By Bobby Bush
North Carolina has been one of the brewingest Southern States, ranking second only to more-populous Florida in number of breweries in the region. While no real competition in quantity, South Carolina has a few good breweries of its own. After years of prosperity and steady expansion, all of a sudden there’s a small uprising of brew news in the Tarheel and Palmetto States.
Let’s start with the bad news. After only ten months in business, swanky Tapps Billiards and Brewpub in north Raleigh ceased doing business. German born and raised brewer Robert Fuchs was just starting to learn his way around the brewery when the family-owned brewpub locked its doors, probably for good. According to the taped message left on Tapps’ answering machine, the brewpub closed on May 18 “until further notice.”
A similar, though more protracted fate, met Lake Norman Brewing Company in Cornelius. The three-year-old brewpub struggled almost since inception with reports - verbal and in the Charlotte Observer - of mediocre food and bad service. The beer usually got polite, affirmative nods. Brewer Dana Fischer was dismissed a year ago and now resides in New England, employed in a non-brewing job. General manager Joe Baltos has been doing a credible brewing job ever since. According to Joe, the facility is being purchased by Cottonwood Brewery’s owners and will eventually be opened as a restaurant/bar, sans brewery, serving Boone-brewed Cottonwood beers. Better keep an eye on this one.
It’s just coincidental that just a few months earlier Southend Brewery & Smokehouse opened up their Lake Norman operation about a mile down the street
And up in Boone, there’s no talk of removing the brewhouse where Don Richardson makes award-winning Cottonwood Brewery beer (he has three GABF medals and his Great Pumpkin Spiced Ale seasonal just took silver at the biannual World Beer Cup), but the restaurant has a new name and face. Howard Street Grille is now known as Ye Olde Chop Haus, a dichotomy of English versus German nomenclature. Adding more confusion, instead of Howard Street’s spicy Southwestern cuisine, it’s now steak and seafood. The brewery’s name remains the same. There may be more activity afoot in Boone, but no one’s talking right now. See www.cottonwoodbrewery.com. [Note: Cottonwood Brewery did close in August, 2000. Don Rochardson took the head brewers job at Carolina Beer & Beverage of Moorseville, NC, where he continues to brew the Cottonwood Brands].
Over in Asheville, creative brewer Jonas Rembert has packed his bags and left Green Man Brewing to start his own microbrewery. French Broad Brewing Company should be open any day now. Jonas, with partners Andy Dahm and assistant brewer George Reevesto, will first distribute kegs of a European-style Lager trailed by an English Brown Ale, throughout western NC. New England-born, England-trained Mike Duffy has been hired to take Jonas’ place at Jack of the Woods/Green Man Brewing.
Down in the South State, Big River of Greenville finally gave up the ghost. The brewery, part of the expansive Chattanooga-based chain that includes two Rock Bottoms (Charlotte and Atlanta) and the entire Gordon Biersch operation. The almost-downtown Greenville establishment wasn’t quite in the mainstream nightlife flow and, for some reason, always seemed to be minus a brewer whenever I stopped in. Nice facility, great food, poor beer and poorer beer attitude. No loss.
Hilton Head Brewing was closed temporarily in January and re-opened in March with a new, spacious, party-friendly interior. John Watts’ still mans the brew kettle, wishing for more space and a mash tun. The friendly brewpub also has a new logo which features a silhouette of the foot-shaped island at its center. There’s lots of family-oriented events and loud, loud rock ‘n roll on the outdoor patio. Check www.hiltonheadfun.com for details.
New South, a two-year-old Myrtle Beach micro, is planning to bottle their beers this fall.
Palmetto Brewing just released Palmetto Pale Ale. Joined by Palmetto Amber and Lager, its the Charleston micro’s third bottled beer.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush