It is no secret that the craft beer scene in North Carolina has exploded over the recent years and is now growing to rival western states in which the micro brew revolution began. The four states with the most microbreweries in 2015 include California (518), Washington (305), Colorado (284) and Oregon (228). By comparison North Carolina had 161 breweries in 2015 and new breweries continue to pop up all the time. It is safe to now say that you are never further than 30 minutes drive from either locally brewed beer or NC’s world renowned BBQ. North Carolina is truly heaven for lovers of beer and BBQ!
The respect that North Carolina has built recently as a leader in the craft brewing industry has been further reinforced by the expansion of major Western state craft brewers to the mountains of North Carolina. Western North Carolina is now home to east coast breweries for the some of the largest craft brewers in the US including New Belgium (4th) and Oskar Blues (14th), both originally from Colorado, as well as one of the earliest microbreweries that deserves due credit (along with Sam Adams) for popularizing the microbrew trend, Sierra Nevada (3rd) from California. Additionally Asheville, which has more breweries per capita than any US city, has consistently won and been ranked at the top of the annual Beer City USA poll, and Charlotte, which currently has 17 microbreweries with another 20 in the works, is also gaining recognition as a southern craft beer destination.
While Greensboro may not have the sheer numbers of breweries that can be found in Asheville or Charlotte, it can boast of having one of the earliest and most well established and respected breweries in North Carolina. Natty Greene’s began brewing beer in 2004 and is the 30th fastest growing craft beer brand in America, winning countless awards at both regional and national beer festivals in the process.
We recently had an opportunity to tour the Natty Green’s production facility and got to talk to one of the founders, Kayne Fisher, who gave us some insight into the origins and evolution of Natty Greene’s and their plans for the future.
The beginnings of Natty Greene’s date back to the mid-1990’s and two college roommates at UNC-Greensboro, Kayne Fisher and Chris Lester. They originally started working in the beer industry for a local distributor, but as they became aware of beers that had a greater depth of flavor and complexity than the regular old swill that young people all over America have been drinking for generations, they decided they wanted to be a part of this innovative and exciting aspect of the beer business.
In 1996 they opened the Old Town Draught House in downtown Greensboro to emphasize excellent and unusual craft brews on tap that were previously unavailable locally. Building on the success of their first venture they went on to open two more craft beer focused restaurants over the next six years – one each in Winston Salem and Greensboro.
Realizing the growing trend of localism and the desire for locally brewed beer, Fisher and Lester decided to go all in on the craft beer business and begin brewing their own beer in 2004 under the name Natty Greene’s, named for Greensboro’s namesake, revolutionary war general Nathanael Greene.
Natty Greene’s Brewing Company opened in 2004 as a restaurant brewpub in the heart of downtown with a 7-barrel brewing system. After lots of positive feedback and receiving recognition for their passion for southern traditions and American style sessionable ales, they opened a production facility in 2007 near the Greensboro Colliseum. This larger 20-barrel brewing facility and tasting room enabled them to keep pace with demand and distribute their beers across North Carolina and from Washington, DC in the north to Savannah, GA in the south.
While people are most likely familiar with their year round brews including Buckshot Amber and Southern Session IPA, which are widely found in local grocery stores and bottle shops, an important part of Natty Greene’s strategy during the early development of the brewery was a unique niche specialization on sour beers. While sour beers have become all the rage among craft beer drinkers over the last couple of years, Natty Greene’s was clearly ahead of the curve in developing their line of this especially tart and refreshing summer drinking beer.
The sour beer program at Natty Greene’s has been a part of their master plan from the beginning and this style of beer taps into unique flavor profiles that are achieved by the addition of additional yeast and bacteria after initial fermentation followed by barrel aging for 18+ months. The first release of their American Sour was in 2006 and since then their sour series has become a highly sought after release in the craft beer industry.
In addition to their American Sour Ale which has been released every year since 2006 in their sour series, they also have limited bottle releases of three other sour beers – a traditional Gueze-style lambic as well as a tart cherry and peach infused sour.
The next step in Natty Greene’s evolution is an exciting one as they plan to move and expand their production facility and open Natty Greene’s Kitchen and Market in the newly revitalized Revolution Mill in Greensboro. In addition to a restaurant with seating for over 300, Natty Greene’s Kitchen and Market will include a bakery, butcher, and of course, their brewery. The idea behind this move is to create a community space in Greensboro where people can get to know the butcher, baker and beer maker all under one roof.
The Kitchen, Market, and Brewery at Revolution Mill is slated to open in early 2017 but until they open their new facility you can check out their current brewery at 1918 W Gate City Blvd across from the Greensboro Coliseum. The Bunker Tasting Room is open every Friday from 5-9:30PM where you can get a peek inside the production facility while you try special releases and limited batch brews including their sour beers and Silo Series limited draft releases.
Natty Greene’s original brew pub and restaurant is located at 345 S Elm St in the heart of downtown Greensboro and is open from 11AM to midnight seven days a week.
We love the community pride that local businesses inspire in North Carolina and greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn more about what has become an iconic NC craft brewery. We encourage you to drink local and support Natty Greene's and other up and coming homegrown NC brewers and we look forward to bringing you more posts about many of the local craft breweries that call NC home!