Just East of Five-Points, on a stretch of land that only a few years ago was the resting place of deprecated factories and abandoned warehouses, a string of breweries have arisen in what has become a self-proclaimed “Brewery Row.” One of these breweries, Neuse River Brewing Company, housed in an old building that was once used for fire truck repair, is in the vanguard for the revitalization of this part of town.
Built in 1946, their building still shows signs of its previous incarnation. A little alcove off to the left side of the front entrance was originally used to paint all the fire truck bells and whistles. Now it serves to hold a collection of board games and a small art gallery. Large bay doors open the brewery up to a pleasant outdoor seating area beside an herb garden, and a few shutters adorn the walls to cover large holes that once housed recessed lighting.
The décor of NRBC, despite the building’s industrial roots, is faintly reminiscent of West Coast wineries, with tons of old wood and very open, sunny windows. In the center of their arched ceiling is a “Big Ass Fan” (manufactured by the Big Ass Fan Company), which some may recognize from such establishments as Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, downtown. Full of reclaimed and hand-carved wood, the place imbues a very comfortable, earthy atmosphere. The facade of the bar is lined with tobacco sticks that are over 100 years old. Some of the wood even comes from local farms, or the crates in which their equipment was shipped. Their wooden flight paddles are carved in the style of their logo and are possibly the most decadent in the triangle. With the sweet smell of malt lingering in the rafters and the warm glow of their golden Belgian ales, one might get the feeling of having been transported to a generations-old farmhouse somewhere in French Belgium, rather than an old warehouse on the outskirts of Downtown Raleigh.
This décor was largely influenced by their founder, Ryan Kylarov’s, travels. Though he is a Raleigh native, he spent several years living in the Caribbean and Northern California, where he worked for a chemical consulting firm that consulted with several breweries and wineries in Sonoma concerning water quality and technology. While in Northern California, Ryan reconnected with his friend David Powell, also a Raleigh Native. The two had been homebrewing for several years and, seeing an increase in enthusiasm for craft beer, decided to move back to Raleigh to reconnect with their roots and open a brewery of their own. They now operate Neuse River Brewing with the help of several friends and family members.
NRBC adheres to the belief that craft beer can learn from the model of the California wine boom, the idea that beer can be an artisanal product, refined into a fuller, richer experience that can enhance the community. To them, beer is far from being that pale, watery substance commonly chugged at frat parties, it is something with richer, more robust flavors to be savored and appreciated as the delicacy it was always meant to be. “People have beers that they lay down for a year or two and age them like a fine wine,” Ryan tells me. “People love the novelty of craft beers.”
NRBC has a focus on Belgian Ales, and attempt to experiment with blending new beer styles with the traditional Belgian styles that have been perfected over many generations. Every beer (besides their IPA) is made either in the Belgian style or using a Belgian Yeast.
Their Bier de Neuse (4%) is a traditional session saison that uses French saison yeast for a spicier, more floral nose. Saisons originate from Southern, French Belgium where they would be drank by farm workers in amounts of up to five liters per day to combat dehydration. Their Neusiok Imperial Saison (9%) is a stronger, double grain, dry hopped version of this traditional recipe. Though five liters a day of this might be a bit excessive, a pint after work will definitely help to take the edge off. The Riverkeeper’s Wit (6%) is a traditional Belgian-style wit beer with added orange peel and coriander. It’s a lighter beer that’s easy to drink and a portion of the proceeds from each sale go toward cleaning and conservation efforts along the Neuse River and its tributaries. Laila’s Midnight Dark IPA (6%) breaks from their Belgian base a bit to introduce an experimental IPA brewed with dark “Midnight” and other roasted malts. Their Bobbi Brune (6%) is a smoked brown ale laced with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. It is brewed with a healthy dose of smoked cherry wood malt that gives it hints of vanilla and caramel. Their Affluent Tripel (10.5%) is a complex brew with hints of raisin, vanilla, and other fruity esters in a sneakily strong mixture that has become one of NRBC’s most sought-after offerings. Caleb’s High Noon (7.8%) is an Imperial IPA full of West Coast hops that impart a piney, robust, 100+ IBU brew that should be approached carefully, as it might dominate one’s palate for the rest of the night.
Their 20bbl brewhouse opened in July of 2015. While they have some distribution with sixtel kegs around town in places like Busy Bee and various bottle shops, they are still building up their production and are being careful not to outsell themselves as they grow. So if you’d like to get your hands on some of this delicious Belgian-inspired ale, I recommend stopping by their brewhouse when you get the chance.
“When you see it being created, it means something,” Ryan believes. “It’s not just something you’re buying from a shelf. You’re here at the place of inception. So you get to, for that couple minutes, be a part of it. I think it’s very cool.”
The breweries popping up in this nearly-forgotten part of town are going a long way to bring new life to the surrounding community. They are working together to provide a place for people to meet and be neighborly. Neuse River Brewing Company shares a lot of business with the other breweries on “Brewery Row” (ie, Nickelpoint, LBC, Sub Noir, and Big Boss), so if you live in the area or are just passing through, drop by to help be a part of this new life.
[Originally published in the Triangle Downtowner Magazine]