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YEAR IN DRINKS: Taking stock of the beverage industry in 2019

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Joan raises a glass to a year of hard seltzers, tasty local brews, like Flytrap’s 5-Year Anniversary Ale (below) and natural wines. Photo via Unsplash

 

As another decade closes, I can’t help but think about the trends we’ve seen in the beverage industry. The last 10 years have brought us the resurgence of the craft cocktail (which just keeps getting craftier and craftier), the horrifyingly sweet Not Your Father’s brand of hard sodas, milkshake IPAs, and natural wine. But when I think back on 2019, only one thing comes to mind: hard seltzer.

Which came first: Truly or White Claw? I can’t remember because I don’t particularly care for any of it. But I do know loyalists are just that and they don’t cross-contaminate. I also know, while most of the internet was criticizing “basic” women for drinking these hard seltzers, I was watching all sorts of men—from frat boys to hipsters to Marines—suck them down at Blue Post like it was cool.

Boozy seltzer took the beverage industry by storm. It was like we all woke up one day with one in each hand, wondering, “Where did this come from? I’m not sure but it almost tastes like a mango, and I kind of have a buzz.” A couple is even being made locally at Salty Turtle Beer Company in Surf City.

As I zoomed in a little on the past year, I remembered a piece I wrote at the beginning of 2019 that highlighted imminent expansions. Flytrap is still producing unique, thoughtful bottles of their fine, intentional liquids, and the new New Anthem location (“new New,” if you will) is open and flourishing in the South Front District. While both Bill’s Brewing and Wilmington Brewing Company’s projects have stalled, they have not burned out. Wilmington Brewing recently received approval from the City of Wilmington to move forward with construction on their event space. Bill’s Brewing has been plugging and chugging through laborious demolition and renovation (and the Musser family also recently expanded with the birth of Donnie and Brooks’ son, Austin).

The greater Wilmington area was greeted with a couple of surprises: the introduction of boozy ‘booch from Panacea (our local kombucha creators and purveyors), and the announcement that proprietors Art and Robin Hill would seek to open Burgaw Brewing company in 2020.

2019 also was the first year since 2014 that a brewery didn’t open in Wilmington—a thought that hadn’t occurred to me until I finished writing that sentence. It comes as a bit of a shock because the blossoming of the Cape Fear craft beer scene has been systematic over the past four years.

I’ll chalk the fifth year up to a deep breath before another plunge.

We did lose a team player this year: Check Six out of Southport. The young brewery closed on July 17 with a regretful Facebook post expressing hurricane woes and issues with distribution. The 115 comments on the post shows they will be missed. I’ll miss them, too—their Harley Pope imperial vanilla porter was one for the books. But I don’t think the brewery’s closing is an indicator of the state of the industry. I stand firmly in my stance that there isn’t a bubble and it’s not bursting because, well, something can’t burst if it’s not there.

This past year continued with the elusive Tidewater remaining closed. The co-op brewery-to-be was devastated during Hurricane Florence and, up until the middle of the year, still was working to open. However, it would seem, even after taking money for shares for the co-op and crowdfunding to get back on their feet, the owners of the company have ghosted (that’s what kids are saying now, right?). It remains to be seen what will come of the spot at 10th and Princess streets.

2019 provided lots of delicious liquid to toast the year with—or at least to cope with, depending on the moment. Some of my favorites were New Anthem Beer Project’s Velvet Lies IPA, Flying Machine Brewing Company’s Governable Parachutes India Pale Lager, Bill’s Brewing’s Goodyear ESB (rest in power, Dean), Wilmington Brewing Company’s Beach Time Session IPA, Flytrap Brewing’s 5-Year Anniversary Ale, Waterline’s Pale Ale, and Salty Turtle Beer Company’s Big Shakey Black IPA. These are just brews I can remember off of the top of my head. Oh, and Broomtail Craft Brewery’s ILM IPA, Edward Teach Brewing’s Oktoberfest, Skytown’s Princess Street Pilsner, Front Street Brewery’s Condor Pilsner, and Mad Mole’s Raspberry Molay. OK, I think that’s actually everything.

In 2020, I’m looking forward to more of the same, which is to say: diversity. I love the Wilmington beer scene for its consistently changing lineup of brews. There is truly something for everyone, for every mood, for every occasion. I could have redone that whole list and not named a single IPA.

Speaking of varieties of the non-IPA persuasion, 2019 brought us natural wine. Not sure what it is or where to start? Well, the trendy vino is running rampant around here, so I recommend going to your favorite wine shop and starting there.

Me? I go to Bombers. The downtown bottle shop has very carefully curated their natural wine list, and proprietors Kyle Harshner and Sunni Holley are excited to talk about it. If it’s Monday, when Bombers is closed, head to Second Glass, Celeste Glass’s South Front District venture. She and her staff are armed and ready to provide knowledge for sippers, sophomores to seniors. (Plus, Monday is their weekly free tasting.)

So, I raise my glass to not only a year but a decade filled with variety, to trends both failing and flourishing, and to many more beverages, fancy and fermented.

Cheers to 2020!

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