Remember that dream where over two dozen breweries and restaurants come together in a gorgeous, grassy field so Wilmingtonians can absorb and enjoy every morsel of their majesty? Well, slap on those stretchy pants, hungry heroes! Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance is about to make all our dreams comes true.
On Saturday, March 30, Cape Fear Craft & Cuisine will send off 2019’s Cape Fear Craft Beer Week in a premier beer-and-food-pairing fiesta. I shared a pint with Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance cofounder and secretary Joan Wilkerson Hoffman to get the low down on what’s become one of the most delicious events of the year.
encore (e): Is Cape Fear Craft Beer Week better than your birthday?
Joan Wilkerson Hoffman (JWH): That’s a funny question. I’ve never thought of it that way, but, kind of … yeah! We [at the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance] feel really accomplished at the end of it and just as hungover as a birthday.
There are all these people traveling in and out of town, and the North Carolina craft beer industry is so tight knit, it’s like a team. So, during beer week it’s like having all of your friends around. Even though you’re throwing the party, whether you’re working or playing, it feels the same. I always feel pleased at the end of it. We built this, and we love it and we spend a lot of time and energy making it happen.
e: How many years has Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance been putting on Cape Fear Craft & Cuisine? And share a bit about the organization for our readers who missed last week’s coverage…
JWH: This will be our third year. As an organization, we officially lifted off the ground in September of 2016, but our first full calendar year was 2017. We’re structured as a board that oversees members (which include breweries, bottle shops, media, etc.), and ambassadors who are beer enthusiasts.
We’re a 501(c)(6), so everything goes back into our organization. The money we make goes into throwing these events, but we also provide scholarships for local beer folks to do things like go to the North Carolina Brewer’s Craft Conference, which has tons of educational opportunities.
e: How do you one-up yourself each year for Craft & Cuisine? Or is it totally up to the chefs and brewers? And there’s a winner, right?
JWH: There are no winners. Well, actually there are only winners! We’ve discussed making it a judged competition, and I think next year we may figure out how to slice that.
We laid the foundation with year one, and at this point it’s really about fine-tuning. We outdid ourselves this year. Instead of it being a 25-course pairing menu, it’s actually 28. If it goes off well three years in a row, we know we’ve built something good, and we’ll keep it that way.
e: It looks like you guys pull breweries in from all over North Carolina? Have you ever thought about going outside the state?
JWH: We always wanted it to be every single brewery in Wilmington and in our jurisdiction—and it still is. We just wanted to represent this area and do something different, so that’s what we’re doing.
We think North Carolina has really incredible beer, and we have such faith in our local beer community. We’re hoping this event logs our beer scene because we believe in it, and we want other people to see that, too. We’ll stick with North Carolina. We want to focus on our buddies!
e: How do you guys pick the pairings for the restaurants and breweries? Is it totally random?
JWH: Year one, it was totally random. Then we decided the pairings would work best based on geographic locations, flavor profiles, and the fact we can help forge relationships. For example, if there’s a restaurant interested in building a relationship with a brewer, we try to help that along.
e: Who are the newcomers this year you guys are excited about?
JWH: So many! We’re totally thrilled about Flying Machine and it’s fun they’re paired with Pinpoint. I’m excited to have Flytrap and Savorez together because they’re neighbors, and I think both Sam and Mike are so creative.
Getting Second Glass on board was something I felt really strongly about. They have a great craft beer program and Chef Ryan (O’Janpa) is awesome. It was a natural fit!
Skytown, of course, is going to crush it, as well as Trophy from Raleigh paired with Fork n’ Cork. Latin-themed Casita Cerveceria from Charlotte is also new this year, and we’re really excited to have them. They get playful with adjuncts and ingredients, and they’re paired with Hieronymus—who just got a new chef—so we knew that combination would be a treat.
e: What are some of the craziest or most memorable creations you’ve seen in the past that are going to be hard to beat?
JWH: Unfortunately, The District can’t join this year, but last year they had a tiny taco with crispy pork belly that was so good. Front Street also did a buttery scallop last year that was crazy. Lydia from Pinpoint (now from Love, Lydia) brought her signature brownie, but instead of a dandelion-root ice cream, she did a dandelion frosting.
Sam from Savorez, of course, did a beautiful taco. It’s sort of unfair when people bring scallops because, well, they just win at life.
e: Let’s talk about Flying Machine—the big, badass new kid on the block known for unusual, experimental styles. Do most breweries stick with what they’re known for at an event like this? For example, do you think FM will do something off-the-wall or will they pull out a surprise and do a classic West Coast IPA?
JWH: We invite people who we think are going to take risks; and not everyone does because, sometimes, the beer has to focus on more reserved, restrained flavors so the food can shine in its own ways. We really trust the breweries, but of course we want people to bring it!
e: Southern Pines is paired with CheeseSmith. Is this the first time a food truck has been in the running?
JWH: We had Little Chef last year, but they also have a brick-and-mortar. The food trucks are doing such amazing things—we wanted to make sure that they were represented and were able to be a part of this.
e: What’s the best part of the day for each of you?
JWH: Goosebumps! The moment that the gates open. Last year, I got to open them up and welcome everybody in and it’s hard to describe that feeling. I also make sure to take plenty of quiet moments to step back from the crowd and absorb everything. I’m not crying … you’re crying!
e: For anyone who’s on the fence about buying tickets, what would you tell them?
JWH: I completely understand $85 can seem daunting, but here’s the thing: You can spend that same amount of money on a single establishment, or you can go to Airlie Gardens and spend that money to see everyone in one place. Plus, the million-dollar sunset. Doesn’t get much better than that.