North Carolina is fast becoming one of the top destinations in the country for craft breweries. But, while Asheville holds the crown for most breweries per capita, Wilmington isn’t entirely left in the dust. The craft brewery scene is booming in the Cape Fear region, and I’ve got the guide to help you find them all.
My road trip across North Carolina from the coast to the mountains started with a few days visiting the Brunswick Islands, but soon enough, I rolled into Wilmington. I originally planned to spend three days exploring the city but stayed a day longer because there was just so much to see.
Each day started with local coffee, gradually transitioned into museum visits and shopping, and inevitably led to one – or many more – craft breweries. Coffee and beer. They were perfect bookends for the way I like to travel.
I could never try to list these breweries in order of greatness or atmosphere or quality of their craft beer. Instead, this list is simply presented in alphabetical order.
The Wilmington Ale Trail
Although Front Street Brewery was founded in 1995, it wasn’t until 2014 that the craft beer scene developed in Wilmington. What started as only a few breweries grew to nearly two dozen throughout the Cape Fear region. And it continues to expand.
“It was the Asheville Effect,” Ellie Craig explained. “Why drink craft beer in the mountains when you can drink craft beer at the beach?” Craig is the marketing manager for Front Street Brewery and president of the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance, which promotes and educates the public about craft breweries.
The Wilmington Ale Trail was formed to advertise the breweries, bottle shops, and restaurants supporting the Cape Fear region craft breweries. Participating locations offer vouchers that can be purchased through the Wilmington Ale Trail website. Each voucher to a brewery is worth $6 and can be used for anything on their menu.
The 1-Day Wilmington Ale Trail package costs $15 and includes 4 vouchers, while the 3-Day Wilmington Ale Trail package costs $25 and includes 7 vouchers.
Find more information about the packages and participating breweries at https://wilmingtonaletrail.com.
Bill’s Brewing Co. Taproom
In 2016, John Musser and his daughter, Brookes Musser, opened Bill’s Front Porch on Market Street. The brewery was in the back of the building, and a small seating area in the front. For four years, they welcomed visitors while perfecting their craft.
Then, they changed everything.
In 2020, they renovated the building and rebranded it as Bill’s Brewing Co. Taproom. Head brewer Jim Deaton moved to a new facility, and the entire building on Market Street was converted into an event space and taproom. Visitors can order savory food from Capt’n Bills Backyard Grill next door, including the amazing tater tot skillets, and get it delivered while sampling the beer menu.
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Broomtail Craft Brewery
Barry Owings is a water chemist. His wife, Lisa, is an artist. In 1990, the couple converted the family barn into a brew research facility. In 2014, the husband-and-wife team took their love of brewing to the next level when they opened Broomtail Craft Brewer. Business was good, and just three years after opening, the couple tripled their production capacity.
Broomtail Craft Brewery is in a commercial district along Market Street on the city’s north side. From the outside, the drab commercial building hides the joyful interior. A small wooden bar wrapped in corrugated metal awaits visitors eager to try their beers. Chalkboard menus hang on the brightly colored wall.
The Owings like to experiment but mostly stick with ales, IPAs, and sours. Buy a beer by the glass or sample the menu with a flight. If you can find room inside, there are comfortable seats and a foosball table. Outside, a few spaces in the parking lot have been taken over by outdoor seating in the shade of a giant tree.
Catawba Brewing Company
Billy and Scott Pyatt fell in love with home brewing in 1994 – and it took just six years for them to turn a hobby into a profession. In 1999, Billy, his wife Jetta, and Scott opened Catawba Brewing Company in a dilapidated warehouse in Glen Alpine, North Carolina. Today, the 30-barrel brewhouse has moved to Morganton, and the brewing company has six locations across the Carolinas – the brewpub in Wilmington opened in 2021.
Located on New Centre drive near the UNC Wilmington campus, the brewpub is a modern and gorgeous space. Shiny, stainless steel fermenters stand off to the side, surrounded by comfortable tables and chairs. On the patio outside, more tables and chairs are scattered beneath string lights – the perfect place to hang out after the sun has gone down.
Catawba’s most popular craft beer is their White Zombie White Ale, but they always have a variety of others to try. Order by the glass or try several in a flight.
Edward Teach Brewery
When Gary Sholar decided to open a brewery, he purchased a 1907 building on Fourth Street in Wilmington’s Brooklyn Arts District. The building served as the local firehouse for nearly seventy years – you can still see the arch doorway where the fire engine would screech out of the building.
