It worked for the Wright brothers, but what can wind do for beer? Sam Boykin shares the secret of the country’s first wind-powered brewpub.
It was the Outer Banks’ strong and steady winds that attracted Orville and Wilbur Wright to North Carolina’s Kill Devil Hills. And while the Outer Banks Brewing Station may never measure up to the Wright brothers’ landmark first flight, it too is using the wind to make history. When owners Aubrey Davis and Eric Reece erected a turbine above their laid-back little brewpub on Earth Day 2008, it became the first wind-powered brewery in the nation. And for folks traveling to the Outer Banks, a picturesque, 200-mile stretch of barrier islands along the East Coast, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Davis and Reece first dreamed up the idea of starting a brewpub while volunteering for the Peace Corps in Thailand. Aubrey had spent many summers at his grandparents’ place on the Outer Banks, and felt it was an ideal place to launch the business.
The pair, along with award-winning master brewer Scott Meyer, came up with a business plan for an environmentally-friendly restaurant that celebrated the uniqueness of the Outer Banks and its history. They eventually convinced nearly 30 friends and family members to invest in their dream, and in 2001 opened the Outer Banks Brewing Station in a two-story, 7,700-square-foot building inspired by turn-of-the-century lifesaving stations. Some of the custom design details include a boat-shaped bar and two pathways, made from local recycled bricks, which lead from the bar to the brewpub’s big bay windows.
Money was tight at first, and the partners had to abandon several of their original green initiatives, including solar panels and roofing shingles made of recycled tires. But after they survived their first year they moved forward in getting a wind turbine.
What followed was over five years of small-town politics and zoning ordinance red tape. But they never gave up, and on Earth Day 2008 they installed a turbine on an 80-foot tower. The $50,000 system generates about 10 percent of the brewpub’s overall power. “Payback is not until 12 to 15 years,”
said Davis. “But it’s like a billboard that pays for itself. Everyone notices it.”
In addition to Meyer’s handcrafted brews, the 200-seat establishment features an eclectic menu of seafood and Southern favorites, including shrimp and grits, ribs, grilled salmon, pan-fried pork chops, NY strip steak and even tofu. “Our food is definitely several cuts above pub fare,” Reece said.
The brewpub, which is situated about 500 yards from the beach in sight of the Wright Brothers Memorial, also features live music–from bluegrass, funk and jazz–and hosts special events to help raise money and awareness for social and environmental issues. And this summer Davis and Reece plan to build a beer garden behind the pub with picnic tables, games and a concert stage. “What I like about the Outer Banks is there’s a lot of unusual and independent people here,” Reece said.
“And in a world of strip malls and chains, to see people support anything that’s different is heartening.”
Outer Banks Brewing Station
- Nat Geo Expeditions
600 S. Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
+1 252 449 2739
Photos: Outer Banks Brewing Station