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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Durham Beer Pioneer Triangle Brewing Company Talks Why it's Closing

Posted by on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 4:18 PM

click to enlarge trianglebrew.png
On Friday, rain poured down in Durham. Inside Triangle Brewing Company’s warehouse on Pearl Street, Prince’s hits reverberated from some hidden stereo. The towering final pallets of Triangle’s Strong Golden Ale and IPA stood, as if in vigil, across from empty brewing tanks, ready for impending disassembly.

“It’s depressing to say the least,” offered Andy Miller, the brewery’s co-founder, as he poured me a pint of grapefruit pale ale.

Less than a week earlier, Miller and Triangle’s director of sales and marketing, Timothy “Doc” Harvey, announced they’d be closing the nine-year-old operation, effective May 2. “Doc wrote most of it,” Miller admitted. “I didn’t think I could write my own obituary.”

What went unwritten in their public statement was why, exactly, the landmark brewery was shutting its doors. When it opened in 2007, shortly after North Carolina’s new “pop the cap” law allowed beer to be brewed with higher alcohol by volume and effectively welcomed the craft beer craze, Triangle Brewing Company was only the twenty-sixth brewery operating in the state. Today, by comparison, Harvey says there are more than 160, with more on the way.

In Durham, Triangle was the first standalone microbrewery, though it followed in the footsteps of a string of shuttered brewpubs—The Weeping Radish, Steve & Clark’s Brewpub, and Tobacco Roadhouse. Quickly, Triangle Brewing Company became a landmark in North Carolina’s growing craft beer industry and in Durham. The brewery was a frequent host of events, from benefit concerts and CD release parties to charity gatherings and even arm wrestling.

“We’re extremely humbled by everyone that came through those doors,” Miller told me. “We had events here, we had weddings here, receptions here. We had people get engaged here.”

But despite building a following and an identity early on, Triangle Brewing Co. eventually suffered a series of issues, most of which Miller and Harvey are still reluctant to talk about in detail. Co-founder Rick Tufts hasn’t been involved in the brewery’s day-to-day operations for some months. 

“We ran into some issues about three years ago,” Miller said. “We had some issues with quality. We just couldn’t pull out.”

The market was being flooded with craft beer from new local competitors, too.

“We made some mistakes,” Harvey said. “And the rate at which the industry’s growing here, we picked the wrong time to be bad at things.”

After closing the brewery next week, both Harvey and Miller  hope to find new jobs in the beer industry. Neither plans to leave town. Both are optimistic about the state of North Carolina beer, as a whole. Harvey even rejects the notion that maybe we’ve hit the saturation point for local beer.

“I would say, ‘Sooner or later, we’re going to hit the point. There’s only so much shelf space, only so much tap space," he said. "What I didn’t count on was restaurants and grocery stores responding by installing more taps and increasing shelf space.”

It’s an especially bittersweet farewell, then.

“We can’t say it often or loud enough," he said. "It seems so insufficient to just say 'Thank you.' It feels like there should be something bigger to be able to say."

They’ll have one last chance to say so in person. On Saturday, Triangle Brewing Co. will open its doors one more time, inviting the community to send them off and finish those lonely stacks of beer. Miller and Harvey recommend an early arrival; doors open at 4 p.m.

“We’re going to throw a nice little goodbye party," Miller said, "and pretty much be out of here by the second."

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