Life in the quaint coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, has been marked by the daily screech of a mill whistle that’s been signaling the end of another work shift since the mid-19th century. But since Mill Whistle Brewing took over whistle duties in the state’s third oldest town, that sound is earning new meaning: it’s Beer:45 in Beaufort.
Brewing in an Old Fishing Town
Mill Whistle Brewing is Carteret County’s first brewery, and it opened its doors in 2016 on April Fool’s Day.
When Tom and Barb Backman decided to turn Tom’s 20-year brewing hobby into a business, they knew that representing Beaufort’s historical connection to the Crystal Coast would have to be an essential part of their business plan.
“We’ve basically always been an ocean fishing town,” says Tom. “The old mills around here milled wood for ships, and this brewery’s located on the site of a mill that belonged to the family of my business partner, Bob Safrit. When I asked him what he most remembered about the mill before it closed in the 1970s, he immediately mentioned the whistle, and after he told me the story of how the whole town heard it daily for 125 years, I knew that was the theme we should work with.”
It’s Beer:45 in Beaufort
The Safrit family had loaned the whistle to the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, and once they recovered it, it was positioned outside the nanobrewery and taproom.
“We started blowing the steam whistle at 4:45 p.m. daily, like the old tradition, and the community response was overwhelming,” says Tom. “Soon everyone started using the expression ‘Beer:45 in Beaufort.’ That whistle became such a popular attraction that we worried someone might steal it. So we had craftsmen who work on steam engines in Cass, North Carolina, make us a replica that we put outside and we moved the original inside.”
Both the original and replica whistles are fully operational. Tom says visitors are sometimes allowed to blow the outside whistle via a red button installed in the taproom’s closet.
Other nods to local history spruce up the nanobrewery’s 25-person capacity taproom and 40-person beer garden. Old black-and-white photos of the mill and its stacks billowing out dark smoke can be found in the restrooms. The tap handles are stylized reproductions of the original whistle handle. Paneling within the taproom is made out of reclaimed wood from the local area.
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Beer Names Reflect Local Folklore
The one-barrel nanobrewery counts on solar energy to brew 31-gallon batches of 25 different beers, including wheat beers, pale ales, IPAs, and six sours. All beer names incorporate local folklore.
The Girl in the Rum Barrel Stout is named after the town’s most celebrated child; a young girl who tragically died at sea in the 18th century while on a trip with her father. The grief-stricken seafarer, hell-bent on fulfilling his promise to his wife to bring back their child no matter what, packed her tiny body in a rum keg so she would stay preserved for the weeks it would take to arrive home. Today, her grave, marked simply as “Little Girl in a Keg of Rum” in the Old Burying Grounds a mile away from the taproom, is adorned with frequent offerings made by tourists and locals alike.
But this stout, more than its name, is steeped in local flavor… literally. The spicy cedar notes come from wood that was used when building the taproom.
“I take cubes of the same reclaimed wood we used to make the bar, soak them in rum for a couple of weeks, and then add them to the fermenter to give the stout that spiced rum flavor,” says Tom.
Crystal Coast inhabitants have always been fond of their local spirits, both the alcoholic and otherworldly kind, and now they can add craft beer to their impressive list of artisan offerings.
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