Nearly two years after the opening of the wildly successful Pinehurst Brewing Co., we caught up with head brewer Eric Mitchell on starting and growing a brand from scratch — and the local brews he considers his biggest successes.
TS: At least from an outsider’s perspective, Pinehurst Brewery has become just what it was intended to be — a hit among locals and tourists alike. To what do you attribute that success?
EM: The success starts with a great vision the Resort had to differentiate themselves among other resorts and offer something no one else was doing. There’s no “Resort” feel to the brewery, no sign that it’s owned by the Resort. That was intentional, so locals would feel just as home here as Resort guests. We said from the get-go that we wanted this brewery to be able to be moved anywhere in the world and be successful. I think we’ve achieved that.
TS: After being hired in 2018, you said you were looking forward to the opportunity to build a brand from scratch. What has that experience been like?
EM: It was definitely part of the allure to come here, just to see how things would unfold from the ground up. It was part of my job to execute that and bring the vision to life. Developing a portfolio of beer, alongside the overall persona of the place, has been really fun to facilitate.
We’re kind of unique in that we don’t have a typical craft brewery owner, someone who has emptied out his 401k and life savings to open his small business. You don’t see your owner every single day. You have a lot of autonomy, a lot of freedom. This brewery is a gift that Bob Dedman [Pinehurst Resort CEO and owner] has given to the community, and there’s a lot of mutual trust that makes it work.
TS: People have been known to camp out for your new releases at Heist Brewery. What kind of beer has proved popular at Pinehurst?
EM: Brewing philosophy can typically go one or two ways. The typical route is to develop a line of flagship beer and have 1-2 rotating taps of limited or seasonal varieties. We’ve gone the opposite route. We have one to two staples on tap, and the rest are mainly one-offs. To keep the locals coming back, I feel that we need to offer them something different every time.
I would say 40 percent of our beer list is experimental, with 20 percent being calculated risk and 20 being wildly experimental. We’ve dumped two beers just because they didn’t turn out like we wanted them to. There are quite a few people we rely on for taste tests and not everything hits the tap.
No matter what you make, people become attached to it. Some that stand out are a strawberry kolsch [brewed with fresh local strawberries] called Picnnicking, and a 12.75% ABV barrel-aged imperial stout brewed with vanilla beans called Malvavisco [which translates to marshmallow].
TS: How hard is it to stand out in today’s craft brew market? Is that the goal — or are you focused on the experience at PBC?
EM: Priority No. 1 for me is what’s between these four walls, this taproom. I want the experience here to be the best that you can have. That applies to the broad stroke of people we cater to here, from grandparents to their children and grandchildren.
Good brewers have a thumbprint; a consistent flavor profile that they’re known for. I like to call my style “aggressively approachable” — I try not to alienate anyone with any flavor I make, but I try to make any beer I brew as flavorful as possible.
TS: PBC recently rolled out cans for the first time. How has that gone?
EM: Cans were in the works for awhile. We had done a lot of forecasting, and we had a number of sales we wanted to hit in the first 30 days of canning. We hit that number during this pandemic.
You could say that’s because all people are doing right now is eating and drinking, but there’s a caveat — there’s no one drinking here, physically in the taproom. So while it’s good to see cans going out, it hasn’t a great test of what the market will bear. For the foreseeable future, we’ll have to see what a full-throttle canning operation looks like, and what the demand is.
TS: You started your career at Heist, where you brewed for six years before coming to Pinehurst. What drew you to a career in craft brewing?
EM: Brewing was a hobby in college that ended up carrying over once I graduated. I won’t say I wasn’t ready for “the real world” but I’m not the kind of guy who can just sit at a desk.
One thing that drew me in was the freedom to interpret ingredients. A brewer is literally given a blank canvas. You can give 1,000 different brewers the same ingredients and the same brewhouses, and you’ll get 1,000 different beers because of different processes.
In the beer world, if you’re not passionate about your product, it shows.