After an extensive renovation, Edward Teach Brewing opened to the public in 2017. The interior was designed with the bow of a ship hanging over a gorgeous bar. White brick walls and large windows keep the bar bright and airy during daylight hours. A patio overlooks a tiny gorge where the railroad used to connect with the waterfront warehouses.
“Edward Teach Brewing,” Zach, the head brewer, explains. “It was like a band coming up with a good name. It had to be something local and iconic.”
Their craft beers are similarly named. Black Spot is their black lager, a take on a German-style Schwarzbier, and Scallywag Session IPA is a light American wheat beer. Enjoy the beers by the glass or order a flight to sample them all – they usually have half a dozen on tap, and they rotate throughout the year.
Flying Machine Brewing Company
In 2018, David Sweigart and Grant Steadman opened Flying Machine Brewing Company in midtown Wilmington. The 17,000 square foot modern commercial building features a cavernous interior with painted concrete floors and vaulting ceilings – be sure to look for the bocce ball course. Outside, enjoy drinks with a view of the artificial lake.
Their extensive menu includes easy drink cream ales and lagers, IPAs, ciders, malty stouts, sours, and a small selection of wine. Buy them by the glass or enjoy a flight of four beers to sample their menu.
While working on a degree at UNC Wilmington, Mike Barlas began brewing craft beer in his garage and discovered a passion. In 2014, he opened Flytrap Brewing – named after the elusive Venus Flytrap native to the Cape Fear region.
Flytrap Brewing occupies a corner at Walnut and 4th Street in Wilmington’s Brooklyn Arts District. Pull up a seat on the wooden bar, claim one of the high tables, or sit outside on the concrete patio and enjoy the pleasant Cape Fear evenings. Barlas enjoys brewing American and Belgian ales, but he also produces IPA and stouts for a full menu.
Front Street Brewery
Front Street Brewery was the one that started it all in Wilmington. Opening in 1995, it’s the city’s longest operating brewery and a downtown anchor along Front Street. The brewery and restaurant are located inside a commercial building completed in 1865 as a dry goods store.
The old building was warm, with creaking wooden floors and a white tin mental ceiling, but the leather cushioned benches at the booths were supremely comfortable. Brewmaster Christopher McGravey keeps the fresh beer flowing with lager, porter, IPAs – the Coastal Pilsner is one of their flagship beers. The food at Front Street Brewery is legendary. Beer battered fish, sandwiches, and burgers – if you try anything, it should be their famous pulled chicken nachos topped with everything you would ever want on nachos.
But the biggest surprise at Front Street Brewery isn’t the award-winning craft beer or the popular food menu. It’s the whiskey bar. With 480 whiskeys available, Front Street Brewery is one of the largest whiskey bars in the country. For $15, diners can sample three whiskeys of your choosing or let one of the knowledgeable waitresses choose them for you.
In 2013, Bryna Frosaker and Adam Charnack opened Hi-Wire Brewing in Asheville at the opposite end of the state. Since then, the brewery has expanded across nine states.
In Wilmington, Hi-Wire renovated a former commercial building into a taproom funhouse. Painted concrete floors and an exposed ceiling are offset with beautiful murals and gorgeous wood tables. Grab a flight to sample a few of their beers, head over the ping pong tables, or grab a table outside beneath the string lights and open skies.
In 2015, US Navy veteran Ted Coughlin founded Ironclad Brewery, naming it after the famous naval warships during the Civil War. Buying a two-story commercial building built in 1925, the team spent months meticulously renovating the space for their brewery, taproom, and event space.
When they opened, the interior elicited a jaw-dropping experience. Hardwood floors, black steel frames, and exposed rafters in the ceilings created a modern industrial look. Wood tables and chairs, leather sofas and armchairs, and highbacked chairs around the bar gently whisper for people to sit for awhile and enjoy their cold craft beer.
Ironclad Brewery covers the range of craft beer with their takes on the Kolsch, lager, IPA, and pale ale. Get a flight to sample a few at a time or buy it by the glass if you know what you want.
New Anthem Beer Project
When Bill Hunter and Aaron Skiles founded New Anthem Beer Project, they knew they would need a bigger space. And soon. In 2016, the duo renovated the last commercial livery stable in downtown Wilmington – located on Dock Street – into a brewpub. A gorgeous bar wraps around towering stainless steel vessels at the center of the space.
In 2019, the local brewery expanded to a second location near Greenfield Lake, about ten minutes from downtown. Two blocks of old commercial buildings and warehouses were renovated into modern mixed-use spaces. On the corner, in a shiny industrial building ten times larger than their first home, New Anthem Beer Project built a production facility and taproom.
