Mills welcomes trailblazing brewery

1 of 2

Briana Brake pours a 200th Anniversary Ale Saturday during the Rocky Mount Brewery Grand Opening at the Rocky Mount Mills.


By Corey Davis

Monday, November 12, 2018

A long of line of people waited in anticipation on a sunny and cold Saturday as two trailblazers in the craft beer industry opened up their space at the Rocky Mount Mills’ Brewery Incubator.

The grand opening was a collaboration between Briana Brake, brewer and founder of Spaceway Brewery, and Celeste Beatty, brewer and founder of Harlem Brewing, to establish Rocky Mount Brewery at the historic 150-acre mixed-use development on the Tar River.

The wave of people that came out to buy a bottle, a six pack or taste craft beer such as Sugar Golden Ale or Harlem Renaissance Wit were a mixture of people coming from as far as the Triad areas of Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

The grand opening also included people sampling the 200th Anniversary Ale, recognizing the Mills’ 200th anniversary, made with artisan grits and molasses that was a collaboration brew by Rocky Mount Brewery and other Mill brewers.

“It was an amazing day and both Briana and I really enjoyed seeing such a great mix of people that came by,” Beatty said.

The launch of Rocky Mount Brewery now fills up each of the spaces at the Rocky Mount Mills Brewery Incubator, which includes Hopfly Brewing Co., Planetary Elixirs and BDD Brewing Co. Sebastian Wolfrum, executive brewmaster for the Rocky Mount Mills, said he is excited about the opening of Rocky Mount Brewery.

Wolfrum met Brake and Beatty at an event last year in Durham, which got the ball rolling about them coming to the Mills.

“For us as an incubator, we’re always looking for interesting startups and not for someone that just wants to open a brewery,” Wolfrum said. “We wanted somebody that has an interesting angle, that has a unique set of recipes or a fun story because the biggest thing about craft beer isn’t just about the beer being good but what is actually around the beer. It’s how it all connects and what makes people choose that beer over another.”

Brake and Beatty becoming operators and infusing a new flavor and spirit into North Carolina’s burgeoning craft beer industry also has historical significance. According to the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild, the state boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the South, with more than 260 breweries and brewpubs.

Rocky Mount Brewery now represents one of two black-owned breweries in the state and one of less than 50 female- or minority-owned breweries in the country. Kenyatta Hall and Jamie Good, friends of Brake who came out for the opening, said it’s refreshing to see black women on the forefront of what’s happening at the Mills.

“Craft beer has predominately been consumed by affluent white people,” Wolfrum said. “This is why, particularly for me, it’s exciting because it brings in people of color that often don’t drink craft beer because if you go to an event and you don’t see anyone that looks like you, it’s really hard to feel like this is something for you. With them being here, it’s really going to change the look of the campus by bringing in African-Americans as a whole new set of craft beer drinkers — and that’s going to make it easier overall for having the whole town show up.”

Tarrick Pittman, owner of CoolGeeks Computer Repair and Installation Services in downtown Rocky Mount and president of the Downtown Community Association, agreed with Wolfrum on the impact Rocky Mount Brewery could have in bringing more diversity to the Mills.

“This closes the gap and makes African-Americans feel even more comfortable coming out here like I always have felt about the Mills,” Pittman said. “The Mills is a good restoration project, which is good for the community, good for the economy and it gives our entrepreneurs an opportunity to display their talents and also hire people within the community. It’s important that they’re here.”

Beatty said Rocky Mount Brewery isn’t just about her and Brake opening another brewery, but how much they can help other people.

“I met a young man from Rocky Mount that is looking for opportunities to be involved in the industry, and he is willing to volunteer and learn the craft,” she said. “We really want this to be a place where we can create opportunities where we have people to come in and learn about craft brewery. ... We’re making a special effort to reach out to the community. I’m not saying it hasn’t been done by other breweries, but I sense from the community there hasn’t been as much.

“But I get a sense there is a greater interest in what is happening here and what is happening in craft beer.”

Rocky Mount Brewery is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.