Making waves: Outer Banks Brewing Station finds its niche

Outer Banks Brewing Station

Scott Meyer stands over a 20-barrel metal tub, pouring 20 pounds of whole hops into a mixture already consisting of 80 pounds of rye flakes and water. The contents brewing in the mash tun resemble oatmeal.

“I’ve never tried adding the hops at this point,’’ says Meyer, the master brewer at the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills. “I’ve only heard about it.’’

Meyer is making a Saison, a light ale originally brewed in Belgium that farm workers drank in the summer.

On a control panel next to the tun is taped a photo of Lt Uhura. Perhaps the “Star Trek’’ communications officer is monitoring the hopping frequency.

On a nearby shelf sits Meyer’s notebook of handwritten recipes. Other shelves hold tools and parts. The drawers are neatly labeled names such as “doodly mcjobbers,’’ “flux capacitors’’ and “digity mchinguses.’’

It will be a long day of watching, stirring, monitoring and mixing. But there will also be plenty of talking about beer, joking with brewpub owner Eric Reece, drinking coffee, and getting visits from neighbors and former employees.

Sure, the business of making beer is serious, but having a good time is OK, too, here at the Outer Banks Brewing Station.

* * *

Who knows how many breweries got their starts with a couple of slightly inebriated but exceedingly excited friends gathering over some home brew? But this one was born over Thai rum.

Back on Christmas day in 1991, Reece and Aubrey Davis were in a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Thailand. They were knocking back some local liquor when the idea for their own brewery began to take shape.

After returning from Thailand, Davis spent a few years working for the National Park Service, working in Washington on President Clinton’s Greening of the White House project. But he did a little home brewing and kept thinking about the plan.

Reece lived on West Coast and worked for a pharmaceutical company. Within a couple of years, he left to work at a Berkeley microbrewery to learn the business. There, he met Meyer, who helped him keep the notion fomenting.

Reece and Davis had kept in touch and resumed their brewery talk in 1997. Davis suggested the Outer Banks, where he had spent time as a kid.

By 1999, Reece and Davis were living in the Outer Banks, and their plans started to become reality. Meyer provided long-distant advice and eventually moved east.

They found the land and the financing, and building began.

In 2001, they opened OBBS. The structure was built to resemble a lifesaving station. The bar is shaped like a lifesaving boat, but its mission is often to save people from thirst. Oh, and hunger, too.

* * *

Since opening, the business has grown faster than anyone expected.

“We were a little before our time,’’ Reece says, talking about the craft brewing movement that has seized the nation. “When we opened in 2001, people had just started getting it.’’

How did they do it? One factor was good beer created by brewmaster Meyer.

Meyer is an award-winning brewer and vintner. His OBBS beers have won three times at the World Beer Cup, the Olympics of the beer world. In 2010, the Lemongrass Wheat Ale won a silver medal, and in 2012 the Vitis Reductus Weisse won a bronze medal. Last month, the MeyerBock won a gold medal.

The beer menu carries a half-dozen OBBS styles at a time. The olsch, a constant, is a pale, Kolsch-style beer with a bit of hoppiness.

The Lemongrass Wheat Ale, the second constant, is packed with lemongrass essence. People seem to love it or hate it.

Other recent offerings were a pale ale, the MeyerBock, a stout and a winter wassail.

* * *

The next thread in the brewpub’s story pub is the food. The menu is designed to appeal to everyone. “People came for the beer and stayed for the food,’’ Reece says.

Tina Mackenzie, who worked with Reece and Davis in the Peace Corps, studied at the California Culinary Institute in Berkeley. She and Reece are married.

She started baking bread, rolls, pizza dough and desserts for the OBSS. The menu says her carrot cake is why Reece married her. Her crème brulee has been on the menu since the place opened.

A couple of years later, Chef Pok Choeichom joined the staff. He was born in Thailand but grew up in North Carolina. He has trained and worked at restaurants from New York to Hawaii.

It didn’t hurt business when Guy Fieri did a show on the Outer Banks a couple years back and included the OBBS. That episode of Food Network show “Diners, Drive-in and Dives’’ shows the chef making his popular shrimp and grits. To see that segment and hear the recipe, go to tinyurl.com/ms8g3un.

Fieri returned with his clan for a family reunion, including dinner at OBBS.

Today, talk among diners is split about evenly between the beer and the food. A few say they visit whenever they’re in town. Those who were first-timers praise the food with enthusiasm. Others report coming back again and again, sometimes ordering the same thing each time.

* * *

Karen Loopman-Davis, who is married to Davis, says the place hit its stride when the owners stopped listening to all the advice from others.

“We just found our niche and created a more relaxed, more welcoming place.’’

The workers add a friendly, inviting air to the brewpub. Reece says the key is to hire good people who love what they do, and then allow them to do it. A couple have worked at the restaurant since it opened. Noticeable about the employees at OBBS is that they’re always moving, moving, moving.

The brewpub’s interest in the environment can be seen for miles. Standing tall and busy is a whirring wind turbine that supplements the power the restaurant uses. After trying for five years, the brewery finally got permission from the town in 2007 to erect the turbine.

Live music plays several times a month. And the restaurant hosts a number of events that raise money for local and other charities. “We're embedded in the community,’’ Loopman-Davis says.

The restaurant seats 200, but the owners recently opened the backyard for dining.

The brewery produces about 1,000 barrels of beer a year. Beer is distributed locally. In the coming months, they’ll start canning a few styles with a mobile brewer.

The OBBS closes for six weeks in winter. This, Davis says, is when everybody gets the chance to relax, recharge and often travel. It’s a necessity. With a place like this, Davis says, “you’re not an owner, you’re an ownee.’’

The Saison recently brewed wasn’t ready to sample yet at the end of April, but Meyer is calling it “Saison d'être.”

 

 

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