BY BRIAN CLAREY
Jamie Bartholomaus knew he’d need a bigger space.
When his company, Foothills Brewing, began making beer in the new brewpub in 2005, a core of seven brews made in 450-gallon batches — 15 kegs at a time, much of which was consumed on premises, one pint at a time.
Then Sexual Chocolate happened, a cocoa-infused brew with notes of espresso, molasses and dark plum created for Valentine’s Day. A 2007 limited bottling of it sold out in under an hour.
It quickly became a genuine phenomenon. By 2008, folks would stand in line at the pub waiting for the release. In 2009 it was mentioned in a CNN story about craft beer. Meanwhile Bartholomaus crafted more ingenious brews from his cobbled-together set-up on 4th Street that found their way into the Triad’s most notorious beer dens.
And so it came to be that the brewpub’s output could no longer meet demand.
Bartholomaus came to be a brewmaster as a hobbyist, a home brewer hanging around the supply store, when a friend became the accidental brewmaster of Blind Man Ales in Athens, Ga. Bartholomaus became a de facto apprentice, helping his friend get Blind Man off the ground before moving to the Triad to start Foothills.
Now Bartholomaus paces around the new facility, a 48,600-square-foot behemoth on the outskirts of Winston- Salem. It smells of malt and yeast, as any proper brewery should. A phalanx of fermenting tanks take up perhaps a fifth of the space, next to the brewhouse in a small alcove where the wort is made. Bulwarks of kegs and packaged cases fill some of the open space, and more fill a walk-in cooler bigger than the original brewery, awaiting delivery. Ten percent goes out of state, the rest stays in North Carolina, mostly the Triangle.
“We sell more beer in the Triangle in one day than we do in Winston-Salem in a week,” Bartholomaus says.
The place is huge — more space, he admits, than he thought he needed. But last year Foothills acquired Carolina Beer and Beverage brands, which include Carolina Blonde and a line of Cottonwoood ales.
“We were gonna go with a smaller facility,” Bartholomaus says, “but the [new] brands added volume. It made sense to get a bigger place.
A single bottling line operates underneath a massive mezzanine, empty now but with big plans in store for it.
A mass of unlabeled amber bottles wedge into single file, run through a labeler that marks them with the seal of Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale. From this glass box the bottles move single file into another, where they load onto a wheel where they are rinsed and drained. A long, threaded collar moves them through another wheel, where beer flows into each. A final, smaller wheel affixes bottlecaps, and then the bottles move single file once more along a last line where workers pack them by hand into cases for distribution.
Bartholomaus has set the bottling machine at 5,000 per hour, though he says it’s capable of processing 6,000. He’ll purchase another when the time is right, along with more fermenting towers, more cooler space, more workers… more everything.
After the pumpkin ale runs its course, there will be Frostbite, a black IPA, then India Brown Ale.
For now his Oktoberfest brew is made at the brewhouse on 4th Street — he still uses the set-up there for seasonal and specialty beers, the kinds of brews that got him into this business in the first place.
And next month begins the annual production of Sexual Chocolate, as always a limited run, available only at select outlets, as always released right around Valentine’s Day, five months from now.
The orders, he says, are already coming in.
Foothills Brewing; foothillsbrewing.com. Foothills Brewpub; 638 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem; 336.777.3348