Beer School Notes

If you didn’t make it to Beer School at The Beer Growler last weekend, I got your back.


About a dozen gathered to witness The Great Collaboration of 2019. I joined Richard Cox, Erin Lawrimore, and David Gwynn of Well Crafted NC in talking about the wandering history of NC beer and the backwards legislation since Prohibition.

What’s amazing about these folks is they’re not only doing actual research into NC beer-related things that haven’t been looked at for a while (something those of us who read stuff on the internet take for granted); they’re also amassing a collection of interviews with current brewers throughout the state, meaning they’re documenting history as its happening right now.

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Photo Credit: Erin Lawrimore

David started us off with a down and dirty rundown of 18th- and 19th-century breweries (more on that in a minute) and turn-of-the-century saloons in Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Prohibition becomes a big thing later, but it’s worth noting that in 1874, the NC General Assembly allowed townships to vote on the prohibition of saloon licenses, meaning the temperance movement started gaining traction.

The Cascade Saloon is a building in downtown Greensboro that everyone has seen but probably ignored. Located next to the railroad tracks on Elm Street, it opened in 1896 by S.J. McCauley and still says “Cascade Saloon” on it. Even more interestingly, it became a cafe owned by a black couple, Ida and Wiley Weaver, after Prohibition, meaning it had black owners on the main street of town before the Civil Rights movement. Now that is history worth noting.

Quiz question 1: How big were Wiley Weaver’s balls?

If you know Little Brother Brewing, on the corner of Elm and McGee, it used to be a diner called Jim’s Lunch, which served low-ABV beer after Prohibition. Little Brother now serves a stout by the same name, which is not low-ABV, and it’s delicious. There was also a hotel with a colorful personality above the diner in the 1930s and 40s.

Quiz question 2: Could the women in the “hotel” figuratively handle Wiley Weaver’s balls?

Winston-Salem saloons. Credit: Well Crafted NC

We got a visit from Carrie Nation (booooo) in 1907, who said Salisbury is the “whiskey-est soaked city in the United States” after Chicago. Okayyyy.

1937 was a big year for NC beer. The Alcohol Beverage Committee was formed, the three-tier distribution system was created (more on that later), and a cap was established so that brewers couldn’t brew beers above 6% ABV.

Just think: All you hipsters couldn’t drink high-gravity beers until after 2005. That’s the twisted Bible belt for ya. And we’re still dealing with the aftermath of Prohibition.

Quiz question 3: When you learned your ABCs, did you also learn your ABC laws?

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Richard discusses modern Triad breweries. Credit: Erin Lawrimore

There was a lot of touch-and-go in terms of breweries opening in NC after Prohibition. Some gained their licences but never opened. One, Atlantic Opens in Charlotte, got out of brewing and became an ice and coal distributor in the 1940s. What we know is that Schlitz, of Schlitz and Old Milwaukee fame, opened a plant of U.S. 52 south of Winston-Salem in 1970.

But let me backtrack, because this is where I took over the presentation and went back in time to the beginning. Contrary to what you’ve been reading in my article, Single Brothers brewery/distillery in Old Salem was NOT the first commercial brewery in the state. As far as we know, that accolade goes to Bethabara brewery/distillery, which opened a full 18 years prior.

Like any old Moravian outpost, Bethabara covered a large tract of land that wasn’t completely occupied. The Moravians liked to keep a buffer between them and the outside world — you know, The Village-style. They wanted to ensure the spiritual purity of their brethren, but for all their preparations, they failed: Their first brewer/distiller, Henrich Feldhausen, was swiftly ousted after six years because he fell into carnal sin, of which we know very little. In true Moravian fashion, they sent him packing to the homebase in Pennsylvania, where he was presumably reset to factory standards.

Quiz question 4: How many carnal sins have you committed in the last year?

So Single Brothers brewery/distillery was built 18 years later, since what we now call Old Salem was established much later. Fun Fact: George Washington stopped by the tavern in 1791 and said he liked the beer. Fun Fact: Small Batch brewed an Old Ale in 2015 after the original Moravian recipe from Old Salem.

Quiz question 5: How many pints of Old Ale does it take to enjoy trivia?

JPEG image-827FFF1FD33E-1Flash forward to the Schlitz plant, which sold to Stroh’s in 1982, which closed in 1999, and all the things that made it bad from the beginning:

  • Schlitz was already losing popularity due to a change to the original recipe and bad marketing.
  • A group of Methodist ministers wrote a letter saying they disapproved; it would turn Winston-Salem “into the brewing center of the Carolinas.”
  • Employees often went on strike or held work stoppages.
  • A Davie County resident sued for $2 million because of pollution. The lawsuit was thrown out, but not until Schlitz paid $1 million on equipment to avoid overloading Winston’s sewer system and to avoid polluting the Yadkin River. Yay!

Stroh was big stuff in 1982, walking through the high school hallways as the third largest brewer in the nation, but things went south as they lost market share to other national brands. They sold their brands to Pabst and MillerCoors, which had a plant in nearby Eden.

Quiz question 6: If you were one of the 450 employees of the defunct Stroh’s plant, would you have taken the generous severance package and worked at Miller, or gone to see your family in Virginia and started a brewery of your own? This is not Bandersnatch and you can NOT choose your own adventure.

That brings us to Craft Freedom, a movement that is still somewhat alive in NC. Olde Mecklenburg and NoDa from Charlotte led the charge in submitted House Bill 67 in 2017, which declared that breweries should go from 25,000 barrels produced a year to 100,000 barrels a year before they are forced to use a third-party distributor in distributing their product to restaurants, bars, taprooms, etc. Yes, the current limit is 25,000 barrels/year, and many craft brewers disagree on principle. It’s not even that they might need the help at that point. It’s that the state gives them no other option. And once you’re on a big distributor’s portfolio, well, who are they gonna put more time and effort into — the big beer brands that already sell really well, or your little endeavor that barely pulls a profit in comparison?

There’s some evidence that the downfall of HB 67 occurred because many key lawmakers in the committees it was going to go through were getting campaign funding from individual distributors and the NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers PAC. The bill went nowhere and died at the end of the 2018 general session.

Quiz Question 7: Chuck McGrady, one of the House ABC Committee chairs, got only $1750 from the PAC and none from individual distributors. Why is that?
A. He’s not one of the cool kids on the block.
B. Chuck McGrady is a robot sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor.
C. No one likes his lapel pins.
D. He’s an avid support of craft breweries.

And on that depressing note, let’s tally up the quiz results!

  1. Bigger than a malted milkshake at Woolworth’s.
  2. What couldn’t they handle?
  3. This is NC we’re talking about. We haven’t even learned about slavery and other U.S. history tidbits in their correct context.
  4. Eighteen. Because why not?
  5. Five. It might have been low ABV.
  6. Virginia. It’s the road less taken.
  7. Although B could be interesting, it’s D.

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