EXCLUSIVE: New brewery on tap

A new development is docking in one of Hickory's empty manufacturing ports, and it brings with it an anchor that will help the city brew good things in the future.

Skull Coast Brewing will soon fly its flag over the old Hollar Hosiery Mill buildings that are being developed as part of a coordinated project combining plans for a reality television program with creation of a new space for entertainment, restaurants and retail shopping in Hickory.

"We are really excited to be going into the mill there," said Dave Fox, "chief drinking officer" of Skull Coast. "We looked at several different cities, and we thought Hickory to be the best ... We think the city is a fantastic place, right off I-40 with access to the entire state."

Within about 6,000 square feet of the old mill, Fox said his company plans to install a 30-barrel brewing system and canning line, as well as a 1,500-square-foot taproom. Initially the company aims to hire 6-10 people in the first year and grow the staff to 20 in the second year, Fox said.

The brewery is just one part of a reported $3 million project that will convert a pair of derelict buildings into a home for a completely new operation. Located near the intersection of Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the two buildings — one built in 1930 and the other in 1939 — are being redeveloped as part of a joint effort that combines building renovations and rehabilitation with an episodic television show, said Nathan Kirby, with Fight Sprawl Productions. The Piedmont-based company is creating a "docu-drama" TV show based on local entrepreneurship and historic preservation projects that save buildings and create jobs, he said.

"The production is the focus. If it weren't for the production, there wouldn't be a project," said Kirby who is serving a dual role of managing the development and the production. "Us coming in and doing the development on the production is very helpful in getting the project off the ground. ... It is almost a but-for situation."

Also essential to the project are local property owners and investors, Kirby said, declining to reveal individuals involved in the investor group.

Kirby said three episodes of the TV program will focus on the Hollar Hosiery site, and others will highlight other historic redevelopment and re-use projects in surrounding counties. Filming in Hickory was set to start Wednesday, he said, adding he hopes the program will gain a national audience and bring a positive spotlight for the region.

Chances are, the television program won't be broadcast for a little while yet. Construction work on the Hollar Hosiery site is another story, however. Building permits were obtained this week, Kirby said, and heavy construction is expected to start in the next two weeks.

"We anticipate opening in late summer, and opening will be staggered for the various other businesses, finishing some time before the end of the year," he said.

"The last project we did was 50,000 square feet, and we placed and serviced it in about four and a half months."

The project has received a $30,000 grant from the city of the Hickory as part of its Vacant Building Revitalization and Demolition Grant program.

"The Hollar Hosiery project is an exciting redevelopment project that will transform one of the main entranceways into the city. One of the main goals of Hickory City Council is to attract businesses to Hickory that are interested in reusing historic manufacturing buildings," said Andrea Surratt, Hickory assistant city manager. "This project is a perfect example of how businesses can relocate and convert an old manufacturing building into something new and vibrant for the community.The city is hopeful that this will begin a trend for other businesses to consider relocating to Hickory to reuse these vacant buildings for new opportunities.”

The Hollar Hosiery Mill site includes two buildings: the main building with 20,500 square feet on two stories and the second 13,740 square feet in two stories.

"There is a restaurant and event space slated to go into it," Kirby said, adding the live entertainment venue includes 10,000 square feet and room for 650 people.

The full-service restaurant will consume about 6,000 square feet.

"We have a franchise frozen yogurt bar looking at going in," he continued. "Other tenants are also looking at the space. We don't think we will have any trouble leasing it given the fact we had pretty good pre-lease activity."

The anchor business for the project will be Skull Coast Brewing, which will go into the ground floor of the smaller "hangar" building on the site.

"They are a young business, however they have made great in-roads with their products and strategic relationships," Kirby said, adding Skull Coast is among a select few microbreweries that serve beer at Bank of America Stadium. "Young companies aren't typically labeled as anchors, but we consider them an anchor company simply for what they have built the last two years."

Skull Coast reveals brew plans
Skull Coast Ales Company first started being formed by Fox in 2009 in Fort Mill, S.C., as a craft beer company that contracted an outside brewery first to help produce its beer recipe. Later the company leased space for its own brewing equipment in larger operations.

In December 2011, the company incorporated as Skull Coast Brewing Company with the purpose of brewing and distributing hand-crafted ales, according to its website.

Now the company is planning to establish its first brewery, canning line and taproom in Hickory.

"We were looking at several different places — Ft. Mill was one; Charlotte was one; we were looking at Asheville and Morganton and all the spaces," Fox said, adding familiarity with project developers and access to transportation played a big role in Hickory's selection. "We have distributors that are kind of the top distributors in the state. Access to and from the brewery along I-40 provides the best opportunity to go across North Carolina, shoot up into Virginia and go down to South Carolina."

Plus the region is blossoming with beer. Old Hickory Brewery has long been established in Hickory, Loe's Brewing Company is growing in the city, and there is talk of another brewery being born within the coming year. Add Catawba Valley Brewing Co. in Morganton and the region is quickly becoming a "destination."

"It seems like a growing cluster of breweries, and we wanted to be part of it," Fox said. "Something we wanted was to help make Hickory and Skull Coast within Hickory be a destination for craft beer lovers."

With plans to brew "far less than 60,000 barrels of beer per year," Fox said the company will start production with four fermenters and one bright tank. The brewery's space has room for another six tanks.

"In the truest sense of the word, we are microbrewers when it comes down to tanks and capacity," he said, adding Skull Coast's plans to can at the Hickory site keep with a growing trend. "Cans are hot right now within the craft beer community. We want to come out with cans to make it easier for people to take to the beach or the golf course or anywhere else. Also, cans keep the beer fresh a little bit longer. It is almost like a mini keg."

Skull Coast will brew a couple of year-round beers — Gallows Points, a chocolate-macadamia nut imperial porter, and Scallywag, an extra pale ale. The focus, however, will be on producing seasonal beers, Fox said.

"We are really a creative bunch in terms of the kinds of beers we make," he said. "We are always trying to take a twist on a typical style and make it our own."

Skull Coast aims to do that when it brings the brewery to the old Hickory mill.

"We have a Facebook page and a Twitter page so people can keep up to date on the progress," he said. "We will do the best we can to keep consumers and fans up to date with pictures as it is being built so folks can see the construction as it happens."

Follow the company by finding "Skull Coast Ales" on Facebook or on Twitter, @SKULLCOAST.