If conditions are particularly congested on Pershing Road, a winding lane that curves past concrete factories and printing presses just outside of Raleigh's Five Points neighborhood, it may be necessary to park in front of one brewery to walk the 200 feet to another. No one planned the mild inconvenience.
Less than a year ago, Nickelpoint Brewing opened in a former plumbing factory in the isolated industrial zone. When former home brewer Bruce Corregan first saw the space that he now regards as his second home, he realized the location would give his fledgling business an outlier advantage: The families tucked into the pockets of houses partially obscured from his brewery by a thin row of pine and oak trees would no longer have to head downtown for a drink or to meet friends. They could simply traipse through the woods.
"This space, for us, was the best of both worlds. It's zoned commercial, so it's what we needed for production," says Corregan. Sitting in the brewery's small quality-control lab, he wears a tie-dye shirt and shorts, with safety goggles on top of a stained N.C. State hat. His long graying hair spills out of the sides, so that he looks like a cross between Doc Brown and Bob Weir. "But we're 500 feet from a residential area, so people can walk over to our taproom, too."
Just before Nickelpoint opened, though, on a day when Corregan was brewing some of the first batches in his upgraded space, two strangers intruded upon his idyllic hideaway: David Powell and Ryan Kolarov, young North Carolina natives who had recently returned from California, announced that they, too, would be opening a brewery. In fact, their Neuse River Brewing Company would soon begin its overhaul of a former fire-truck factory just four doors down from Nickelpoint.
"I have to choose my words carefully," says Corregan, throwing his head back to laugh. "It was interesting. I thought, 'Why would you open a brewery right next to one that just opened?' But then I started thinking about it, and I realized that this was becoming a brewery district. And it's going to be good for all of us."
- Photo by Alex Boerner
The accidental proximity of the two new Five Points breweries is indicative of a larger issue in the Triangle—a sudden newfound density of services, outlets and opportunities that, until recently, the Triangle never had at all.
In Durham, for instance, two ostentatious boutique hotels, both complete with lavish bars and restaurants, tower into the sky with little more than a block separating them. Two new distilleries will open in the city of about 250,000 by year's end. And back on Raleigh's Glenwood Avenue, two miles away from Nickelpoint and Neuse River, you can hopscotch between bottle shops, bars and a new beer garden with 366 taps. Remember, only a decade ago, you couldn't sell beers in North Carolina that eclipsed 6 percent ABV, let alone manufacture and distribute them.
But near Five Points, both breweries have realized they can help build each other's business not by competing or even cooperating but simply by doing something distinct, both in the pint glass and beyond it. They may work jointly for an industrial-zone block party, but they don't yet have plans to brew together. Through different inventories and ambitions, they want to live on the same street without getting in each other's lane.
"When we got here, I noticed that this brewery was opening, that brewery was opening. And I said, 'Let's move on this,'" says Kolarov, sipping his own Neusiok saison on a bright Thursday afternoon. "But when I started doing our market research and looking into demographics, I realized there was so much room to grow. The growth of this area is staying ahead of its beer supply."
That beer supply is actually the most important, immediate difference between the neighbors: Nickelpoint focuses on customary European beers, including rather light takes on both English IPAs and porters. Throughout the summer, Corregan has unveiled a new small-batch, typically fruit-based beer each month. His aim, however, is to perfect and promote his flagship brands, just as it has been since he and his partners—his biochemist brother and two friends who work for technology companies—developed their business plan three years ago.
- Photo by Alex Boerner
"I tend to think of the beer market as a pyramid. The bottom and middle of the pyramid are not drinking craft beer, or maybe a little. I want to convert the people in the middle," he says. "To do that, I can't kick them in the teeth. You have to get something that's drinkable and that they enjoy but has some flavor notes they don't get from an American lager."
Neuse River, on the other hand, favors the stronger side of brewing, particularly Belgian styles. Their opening lineup includes a rich saison and a tripel that pushes past the 10 percent mark. That saison recipe stemmed from a happy accident, where scaling up to their larger system produced less of a much stronger, more bitter beer. They decided to keep it. They speak of their future brews less like absolute blueprints and data sets and more like rough drafts, a philosophy that stems from their years spent brewing on the Creedmoor farm that belongs to Kolarov's father. They have yet to settle on the order in which those new drafts will arrive.
"We've got more recipes in mind," says Powell, "than we're ever going to be able to make."
Nickelpoint, then, feels like the mannered older brother to the edgier and potentially more interesting misfit kid, Neuse River. Their definitions of success differ in telling ways, too. Nickelpoint invested early in equipment that Neuse River doesn't even yet have, like a bright tank where the beer matures. They'll get there eventually, they say, though, for now, their emphasis seems to be on the taproom experience—a big patio edged by a lush garden, massive paintings of jazz musicians, an ornate logo backlit with soft blue neon.
- Photo by Alex Boerner
For Corregan, though, his rather drab, office-space-like taproom is clearly a second-class citizen, a place where he can have customers before he reaches the masses. He speaks about Nickelpoint's expansion not as a matter of if but rather of when. He has a concrete timeline for getting beer into restaurants through kegs and stores through cans. And his brother the biochemist, Matt, runs a spectrophotometer in the facility's lab, where he can calculate both the bitterness and alcohol content of any particular batch. He can also analyze the output for any bacteria that might have entered the process, so that the potential for waste is low and the standards are exacting.
"We decided early on that, when it comes time to make an investment, it would always be on the production side of our brewery, not spending $10,000 on a new bar," Corregan says. "If we're going to grow in this market, we have to have the capability to go beyond the Triangle. Because the Triangle is getting very crowded."
- Photo by Alex Boerner
This article appeared in print with the headline "Double hopped"