Uptown Brewing Co. to launch canned light craft beer
By Brenda Monty
The (snow Hill) Standard-Laconic
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
SNOW HILL — Uptown Brewing Co., a Greenville-based craft beer brewery, announced Friday that Greene County is to become the home of a brand new company, Billy Beer Incorporated, America’s first manufacturer of light craft beer in cans.
Uptown Brewing, which opened a brewery and taproom in downtown Greenville in January 2016, plans to open a brewing and canning operation for the Billy Beer brand in a 10,000-square-foot facility to be built on 4.3 acres at the Northwest Greene Industrial Park, located on U.S. 264-Alternate, near Walstonburg and the Pitt County border.
The manufacturer will become the first industry to occupy the county’s 58-acre industrial park, which was established in 2006.
The company plans to initially hire five full-time employees and grow to 15-20 full- and part-time positions by the end of the first year.
“We really have some big, big plans for Greene County. And I’m not just saying that. When I see the likes of a Cam McCrae and Bobby Ham and folks like that doing what they’re doing at Cutter Creek (Golf Club) and Covington (Vodka) and other ventures, it gives a lot of validity to us going to Greene County,” said Billy Dunn of Greenville, the president and owner of the company. “We are going to pull out all the stops to try and have beer in cans by September 1, to be ready for football season.”
The Kinston native and successful entrepreneur credits the hard work and effort of Rick Davis, Greene County’s economic developer, county manager Kyle DeHaven and his friend Pat Adams, a Snow Hill resident and the chairwoman of the Greene County Board of Education, for their company’s decision to come to Greene County.
Adams is a beloved longtime friend of both Dunn, as well as Ben Self, the brew master at Uptown Brewing Co., the mastermind behind the patented Billy Beer formula.
Also on the team was Halley Hawkins of the East Carolina University Small Business and Technology Development Center or SBTDC.
Self, as well as Dunn’s brother, Donald, and son, Brad, are partners in the Billy Beer venture.
“Between SBTDC, Kyle, Rick and Ms. Pat, there was no doubt we were going with Greene County, not only because they were aggressive and responsive, but because we’re on a pretty strict timeline,” Dunn said. “We don’t have anything in writing, but I feel very good because we’ve got the handshake of two gentlemen (Davis and DeHaven) and the word of a lady like Ms. Pat Adams, that we feel good enough about it. We’re committed to coming to Greene County.”
Not only are Dunn and his partners excited about bringing the company to Greene County, they are excited to be the first industry at the industrial park.
“By being the first at this park, we believe we have a responsibility to make our facility very attractive and successful in order to help bring other companies to the industrial park,” Dunn said. “We really like the adaptability of the site. The industrial park site gave us plenty of options for a build. One thing that has driven this is that U.S. 264 is right there.
“We are very excited to see what Billy Beer can become once we start brewing in the new facility. ... We would like to make it where many in Greene County will not have to move away in order to advance in a good career.”
The county has proposed an incentive package to Billy Beer Inc., Davis explained. The county would invest up to $500,000 to construct a metal building and set up a lease-purchase agreement with Billy Beer Inc., which would include a reduced price for the 4.3 acres of land.
The monthly payment would be based on a 30-year low interest loan schedule. The company is to make a balloon payment for the balance in five years. The company would pay all the taxes and insurance on the property, but the county would hold the mortgage until the loan is paid in full, Davis said.
“The county has the cash in the bank to do this,” he said, adding there would be no need to raise taxes. “The only thing that is going to change is the county will have a taxpayer. I viewed it as a big opportunity because it got us an industrial park for real.”
Ample water and sewer infrastructure is already available to the site. Electricity will need to be run to the Billy Beer site and a paved road put in. The company will operate on propane gas, while the county seeks a quote from Piedmont gas to run a 16,000-foot natural gas pipeline to the industrial site. The county will seek grants to help with the cost of that project, according to Davis.
“Us building them this building gives them five years to get up and running. It eases the pain of having to take out a commercial loan,” Davis said, adding he estimates the county would receive a nominal 1.88 percent return on its financial investment.
“They get a lower interest rate on the loan and a reduced price of the land. We’re going to make the investment and have a small return as good as we’d get with money sitting at the bank.
“Even if we didn’t make anything, it would still be a good investment for us because it brings the industrial park to life. That’s a win-win-win.”
The county commissioners are 100 percent supportive of the deal, Davis said. A public hearing on the incentive package is set at 7 p.m. Monday.
“The public hearing is to inform people how we’re going to spend public money in the near term and get some return on it to boot,” Davis said.
Davis is confident the county can meet Billy Beer Inc.’s timeline.
One of the major motivators to break ground within the next few weeks is East Carolina University, the company’s second largest customer.
Uptown Brewing Co. was the only craft beer East Carolina University used last year, Billy said. This coming football season, East Carolina University will no longer serve beer on tap at games.
“This year they’re going to cans. We don’t want to miss out on that. We’ve got to be canning beer by Sept. 1, in time for football season,” Dunn said.
In addition, Billy Beer Inc. has verbal agreements with several major grocery and convenience store chains that are ready and eager to market the product, which they believe will fly off the shelves.
“Beer takes time to turn into good beer. Billy Beer, from A to Z is a 45-day process,” Dunn said.
Self added, “Because it’s a light beer (3.2 percent alcohol by volume), it doesn’t take a long time to ferment, but one of the keys to Billy Beer is its conditioning time. That means we have to have more and bigger tanks. That is what is necessitating a shell building that was 10,000 square feet just to begin with.”
The owners anticipate the market will drive them to add on to the building within a few years.
Billy Beer Inc. has already partnered with R.A. Jeffrey’s Distributing Co. of Goldsboro, a distributor for Anheuser Busch.
“We are their only craft beer company from North Carolina east of U.S. 95,” Dunn said proudly.
The company anticipates the name Billy Beer will bring instant recognition to some potential consumers. The name descends from the beer endorsed by Billy Carter in the late 1970s.
Uptown Brewing simply purchased the name from its last owner because it fit with one of its unadvertised but very popular brews being served by request at the Greenville location.
“We hope they remember the name but not associate us with the original beer,” Dunn said, adding theirs tastes much better.
The labeling will retain one of the iconic trademarks of the original Billy Beer, said Self. The original label carried a quote from Billy Carter endorsing the beer. Similarly, Billy Beer Inc.’s label will also carry an endorsement message.
“I’m a connoisseur of light beer, so I had this one brewed just for me. I think you’ll like it too,” signed by Billy Dunn.
Self is confident the launch of the new product is excellent timing in world of craft beer brewing.
“We are now at another cusp, where the line between craft beer drinkers and regular everyday beer drinkers has gotten blurred. … I feel we are going to be the first to say, ‘People drink light beer not because they’re poor or they don’t care. It’s because they like that taste.’ We can give them that taste and a more wholesome product; a better version of what they already like. That is how Billy Beer became what it is. I’m very enthusiastic. I really think we’ve got something here,” Self said.
In addition to Uptown Brewing Co., Dunn is the president and owner of On the Waterfront restaurant in Washington, N.C. along with his son, Ross. He also owns the MainStreet Promotions advertising firm doing business in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Dunn is also a partner in the newest food craze, Smash Waffles, and is a partner in the La Stella Wood Fired grill and pizza chain.
In addition, Billy plans to open a new restaurant in Greenville soon.
He worked with the Heilig Meyers Furniture Co. for 25 years. He and his wife, Valerie, live in Greenville.