In fairy tales, you never find anything good under the bridge. That is definitely NOT the case in Wilmington, where you can find a fun new brewery and surprising art gallery under the Cape Fear River bridge.
Waterline Brewery opened this past December in the old industrial section of Wilmington, under the US 421 bridge and in view of the river. It also is just blocks from Wilmington’s historic waterfront downtown. The building it occupies was a World War II-era tool manufacturer (Jacobi Hardware); after the war, it continued to serve the shipyards and the port by manufacturing tools. Today, this space is given new purpose – brewing quality beers using a state-of-the art automated tank system made by Deutsche Beverage Technology.
The Wilmington area has a growing brewery cluster that includes a number of First in Flights favorites, like Good Hops, Flytrap, Ironclad and Front Street. Locals in Wilmington are now calling Wilmington “the Asheville of the East”. While I agree that there is a growing craft beer community in this port city, I’m not yet convinced it rivals the craft beer capital of NC.
Waterline Brewing is a wonderful addition to this popular beer scene. The taproom is a large industrial space with art adorning the walls; it can easily be described as roomy and inviting. Waterline has an interesting contradiction of a blue-collar ethos with the cultural experience of sharing space with an art gallery. This is actually perfect for a Wilmington brewer. That clash or mix of working class port workers and cultured art districts is exactly how I would describe the city of Wilmington.
The outdoor area at Waterline is pretty extensive and includes a lot of activities the entire family can enjoy. I visited this brewery while on vacation with my family. When we arrived at the brewery, my wife and son took off to play air hockey. Over an hour later I had to go looking for them as they were enjoying the games and art gallery so much. Waterline has brewery staples such as corn hole, a basketball hot shot game, air hockey and an impressive variety to board games. The art gallery offered a different twist – with paintings (my wife found an artist she liked quite a bit), pottery and statues – and it connected to a small art shop next door.
Food trucks frequent Waterline regularly and they often have live music on the weekend. Yogis can look forward to stretching and posing every Sunday. I’ve been told this brewery will be the place to be for Octoberfest (10/1/16); they are planning for this to be a signature event with German food, Bier and polka music and dance. The outdoor area will be turned into a traditional German Biergarten. I know this is where I plan to be on October 1st.
The staff was friendly and inviting. Those helping to build this brewery are passionate about making good quality beer from a range of brewing traditions including German, Belgian, English and Irish. The brewers at Waterline are focused on mastering a variety of traditional beers. They don’t experiment with exotic combinations of ingredients. It seems that in talking to those I me, that the owners, brewers and staff all agree with this philosophy: Brew good beer well, offer a variety of fairly traditional styles, and provide good service. Sounds like a blue print for success to me.
With about a dozen beers on tap there is something that meets every beer drinker’s taste or if you’re like me there are several beers that you will enjoy. Here are a few of my favorites…
Red Ale– I love amber beers and this one does not disappoint. It has a great clear color, a smooth balance of malty and hoppy. They really hit the mark with this beer, no wonder they consider it a flagship brew.
Coffee Cream Ale– This is about as freaky as Waterline gets so if you enjoy an avant garde style beer this one is your token in the lineup. I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed this beer it wasn’t too bold and yet it was easy to pick out the coffee and vanilla notes. A really easy drinking beer.
Rye IPA– This was my favorite of the Waterline beers. I must say that for me this has been the summer of rye. I have enjoyed “Rye Pale Ale” from Carolina Brewing Company, a “Evangeline-Rye Saison” from Mystery, “Double Ugly Rye” from Aviator and “Regent’s Rye Tripel” from Haw River. I’ve enjoyed all of these beers this summer so much, but this Rye IPA from Waterline might be my favorite Rye beer this year. This is a MUST TRY. I only wish they kept it as one of their flagship year-round beers. They have a solid IPA on tap here as a flagship but in my humble opinion the Rye IPA is better.
Waterline Tripel– This was a great example of the Belgium Tripel tradition. Sweet and smooth with little burn in the finish that gives you that tell of the high ABV (9%). They demonstrated they have mastered the traditional Belgium style. This was my wife’s favorite Waterline beer.
Battleship Pale Ale– Light and crisp with plenty of grapefruit notes. This is a collaboration between Waterline Brewing and Front Street Brewing; one dollar from each of these beers sold goes toward helping to restore the USS North Carolina battleship docked nearby in the Cape Fear River. When proceeds go to a worthy cause the beer always tastes better.
We have learned that under the Cape Fear bridge you will find no trolls… Just good people brewing good beers, people having fun enjoying games with friends and a pint or two. So I would encourage anyone adventuring in the Wilmington area to include a visit to Waterline Brewing Company. I feel certain you will agree it is worth the trip under the bridge.
Michael Cole lives in Sanford, NC, and loves great food and beer. His taste tends to favor malts over hops so he’s an avid fan of ambers and dark beers. Follow him on twitter @barbqguy44