BY COREY DAVIS
Staff Writer

Monday, August 27, 2018

A couple of craft brewers are bringing a female touch and diverse presence to the Rocky Mount Mills.

Briana Brake, founder of Spaceway Brewery, and Celeste Beatty, founder of Harlem Brewing, have formed a collaboration to establish Rocky Mount Brewery that will occupy nearly 9,000 square feet of space at the Rocky Mount Mills Brewery Incubator. The brewery is slated to begin operations by October with the first beers being limited-release beers.

“We are ecstatic to have Rocky Mount Brewery join our incubator at Rocky Mount Mills,” said Evan Covington Chavez, real estate development manager for the Rocky Mount Mills. “Their focus on highlighting all that Rocky Mount is via beer is just the kind of unique touch that makes this place so special.”

The women met each other in the fall of 2016 during a business panel event at Shaw University. That weekend, Brake invited Beatty to her home to help brew a batch and the relationship continued to develop from there. Last year, the women participated in brewing during the “Art of Cool” festival in Durham. 

Following a seminar, both Beatty and Brake met with Sebastian Wolfrum, executive brewmaster of the Rocky Mount Mills, to learn about opportunities at the brewery incubator at the Mills.

“The Mills provided me with an exciting opportunity to explore brewing in my home state and be closer to some of our most loyal customers,” said Beatty, who is from Greensboro and will serve as co-brewer and adviser.

Brake, who is from Durham, will serve as the head brewer and CEO. Brake has been known as an avid brewer for more than four years and received her certificate in craft beer brewing at Wake Technical Community College. 

Mostly recently, Brake served as program coordinator for the Center on Law, Race and Politics at Duke University School of Law for more than six years. 

“After being presented with the amazing opportunity at the Mills, I thought of this as not only a chance to work with Harlem Brewing and get Spaceway going but also a chance for me to connect with family that I have in the area and be part of Rocky Mount’s exciting revitalization that’s taking place at the Rocky Mount Mills and the city’s downtown development projects,” Brake said.

Beatty, who is known as one of the early female pioneers in the craft beer industry, founded Harlem Brewing — now Harlem Brew South — in 2000 when she lived in Harlem, N.Y. She said the vision was to craft local beers that celebrated the history, culture and community. 

Harlem Brewing’s beers are widely distributed throughout the East Coast, United Kingdom and Japan. In 2016, Walmart began stocking Harlem Brewing’s Sugar Hill Golden Ale on shelves in its New York stores.

According to the NC Craft Brewers Guild, North Carolina boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the South, with more than 260 breweries and brewpubs. The opening of Rocky Mount Brewery would represent one of two black-owned breweries in the state and one of less than 50 female- and minority-owned breweries in the country.

“North Carolina’s craft beer industry is all about the stories behind the brews and brewers,” said Wit Tuttell, director of Visit NC and vice president of tourism and marketing for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. “We are thrilled to have Briana and Celeste add their unique mix of talent, diversity and past success to the North Carolina craft beer scene. We can’t wait to see what happens when New York and North Carolina come together.”

Beatty said she and Brake recently went to a beer festival in Pittsburgh where there were a large gathering of black brewers, but that’s usually an anomaly.

“When I get a chance to check out a lot of these events around the country, they aren’t the most diverse audiences and there is a lot of room to really broaden the spectrum of music and culture,” she said. “We want to bring some diversity in terms of offerings.”

Brake said the most important way for Rocky Mount Brewery to gain traction in the community is to make quality beer and engage the community.

“We certainly feel it’s important to get people out here that might not otherwise come out here,” she said. “People tend to go places where they feel represented, and we want to bring everybody here.”