Southeast Coast Brewers Festival
By Bobby Bush
Wilmington, NC is the home of one brewpub, one microbrewery and now, one beer festival. Organized and sponsored by Wilmington Brewing Company, the Southeast Coast Brewers Festival went pretty well for a first time event. Held at Hugh McRae Park on a hot, humid Saturday, May 6, the only thing lacking was people.
Little league baseball and family picnics didn't take notice as 200 people filed through the gates during the fest's six hour run to taste the wares of eleven breweries, 33 beers in all. The variety was wide, though thankfully light leaning, for heat and heavy beers don't usually go good together. Highland Brewing of Asheville brought cool kegs of their delicious Gaelic Ale and St. Terese's Pale Ale. From Boone, Cottonwood brought four to try, including the zesty, yeasty Belgian White Ale and brewer Don Richardson's award winning Endo IPA and Low Down Brown Ale. Rocky River brewmaster Ron Downer drove all the way from Sevierville in eastern Tennessee, around 400 miles, to pour Heidelberg Hefeweizen and Ten Point Ale. Huske Hardware, just an hour away in Fayetteville, offered four, including the seasonal Golden Raspberry Wheat.
Recently relocated to Raleigh, micro Rock Creek worked six tap handles, one of which ppoured the pleasingly bitter Devil's Elbow IPA. Charlotte's Rock Bottom, part of the expansive Gordon Biersch chain, pushed Sweet Magnolia and Bavarian Summer Wheat. New South, a Myrtle Beach micro, provided tastes of their Pale Ale, Premium Amber Lager and New South Lager. They plan to begin bottling their beers this fall. Eschewing tents for the shade of their refrigerated truck, Greensboro's Spring Garden poured their flagship brew, Red Oak.
Over in the other tent, Main Street Beer Co., a Richmond brewpub that shares owners with Wilmington Brewing, served three unusual beers- slightly sweet German Alt, Work Beer (a hybrid of an English dark mild and a brown ale) and Stubborn Mule, a sweet, strong and wine-like barleywine. Another Main Street table sold hot dogs and ribs. Heironymus Seafood Restaurant's festival menu included raw oysters, fried shrimp and crabcakes. Unusual and delicious beer fest food indeed! Plenty of food, beer and porta-toilets for everyone.
From northern NC's outer banks, Weeping Radish gave away tastes of their Maibock (which ran out early and was replaced by Black Radish, a dark lager) and Corolla Gold, a Helles-style lager. Host Wilmington Brewing chilled bottles of their Dergy's Porter in a 30 gallon fish tank (sans fish) and furnished Honey Blonde, Amber and Nut Brown on draft.
Five-year-old Wilmington brewpub, Front Street, was conspicuous in its absence, as were other east coast breweries like Tapps and Greenshields from Raleigh (though I know for a fact that Gary and Martha Greenshields were baby-sitting their granddaughter that weekend), Mad Boar from North Myrtle Beach and Cross Creek of Fayetteville.
Non-profit Cape Fear River Watch provided staffing. Wilmington Brewing's Jennifer Arey, the fest's executive director, was responsible for organization and the great weather. Singer/guitarist Nikki Talley entertained the first half, while Humchuck Fire took the stage for the late afternoon beer tasters.
The only change that needs to be made is with publicity. More publicity means more people equals more fun. Beer is a terrible thing to waste. 200 people could only make a dent in the great beers gathered together for the first ever Southeast Coast Brewers Festival. Plans are already in motion for next year's fest.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush