Bradford on Beer

Birth of a Brewery

Posted August 28, 2010 by daniel 6 Comments | Post a Comment

It’s rare that a beer lover gets to watch a brewery being born. However, years ago I offered a young man a job at the magazine for no apparent reason other than he seemed really interesting. Along the way he lead the charge to change the alcohol limit law in the state of North Carolina with the Pop The Cap initiative and dreamed up a brewery that connects agriculture and beer.

Fullsteam’s mission is create a distinctly Southern beer style that celebrates the culinary and agricultural heritage of the South.” That’s Sean Lily Wilson’s brewing idea.

A week ago that dream came to fruition. Fullsteam Brewery opened. Just two blocks from our office, the whole staff has had a chance to watch it grow step by step – from the early fundraising with homebrews and different concepts for the brand, to building the team and opening up the doors.

A master of social media, Sean Lily Wilson, owner of Fullsteam, had created a community icon even before the equipment was bought. And the town showed up for the day when Sean opened the doors. Along with the All About Beer Magazine crew, neighbors from the surrounding businesses filled the room. Government officials from the city of Durham showed up to see the new addition to their constellation.  I overheard one saying the brewery was anchoring the revitalization of that corner of the city. Only blocks away lies a huge residential area and I recognized people walking to the brewery from their homes.

It was a fantastic crowd spilling out onto the lawn on either side of the brewery with the rolling Only Burger truck providing the food.

The look of the brewery brought together a wide variety of aesthetics. The stainless steel system was on display behind a wall of glass. A wooden stage filled an adjacent corner, prime location for singer/songwriters. Old-fashioned picnic tables filled the rest of the space. The steampunk aesthetic donned the walls ranging from construction wall hangings to panels of dials picked up at a salvage shop. They adorned huge vistas of gray and red wall paint set off with rugged industrial warehouse exposed brick.

The beers?  Well, the crowd was there for the beers.  Sure the muffulettas from Neil’s Deli in Carrboro were special. The deserts by Crumb vanished before hitting the table.  But it was beers.

The team behind the bar was so slammed that I stepped in and joined them as a server. What a great way to get the beer passion. People were jammed together six or seven deep and everyone was ordering four to six beers. There were only four of us covering about 60 feet of bar. Plus, Sean had a portable tap set up out in the dining area and his line was pretty steady at forty feet. Amy from our office backed him up on that draft line for awhile.

Sean had five beers on tap. He has created two groups of beers – Plow-to-Pint which features local ingredients, and Worker’s Comp featuring classic styles. From Plow to Pint was Hogwash Hickory-smoked porter, the Carver sweet potato beer, and the Summer Basil farmhouse ale.  From the Workers’ Comp Sean had Rocket Science IPA and El Toro Cream Ale.

As I was running back and forth with handfuls of beer, along with staffers Kevin and Johanna,  I noticed that people kept asking for beer by its agricultural ingredients. Not the Carver but the sweet potato. Not the Summer Basil Farmhouse ale but the basil. Interesting. Yet, the others were requested by style, the Cream Ale or the IPA. However, Hogwash was, and probably always will be, Hogwash, just plain Hogwash. Sean is going to have fun with that mixture of branding challenges.

I’ll save a discussion of the beers for a later time. It is enough to say there was an unending request for pints of beer and I was stealing sips from an IPA when I could grab a moment. I’m going to like this neighborhood brewery/pub/bar.  I think I’ll be bumping into a lot of my friends and business associates there.

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  1. 1

    Fullsteam is a wonderful addition to the Durham scene. We went for a lazy Sunday afternoon and were so impressed.

  2. 2
    Tom from Raleigh (September 1, 2010 at 10:52 am)

    Sean has done an amazing job getting Fullsteam going, yet, knowing Sean, I’m not surprised.

  3. 3


    This post wasn’t simply nice to read…it was actually rather touching. Look we all know that anytime a new craft brewery comes alive, opens up, and open’s it’s doors wide open for people…it’s a great thing. Sure. But there’s one part of your article here that I want to bring to your attention…and everyone else reading the comments section:

    “The team behind the bar was so slammed that I stepped in and joined them as a server. What a great way to get the beer passion. People were jammed together six or seven deep and everyone was ordering four to six beers. There were only four of us covering about 60 feet of bar. ”

    That should strike a note with just about any body who loves great beer, and those that love great people. You would never see this in any other part of the industry…outside craft beer. Why do I say this?

    Because the people that serve, create and work hard to grow the craft beer industry are just different. It’s a passion that extends further than simply beer. It’s an odd thought I know. The idea that craft beer…really isn’t about beer first, but I believe it to be true. It’s about the passion that surrounds everything beer, and that includes A LOT of different things including the beer itself….thankfully. :)


  4. 4


    Thank you so much for taking time to write this, and for your mentorship over the years.

    Just for fun I watched the security camera videotape of opening night…I can’t believe how long you were behind the bar, helping us out. That means a lot to me.

    It may also explain the missing $4,000.


  5. 5

    Hey, just wondering if you can enlighten me on the way small breweries deal with the three tier system the big guys talk about so much? Can you really have a brewery/pub/bar? I work for a distributor and i always favor the craft beers. Best Wishes!

  6. 6

    Totally didn’t see this, and it’s months old. What a bum. Sorry. Check out the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo for all the info on this subject. They are the best.
    Daniel Bradford

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