GREENSBORO, N.C. — Over the last decade or so, beer has become very big business.
But ask the guy who oversees the Craft Brewers Guild in North Carolina and he’ll tell you that’s not how to think of it at all.
“We’re a lot of small, family-run businesses,” said Rich Greene, executive director of the NC Craft Brewers Guild.
Greene is referring to families like the Odens.
Bill and Jan Oden are heading up the new brewery on Gate City Boulevard, planning to open in late 2019. But it was Bill’s great-grandfather, “Fate” Oden, who started it all with a soft drink company in that same building 80 years ago. Jan says they want it to have the same family feel the building has always engendered.
“It’s a place for people to come and bring their grandma and bring their dog,” Jan said.
Although beer sales nationwide were down 1 percent in 2018 – their first drop in most anyone’s memory – craft beer sales are still solid partly because they’re not so much about the beer (though that has to be good for the brewery to survive), they’re really about community.
“We are on the border of two very cool, small neighborhoods that need a place of their own,” said Oden’s head brewer, Brian Carter.
Greene said that’s always been the case – since way before Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to America’s founding.
“People came out and they talked about what was going on,” Greene said. “They were not happy with King George. Where did they meet? They met in public houses, they met over ales, they talked about what they wanted to do. That’s what our craft breweries are doing here in North Carolina today; we’re creating public places where you can bring your family, where you can bring your dog now, legally, and converse.”
And you can do it in a record number of places – almost all of them, as Greene points out, small and independent operations.
“We have 312 breweries in the state. In 2011, we had fewer than 75 and produced 120,000 barrels. Today, the state produces 1.25 million barrels,” Greene said. “But 200 of the 300 breweries make less than a thousand barrels of beer a year.”
Because it takes time to perfect the art of brewing – and it is, indeed, art for Carter, who has his Ph.D. in music from UNC-Greensboro.
“That often surprises people, they say, ‘Oh, an art degree, what the heck are you doing here?’ But I also think there are a lot of similarities. You have to be really ready for a lot of rejection because, no matter what you make, half of the people who drink it are going to be like, ‘This beer is terrible, what were you thinking?’ you know? And the other half would be like, ‘This beer is the best thing I’ve ever had in my life!’”
See Oden Brewery in this edition of The Buckley Report.