Carolina Brewery Turns 20, Celebrates with Chapel Hill

The owner and staff at Carolina Brewery on Franklin Street have a good excuse to throw a party this month.

The establishment just turned 20, as it continues to thrive in a craft beer business that never seems to stop growing.

“You can got to Whole Foods or Weaver Street Market right now, or Weaver Street, and choose from over 150 beers,” says Robert Poitras, owner and co- founder of Carolina Brewery. “When we opened, there might have been 10 imports, and maybe a Pete’s Wicked Ale or Sam Adams. So, your opportunity to sample these world beers and these local beers is so much better now than it’s been.”

Only four other breweries existed in North Carolina when Carolina Brewery opened its doors to thirsty customers on Franklin Street on Feb. 9, 1995.

Today, there are more than 120 active breweries in North Carolina, with more on the way. A new Carrboro brewery, YesterYears, is set to open at 300 East Main St. in March.

But this month, customers are flocking to one of the local trailblazers, if the early Friday afternoon crowd recently at the Franklin Street restaurant, brewery and bar proves to be typical.

Throughout February, Carolina Brewery is celebrating its 20th anniversary, with tastings, classes, giveaways, and a birthday party on Tuesday – with cake, of course.

Catering to the sophisticated beer palates of its customers, the brewery is once again featuring its anniversary witbier, a perennial favorite served with an orange wedge on the rim of the glass, for extra zest.

It’s light, refreshing, and low-alcohol, with hints of cumin and coriander, and a cloudy appearance, thanks to the traditional Belgian brewing style of not filtering it all the way, so that some yeast is left behind.

“We only do one batch of this every year,” said Poitras. “We only put it on for our anniversary, so people really crave that beer. So they come out for our anniversary week every year.”

Carolina Brewery offers more than one way to educate customers about different styles of beer. Free afternoon tours are offered every Saturday at 2 p.m., at the main production brewery in Pittsboro.

That larger facility opened seven-and-a-half years ago. It looks very much the same as the Chapel Hill location, and the food menu is the same. There’s one difference.

“Chapel Hill has more specialty beers on tap than Pittsboro,” says Poitras. “Pittsboro has eight beers on tap, and Chapel Hill, right now, has 14 beers on tap.”

The business, of course, is not restricted to serving Chapel Hill and Pittsboro bar patrons.

Two of the brewery’s beers are distributed to area grocery stores throughout the Carolinas and eastern Tennessee in six-packs of cans. Those are longtime customer favorites Sky Blue Golden Ale, a light Kolsch-style beer; and Flagship IPA, for all the hopheads out there.

Carolina Brewery also provides around 800 drinking establishments with draft beer.

Poitras says he has has a policy of keeping clients within a couple of hundred miles. He said he wants to be able to drive in less than a day to put his hands on his company’s product, wherever and however it’s being sold.

‘Third-generation Tarheel’

He grew up in eastern North Carolina, where he split his time between Tarboro and the Outer Banks.

“I’m a third-generation Tarheel,” said Poitras, “so I knew I wanted to come to Chapel Hill. My parents met here in Chapel Hill, and my grandfather went here as well – he was a football manager back in the ‘30s.”

He said his decision to go into the craft beer business in Chapel Hill was made around the time he was also considering selling real estate back home.

A trip to Switzerland on UNC’s study-abroad program helped him choose.

“That enabled me to experience the wonderful beers of Europe,” says Poitras, “but also, a lot of the local food, and the local wines there.”

A subsequent trip to Germany introduced him to that country’s beer culture (he calls Germany “the mecca of beer”), and Poitras was hooked.

He brought in master brewer Jon Connolly, who was working in Virginia when Carolina Brewery was still under construction. Connolly remains to this day.

Carolina Brewery opened with 40 employees. Now, between the Chapel Hill and Pittsboro locations, there are around 150.

Second surge

According to Poitras, craft beer is in the second crest of industry growth he’s experienced since he got into the business.

“In the late `90s, we had a big bell curve, a big growth of craft beer,” says Poitras. “But what happened then, in the `90s, is that the beer wasn’t good. So there was a fallout of microbreweries.”

Today’s boom is happening, he said, because the beers are much better. Brewers no longer cut corners on ingredients, and remain truer to beer styles.

