In the winter of 2012, there was trouble brewing. In the back corner of a nondescript industrial park on the outskirts of RDU airport, one of the smallest production breweries in the state, Roth Brewing, had fallen on hard times and decided to shut their taps for good. It may be difficult to imagine, in a city so rich with craft beer, that one closing brewery would make much difference in the scheme of things. But then you would be underestimating the power of beer.
During its brief existence, the small brewery had become a local haunt for many of the workers in the surrounding industrial park, a place to meet up for drinks after work. Luckily for us, its closing was not something that these workers took lightly. A small group of them, mostly engineers, pooled together their resources and bought the now defunct Roth Brewing along with all of its equipment. By the next spring, they had a new lineup of beers and a totally reimagined brewery under the name of Gizmo Brew Works.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. For Gizmo, it was the simple need for a good beer after work that became their foundation. The owners still work in the industrial park, but now they also run Gizmo. As Head Brewer, Joe Walton, clarifies, “Our current owners were all regulars here. Matt, our director of operations, works in the building next door. Jeff’s shop is two buildings over. Brian lives close to here. There’s two Brians. Bryan Williams is our CEO, Brian Shaw is also an owner but is our sales manager.” (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz after). “Liz, same thing… She works close and this is kind of their bar. Just like half the people in the industrial park, as soon as they get off work they come over here to have a beer rather than going up the street to a bar. It’s convenient, it’s close, and you’re supporting the people in your local community.”
Though Gizmo Brew Works is housed in the same location that once held Roth Brewing, Gizmo has evolved into a very different kind of brewery. Joe is very careful to make this distinction. “The floor used to slope this way,” he says with a slash of his hand, “so when they would brew, they would have to squeegee everything out the front door.” But under new ownership they’ve installed trench drains in the brewhouse and built a tap room out of reclaimed wood, along with a host of other improvements.
Probably the first thing you’ll notice about Gizmo is that their entire existence seems piecemeal, their very logo is a mishmash of different tools. “Half of our owners are engineers.” Joe explains. “We do 90% of what we do here by ourselves.” The bar stools are elevated swivel chairs and, in a storage area stacked with bags of malt, a picnic table doubles as a lounge. “It’s kinda funny… half the people love the fact that it’s basically a garage in here, but the other half hate that. It’s never a question of beer quality.”
Gizmo Brew Works offers four year-round flagship beers, a few seasonals, and a series of one-offs they refer to as The Inventor’s Series. This is a fairly common lineup for most breweries, yet Gizmo’s menu seems longer somehow, likely because each of their beers is so phenomenal.
The Golden Ale-Ement (4.6% ABV) is likely their most palatable selection for those new to the craft beer movement. It’s a well-balanced Golden Ale with a hint of lemon and a light pilsner finish that’s dangerously easy to drink. “It’s actually a very difficult beer to make,” says Joe, “because it’s difficult to mask any flaws in the beer when it’s that clean.” In the same vein is their Beekeeper Honey Wheat (5.5% ABV), a light-bodied and refreshingly floral wheat beer that’s not too heavy on the weizen. It’s recipe calls for 20 pounds of pure, fermentable, wildflower honey. It was originally brewed as a summer release but was so popular they decided to keep it on year-round.
For all the hop heads, there’s the Palisade Wasp (6.8% ABV), an IPA brewed with the lower alpha acid Palisade hop, which tends to be used more often as an aroma hop than for bittering. “It’s expensive to do that but you can achieve these flavors that are different from other IPAs because nobody is using the hops that you have.” It’s a crisp, citrusy IPA with a clean finish.
Then, for a darker beer, there’s the Black Stiletto Stout (6.1% ABV). Even if you’re not a big fan of stouts, I think you’ll find this beer to be exceptional – a spot-on blend of black patent and chocolate malts. The Black Stiletto, on its own, is smooth and robust, an above-par stout. But here’s where it gets interesting: for a limited time, they’ve added coffee to it. The Black Stiletto Coffee Stout (6.1% ABV) is the same base beer with the addition of 50 pounds of locally-roasted Ethiopian coffee from Benelux in Raleigh. It is, simply put, the best coffee stout I have ever tasted. It’s a rich blend of dark malts and espresso that leaves you savoring every sip. “It smells like pure espresso,” Joe says, “but it tastes almost like a cup of coffee that’s got cream and sugar in it already.” I recommend finding some of this one-off before it runs out. It is currently tapped at the brewery and distributed in 22-oz “bombers” at various bottle shops in the Triangle.
Other limited-release brews now available are Aztec Gold (9.2% ABV), an Imperial Stout brewed with Belizean cocoa roasted by Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh; Alternating Current (5.3% ABV), an Altbier which won bronze in the 2014 Carolinas Chapionship of Beer; Black Hop Down (7% ABV), a seasonal India Black Ale; and Prototype (4.7% ABV), a Pale Ale. I’m also told there’s a Barley Wine in the works which will be ready next month.
Gizmo Brew Works is open Wed-Sat and offers tours, food trucks, and bands most weekends. While I find the location to have a charming hole-in-the-wall vibe, it may not be for the faint of heart. If you’re looking for a posh night out on the town with a view of the skyline, then… well, you probably shouldn’t be out near the airport in the first place. But if, like a growing percentage of the populace, you roam the hinterlands in search of that ephemeral nectar of the goddess Ninkasi, then a stop at Gizmo should definitely be on your itinerary.
[Originally published in the Triangle Downtowner Magazine]