Three friends opened Surf City’s newest beer mecca, Surf City Brewing Company, on Alston Boulevard in October 2023.
An IT guy, a Naval pathologist and a retired Marine go out for a couple of beers one night. A little girl pets a big dog, adults chat, runners exchange personal bests, and friendships begin. Ferment for five years, and the results are some fine brews and the creation of Surf City Brewing Company.
Brian Hemenway, Reynaldo Gomez and Clint Smith opened Surf City Brewing Company (SCBC), a veteran and minority-owned brewery, in October 2023 in one of the fastest-growing areas of the small coastal town. A homebrewer for 15 years, Smith had brewed many styles of beer for his friends and now he’s brewing for his neighborhood.
“If Clint can make a type of beer I don’t like, and I like it,” says Gomez, “then I will trust him, and he has delivered.”
The friends tend to finish each other’s sentences and jump in with a comment designed, and effective, at producing laughter. If for any reason, you don’t like beer, you are bound to like the three owners.
A dozen of their brews are on tap; several beers are continuous while others rotate. On a recent evening, the selection included a blonde, an amber, a stout, a Marzen, a porter, a Belgian Witbier and both a West Coast IPA and a Hazy IPA. Flights are available. Prosecco is also on tap, as are ciders and one or two other North Carolina beers.
Many of the SCBC beers top out at 5 to 6% ABV, though the IPAs are higher, allowing you to “sit and drink a couple beers and visit with friends without feeling too full,” Smith says.
Their stout is an interpretation of a dry Irish stout. “It’s a little more roasty and chocolatey than a dry Irish, but it still has a dry finish,” Smith says. “It’s pretty good.” “Rey likes it.” Hemenway throws in, a nod to Gomez’s earlier comment and seal of approval.
The stout, Scath Na Farriage in Irish or Shadow of the Sea, is nicely carbonated using an age-old brewing technique called spunding in the primary carbonation. Spunding traps the naturally occurring CO2 created during fermentation inside the fermenter. The CO2 absorbs into the wort, the malt-grain mix.
“It’s a unique thing that sets us apart from other breweries,” Smith says.
The stout is served with nitro, meaning nitrogen is added under pressure, creating a beer with high keg pressure but low carbonation to create a more comfortable drinking beer.
Smith tells the story of the amber ale, appropriately named, the 1908 Prohibition Amber Ale. The ale gives a droll nod to North Carolina’s early (1908) adoption of Prohibition. The rest of the country enacted Prohibition laws in 1919.
“The story behind it is that we get our hops from Crosby Hop Farms,” Smith says. “They’ve been in business since 1900 — five generations, family-owned. We used hops like those grown during the Prohibition period. It’s slightly malty with a slight, bitter finish.”
Ca$h Me Outside is a light, crisp blonde with a slightly hoppy taste. Its smoother taste comes from adding Cashmere hops, known for tropical notes. Cashmere hops are a cross between Cascade, one of the most widely used hops in the United States, and Northern Brewer, a woody, earthy hop.
SCBC has a fully automated system. “That doesn’t mean you don’t need a brewmaster creating recipes,” Smith says. “The system allows the brewmaster to set it and forget, so to speak,” adding that it took a bit of learning and not forgetting for him to scale from a home brewer to the quantity necessary for a taproom.
The trio diligently worked nights and weekends on the interior as both Gomez and Hemenway have day jobs. Brewing is Smith’s day job.
The brewing equipment, ordered from a company in Nebraska, took the ensemble a few weekends to assemble, and finishing the custom-poured cement flooring another week.
“Anything we could do ourselves, we did, including the bar top,” Gomez says. “We are now concrete floor experts.”
The trio designed and built the back bar, a mélange of ocean blues and sunset oranges and yellows. Tables and chairs are movable so friends can gather with a more-is-merrier philosophy, while bar stools have nice back supports for comfortable seating while sipping.
Surfboards hanging on the walls pay homage to Hemenway’s days of surfing and his love of the sport.
“We’ll open it up to anyone who wants to display their boards,” he says. “Some surfers have boards that are too valuable to ride but maybe they’d like to share them with folks.”
At the east side of the patio, Smith planted a hops wall showcasing the herbal favorite, but no hops from the wall were harvested for the brews on tap. The large patio with picnic tables has plenty of room for both well-behaved kids and dogs to play while parents enjoy a brew or two. Beverages also are available for non-beer lovers. Patrons can bring snacks and food from local establishments, and several are just across the road in the Surf City Crossing shopping area.
Photography by Unique Media & Design