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Fullsteam Brewery - “It’s an adventure, Fullsteam ahead.” | Updated: 04.03.2011 |


Established: August 13, 2010

Owner: Sean Lilly Wilson

Brewer: Chris Davis and Brooks Hamaker


Location: 726 Rigsbee Avenue
Durham, NC 27701

Distribution: Fullsteam beers are available in a number of Triangle-area restaurants, bars, and retail shops. We self-distribute our own kegs, growlers, and special 750ml releases. Our tavern is open seven days a week—swing on by to check out our R&D test batches!


—YEAR-ROUND “Workers’ Compensation”—
Fullsteam Southern Lager 5.5%
El Toro Cream Ale 4.8% 

Carver sweet potato 5.5%

Rocket Science IPA 6.8%

Working Man’s Lunch MoonPie dark ale 6%

Hogwash hickory-smoked porter 5.5% 

Summer Basil farmhouse ale 5.2%

Sparkling Pear 9%

First Frost winter persimmon 9%

...and much much more!

We’ve received good media coverage, including articles in Southern Living, the Oxford American, Cooking Light, and Food & Wine:

We’ll enter our beers in regional and national competitions as they arise. We’re pretty new, so we haven’t had a chance to do this yet.

 The second stop on the tour brought me to Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC. I was excited! I was about to meet an instrumental player in the 2005 “Pop-the-Cap” legislation that started the beer revolution in NC, Sean Lily Wilson of the Fullsteam Brewery. This legislation opened the door for craft brewing in the state and most of the breweries we will be visiting came into being due to it’s passing.


I first heard of Fullsteam on local public radio. Sean was on air discussing their upcoming grand opening. His passion for craft beer, the business model and the “Plow to Pint” program was easy to pick up on in the interview. (WUNC - Public Radio, State of Things October, 2010) Ultimately, Fullsteam’s “Plow to Pint” program was partially the inspiration for the Fishing for NC Beer Tour, the other part being born out of a more selfish motivation.


With it’s Workers’ Compensation line of brews, Fullsteam has positioned itself to be the definition of “Southern Beer”. The team of Wilson, Chris Davis and Brooks Hamaker (formerly brewer at Abita) has successfully drawn their inspiration from NC/Southern agriculture and culture. It is reflected in every one of the breweries offerings. They have embraced “local” in an attempt keep the business green, positively impact the economy and to keep the business of brewing beer interesting by asking “what if.”


In the case of the beer they brew, the question was “What if we made beer with ingredients we have here?” -- like sweet potatoes, parsnips, even kudzu (that’s right I said kudzu - you know they have been naturalized to the state when they start picking the kudzu!). They are willing to work with almost anything they can lay their hands on. To date their seasonal’s have included a Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale (5.2% abv), Sparkling Pear (9% abv.) and First Frost Winter Persimmon (9% abv.)


NC brew enthusiasts will tell you multi-barley and hops are no longer readily available in this local climate and that there are no processing facilities. This makes hops a challenge to grow in NC. Despite an active hops industry in NC prior to prohibition, the industry was wiped out during that time of unfortunate judgement in our Union’s history and the post-harvest infrastructure disappeared before prohibition was repealed. Cotton and Tobacco, being the staple crops already in NC ag, remained, and continue to be the kings of the field.


With open minds, the Fullsteam team has foraged into the crops of NC small farmers and gardeners to successfully brew delicious, clear beers with unique and full flavors. Keeping it local is the backbone of their philosophy and the business model appears to be working.


Forager Program Complete with Hat for Participation

With their success, Fullsteam has offered up the Forager Program to the community. They actively forage Central NC for any unpicked persimmon, fig or pear tree.

“Too many trees and gardens are not picked. And beautiful fruits and spices are left to die in the Fall. When people grow too much, we know what to do with their surplus,” explained Wilson. “We make beer.”


Foragers are offered per-pound market prices for their produce and it gets made into beer. Each grower gets a check, a portion of beer and a hat for the elite “Fullsteam Forager” Club. Only growers get the hat. The program underscores the business’s comprehensive philosophy to engage the local community.


Half Tap Room Half Community Center?

Downtown Durham is undergoing a renaissance. Finally recovering from the vacating of the big tobacco infrastructure that occupies a great deal of that area, the city’s business’s are working to revitalize one of the most historically interesting towns in NC. The Fullsteam tap room is a beehive for the local neighborhoods; in the afternoon and evenings, Durham-ites start filing through the great big roll up door of the warehouse brewery. As darkness falls, the quiet commercial street lights up with food truck vendors that offer sausages, tacos and more, and people enjoy good beer, some good food and maybe hear a band. A makeshift game room in the lobby offers some ping pong and other family games. The beer hall has ample space with a stage, beer fest picnic table style seating and a glass wall view of the brewery. Very open, the tap room does not have a “bar” or “club” feeling and offers a warm atmosphere of fellowship.



Expansion and One Big Friggin’ Still

The beer business is good, and even as I was on premises it was a race to get a batch of the Rocket Science IPA back on tap. With plenty of space in their warehouse Sean is planning and ready for steady growth. As we walked past the bar into the annex space my eyes fell on the biggest Still Pot I have ever seen in person. A beautiful piece of artwork, just looking at this hand-hammered, copper behemoth was giving me inappropriate feelings. Sean explained it was none other than the personal still of David Marshall “Carbine” Williams - an outstanding person in NC history.  “The family has let it out on loan to us and we are not entirely sure what we will do with it!” Wilson continued. “NC laws are tricky about distillery/brewery combinations.”


The beer was fantastic, but standing with a piece of history from the man that invented the Carbine rifle was the icing on the cake.


The Beer

My flight started with Fullsteam’s El Toro Cream Ale (4.8% abv.). Sean called it their “beer” beer, and it is made with 15% corn grits. Sean explained, “This is what we give the customer that just wants “a beer.” It’s simple and it has domestic appeal.” I had to disagree; if Budweiser, for all their consistency and quality of ingredients, had developed the subtle but full flavor that I was enjoying, I would truly recognize them to be the king of beers. The El Toro Cream was a light adjunct ale with an excellent finish.



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