Poitras said that relationships between local brewers tend to be collegial, and friendly. It’s not uncommon, he says, for them to share ideas – and even, equipment and supplies.

“Our friends at Top of the Hill, or even Steel String, sometimes, they’ll need to borrow something, or I’ll need a bag of malt.”

Still, he said he can imagine the craft brewing business becoming more “cutthroat” over time, if the industry continues to boom.

“The craft beer market right now is very competitive,” he says. “We have a lot of, not only local players, but we have a lot of regional players and national players coming into the markets. And there’s a finite amount of tap space, a finite amount of grocery store shelf space.”

Still, he said, with recent renovations to the Chapel Hill space, Carolina Brewery plans to be around for at least another 20 years.

On Tuesday, Carolina Brewery is offering 95-cent beer all day as part of its birthday celebration. Birthday cake will be served at 5:30 p.m.

You can find more information here on the brewery’s birthday events throughout February.

Parking, Water, Beer, Business, And Education!

ORANGE COUNTY – Chapel Hill is adding a new parking lot downtown: on Monday, February 3, the town is opening the Courtyard parking lot, located at 115 South Roberson Street near the west end of Franklin. Town staff say there will be 53 spaces available at the new lot. (There are about 1200 available parking spaces in all in downtown Chapel Hill.)


Earth Policy Institute founder and president Lester Brown will be on campus Tuesday, February 4, lecturing on the future of agriculture in a world of dwindling water.

The lecture is entitled “Peak Water: What Happens to Our Food Supply When the Wells Go Dry?” It begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Global Education Center. It’s free and open to the public.


Starting in April, ARCA will begin assembling CM18 cash recyclers at its manufacturing facility in Mebane, transfering operations from Italy. The move will make the Mebane facility the only one in the U.S. to produce cash recyclers, used by banks and credit unions to speed its balancing and inventory functions.


Twelve Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School teachers have recently earned National Board Certification: Melissa Nicholson-Clark and Samantha Howard of Morris Grove Elementary; Susan Azzu, Agnes Bernasconi, and Ashley Laver of Rashkis Elementary; Christine Cohn of Estes Hills Elementary; Jennifer Pedersen of Northside Elementary; Lisa Myles of McDougle Elementary; Miles Chappell of Phillips Middle; Beth Kinney of McDougle Middle; Holly Loranger of Chapel Hill High; and Jenny Marie Smith of East Chapel Hill High. Congratulations to all twelve!

North Carolina leads the nation in the number of teachers certified by the National Board.

Another recognition for UNC: the Princeton Review has ranked UNC-Chapel Hill as the number-one public university in the nation on its 2014 list of America’s “Best Value Colleges.”

UNC has long been recognized as a national leader in preserving affordability and accessibility while simultaneously providing a high-quality education and maintaining high graduation rates.

NC State also made the Princeton Review’s list, as the number-four public university in the nation. Williams College in Massachusetts ranked first among private universities.


Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are participating in North Carolina’s first official pilot test with school buses filled with propane autogas, an alternative fuel designed to lower gas costs while also reducing toxic emissions.

The North Carolina Propane Gas Association is promoting the new technology in conjunction with Triangle Clean Cities Coalition and Triangle Air Awareness. They say propane autogas can reduce emissions by 80 percent compared to diesel fuel.

Other districts participating in the pilot program include Union, Brunswick, and Nash-Rocky Mount.


Carolina Brewery is celebrating its 19th birthday with events beginning on Wednesday, February 5 and running through Saturday the 8th–including the debut of a new “Anniversary Ale” and a pint glass giveaway on Friday the 7th.

Visit for a full schedule of events.

A Day At Southern Season, Or: From Beer To Eternity

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, University Mall is holding a press conference to make an announcement. (“Reimagine University Mall,” they’re calling it.) We don’t know what they’re going to say yet, but Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will be there along with town economic development officer Dwight Bassett and Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson—so clearly they’re thinking it’s big. Dillard’s is likely going to be closing within a couple months, so the best bet is that they’ll be announcing a new anchor to replace it—and “movie theater” is the latest rumor—but we won’t know until 10:00.

In the meantime, to mark the occasion, I’m devoting my next two entries to writing about the U-Mall. Enjoy.


