Hidden in plain sight in New Bern

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By Karen A. Mann

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pete Frey's journey to opening New Bern's first brewery began out of necessity. After moving to the area in 1999 to work as a boat builder at Hatteras Yachts, he quickly realized that there wasn't much in the way of craft beer in town. And that was a problem for a guy who had lived all over the world and developed a palette that went beyond basic brews.

"There was one Food Lion in town that sold Sierra Nevada, and they usually had only one case once a week," Frey says. "If you didn't get to the store quickly enough, it was gone."

Not long afterward, he discovered a home brew shop across the bridge in James City, and purchased his first kit.

"The owner kept telling me, 'You can brew better beer than what's out there.’ Eventually I listened to him. Of course, he could have just been getting me to buy some home brew equipment."

The result is Brewery 99 (nine is Frey’s lucky number), which began brewing in a hidden little 12x25-foot building in downtown New Bern in February, 2015. It's in a serious blink-and-you'll-miss-it location behind a row off offices in a building that originally was storage for an oil company. But many who have found it have become devoted fans. Business is booming to the extent that Frey was able to leave his job in early 2017 and focus on brewing full time. The tiny tap room -- with just nine bar stools— is open from 2 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The remainder of the week Frey focuses on brewing. He has even hired an assistant brewer to help with production.

Frey has three standing recipes in his five-barrel shop: Hideout Stout, Confignorant Pale Ale and Smoke American Wheat. To these he will add various extras -- everything from coffee to figs to blueberries — as long as it’s local and seasonal. Sometimes his loyal customers will return with treats such as Hideout jam, made with the stout.

Frey’s attention to local detail includes the water. Unlike some brewers who treat their water to mimic that from other parts of the world (an Irish stout might mimic the water from Dublin, for example), Frey wanted the beer to have a distinctly local flavor. He uses a carbon activated filter to strip sediment and the chemicals added by the city, lowering the ph one point, and adds zinc as a yeast nutrient.

“I wanted to make a beer that was special to where we live,” he says. The result is clean and crisp with fans of its own.

“I actually had a tap for sparkling water, but it just got in the way, so I removed it,” he says.

Frey loves being in the brewery and talking to people.

“People give me more credit than I deserve. It’s the people who make it, really awesome people in here, talking, having a good time, making friends. That’s what amazes me the most, that I didn’t plan on it. I had plans to make beer and sell beer. I didn’t realize I’d have 200 new friends every month!”

He’s also not afraid of competition. He would be more than happy if two or three more breweries popped up in New Bern.

“One of my favorite parts about driving to Durham to get my malt, is that I get to go to five other breweries along the way. There’s a beer culture there that’s not here … yet.”

Brewery 99 can be found at 417-F Broad Street in New Bern or at http://www.brewery99.com/.