The front quarter of the building features painted concrete floors, vaulting ceilings, and large windows flooding the space with daylight. Visitors can sit at high-top tables or the bar while they sample the craft beers. The folks at New Anthem aren’t afraid to experiment, and it’s impossible to peg them to just one type of beer.
It’s one of the best places to visit if you’ve never tried craft beer and are unsure what you will enjoy.
Panacea Brewing Company
In 1993, Artie and Robin Hill began experimenting with fermentation in high school. Shh! Don’t tell anyone. In 2016, the couple founded Panacea Brewing Company in the Burgaw Incubator Kitchen, a co-op space designed to help fresh businesses get started. With a 1975 Volkswagen Westfalia converted into a mobile taproom, the couple traveled to local farmers’ markets and events selling their kombucha.
What is kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea, sweetened, with a very low alcohol by volume. Also known as mushroom tea – although it’s actually bacteria and yeast – proponents claim kombucha has several health benefits.
In 2017, they moved into their first permanent home. Three years later, they moved into a new space on Oleander Drive. Brightly colored, mismatched furniture and eye-popping murals await visitors to the cozy space. The awning over the door announces, “Funky Food and Ferments,” perfectly foreshadowing what you’ll find inside.
Mad Mole Brewing
There are two things the folks at Mad Mole Brewing Company want everyone to know. The first is how the name came about. In 2018, friends and co-workers Martin de Jongh, Ole Pederson, Chris Worden, and Thomas Varnum opened the latest brewing company in the Cape Fear region. The name is a play on the founders’ names – take the “M” from Martin and “Ole” from Pederson, and you have Mole. They called it Mad Mole to reference the mad scientist role played by the head brewery in every brewery.
The second thing they want people to know is their beer is “brewed by the sun.” Solar panels on the roof provide all the power they need to process their small-batch craft beers. Their beers typically align with IPA and pale ale with their own take on the locally popular Kolsch.
Inside, the taproom has a gorgeous wooden bar and a few tables scattered across a concrete floor. Outside, tables and chairs on a patio are perfect for those cool evenings when the sun hits the horizon, and the temps drop ten degrees.
Outer Dunes Brewing Company
Shortly after Phil and Ellie Mabe met in 2005, they realized they shared a passion for brewing. Like many breweries, theirs started with a five-gallon homebrew system in a tiny apartment. In 2021, the Mabes bought a former tavern and opened Outer Dunes Brewing Company.
High chairs surround a dark wood bar inside the small building with low ceilings. But outside, the brewing company presents a magic feel with lights strung between thick limbs of oak trees that cast a perpetual shade from their leaves year-round. Picnic tables and patio sets are spread across the ground, the perfect place to enjoy their porters, IPAs, and pale ales.
Waterline Brewing Co.
When you walk into Waterline Brewing Co., ask to see the scrapbook. Tucked away on a shelf behind the bar, the scrapbook is stuffed with photos of Rob and Eve Robinson and Brian Bell renovating the 1940s Jacobi Hardware building into a brewery.
Opened in 2015, the owners preserved the best parts of the old hardware building like the concrete floor, rustic brick walls, and industrial ceilings. It’s standing room only around the modern bar top, but there are plenty of high-top tables inside – and outside, you’ll find cornhole and picnic tables. After an expansion into an unused portion of the building, the shiny stainless steel production facility was completed, and visitors can take a peek inside while enjoying their craft beers.
In 2017, Bob High, Craig Gee, and Don Webber opened Waterman’s Brewing just minutes from Wrightsville Beach – and all those thirsty beachgoers returning home. High brought Zac Brown – the man, not the band – across the country to run the brewery. Now, head brewer Alexis Scrivani puts her degree in Fermentation Science from App State to good use.
Inside, Waterman’s Brewing is one of the coziest breweries in the Cape Fear region. A fireplace anchors one wall, surrounded by comfortable chairs and tables. Swiveling high chairs at the bar offer a peek at the shiny production line through a large window. Beautiful photography adorns the walls.
From the beginning, a kitchen was part of the brewery’s plans. The brunch menu, served on Saturdays and Sundays, offers a small sample of breakfast items and burgers. The regular diner menu has a greater selection with appetizers, tacos, and burgers – the loaded tater tots are particularly savory.
