April is NC Beer Month, an annual celebration of the more than 300 breweries and brewpubs across the state. Collectively they have a $2 billion economic impact and create over 12,000 jobs.
Moore County is home to three and soon-to-be four microbreweries where local flavors intertwine with time-honored traditions.
For the local beer scene, springtime arrives in the guise of fruit-infused brews. From the tart flavors of cherries and blueberries to the citrus tang of grapefruit and pineapple, there is a flavorful awakening happening in the area’s craft brewing tanks.
“This year we are doing something new. We have always distributed seasonal beers, but this year we’ll also be doing some limited release beers,” said Nicole Meyer, manager at Railhouse Brewery.
Founded in December 2010 by military veterans Brian Evitts and Mike Ratkowski, Railhouse was the area’s first microbrewery. Joined now by co-owners Scott Birdsell, Mark Perry and Jeremy Reynolds, they produce around 250 barrels a month.
Their first limited release is a cherry pastry sour called Madame Cerise.
Meyer describes it as a “big fruity beer with a touch of tartness.”
It is not so dissimilar from Community Blues, she said, which was a collaborative effort between Railhouse, Southern Pines Brewing Co. and Pinehurst Brewery — and inspired by Granny’s Donuts. That beer had the characteristics of a blueberry doughnut, Meyer explained, while the Madame Cerise has a cherry pie flavor profile.
Southern Pines Brewing
A few miles up U.S. 1 at Southern Pines Brewing, the spring seasonal Hefeweizen has proved so popular it’ll soon be a year-round offering.
“We ferment it with grapefruit puree and it has all the wonderful citrus characteristics in a German-style beer,” said co-founder and CEO Micah Niebauer.
Together with fellow veterans Jason Ginos and John Brumer, who had served with him in the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, the trio opened doors at Southern Pines Brewing in August 2014.
Last summer they partnered with Tryon Distributing for statewide distribution and have ramped up their production to 500 barrels a month.
“Things are going well and we are definitely busy,” he added. “We have our distribution, our products and our timing all working out.”
In particular, Niebauer said it’s been surprising to see how different beers have trended in the different markets they’re now reaching.
“The Hefeweizen is already selling more than Duck Hook and Malty by Nature combined across the rest of the state,” he said. “It’s doing so well we decided to keep it as a core beer.”
Coming later this month Southern Pines Brewing will issue a new limited release — a not-yet named rum barrel-aged imperial pineapple thief.
“It tastes like a pina colada. You close your eyes and you’re on the beach,” Niebauer said. “It is incredible how it turned out.”
The newest kid on the beer block is Pinehurst Brewing, which opened last fall. Pinehurst Resort had long eyed the former power plant building near the village center as an ideal location for a brewpub. Following a massive restoration effort, the new brewpub has been a smashing success.
Brewmaster Eric Mitchell said he hasn’t seen a slow day yet.
“We’re a little busier than anticipated. I’ve been trying to play catch up since Day One,” he said. “It’s not just beer-wise but staffing up and trying to add kitchen space, cooler space. Everything was smaller than we needed.”
Unlike Railhouse and Southern Pines Brewing which both distribute their beer by bottle, can or keg to bars, restaurants and grocery stores, Pinehurst Brewing is almost entirely consumed on-site by the pint.
The Pivot, a hazy New England style IPA is Pinehurst’s most popular brew. But Mitchell said he’s always looking for new ideas from his customers.
“We have added roughly 60 percent more fermentation capacity since we opened,” Mitchell said. “We had anticipated we would add a few new tanks but we didn’t know it would be so soon.”
“We’re close to maxing out,” he said.
Written by Laura Douglass, Staff Writer, The Pilot
Photography by Ted Fitzgerald, The Pilot
This article was reprinted with permission by The Pilot.