A View from the Inside
I also spent some time with my friend Kevin Kozak, Head Brewer at Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, North Carolina. Kevin is quite a brewer and his beers were outstanding proven by the fact that, the week after I left Wilmington to return to Duluth, Kevin brought home a staggering 12 medals at the North Carolina Beer Championships. Here are excerpts from our chat.
Dave Hoops: Describe the growth of Carolina Beer in the last decade.
Kevin Kozak: Huge growth, new breweries popping up constantly. Small guys building out, Asheville exploding with, I dunno…12 breweries?
DH: Have there been challenges with the intense industry growth, for example with raw materials?
KK: Contracts? No—I have friends on the supply side. Saturation? Not in my market—lots of room and I would love to have more brewers to hang with, borrow from, etc.
DH: What makes North Carolina so attractive as a craft beer state?
KK: First and foremost, the laws. Friendly and helpful to breweries. Tax incentives are helpful. Great water, informed drinking culture.
DH: How educated are your beer-drinking guests?
KK: Very informed. Locals are very in touch with the beers. Tourists coming in have good beer in their local markets and expect the same in Carolina.
DH: Do you see future growth within your market?
KK: Yes, two or three breweries in planning in my market right now, and room for more.
DH: What do you think the next ten years will bring to this market?
KK: Many more players, continued local drinking, less-than-great beer…some breweries will not exist.
Race to the Top
The North Carolina Brewers Guild lists 75 active members on its website, with another seven breweries under construction. North Carolina does not separate brewpubs from production breweries, the state allows taprooms, and self-distribution; beer and wine are sold at grocery stores.
It seems obvious to me that Minnesota, with our amazing natural beauty, great water, and growing craft beer scene, could be a real competitor for future opportunities.
The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has made great inroads on helping to grow the Minnesota craft beer brand. Currently the guild lists 42 members. Minnesota beer drinkers themselves need to demand market access for their favorite breweries, and we need, as a state, to go to the next level with localism. Every place I went in North Carolina had a “Drink NC Beer” sticker on the window. I attended a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game in Raleigh with my son and nephew, and every single concession stand had a North Carolina-produced beer available. Also at the stadium was the impressive Natty Greene’s Pavilion, more or less a tap house, right inside—built to watch the game in person while enjoying a craft beer. Imagine if every concession stand at Target Field, Xcel Energy Center, the Dome, and Target Center sold your favorite Minnesota craft beers.
It would be like a dream come true right?
We have much to be excited about in Minnesota. The new Surly brewery should really make a splash, the Summit expansion is a great step forward, and there’s a growing camaraderie between the vets and the new guys. The forward-thinking groups like Dangerous Man, with a super unique business plan, Town Hall Brewery, and Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth with almost constant expansion are great examples of the awesome and growing brewing culture in Minnesota. But I think it will take more than this to jump to that next level. We are on the path, beer lovers; hopefully we can help each other grow.
“Imagine if every concession stand at Target Field, Xcel Energy Center, the Dome, and Target Center sold your favorite Minnesota craft beers.”
Since I was writing about North Carolina beers, I would like to mention my ten favorite beers enjoyed during the trip:
• Front Street, Condor Pils
• Front Street, Hoppelganger
• Old Hickory, Ruby Lager
• Red Oak, Amber
• Foothills, Torch Pilsner
• Lonerider, Peacemaker Pale
• Natty Greene’s Southern Pale Ale
• Greenman, ESB
• Highland Brewing, Little Hump Session Pale
• Asheville Brewing, Ninja Porter
Seek these beers out, craft beer fans—they are worth it.
Thanks so much to the brewers of North Carolina for the hospitality. Here’s to NC brewers, MN brewers—and our bright future.
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