, owner of Port City Brew Bus, eyed Wilmington’s burgeoning beer community and knew it would need some major resources to support such exponential growth and tourism opportunities. Organizations such as the Asheville Brewers Alliance and North Carolina Brewers Guild provide promotion for their area’s beers, as well as education for members. Tomlinson and other owners of local beer businesses began meeting seriously this year about forming their own nonprofit.

“It is a very exciting time to be part of the craft-beer community in the Cape Fear region,” Tomlinson assesses. Amongst recent brewery openings, he adds, “So far this year some of our breweries have grown. Good Hops Brewing went through a small expansion and were recently able to petition for change in the ordinance regarding breweries in Carolina Beach. Wilmington Brewing Company added a 25-barrel brew house and began distribution. Broomtail opened their Sour Barn and Flytrap recently upgraded to a three-barrel system.”

The expansion of beer events in town also are a testament to such advancement. Lighthouse Beer & Wine held a Wilmington Brewery showcase in 2016 and Poplar Grove held a Copperhead 20k Beer Run. Tomlinson also lists, “The guys at Bombers Bev. Co. added the Beer Vacation Beer Festival, and Waterline Brewing had a very successful Oktoberfest.”

According to the NC Brewers Guild, in 2015 North Carolina saw 10,000 jobs created and $1.2 billion in revenue due to craft beer. Essentially, we are one of the fastest growing communities in the South.

“A couple of years ago, craft beer-affiliated businesses sat down in a room and talked about how we would like to see Wilmington progress as a craft beer city and destination,” Tomlinson notes. “I own a business reliant on a thriving craft-beer community and wanted to be part of the process in laying groundwork for the future.”

Thus, the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance (CFCBA) officially formed at the end of August 2016, and its members have been working since to plan large events in the next year. Featuring roughly 25 members, from Ogden’s Fermental Beer and Wine to downtown’s Beer Barrio, a board of 10 individuals with Tomlinson as president oversee the alliance. Vice president Caleb Churchwell and co-owner of Bombers Bev. Co. calls it a necessary addition to emerging craft beer community.

“The CFCBA was created to help not only raise awareness of craft beer locally but to be a voice for marketing, education, tourism, and legislation in the Cape Fear region,” h e assures

The organization revolves around four ideals to help its fulfill mission. Among them are promoting our region’s leadership in craft beer, activating voices within local government on legislative issues relevant to the industry, becoming a resource to anyone opening a craft-beer business in the area, and providing educational opportunities to the community at large. Secretary Joan Wilkerson, author of local blog The Enbrewsiast, has held management and bartending stints at Flytrap Brewing, Bombers Bev. Co., and Cape Fear Wine and Beer, as well as a former position as cellar operator of Front Street Brewery.

“I’m lucky,” she says. “I got to bear witness to this scene’s growth from the firm roots of Front Street Brewery, Lighthouse, and Cape Fear Wine and Beer. [Now, it’s] a beautiful, complex ecosystem that supports breweries, bottle shops, restaurants, bars, and craft-centric businesses. It’s always been important to me as a community member to cultivate a sense of unity amongst all of us while we’re still in the burgeoning stage. Now that we’ve gained some momentum, I feel justified in the urgency for unity. We’re getting people in the same room for meetings and socials—and it feels really good. There are a lot people in this community who have a lot of good ideas, and it’s imperative that they can share them with each other.”

Just over three months into its formation, CFCBA announced the inaugural Cape Fear Craft Beer Week to be held March 24 through April 2 in 2017. The celebration will kick off with an Ultimate Brewing Championship on March 24. Cape Fear brewers will be challenged to create custom beers using unusual ingredients specific to North Carolina. Location and ticket information soon will be available at www.capefearcraftbeerweek.com.

Throughout the week this spring, local and nationwide craft breweries will be hosting events across various venues, allowing consumers to better connect to the beer in their glasses. The grand finale will be the region’s largest food and beer pairing event, Cape Fear Craft and Cuisine, held on Saturday, April 1, at Airlie Gardens. North Carolina breweries will be paired with area restaurants to offer creative and decadent pairings amongst the lovely backdrop of azaleas, oaks, and the Intracoastal Waterway.

“Most people do not think about how well craft beer pairs with food,” Churchwell describes. “The beer and food can take on new depths when enjoyed together.”

They will pair the best brewers with chefs to enhance the experience, and allow the public to connect with them first hand. “We are keeping it very intimate to allow an elevated level of interaction,” Churchwell continues. “Foodies, beer geeks, and the everyday consumer will gain a new insight and knowledge from Craft and Cuisine.”

As for the alliance, Tomlinson estimates its necessity will increase with time. Growth and expansion does not seem to be slowing down, which adds yet another element of economical impact to our tourist home.

“I think we will see more local craft beer-centric events,” he says. “Our bottle shops, restaurants, and bars will continue to carry more local beer. I think [the alliance] will be able to give a voice to a local industry that is creating jobs, increasing the tax base and just making Wilmington a better place to live. The CFCBA also offers a unique opportunity to allow those involved in the craft beer industry to communicate and collaborate in a competitive environment.”

For more information on joining the CFCBA or to sponsor Cape Fear Craft Beer Week, visit www.capefearcraft.org or e-mail info@capefearcraft.org. 

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