On a recent Tuesday evening, a group of employees gathered around a table at Tyler's Taproom in Carrboro. Several pitchers of beer sat before them.
They listened intently as Scott Mizerak, Foothills Brewing's Triangle area sales manager, explained the profile and flavor bill of the beers. It was a crash course to educate those who would be serving the beer; Foothills was brewery of the month and had several taps on the line.
"Education is crucial," Mizerak, 33, said, after joining me at a separate table. He then cited his own beery probability and statistics philosophy: "If I can convert one out of every 10, it's a win." Two pints of Hoppyum, an India Pale Ale and the company's flagship beer—the top-selling beer in the state—arrived shortly after.
One only needs to walk down the beer aisle at Harris Teeter, where Hoppyum was the fourth-highest selling beer last year, to understand the reach of Foothills. The Winston-Salem-based brewery is taking on the big boys and winning. Hoppyum is leading the charge.
Hoppyum pours amber and has big citrus notes from the Cascade, Centennial and Columbus hops, but a grassy finish from the Simcoe hop. "Simcoe is actually the most prominent hop in the beer," he said. "The beer is built around that."
Foothills Brewing is all about the hops. "I don't think you'll ever see us make a sour beer," he said unequivocally. Not that Mizerak himself is against sours. "Ommegang Rouge is so good," he said referring to the Flanders Red style beer. But he said, "IPAs are my jam."
A self-proclaimed hippie, the bearded and pony-tailed Mizerak has been in the beer industry for more than a decade. He got a job at Mims—the local Miller distributor—out of college but he wanted to get away from working with a supplier. Five years ago he shared some pints with Foothills Brewing's brewmaster Jamie Bartholomaus at Dain's Place in Durham. It was easy for Mizerak to get behind the brand. "I knew it was a quality product and easy to sell," he said.
At the time, Foothills was self-distributing, which means it was directly interacting with the customers. Now, though, the brewery works with several companies that supply its beer to Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Washington, D.C. Not only can you find Foothills beer here at the Durham Bulls games but also in Charlotte at Panthers and Bobcats games as well as Hurricanes games in Raleigh. "People tell me they love that they can get People's Porter at hockey games," Mizerak said.
When Mizerak started at Foothills, there weren't as many breweries in North Carolina. Now there are almost 100. But he does see some attrition on the horizon. "We'll see the bubble burst because some businesses are not run properly and some just aren't making good beer," he said.
But he encourages breweries to self distribute as long as possible. "It's you in control of building your brand," he explained. "As soon as you turn it over, it is out of your hands; it is easy to get lost in the fold."
What beer would he choose if he was stuck on a deserted island? "Hoppyum," he said. "It's like my milk. I could drink it all night."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ipa as mother's milk."