Craft beer years are like dog years. one year can feel much longer than in some other businesses. This month, Carrboro's Steel String brewing celebrates its second anniversary. But, 27-year-old soft-spoken and bespectacled Eric Knight explains that for him and his partners, it really feels like four years because it took an additional two years to set up business operations for the brewery.
His partners are Will Isley (Brew Czar) and Andrew Scharfenberg (Logistics Czar). The title for Knight, a self-described his jack-of-all-trades, is Hoopla Czar. He's the one booking events, handling marketing and sometimes even bottling beer.
Almost two years into it, Knight is still shocked about the brewery's success. "Our first year anniversary made it feel real," he says as he sips, saison, a style traditionally made for farm workers. With peppery notes, this beer is usually brewed in the winter for mass consumption in the summer.
"Now we are adjusting to growth and looking to service more accounts," says Knight. He pauses, then adds, "Which means making more beer."
As Steel String ramps up to make more beer, they have begun focusing on bottling.
The bottles' label art, by Charles Sheppa, says Knight, is a reflection of the brewery's quirky, free-spirited disposition, says Knight, with the beers inspired by the music they find inspiring. That's one reason you'll find a bounty of local music on the brewery's events calendar.
Big Mon, Steel String Craft Brewery's offering in IPA category, is the company's flagship beer but it is also known for its saison (Little Sadie Farmhouse Ale which has appeared in this column before), as well as an array of collaborations with folks such as Raleigh's Trophy Brewing and Carrboro's Starpoint Brewing.
"I don't know of a more collaborative-friendly environment," Knight says about the area brewing scene and its young brewers. "First and foremost, we all care about making really good beer." It is a camaraderie he believes is born from the homebrew culture so many of them came from. He is still hoping to make a coffee pecan porter that was a favorite from his homebrewing days. "But pecans are expensive," he says.
This past weekend's Cardinal Directions Beerfest was inspired by the Homebrew for Hunger event held by their neighbors at Fifth Season Gardening Co. last year.
"We've been going to similar events as brewers and wanted to throw a brewer-centric event," Knight says. "But we wanted it to be accessible with a low-entry cost."
The event was themed around saisons with breweries from around the state attending: Twin Leaf (Asheville), Burial (Asheville), Pisgah (Black Mountain), Fonta Flora (Morganton), Haw River Farmhouse Ales (Saxapahaw), Mystery (Hillsborough), Ponysaurus (Durham), Crank Arm (Raleigh), Starpoint (Carrboro), Double Barley (Smithfield), TOPO (Chapel Hill).
What does the future hold for Steel String?
Knight sees the brewery expanding in the next five years. He also predicts the bottling line will grow and that there will be a constant stable of six-to-eight beers on tap in a more weather-friendly taproom. A few years back, Knight couldn't have predicted where they'd be today—but he can dream.
Greg Barbera is a freelance writer living in Chapel Hill. He contributed to the second edition pressing of 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die.