The State of the Triangle Beer Scene

August 19, 2016

The Triangle’s beer scene is at an inflection point.

On the one hand, even Margo Knight Metzger, the executive director of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, has trouble keeping up with the growth—she has to check her records before she can tell me how many breweries we have. In the end, I get a list of forty—one that is out of date almost immediately thanks to another opening.

The list names places like Haw River Farmhouse Ales, which Ben Woodward founded in 2014 in Saxapahaw (or what he calls the middle of nowhere). When I meet Woodward at his brewery, he is busy hauling kegs in the thick heat. He fights back sweat with a hand towel for the hour we talk, and at one point we stand in the walk-in cooler for relief—such are the demands on brewers today.

But as I speak with Woodward and others in the industry, I learn that those demands extend far beyond manual labor and production schedules. Triangle brewers today are up against a rapidly changing business climate: one in which a growing audience is matched by increasing competition and the worries of economic viability that entails; heightened expectations from better informed consumers; and far-reaching questions about how the industry profits from—and drives—the area’s development, with all its contradictions and questions about race and class equity.

On the surface, it’s the successes that are most obvious. “We never expected people to come in here,” Woodward says about the tasting room he added only so he wouldn’t anger those who showed up unannounced. But the bar has a line two deep by the early afternoon.

And yet.

“Someone asked me, If you had to do this all over again, would you?,” Woodward tells me. “And my initial reaction was no. Then I qualified it, and I said, I would, but I don’t think it would work.”

Read the rest in the INDY’s online version of their Hops & Crafts issue.