What sets Aberdeen, NC apart from most "small towns?" Besides a National Register historic downtown with a host of art galleries, boutiques and antique stores, Aberdeen is also home to Moore County’s first craft brewery, Railhouse Brewery.
Railhouse Brewery, born from an idea spurned on a business road trip and officially founded in 2010, now features a full brewpup with a kitchen and bar. The brewery distributes its award-winning beer (known for being more focused on malted barley than hops) to all major cities in North Carolina and South Carolina, and beer is carried in Harris Teeter and Total Wine.
The back story
Military veterans Brian Evitts (U.S. Navy), and Mike Ratkowski (U.S. Army) met working for a large fortune 1000 company. Brian had been an avid home brewer for about 15 years, brewing five gallon batches of craft beer at a time. Mike is from Wisconsin, where the craft beer movement has been prominent since the 1990s. On a business trip together, the two quickly discovered they both had a passion for high-quality beers.
“Mike and I did a sales blitz in DC for a couple of days to gain new accounts,” Brian explained. “On the drive back, we talked about brewing craft beer and how the industry in North Carolina was exploding.”
The two talked about brewing beer for the better part of the four-hour ride. Next thing they knew, they were looking at equipment. A year and a half later, their dream started to take form.
North Carolina and craft beer.
North Carolina is widely considered the best beer state south of the Mason-Dixon Line - and for good reason.
“Asheville paved the way for the North Carolina craft beer market in early 2000s,” Mike explained. “As Asheville became a top beer market, the State of North Carolina saw the opportunity and ran with it.”
North Carolina has the most favorable beer laws of any state in the Southeast. These laws were a key factor in helping to attract some of the nation’s largest craft brewers to establish breweries in Western North Carolina, and incentivized entrepreneurs like Mike and Brian to jump on the opportunity to open their own brewery.
Unlike some states, North Carolina increased the legal alcoholic beverage volume (ABV) for malt beverages from 6 percent to 15 percent. Craft brewers may also sell their own products at the brewery (allowing for brewpubs.) Additionally, the 2013 General Assembly adopted legislation to allow the sale of 64-ounce growlers of draft beer.
“Being in the Northeast of the Southeast helps, too, because it makes you very easily accessible to other parts of the country,” Mike said. “The customer base in North Carolina also lends itself well to craft breweries. People are moving to NC from the Northeast and the Northwest who are familiar with craft beer, and that brings the market to us.”
Settling on Moore County
“Mike lived in Aberdeen, and pitched the idea for opening the brewery in Moore County,” Brian says. “With no other craft breweries in the area (at the time,) the space was wide open.”
Brian described the Moore County area as has having all the conveniences you would expect to find in a big city, but still small enough to be a small community where everyone knows each other.
Mike and Brian also cited Aberdeen’s location within North Carolina being a crucial factor in their decision, because it’s a good central distribution center to send to other NC cities.
“The Town of Aberdeen was very welcoming when we pitched the idea. And not only the town - the county, and all the other businesses were so inviting and helpful. It also helps that so many other businesses in the area are veteran-owned.”
Veteran-Owned Businesses - by military, for military
Veteran-owned businesses are plentiful in Moore County - and successful - due to the area's location and the focus of local organizations on making the business climate ideal for veterans.
“The Moore County area is right on the backside of Fort Bragg, just as close to Fort Bragg as Fayetteville is, and some people don’t realize that,” Mike says. “The difference is that Moore County typically attracts more higher ranking, higher income, specialized duty military members.”
“Sandhills Community College had a liaison officer that would go around and help businesses understand the military market, how to cater them, how to make them feel welcome and be regular customers.”
In addition to being a great place for active-duty military and veterans to live, Moore County is also an ideal place to start a business. Brian and Mike explained that people a little higher in the ranks settle down here, looking for a permanent home, and they become regular customers.
“The really cool thing about living here and having all the military guys is that, when they travel, the word passes really well. We get emails and Facebook messages from guys stationed all over the world wearing the Railhouse Brewery t-shirt.”
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