Fullsteam Brewery, located inDurham, North Carolina ‘Plow to Pint’ is the motto at Durham, NC’s flagship brewery, Fullsteam, and its Chief Executive Optimist, Sean Wilson. This phrase may be akin to the oft-used ‘farm-to-table’ lingo in the restaurant world, yet at Fullsteam this concept of utilizing native ingredients to make wonderful beer is all-encompassing. This philosophy goes well beyond the use of local grains, hops, vegetables and fruits. Several of their beers require the assistance of the Fullsteam faithful in contributing ingredients that patrons have foraged from nearby fields, groves or trees. The most popular beer in this Forager series is ‘First Frost’, a foraged persimmon ale released each Fall/Winter. This malty offering is velvety smooth; allowing its delicate persimmon flavor to shine. And at 10% ABV the beer is a true ‘winter warmer’.
The year-round line-up reflects Fullsteam’s commitment to being a community brewer, incorporating local ingredients as often as possible. Variety and creativity are keys here. Sure there is an IPA (Rocket Science), a well-balanced and not overly bitter version of the style. Yet the other year-round beers are far from routine, including ‘Carver’, a sweet potato lager brewed with (as you’d expect) Carolina sweet potatoes, and ‘Hogwash’, a smoked porter utilizing house-smoked NC barley. Perfect for summer is ‘Paycheck’, a southern grain-driven Czech Pilsner. True to style, this lager is crisp and refreshing on a hot day or paired with spicy food. Rounding out the everyday beers are ‘Fullsteam Lager’, a California-style Common; ‘El Toro’, a cream ale brewed with NC barley and corn; ‘Cack-A-Lacky’, a ginger pale paying homage to the NC nickname; and ‘Beasley’s Honey White’, brewed in conjunction with James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen and her downtown Raleigh restaurant of the same name. Many of Fullsteam’s beers are available on tap and in bottles and cans in bars and bottle shops throughout central North Carolina. Throughout the year, however, small batches of limited and seasonal beers are offered, showcasing the creativity and skill of head brewer Brian Mandeville. Fullsteam took home the 2015 Southern Living Good Food Award for their farmhouse ale, ‘Summer Basil’. Other notable beers include ‘Coffee is for Closers’, a porter incorporating locally roasted Sumatran coffee; ‘Fortunate Sun’, a kumquat IPA; ‘Demoiselle’, perhaps the best Saison I’ve come across; and ‘Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release’, a unique coffee-infused Helles Lager.
The beer is the draw at Fullsteam, yet every visit is accompanied by a new adventure. Food trucks are varied and plentiful, and activities such as ping-pong tournaments, swap meets, vintage clothing sales, and ‘pints and hymns’ on Sundays keep the vibe fresh and appealing to all. Of particular note is the ‘.262’ race in downtown Durham. That’s not a typo – it is a quarter mile run as opposed to a marathon! The brewery even held a cooking competition, where contestants incorporated Fullsteam beer into each recipe. My gumbo didn’t win, but that wasn’t the fault of the Root (Sassafras Ale) I used. All of these varied events keep the focus on the beer and the local community.
Fun is the prevailing theme at Fullsteam, and each time I walk through the giant red rolling door with the trademark backward ‘F’ I’m met with a good time. Phenomenal beer, a friendly staff, and a true community experience define Fullsteam. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself near Durham, go see Sean and enjoy some ‘beer from the beautiful south.’