You know, it might just be the beer talking, but I think I’m really starting to like University Mall.

Wait, wait. Let me go back a bit…

It was Saturday. I was in my apartment and I got a call from my roommate Kit, who’s the new theater manager at Deep Dish: could I swing by with his cell phone charger? Sure. So I drove to the mall, dropped off the cord, and then proceeded to do what I always do whenever I’m in any mall at all: obsessively walk the entire thing, from one end to the other and back.

(Side note: I almost never buy anything when I’m there, but for some reason I really love malls. Whenever I’m in a new city, I’m always compelled to visit the mall; it’s how I judge metropolii.)

So. I wind up in Southern Season, a Chapel Hill institution that Kit recently overheard a guy describe as “Hillshire Farms on steroids.” (Yep, pretty accurate.) My plan was simple: walk around the store, admire all the fancy foods I can’t afford, grab a free sample of something if possible, and leave quietly without a trace.

(Oh my God, I’m Chapel Hill white trash.)

But my plan was cruelly thwarted! I wasn’t five steps into Southern Season before I was faced with an offer I couldn’t refuse, an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, a temptation I couldn’t resist:

It was Beer Extravaganza day, y’all.

Yes, Southern Season’s Beer Extravaganza: eighteen tables set up around the store, each manned by a pair of friendly brewers and local food producers, dishing and pouring out samples of their wares for anyone willing to drop eight bucks on a ticket to get in line. It was heavenly. I spent the next two hours ambling from table to table, stuffing myself with hops and goat cheese, chatting up the farmers and the brewers and eavesdropping on all the other extravaganza-goers in line with me. (Hipsters with beards, mostly.)

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This is Doug from Mystery Brewing Co., which was offering two selections: an English ale called “Pickwick” and a Belgian IPA called “Fantine.” I recommend the Fantine, partly because it’s a damn good beer and partly because it’s a damn good musical.

I was buzzed by the time I got to Table Six. It was all a lovely blur from there.

By Table Nine, I’d already imbibed Duck Rabbit’s milk stout, Carolina Brewery’s winter seasonal (“Santa’s Secret”), and something from Double Barley Brewing called “Thrilla in Vanilla.” And those were just the highlights. At Table Ten I found Nikko and Kathryn of Starpoint Brewing in Carrboro, who kindly explained to me the difference between an “IPA” and a “double IPA.” IPAs are hoppy, they said. Double IPAs are—well, more hoppy. (Their double IPA was called “Duh,” which in retrospect I should’ve seen coming.)

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This is Nikko and Kathryn. (The “Duh” was very good, by the way.) Starpoint Brewing doesn’t have a storefront right now, partly by choice and partly by circumstance: “We were going to open (a place) at Starpoint,” Nikko said, “but then they put a Walmart there.” There’s your impact of the Chatham Walmart on local business here in Orange, folks. (Incidentally, while you’re admiring the picture, get a load of that guy’s shirt back there. That was one heck of a t-shirt, let me tell you.)

At Table Twelve a server from the Weathervane came in with a tray of sweet bruschetta topped with honey jelly, candied pecans, and something the Lonerider Brewing reps called “goat cheese mousse.”

“I’ve, uh…never heard those three words in that order before,” I said.

It was quite tasty. Apparently it wasn’t the first tray either, because as soon as the Weathervane guy set it down, folks swooped in from three different directions to grab a piece. Things were getting pretty hot and heavy at the Beer Extravaganza, y’all.

Clearly it was about time to call it an afternoon. I hit the last six tables, doubled back for one more round of Duh, and staggered out, happier and lighter in the head. There’s a lot of good local beer out there, you guys. (And a surprising amount of good goat cheese as well.)

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Someone had chalked this next to Table Eight (Gizmo Brewery and Sweet Reasons Barbeque), but they could have just as easily done it anywhere.

Now. Just what was Santa’s secret?

Carolina Brewery Event Builds Burgers, Builds Community

matt clements build a burger carolina breweryI was lucky enough to be on the panel of judges for the Carolina Brewery’s Build A Brewery Burger competition this past weekend, held at their Pittsboro location. I’ll first admit that I’m not usually a fan of columns written in the first person, but sometimes it’s necessary — like when telling a story. And that’s exactly what a recap of the Brewery event deserves: a great story.

