Natty Greene’s beers are a favorite among our customers. The brewery that makes them is less than an hour away, in the city named after Natty Greene: Greensboro.
Nathanael Greene is an often-overlooked hero of the American Revolution. His military career began with the lowest rank possible, and he worked his way up to be a Major General depended upon by George Washington. His most famous escapade was actually a retreat: the "race to the Dan" during which his men escaped across a swollen river, leaving no boats for the British. Then followed the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a battle Greene lost but that changed the course of the war and led to the Patriots’ victory. Chris Lester and Kayne Fisher, founders of Natty Greene’s Brewery, chose the name to pay tribute to their region and to the hero Greene.
As underclassmen at UNC-Greensboro, Chris and Kayne drank America’s new craft beers and dreamed of owning their own brewery. In 1996, they bought a restuarant in Greensboro and turned it into a pub that served craft beers, which at the time came from far-off states like Colorado and Oregon and were not readily available in North Carolina. In the years that followed, they opened two more successful restaurants. Finally, in 2004, they acted on their dream of making their own craft beers. They opened Natty Greene's Pub & Brewing Company in a renovated 1895 building in a historic area of downtown Greensboro. The pub was a hit with its quality beers in a variety of styles and good, affordable food not typically found in bars.
Soon Natty Greene’s beers were distributed locally, prompting the owners to expand to keep up with demand. Since 2006, they have brewed and bottled beer in a facility in Greenesboro. They expanded the facility to a capacity of 20,000 barrels in 2010 (1 barrel = 31 gallons). They also brew smaller batches at their pubs in Greensboro and Raleigh.
On the day we visited the Greensboro brewery, the Director of Brewing Operations, Sebastian Nesson Wolfrum, showed us around. Sebastian made beer in Germany before getting married and transplanting to Greensboro. He tells us that there are not yet small-batch craft beers in Germany. America is at the forefront of the craft beer revival.
Beer begins with grain, specifically malted grain. This means that the grain has been sprouted, which releases natural enymes. It is then dried and toasted; different amounts of toasting result in different colors of beer later on. Bags of this toasted grain arrive at the brewery, where the brewers mill them, cracking the grains open. The grain is usually barley, although wheat and rye are also used.
The milled grain is put into the mash kettle with water, where it is heated for about an hour. The waterand heat activate the enzymes, which break down the grains to release sugars. The resulting sugary-water is drained from the bottom of the kettle through a seive. (The remaining grain, called spent grain, can be used for things like making bread or dog biscuits !)
The liquid goes next into the brew kettle, where the brewer adds hops and boils it for 90 minutes. The hops add bitterness, which is a good thing because so far, the liquid is very sugary! Hops also act as a preservative. The mixture cools in the brew kettle for six hours, and then the brewer pumps it into a tank in the “cellar.” This is where the brewer adds yeasts to start the fermentation reactions that produce alcohol, carbon dioxide, and beer! The tanks are temperature controlled, since some beers require colder fermentation temperatures. They also have valves that release carbon dioxide, since so much is produced. Unlike wine, which stays in the tanks for months, beer is ready in two to three weeks. It retains some carbon dioxide, which we know as carbonation, but sometimes additional carbonation is added, or the beer is allowed to age after bottling, during which extra carbon dioxide is produced.
Sebastian and the other brewers monitor the tanks, calculating alcohol content and planning recipes for new batches. There’s plenty of math invovled, in addition to biology and chemistry. (For a really nice overview of beer-making, with diagrams, visit here .)
Natty Greene’s filters their beer on its way to the bottling line, an impressive machine that curves around the end of the warehouse. Stacks of empty kegs and pallets of grain tower over us as we make our way out. Sebastian shows us the cavernous cooler, filled with kegs and cases of ready-to-ship beer. All this beer, he tells us, will be gone in a week and replaced with a new batch. The brewery is almost at capacity, producing 18,000 barrels a year.
Natty Greene’s beers are one of our top-sellers. They have three year round ales, as well as seasonal ales. And we’re at work on a top-secret project with Natty Greene’s, to be revealed this spring!
Watch our Youtube video or visit Natty Greene’s Brewery online at www.nattygreenes.com.
About the Beers:
Southern Pale Ale
medium-bodied, deep golden ale with distinct, bitter character and a hoppy, piney, citrus finish
Guilford Golden Ale
light-bodied brewed with hops and malt from Germany, England and Belgium yielding a crisp, refreshing finish
Buckshot Amber Ale
full-bodied with rich, smooth flavor and notes of caramel and toffee
Freedom American IPA
Medium-bodied deep golden ale with moderate fruity-ester flavor balanced by quality American hop aroma and bitterness.
Red Nose Winter Ale
Full-bodied winter warmer with a rich, dark malt body spiced with cinnamon, ginger and orange peel for festive flavor.
A classic Belgian-style white beer spiced with coriander, chamomile and sweet orange peel.
Old Town Brown Ale
Traditional, English-style, full-bodied with sweet, toasted malt aroma and a hint of baker's chocolate.