With nearly 20 microbreweries operating in the Triangle and a handful more planning to open in the near future, local beer drinkers have plenty of options.
In this crowded world of local breweries, carving a unique niche in the marketplace is an eagerly sought goal.
Despite being open for business less than a week, Deep River Brewing Company already seems to have attained that highly-prized attribute.
When the Clayton-based brewery held its grand opening last Saturday it became the first beer-making venture in all of Johnston County. Its First Run Pale Ale, created especially for the grand opening, is the first beer legally brewed in the county.
The untapped potential of the market and the positive feedback from beer lovers has Deep River founder and brewer Paul Auclair feeling optimistic about the future.
“We are pioneers in this marketplace and we’re pretty excited about that,” said Auclair. “We don’t think (business) is going to slow down anytime soon. We stand behind our product 100 percent and we know what it is. There is nothing else like this in the area, not even close.
“Mother Earth (Brewing) is in Kinston but they are an hour away and Raleigh has a scene going on but it’s nothing like we’ve got. We have a lot of room to expand and we’re pretty excited about where we can go from here.”
Auclair, 33, and his wife, Lynn, never considered opening a brewery until friends encouraged them to give it a try.
A homebrewer for more than a decade, Auclair brewed batches of beer for friends’ parties and events. Every time they drank his brew their reactions were the same.
“A lot of people said, ‘Man, you should really do this for real. You should start your own brewery,’” said Auclair. “We started scratching our heads and thought, ‘Maybe that is a good idea.’ We put together a business plan and the rest is kind of history.”
On their own
The Auclairs plan was bold. They were determined to do everything on their own without the help of investors.
“A lot of breweries are opening up right now because they have a bunch of money and a bunch of investors,” said Auclair. “That’s really not how brewing beer should be. It should be people who desire the craft and appreciate good beer. That’s what we do. We have been working on our recipes the past few years to get them exactly as we want them.”
After leasing a building on West Main Street in Clayton, Auclair put his background in civil engineering to work. With the help of his wife, volunteers and one employee, the Tupper Lake, NY, native transformed a large empty warehouse space into a tap room and brewery.
“All the wood wall, painting and mason jar lights, we did it all,” said Auclair. “We were busy little beavers around here. I wouldn’t call it a pain but it has taken a lot more than we thought it would.”
Lynn, who works as logistics manager for a telecommunication company, manages the tap room and is responsible for the mountain of paperwork.
“My wife used to help me brew when we were doing it at home,” said Auclair. “Now she is a rock star at doing stuff around the brewery. She runs the tap room and everything else under the sun is pretty much her responsibility. We both have backgrounds that afforded us the opportunity to do this.”
Another important part of the Auclairs’ plan was to open the brewery close to their Clayton home.
“We knew we were both going to keep our jobs,” said Auclair. “Well, she will keep her job but I will eventually transition into the brewery full time. But we wanted a place where we could go to and fro all the time. If we were over in Cary or someplace like that we would be out of control. We are here most nights until 11 o’clock and some nights even later. It is nice to just have to make the short drive up the road to go home.”
Deep River will have two flagship beers available at all times – Twisted River Wit and Riverbank Rye-It. The brewery will also offer four rotating seasonal brews along with a special 15-gallon batch that will only be available at Deep River’s tap room.
“As we get larger, we’ll have the opportunity to expand our portfolio,” said Auclair. “But for right now we have two flagships. We have a Belgian Wit, which we use a Belgian yeast that gives it a nice estery flavor.
“We also have a rye pale ale that I call a pale ale on steroids. It’s not super bitter but the hops we use play very well with the rye we put in it. So it gives it a nice spicy finish to it. A lot of people who are bitter beer fans love it.”
The seasonal selections being offered now are Black Country IPA, which uses six different hops, and 4042 Stout that includes freshly ground cocoa, chocolate malt and chocolate nibs from area chocolatiers.
“They are both a hybrid of styles that people like,” said Auclair. “We do a dark IPA and you think two things – it’s a dark beer that people won’t drink in the summer and it’s a super bitter beer, which most people don’t like unless they are a beer geek like myself. But we’ve had people who don’t usually like dark beers or bitter beers tell us they really liked it. So we are kind of bending the norm a little bit.
“I’m not going to gender discriminate but we have a lot of women come up to our booth as festivals who don’t like dark beers. We try to push them to the 4042 a little bit and the next thing you know they come back with their friends to try another sample. That’s what makes me as a brewer really appreciative of the people and the craft that we are in.”
As the seasons change, so will the beer. In the coldest months, Auclair is planning to offer JoCo White Winter, which uses fresh Johnston County white sweet potatoes, toasted marshmallows and a blend of spices.
As the temperatures climb, Double Don Golden Lager, that has a hint of fresh Johnston County watermelon flavor, will become available.
“I’m not saying everybody loves our beer,” said Auclair. “It’s just the style. Some people like really light beers and other people like really dark beers. We’re trying to educate people where they can try a beer and find out they like it and change people’s palates and their perceptions a little bit.”
Auclair will have some very busy days ahead in the next few weeks. While last weekend’s grand opening was a ticketed event, this weekend the brewery will be open to the general public.
Deep River also plans to have a presence at two beer festivals this month. They will be at Hickory Hops on April 20 in Hickory and at Brewgaloo on April 27 in downtown Raleigh.
Auclair would eventually like to hold his own beer event at the brewery.
“We have a big lawn out here and we are hoping to do something special,” said Auclair. “Maybe in the fall but probably not until next year, we’d like to do something for everybody out here in the way of brewfest.”
Although there is plenty of competition brewing among area beer makers, Auclair wants to keep the focus on more than just profit margins.
It was the love of quality beer that got Auclair started in brewing more than a decade ago. If he can continue to brew with that same type of passion, he believes success will follow.
“Money’s not it,” said Auclair. “If we were in it for the money we probably would have gotten a bunch of investors and did a bunch of stuff differently. But we are basically doing all of this on our own.
“My wife and I have basically put everything on the line to do this. We feel very strongly about what we do and we wouldn’t have put this business plan together if we didn’t know we could do it. A foolish man would say he’s not nervous. But it’s been fun and we are excited.”
For more information visit http://deepriverbrewing.com/.