Many of North Carolina’s plucky upstart breweries have come to the same realization: people like to have fun while they drink great beer. You don’t have to spend big money to create an upscale taproom as long as you create a fun space where people like to hang out.
Wilmington Brewing Company executes that approach to perfection. WBC’s taproom, beer garden and recreation room offer plenty of room to have a good time. It’s a family-friendly space with a play area for toddlers and plenty of games for older children, teenagers, and grown-ups. It’s the kind of place you want to take your little brother-in-law to beat him in a half-dozen different games while you enjoy outstanding beer. The giant chess board in the taproom looked like fun, but when I made my way to the back of the building, behind the three large fermentation tanks to the rec room, my eyes lit up.
The rec room is utilitarian, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It ain’t fancy, with plywood floors and exposed cinder block and sheet metal walls that open out to the beer garden; this place is all about fun, with no pretension. There’s a ping-pong table, two cornhole boards, some comfortable leather couches and picnic tables, and even a mini golf hole. WBC often has live music in the back, or in a corner of the smaller front taproom. They don’t serve food, but you are free to bring your own and eat it there, as we did.
The front taproom is casual and comfortable. On our visit on a warm late-November day, a dog padded around saying hello to everyone while an old record player cranked out Jim Croce tunes. WBC grew out of a home-brew supply store, located in the next room over. The day we visited, a large group was enjoying a free home-brewing class in the supply store.
Wilmington Brewing Company plans to start distributing its beers locally in the next couple of months, and we suspect that endeavor will be very successful, because these guys are making really good beer. They aren’t afraid to take some chances, and we enjoyed every beer we sampled. Let’s get to the beers:
Moondance Blonde – A nice beer for a 75-degree day in November, this is an easy-drinking blonde with a citrus bite. The nose has some fruit juice qualities, finishes with the peel. Virginia found herself drawn to this beer, surprising even herself, but this was more interesting than your typical blonde.
Tropical Lightning IPA – 7.6% ABV. You’ll detect a papaya/mango/pineapple nose. This is a very hoppy, West Coast style IPA — hop heads will dig it. But the tropical fruits give it some complexity. Once we had a sip or two of each beer, I found myself going back to this IPA.
Jalapeño Saison – 6.2% ABV. We’ve sampled a number of habanero beers lately, but I don’t believe I’ve had a jalapeno beer before this one. It’s distinct from a habanero beer — the jalapeño flavor is very unique. It does have some floral tartness at the beginning, but a long jalapeño finish that develops over several seconds. You feel it through your throat, but it’s not a palate wrecker. Paired surprisingly well with our Mexican food.
Bier Garden Kolsch – At 4.9%, this was WBC’s most sessionable beer, and another one that was very good with Mexican food! Cloudy with a light floral nose. Virginia has never been a kolsch fan, but as soon as I took a sip of this one, I told her: “This might be the one you’ve been waiting for…” It’s still light like a Kolsch, but it’s not flavorless. Exceedingly drinkable, light floral flavor with a light banana note. Even Virginia approves: “It’s quite good. You don’t typically reach for a Kolsch, but it merits consideration for people who are tired of the same old Kolsch. It was one of my favorite beers here, as far as exceeding the style.”
Blair’s Breakfast Stout – 7.0% ABV. Strong coffee nose that carries through to the finish. Coffee is the backbone throughout. You get some sweetness up front, but finishes with the coffee. Like a strong dark roast. This was a real standout for me, along with the jalapeno saison and the IPA.
American Amber Ale – 5.5% ABV. It smells like an amber, and looks like an amber. Not very complex, just a solid amber ale. Not overly hopped or overly malty – just a goldilocks beer for somebody looking for something right in the middle.
We make regular trips to Carolina Beach and Wilmington, and WBC is conveniently located near UNC Wilmington, not far off College Rd., the main route into the region. If you’re on your way to Wrightsville, Carolina Beach or downtown Wilmington from I-40, do yourself a favor and stop in at WBC. I have a feeling you might find yourself stopping again on your way out.
Aaron Fitt is fortunate to live halfway between Hillsborough’s Mystery Brewing Co. and Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery — his two favorite haunts in N.C. His tastes range from brown ales to pale ales to porters to ambers to sours to Belgians to … OK, he just likes beer.