It can’t be denied: Wilmington really has brewed a noteworthy craft-beer scene. To date there are more than 16 breweries along our fair port city’s coast. Three years ago Jeremy Tomlinson, Joan Wilkerson and Caleb Churchwell founded the nonprofit Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance, made up of breweries, bottle shops and craft-beer businesses in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. The alliance works toward promoting member services and products, advocating for the local industry in government, as well as educating consumers about its growth and offerings. It also hosts educational seminars and series, like Grain to Glass, and provides scholarships for folks to attend the NC Craft Brewers Conference.
Adding to the roundup, in 2016 the alliance launched its first-ever Cape Fear Craft Beer Week. Numerous events get underway throughout 10 days, from beer dinners to tap takeovers, to candy and beer tastings, to fundraisers and more. 2019’s Cape Fear Craft Beer Week takes place March 22-31, and will feature 25 breweries, 25 restaurants, multiple bottle shops and bars, plus food trucks to titillate all palates.
“The curation process is the easiest part,” cofounder Wilkerson says of Beer Week. “Our members of the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance are constantly hosting awesome events, so we just have to encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing. The alliance hosts four events, two of which are consumer-facing, and the other two are a service project and a mixer for our local legislators.”
On Monday, March 25, alliance members will serve the community by doing a beach sweep with Surfrider Foundation. “It’s good for us as an industry to give back to the community that does so much for us,” Wilkerson tells. That night they’ll mingle with local legislators and public officials, to showcase how the craft-beer industry impacts our economy first-hand.
The alliance hosts two events that open and close Cape Fear Craft Beer Week. The first is the Ultimate Brewing Championship on March 22 at Hannah Block USO/Community Center. UBC pits local brewers against one another as they create unique flavors of brew, with each drawing one NC ingredient to use in the final product. Last year’s winner, Wrightsville Beach Brewery, churned out a raspberry hibiscus Berliner Weisse, as voted on by attendees. Ingredients run the gamut to create unique flavor profiles, whether including Texas Pete, blueberries, sea salt, and the like. Yet, it’s not only about the winning flavor; it’s also about the winning flair—Ric Flair to be exact. Sticking with a WWE theme, UBC best sip gets an official winning belt and bragging rights for the year, while best dressed team is given the Ric Flair Award. “It’s really fun,” Wilkerson assures. “Last year Waterline won best dressed.”
More than 15 events continue throughout the week, with it culminating in the alliance’s Cape Fear Craft and Cuisine event, which pairs 25 restaurant with 25 breweries to serve delectable bites and sips at Airlie Gardens on March 30, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. (full details to come in next week’s encore). Organizers, members and participants get a good workout planning and participating in so many events. It’s part of the allure of Cape Fear Craft Beer Week.
“When we find ourselves lamenting the long week, we have to remind ourselves we designed it, and the reason we did it this way is because we truly believe that there is so much to celebrate,” Wilkerson says.
Quite a few happenings have her most excited, from the Gose Off at Waterline on March 26 (wherein Waterline staff goes head to head to make the tastiest Gose, and the public votes on the best), to Wrightsville Beach Brewery’s final oyster roast of the season (March 23). However, it’s the Flytrap tap takeover at Fermental on March 27 she is looking forward to.
“I worked at Flytrap for almost three years,” Wilkerson tells. “I got to see Mike and Emily [Barlas] pour themselves into this tiny neighborhood brewery [on 4th Street]. They breathed life into a section of town that really needed it—and they identified it needed it. They’ve been so thoughtful and methodical about every step they’ve taken since day one, so it’s really exciting to see them putting themselves and their brand out there a little further, literally. Ogden’s pretty out there, [too, where Fermental is located, so it’s a good pairing.]”
On Saturday, March 23, as folks are going from pub to pub, 21-and-over drinkers can hop aboard the Port City Brew Bus for free, safe travel (tips for drivers welcomed). The bus will shuttle folks to the breweries in town from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
“It’s really awe-inspiring to see the beer community rally for the week,” Wilkerson tells. “I’m getting goose bumps thinking about it.”