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Wilmington Brewing Company
Everything changed when Wilmington natives John and Michelle Savard took a vacation to Europe. After touring breweries in Belgium and Germany, the couple returned home to Asheville with a passion for home brewing. In 2014, they moved to Wilmington and opened the Wilmington Brewing Company.
The commercial building near the middle of town – and just minutes from the UNC Wilmington campus – is inviting with cushioned bar stools at a bar wrapped in corrugated metal. Sample their craft beers inside or take them outside to wooden picnic tables. While visiting, check out their sister company, Wilmington Homebrew Supply.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery
Wrightsville Beach native Jud Watkins spent his youth fishing for oysters in the shallow waters with his father and grandfather. The idea was developed during their long conversations for a brewery to go along with the tasty oysters. In 2017, Jud and Amber Watkins realized that dream when they opened Wrightsville Beach Brewery.
The brewery is in a gorgeous building about fifteen minutes from the beach. Naturally stained wood tables cover the floor in the cavernous building. At the front, a bar stretches the width of the building with comfortable high chairs. Nearly twenty beers are kept on tap at any time, an impressive sight while sitting at the bar.
Head brewer Chris Zirnheld started in homebrewing and now has several professional certificates in the craft brewing industry. He covers the range of craft beers with IPA, pale ale, Kolsch, pilsner, and stout. Their 007 is an interesting mixed drink that starts with their Kolsch Krush beer, adds vodka and orange juice, and results in a combination of flavors best left tantalizingly undescribed.
Where to Stay
The locals love the craft beer scene in Wilmington because it’s maybe a thirty-minute drive to get home at the night’s end. But for travelers, we need another place to stay. Wilmington is a bustling city for industry, and the university draws thousands of visitors throughout the year. What does that mean?
There are a lot of great hotels in Wilmington.
Here are some places I recommend for spending a few nights in Wilmington.
The Comfort Inn near the UNC Wilmington campus is a great hotel to spend a few nights. The hotel features free on-site parking and an outdoor swimming pool. Rooms include two full beds or one king bed.
Best Western Plus on Market Street is in a busy – very busy – part of town, but it’s still a great hotel. The hotel features a nice outdoor swimming pool, but don’t expect it to be peaceful with nearby road traffic. Rooms include two queen beds or one king bed.
The Holiday Inn Express was wedged onto a property in the middle of town between a car dealership and the backside of a Walmart – but it’s a pleasant place to stay. The hotel features free on-site parking and a nice outdoor swimming pool that will be peaceful in the evenings. Rooms include two queen beds or one king bed.
Best Western Plus – formerly the Coastline Inn – is one of the best places to stay in Wilmington. The downtown hotel is on the riverfront, with rooms offering spectacular views but no balconies. Free on-site parking is included. Rooms feature two full beds, one king bed, and the King Suite has one king bed and a sleeper sofa.
Hampton Inn & Suites is the top recommended place to stay in Wilmington. The hotel is a 20-minute drive from downtown but only a 10-minute drive from Wrightsville Beach. The outdoor features free on-site parking and a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool. Rooms include two full beds or one king bed, and the suites include a king bed and sleeper sofa. Some rooms include a fully equipped kitchen with a small dining table, perfect for traveling families.
Aloft is one of the newest hotels in downtown Wilmington. Located at the Coastline Center, the city’s convention center, the hotel is walking distance of most restaurants and shopping in the historic district. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed with views of the Cape Fear River or downtown, and some of the rooms include a balcony.
Hampton Inn in downtown Wilmington is a great place to stay if you want to be within walking distance of breweries, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment. The hotel features a small indoor swimming pool and excellent complimentary hot breakfast every morning. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Hotel Ballast is the top recommended place to stay in downtown Wilmington. The hotel has direct access to the Cape Fear Riverwalk on the waterfront. The hotel features private parking for an additional fee, an outdoor swimming pool with a river view, and an on-site restaurant and bar. Rooms include two full beds or a king bed, views of downtown or the river, and the one-bedroom suite includes a king bed and a sleeper sofa.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are currently 17 craft breweries in Wilmington, but that number is rapidly increasing.
Front Street Brewery is the oldest brewery in Wilmington, NC. The brewery opened in 1995.
Front Street Brewery opened in 1995 in Wilmington, NC.
Highland Brewing Company is the biggest brewery in North Carolina by production volume. Opened in 1994 by retired engineer Oscar Wong, it was the first legal brewery in Asheville since prohibition.
No, Wilmington is not an open container city. Unlike other popular craft beer destinations, visitors are not allowed to leave the brewery’s premises with an open container.