After roughly a year and a half since ground was broken, it’s open. It’s finally her! The nearly 17,000-square-foot Flying Machine Brewing Company (the one we’ve all kept an eye out for on Randall Parkway) has opened its doors and the taps are flowing.
I attended the grand opening on Friday, November 9, and Wilmington’s voracious appetite for fresh, local beer did, too. A grand opening weekend can be intimidating for a new brewery, causing ownership and management to ponder if they have the right systems in place to handle volume and what will happen after the initial hype dies. Well, I got to sit down with owner David Sweigart and head brewer Carl Cross on a Monday morning, and while it was certainly quieter than the raucous grand opening, there still was action. By the time a friend and I left around 3 p.m., the place was abuzz with customers.
A massive bar, a healthy tap selection, and a laid-back vibe greets all who walk into the bar. The space boasts a generous amount of natural light, making the indoor bocce ball court feel almost outdoors. A steampunk motif is littered throughout the taproom, with wrought -iron light fixtures hanging above the bar and an other-worldly espresso machine. Yes, an espresso machine. The coffee program at Flying Machine is driven by North Carolina-based Counter Culture.
Customers can post up at the bar starting at 9 a.m. and pick their poison—the coffee menu is humble and the beer selection is adventurous. Folks who have work to do will find the WiFi is free and there are plugs and USB ports stationed on the façade of the bar.
The brewery opened with 19 of their own beers on draught. “It complements the Wilmington craft beer scene, it doesn’t cannibalize it,” Sweigart says. He’s right.
“Wilmington was a great fit [for us], but it was also a natural, organic fit,” he continues. “It wasn’t like we forced our vision to match that.”
The draught list explores a wide range of styles, from the currently trending New England IPA to the seldom-seen traditional German Röggenbier. I’ve had the privilege of sampling just about everything on the list, and without a doubt it’s all delicious. My preferences tend to fall in the big, bold IPA category, or the simple old-world styles, so I was happy to see a section of the menu titled “Old World.”
The list is curated by the production team: head brewer Carl Cross, assistant brewer Matt Wiley and quality assurance manager Dean Moore. They were assembled by owners Sweigart and Grant Steadman, and met Cross while he was working at a South Carolina brewery, Edmund’s Oast, after a stint brewing in Vietnam. Cross initially was skeptical, as he’d been approached before by other friends and colleagues looking to open a brewery. But with a 40-page business plan and proof of success in ownership at a Colorado brewery, Steadman and Sweigart won the young brewer over.
“I remember specifically talking to them and being like, ‘So there are a lot of breweries that make good beer, but why you?’” Cross reminisces. “You gotta find that vision and you gotta find that story because people aren’t just buying your beer.”
After spending some time with the brewer and his wares, it’s easy to tell customers aren’t just buying the beer. The combined experience of the brewing team is vast—spanning over several countries and some heavy-hitters in the beer scene, like Stone Brewing and Magic Hat.
The brand itself is North Carolina-inspired. It stems from the success and innovation of the Wright brothers and their first successful flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, but that’s not where it ends.
“Ninety-eight percent of the meaning behind the Flying Machine is innovation—you know, taking risk, challenging ourselves, pushing the envelope to try and achieve something awesome for the customers,” Sweigart says of the brand. He describes the overall concept, both in company culture and the physical design of the taproom and brand as a “mosaic”—driven as much by aesthetic as by its production team.
Such collaboration is palpable. It’s a bustling environment but comfortable. Because of the amount of space in the taproom, I didn’t feel in the way, but I did feel like I got to be in on the action.
During my conversation with the guys, Moore wheeled in a cart full of Erlenmeyer flasks and I watched Grant DaSantos, director of retail, checking in with the bartenders. It’s a hands-on environment. Martha Parke Jones, taproom manager, and the creator of the popular local Instagram @wilmington_eats, can be found assisting bartenders with keg changes and chatting with customers. It feels like a group effort—and that’s because it is.
While Flying Machine doesn’t have a kitchen, customers won’t go hungry. They list their food-truck schedule on Facebook. Day-drinkers will be happy to hear in the near future Detour Deli, a beloved downtown sandwich spot, is setting up a truck to park at the brewery six days a week. Music-lovers can look forward to the weekly Sunday Jazz Fusion and the upcoming Secret Record Nights that premiere on Thursday, November 29 and will continue on the last Thursday of every month.