In its third year, the competition asks locals to submit recipes for a beef burger, with the winner’s design finding its way onto the fall menu at the restaurant. There are hundreds of submissions every year, which are eventually whittled down to six finalists. The ultimate selection is not only based on the judge’s panel, but also with a “people’s choice” element, based on which burger customers like the most. If this sounds like a community get-together as opposed to just a publicity stunt, you’re starting to understand why it’s such a cool event for Chapel Hill and the surrounding area.

A portion of the proceeds even go to the Sunrise Theater Charity in Southern Pines, in memory of Mary Rice — a founding member of the Carolina Brewery, and the mother of Chris Rice, one of the original owners of the Chapel Hill establishment. Mary was a devoted contributor to local arts and the theater in her hometown of Southern Pines — where the Brewery hosts a golf tournament every year in her memory. And what better way to celebrate Mary than by supporting her hometown and hometown-in-spirit of Chapel Hill with fantastic food, beer and arts.

Carrying on this connection to the surrounding community, Restaurant Director of Operations Matt Clements makes sure the beef is all natural and local — partnering with Lilly Den Farm in Goldston, NC. The Brewery donates their spent grains to the farm, which then repays the favor by supplying Matt (and more importantly, his customers) with hormone and antibiotic-free beef that is raised responsibly, humanely, and locally.

And, my goodness, was this beef good. The burgers were just fantastic (cooked perfectly by the Brewery’s chefs no less — remember, because the beef is locally sourced it can be cooked medium-rare). Of the six finalists, there were ultra-creative choices likes the Asian Persuasion (delicious Portobello/umami mixture) and Sweet & Spicy (peach chutney!), gorgeous presentations like the Mac & Bleu (blue cheese macaroni — the judge’s eventual favorite) and Caprese (fresh mozzarella and basil), and classic savory concoctions like the Tar Heel Tex (a chili-esque flavor with cumin) and the San Antonio (refried black beans, salsa and fritos).

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I could have delved much deeper into the actual ingredients and judge’s critiques, but that wasn’t really the point here — which was perfectly illustrated by the runner-up’s response to the final tally. The San Antonio Burger (my favorite!) came in a close second, and naturally the designer was disappointed. But not for why you think. Did they want to win? Sure. But what they really wanted was just to be able to eat their favorite burger and share it with friends when they went to their favorite brewery! That was way more important than any sort of award. How cool is that?

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For everyone involved, it wasn’t really about the prize or pride in “winning” — it was about contributing great food and great times to their loved ones and local hangouts. And if you haven’t already guessed it, maybe they weren’t actually building burgers at all, but community.

And that right there is a great story.

Update: The Mac and Bleu Burger won the Judge’s and People’s Choice voting in the closest contest yet!

All photography via Matt Clements and the Carolina Brewery

AARP Honors BCBS; Flood Damage Evaluation; Carolina Burgers

CHAPEL HILL – Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina was recognized by AARP as one of 2013’s Best Employers for Workers over 50.

A special award ceremony is being held on Wedneday at 3:00 p.m. at the BCBS Auditorium on Chapel Hill Blvd. Blue Cross Blue Shield joins an assorted group of health systems, corporations, and non-profit organizations on AARP’s national Top 50 list.

The Best Employer award is designed to highlight exemplary policies toward workers age 50 and older. This year marks the fourth instance in which Blue Cross Blue Shield has made an appearance on the Best Employer list.


In the wake of the recent Orange County floods, county officials will conducted a joint assessment on Tuesday surveying the most affected areas to determine the severity of the damage.

The survey will determine whether there have been sufficient uninsured and underinsured losses to homes and businesses to request a USSBA Disaster Loan Declaration.

The Declaration offers low interest loans to qualified applicants.


Can you make a tasty burger? Carolina Brewery is accepting entries to its Annual Build-A-Brewery Burger Contest now through July 22.

The winner of the contest will receive a grill and the honor of having their specially designed burger featured on the Fall Menu at the restaurant.

To enter, just write down the ingredients of your delicious burger concoction and email to the list to or grab a submission form at either the Chapel Hill or Pittsboro brewery locations.