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Friday, June 10, 2011

Fullsteam Brewery: Crafting Beer and Business in the South

I have long planned to be in Durham in May 2011 for Duke's Graduation weekend so I was happy to swing by Fullsteam Brewery and get a quick tasting. David at Beer47 arranged for a tour of Fullsteam so I'm looking forward to his photo's and tasting notes. Unfortunately, I don't have any photo's of my own.  I was having too much fun soaking up the atmosphere.

Sean Lilly Wilson and his team have built up a business that takes advantage of the local styles and flavors, including their flagship Southern Lager and First Frost winter perssimmon ale that they foraged from local abandoned orchards.  Fullsteam also has a beer called Working Man's Lunch, named after a Southern tradition, consisting of an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.  Wilson likes to play with the palate. He had us try his Working Man's Lunch beer with a Moon Pie, which he sells at the bar so that customers can enjoy this combination.  It's so funny how this unexpected combination - which I might expect to see in a stoner movie - works.  Moon Pie's are mildly sweet and the beer washes it down well.  Even if you try the beer first and then the Moon Pie, you get a different, but pleasant, reaction on the palate.

Fullsteam's Forager program illustrates that their beer is art.  This is beer brewed with ingredients harvested from the local community. They aggregate harvests from a variety of sources, balance the flavors, and  produce a solidly enjoyable product. For past programs, people brought in their persimmons or pears and, in return, received market price for their harvest, an exclusive Forager hat, and a sample of the final product. If the forager chooses not to take the money, Fullsteam donates the proceeds to a local community garden program called SEEDS.

The Fullsteam tavern is a spacious, comfortable space that regularly has food trucks and live bands dropping by. As we walked up to the building, a man, with what appeared to be his son, was at the picnic tables having a sausage lunch from the Farmhand Food Sausage Wagon.  I liked the family-friendly feel of this place. They even have a weekly running club that meets Wednesdays for a pre-beer run.   On a Friday afternoon, it was quiet, but I struck up a conversation with some really friendly people sitting at the bar.

The first friend I made was one of the owners of Scratch Bakery, which specializes in local, seasonal food. This means they don't have American standards like apple pie until it's apple season because they insist that their ingredients be fresh.  I checked out the bakery for brunch a few days later.  It's on a pedestrian street and has very delicious, fresh food!  I tried the fried bologna sandwich, the strawberry rhubarb pie, the donut muffin, and the biscuit sandwich.  I highly recommend this bakery the next your in town.

The next person I chatted with has been a Durham local for a few decades.  He told me that there was a time when he wouldn't have wandered into that neighborhood so freely.  Even though you could see the original baseball field where the Durham Bulls played until 1994 (and where the movie Bull Durham was filmed), you could tell that the neighborhood was being gentrified.  The area was surrounded by low-income housing that had been boarded up. Still, the Raleigh-Durham area is transforming, whether it's from the technology and research coming out of the surrounding universities (Duke, UNC, NC State) or the people who grew up in the area and understand the value of having a business in this community.

It's funny that while I was in my globally-focused business school program, one of my core classes made us run around cities like Dubai, New Delhi, and Shanghai to interview locals about business opportunities in that region; yet we were not required to do the same assignment when we got to Durham, NC. I could have written pages about business in Durham and a decent video with meaningful interviews to go with it, too.

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