The long-awaited Fullsteam Brewery opens Friday at exactly 6:14 p.m. – the average time an Englishman arrives at the pub.
Friday also marks five years since former Gov. Mike Easley signed a law that allows higher-alcohol beers to be sold in North Carolina. That date holds special meaning to Fullsteam’s owner, Sean Wilson, who helped organize the "Pop the Cap" campaign to raise the 6 percent alcohol limit. The law's passage was celebrated by N.C.'s beer enthusiasts who were tired of traveling out of state to get the brews they wanted.
It’s taken five years for Wilson to realize his own dream of opening a “plow-to-pint” brewery devoted to Southern agriculture and culinary traditions. Among Fullsteam’s brews are a sweet potato beer, Hogwash, a hickory-smoked porter, and El Toro, a cream ale made with roasted North Carolina corn grits. My favorite for its whimsy is the Working Man’s Lunch, a stout made with Moon Pies.
While much has been written about Wilson, 39, (go HERE and HERE) not as much has been written about the beer brains behind Fullsteam’s operation: Chris Davis, 33, (left) and Brooks Hamaker, 49 (right).
Davis, a former art student from Atlanta, took up home brewing just seven and a half years ago after moving to the Triangle. At a beer dinner at Carolina Brewery three and a half years ago, Davis met Wilson and thanked him for his work on the "Pop the Cap" campaign. When Davis heard that Wilson was trying to open a brewery, he sent an e-mail suggesting they work together.
After one phone call, Wilson says, he knew Davis was the guy for the job: "It's one of those hunch things. I got the sense that he had the creativity I was looking for - mad scientist spark with technical know-how."
The pair have been working together for three years, testing recipes and finding a space for the brewery. The location at 726 Rigsbee Avenue in downtown Durham is a former water bottling plant and auto mechanic shop.
In January, Wilson added Brooks Hamaker to the team. Hamaker has a long history in the brewing business. He is the former head brewer at Abita Beer. For years, he worked as a consultant helping to open breweries in Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico and elsewhere.
Hamaker and Wilson met at a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Mississippi two years ago. They met again at the same event last year. Only this time, Hamaker's friend, Dean McCord, a local lawyer and food blogger, who was helping Wilson pour beers, suggested that Hamaker's experience could be invaluable to Wilson's business. That was in October. By New Year's Eve, Hamaker moved to Durham.
Davis and Hamaker seem like a good match: Davis has spent years experimenting with yeasts and grain formulas to see what recipes works. Hamaker has experience getting large brewing operations up and running. Both seem to be enjoying the experience.
"I don't think I've ever helped build a place that No. 1 had as much buzz and No. 2, the intial product is so good and people are so accepting of it," Hamaker says.
Davis adds: "I'm thrilled to have been given this opportunity to do something creative...We get to see our creativity being enjoyed."
Hours: Friday, 6:14 p.m.- closing; Saturday, Noon-closing; Sunday, Noon-8 p.m.
Location: 726 Riggsbee St, Durham. It's near Durham's Central Park, The Scrap Exchange and Durham Atheltic Park, aka the DAP. You can't miss the huge red backwards "F" on the huge steel door.
Be sure to tune into the State of Things program on WUNC 91.5 at noon tomorrow to hear the folks from Fullsteam on the air.
All images provided courtesy of Fullsteam Brewery.