The end of summer is always bittersweet, with school beginning for some and beach days fading into the distance. It can be a hard thing to celebrate, but the perfect summer drink is worth one last hurrah! Wrightsville Beach Brewery (WBB) will satisfy beer enthusiasts and anyone over 21 on Saturday, August 24 with their second annual Lagerfest. Beginning at noon, Lagerfest will serve local and regional craft brews and food, provide live music, and give back to the community at large. It’s all to celebrate the summer’s perfect beverage: lagers.
Unlike ales—darker in color and often flavorful with a fruity, full-bodied taste—lagers use a bottom-fermenting technique to achieve a crisp and light tone. The main difference between bottom-fermenting and top-fermenting is the type of yeast used. Lager yeast works best in lower temperatures, causing the yeast to grow less rapidly. Therefore, yeast tends to settle at the bottom of the fermenter rather than the top.
“Admittedly, Wilmington is an ale town” says Jud Watkins, owner of WBB. “We brew a lot of them, but we realized just how successful lagers are as well. Lagers are a little bit lower in ABV content, they take two to three times longer to brew, and they’re a little easier sipping. During summer months, we see a high spike in sales. We want to celebrate the versatility of lagers.”
Watkins is a Wilmington native who grew up oystering and home-brewing. He took his love for brewing and experience in the Washington D.C. restaurant business to good use. In early 2017 he opened WBB, and since then the Oleander Drive brewery has become a staple of our local brewing scene.
Last year Lagerfest was the only festival celebrating lagers (though this year Charlotte’s Resident Culture Brewing Company joined the ranks). Watkins wanted to shine a light on all breweries that make a great lager. So for 2019 he will bring in local brewers like Front Street Brewery, Wilmington Brewing, Salty Turtle, Ironclad, Flying Machine, and Good Hops. He has also asked out-of-towners Southern Pines, Red Hare, Trophy, Deep River and Mason Jar to join the party. Watkins will feature flavors beyond the stereotypical light lagers: Indian pale lagers, dry-hops and fruity lagers will be available.
“Our friends from Deep River Brewing Company in Clayton, NC make a lot of great fruited lagers,” Watkins explains. “So you’ll get to try their new watermelon lager.”
With 150 tickets going out last year, it was a sold-out event. Folks from across the state attended; some even were international. “Last year we had a German fella living in Charlotte come down for the festival,” Watkins says. “In his opinion, there are not enough lagers available in this country, so he specifically sought us out.”
WBB will also offer a sneak peek of their Oktoberfest beer, and they’ll have a special edition of their pilsner. “It’s a secret special edition Piping Plover Pilsner that has been double dry-hopped,” Watkins explains.
Lagerfest attendees will receive a commemorative glass, a WBB signature giant pretzel and unlimited samples from all of the breweries. Plus, large oak trees in the beer garden provide shade and respite from the season’s heat wave, while Nathan Kornegay and L Shape Lot Duo take the stage.
“The musicians we’ve chosen are both local and incredibly talented,” Watkins says. “They’ve played the brewery before and are always crowd favorites.”
Kornegay is a Raleigh-based singer with a soulful, acoustic sound. And most locals are familiar with L Shape Lot Duo’s folk-rock and Americana sounds (encore’s Best Band/Performer, 2019).
“Wrightsville Beach Brewery is a great location,” lead singer Eric Miller of L Shape notes. “The outdoor area has a charm to it, and it’s a good place for all ages to come hear some music. Plus, they serve great beer and food.”
Miller is grateful to the community for allowing him and Alex Lanier to continue to entertain the masses. “We are constantly humbled by all the support we get from our community. It’s a blessing we get to perform at so many great events—lucky they still enjoy us old men doing what we love.”
Lagerfest will be a fundraiser to give back to the community as well. WBB already has an 11% program, wherein at the end of the year—through an open application process—they choose 11 Wilmington-based nonprofits to donate 11% of their proceeds toward each month. For August they have chosen Switching Gears, a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of bicycling as a feasible means of transportation. (In an attempt to address wealth and health disparities in Wilmington, folks can donate or apply for a bike at 1202 Chestnut Street.)
“Each nonprofit is personal to us because we believe in all of their causes,” Watkins explains. “Switching Gears has held a bike drive at our beer garden before. We love seeing the good work they’re doing for our community.”
Last year, WBB raised over $1,100 for the Brigade Boys and Girls Club in August. “When we do an event as big as Lagerfest, it’s a nice little bump for the nonprofit,” Watkins says.
With Lagerfest’s continued popularity, Watkins is thinking about expanding WBB’s festivals. He’s even considered hosting a winter one—a South Porter Festival, at the beginning of 2020. “We don’t have it formalized yet,” he confesses, “but we’re batting the idea. A lot of us that love lagers also love dark beers, too.”