BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 9, 2010
NBC17: Where did the "Bull City" moniker come from, anyway?

The Beer City: The Triangle’s rising prominence in American beer culture

Note: This article is third in a three part series on beer in Durham.

Most folks can agree that North Carolina is well-known for its beer. 

To be clear, all the recent honors in the beer industry have been bestowed to our Appalachian neighbor to the West, Asheville (including a very recent nod to the city and its nine breweries as “Beer City USA”). 

The Triangle region, however, may just have what it takes to step forward as a beer destination, bringing tourists and their pocketbooks to savor food and drink on a long weekend.

The Triangle already has many attributes that would make it perfect as a beer destination, the most important of which is an active brewery scene. By recent counts, Carolina’s piedmont region plays host to 12 breweries and brewpubs (to those keeping count—Triangle, Fullsteam, LoneRider, Roth, Big Boss, Carolina Brewing Co, Natty Greene’s, Aviator, Boylan Bridge, Top of the Hill, and Carolina Brewery in both Chapel Hill and Pittsboro). 

Additionally, our bars and restaurants understand beer. It is commonplace to walk into any bar or restaurant and choose from at least a dozen regional and national craft beers on tap, plus dozens more in bottles. 

As locals, we've come to take for granted the variety and atmosphere that many beer enthusiasts can only dream of.

Additional draws to the Triangle include a strong restaurant scene and a cluster of performance venues including the Carolina Theatre, DPAC, Man Bites Dog Theater, and Common Ground (with many opportunities to watch the performance arts in our neighbor cities as well). 

Durham’s restaurant scene has received lots of national press in recent years, with the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrborro metropolitan area being selected in 2008 as Bon Appetit’s Foodiest Small Town in America, and recent articles in the New York Times featuring our farm-to-fork establishments. 

The emphasis on local ingredients is making its way to the Triangle’s beer scene, as described in the earlier feature on Fullsteam Brewery.

North Carolina’s Triangle has a steady flow of business travelers, which provides the region with a readily reachable market of visitors capable of extending their trips by a weekend. Reaching this market and convincing them to spend time and money in local establishments will be the obstacle in making our region a beer destination. 

To be clear, there are challenges faced by beer travelers, the biggest of which being the considerable distance separating breweries and brewpubs in our region.

No one staying in Durham would be comfortable trekking to Holly Springs and Raleigh on a beer crawl if they had to travel by car back to their hotel, for instance.

Recently, some enterprising companies have begun to offer bus tours of breweries in the region; however, this option may not appeal to people that don’t want to be constrained by a set schedule. 

Additionally, many beers made in the Triangle are not available for purchase outside of the Piedmont.  As such, marketing the region as a beer destination will be critical in attracting out-of-state visitors to the region. 

A successful campaign would need to pair visitors’ bureaus from multiple municipalities (which at times can seem a Herculean feat) with a beer industry group such as the NC Brewers Guild.

Despite the challenges, it is easy to imagine North Carolina’s Triangle evolving into a full-fledged beer destination. 

As a region, we generally appreciate beer (giving rise to Durham and regional fixtures like Tyler’s Tap Room and All About Beer magazine) and we have the events and overall relaxed atmosphere sought by beer enthusiasts. 

If the region is able to position itself properly, it can increase tourism and help to expand both the tax base and number of available jobs.  The precedent for alcohol-as-economic-development exists, notably two hours West with the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, but the creation of a successful campaign will hinge on the ability of local establishments and governments to cooperate in the region's marketing -- something that can be difficult at times.



Right on! I'm thrilled with the progress in the beer culture here since Pop the Cap! You left out one other strong pillar of the beer scene...Sam's Quik Mart. It is without a doubt one of the best beer retailers in the country!


Good point MP.

Does anyone know the status of Triangle Transit's efforts to condemn Sam's through eminent domain in order to build surface parking for the Ninth Street transit station?

Given the recent demolition of the Graybar Electric Building on Duke Street for the same purpose (clearing the way for surface parking for a transit station that may not ever happen), I've been wondering if/when we might really lose our landmark beer store.

Shelly Green, DCVB

You've hit the nail on the head about why a "beer trail" including all the breweries in the Triangle is problematic...no one wants to drive those distances and then have to drive 30 miles back to their hotel. That's why only about 3% of visitors to Raleigh and Durham overlap.

HOWEVER - getting the Visitor Bureaus to work together is NOT a Herculean task! We've been working together for 20 years in coop marketing through the Destination Marketing Association of NC.

But even more important to this topic...we are already working together jointly (Raleigh CVB, Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, Chatham County Visitors Bureau and Durham CVB) on two promotions that DO make sense on a regional basis - because they are not designed to experience everything in a single day or on a single trip.

This becomes a great way for all of us to promote daytrip visitation as well as multiple overnight trips (staying in Chapel Hill one visit, Durham on another, etc.)

