Virginia brewers target Tar Heel market

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Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

An official with the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild says cross pollination is occurring between craft brewers in the Hampton Roads area of the commonwealth and in eastern North Carolina.

"We are near you guys," Kevin Erskine said. "I mean, quite honestly, I used to live down about seven miles away from the North Carolina border. So we've got a lot in common with the Outer Banks and Virginia Beach and Norfolk."

Erskine, 53, owns Coelacanth Brewing in Norfolk. The business opened in December 2015 and makes and sells beer on-site to customers.

Additionally, Erskine is vice chairman of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. The guild works to help promote the marketing and advancement of craft beer in the commonwealth and make sure legislation is passed to help the craft beer industry.

Erskine said the reason for the coming together of business in the commonwealth and eastern North Carolina is simple: "We're both beach-like communities. We both rely an awful lot on tourism."

"We just signed contracts so we will be distributed in Richmond and northern Virginia, but before that I said, 'I want to be in the Outer Banks'," he said.

Coelacanth Brewing joined up with a small North Carolina company, Atlantic Craft Beer and Specialty Wine Distributors.

"And we were the first Virginia brewery that he signed up — and got a foot hold probably last year, a little earlier than this time in the Outer Banks, and got our beers down there," he said. "And they did pretty well."

He said he believes the other guys are catching on that the Outer Banks is kind of a cool place.

"We get a lot of visitors down there — and those visitors come from all over the East Coast. So, it's great exposure for your beer," he said.

Will Daughtry, 40, owns Atlantic Craft Beer and Specialty Wine Distributors, which is based on the Currituck County mainland. Atlantic is approximately a year-and-a-half old.

The company's service area includes Corolla on the Currituck County Outer Banks all the way down to the tip of Hatteras on the Dare County Outer Banks.

Daughtry offered his take about why Virginia is coming into North Carolina, saying what he has learned is people are more interested in regional beer.

"They like it to be close by — but it doesn't necessarily need to be from their home state," Daughtry said.

He said he thinks if one made people choose — either in North Carolina or Virginia — and if they had to drink something for the rest of their lives, whether from their home state or just something from across the border, they're going to pick their home state.

He said, however, he believes people go for whatever is good, what is trendy and what is somewhat nearby.

"And so as part of the benefit of being in this part of North Carolina, we get so much traffic from Virginia — tourism — it's just like a mixture. This is kind of a hub, where North Carolina can meet Virginia," he said.

He said as soon as he began selling Coelacanth beers, within a month they had matched or exceeded all his North Carolina brands.

"And that's when I started to figure out, 'OK, this isn't a state-by-state thing. This is a regional thing.' This is, 'What's good around me'," he said. "And people are not afraid to cross over a state line to get some good beer."

Dave Stacknick, 30, is part owner and operator of Brick & Mortar Brewing Co., which is in Suffolk and was established in 2017. Brick & Mortar brews beer and has a 3,000-square-foot tasting room.

Stacknick said he and his team are trying to pursue marketing and selling their beer in eastern North Carolina.

"We're about 20 minutes away from the border," Stacknick said.

He said he and his team have been interested approximately the past five months in marketing in North Carolina, specifically up and down the Outer Banks.

He said the reason is in Suffolk, a lot of people own property on the Outer Banks and vacation there and he would like to take Brick & Mortar's beer down there to them.

As for how much business could be gained on the North Carolina side of the border, he said, "I definitely think it's a sustainable idea to distribute our stuff down there."