We are currently working a promotion of the region's agritourism businesses. This would include breweries, farmer's markets, U-Pick farms, farm-to-table restaurants, slow food events, food tours, etc. We have a wealth of these in all four counties. Currently we are at the database stage since not every bureau inventories all of those things (DCVB does!) By fall we hope to have a web site and print piece available.

Jon T

I think the importance of All About Beer magazine as a driving force behind our beer culture was understated. The Durham World Beer Festival was the first and (IMOH)still the greatest of their events. Also, Daniel and Julie are very willing to share their knowledge with locals thru beer tastings and other events. I'm sure they are great ambassadors for Durham too as they travel around the world.

Also, don't forget about the Durham homebrewing scene. I dropped out of that scene a few years ago when babies came along. When I actively brewed, Durham was the headquarters for TRUB, the local homebrewers group. Keith Klemp and others were more than willing to share their knowledge at monthly brew-ins and other events. Durham also has a homebrew supply shop. Just drive out East Geer, past Hwy 70, on the right near E. Club and you will see it.

Lee L

Wow, if it is true that only 3% of vistors to Durham and Raleigh overlap, thats why people think my wife and I are crazy. We live in Morrisville, which is conveniently located right in teh center of hte triangle area and we go to Durham and Raleigh pretty much equally, with CHapel Hill thrown into the mix.

Too much good stuff in all three to limit yourself.

I agree the beer scene is so much better since the Pop the Cap campaign. Seems like 75% of the beers I drink when out were not even legal here a few short years ago.

I really enjoy going on the various brewing tours, but I have to say, that of all the breweries in the area, Carolina Brewery in Holly Springs stands out for their willingness to support people consuming their products in kegs. They are the least expensive and do not have onerous keg deposit policies like some places (really Big Boss, $100 for a Keg deposit and you absolutely must have it back in 7 days? Not very user friendly). I support them as much as I can.

Also, since the DBAP has completely revamped their beer selection this year, I doubt many parks anywhere, Major or Minor have as diverse of a selection of beers or as many local or regional beers.

Patrick Morrison, All About Beer Magazine

Kevin, we appreciate the props. You certainly make a compelling case for Durham to give Asheville a run for its money as Beer City USA in 2011.

Speaking of beer and travel, if you haven't seen it, you might want to grab a copy of our special Beer Traveler issue on newsstands now. It addresses they very topic you speak to in this article about traveling to beer destinations world over.

Shelly Green, DCVB

Actually, the less than 3% overlap refers to visiting both places on the same trip. If you sometimes go to Chapel Hill, sometimes Raleigh, sometimes Durham...you are actually in the norm, and are helping to support what I said above...encourage multiples trips so all the destinations get a piece of the pie...and visitors aren't inconvenienced by spending a majority of their visit sitting in traffic on I-40.

Account Deleted

I second Jon T's citing of All About Beer magazine as a huge force in the NC beer scene. Years ago, when I first was getting into craft beer, I called up Daniel Bradford to see if he needed any help from a chronically-underemployed MBA. "Show up tomorrow," he told me.

I showed up the next day and stuffed envelopes for the Brewers Association of America (a group that since merged with the national Brewers Association). Over the following weeks, we got to talking about the 6% cap and from those conversations, Pop The Cap was born. I'm forever grateful for Daniel and Julie taking a chance on me.

Lastly, the area's great restaurants and beer bars are probably the biggest reason we love beer in the Triangle! Tyler's, the Federal, City Beverage, and all the area restaurants that serve local beer...without them, we wouldn't have a beer scene, merely breweries. Many of those owners work tirelessly and often behind-the-scenes to provide the latest and greatest beer from NC and beyond. Cheers to them!

Thanks for a great series, Rob! And for the opportunity to be interviewed!


My husband and I just returned from a trip to Asheville, where we worked hard to sample a beer from each of the local breweries...such hard work. One of our strategies was to participate in a Brews Cruise that took us and 20 other beer enthusiasts to 4 breweries by small bus. During the brewery tours, we learned about each of the brewery's processes and products, sampled several of their beer styles, and had fun chatting with the brew masters and others on the trip. By the end of the tour, in a happy beer haze, we were inspired to think about whether or not such a brews cruise could be started in Durham and could travel from Triangle Brewing Co to Fullsteam to Top of the Hill and Carolina Brewery within a reasonable amount of time. Our Asheville tour took about 3 hours. Sounds like a fun business.


This is fun. Great post and comments.

Moving back to the Triangle after 10 years in such beer-friendly places as Ireland and Seattle, I'm so glad to learn about "Pop the Cap" (so that's what it's called!).

The only stuff I'm a little sad about is that people don't spontaneously break into song, and "happy hour" is illegal.

The comments to this entry are closed.