Maria and I had been looking forward to visiting Fullsteam ever since we started our eastern voyage. With our design backgrounds the Fullsteam visual concept always stood out to us as an innovative approach to craft beer branding, but we had yet to try their beer and weren’t quite sure what we were in for.
Prior to arriving at the brewery I had arranged to meet someone I thought was a Fullsteam employee who would give us a little background on the brewery and maybe brief tour. I was a little surprised then to find out on our arrival that we would be talking to owner and co-founder, Sean Lily Wilson. Along with being The “Chief Executive Optimist” at the brewery Sean also founded and led two important beer lobbying movements in North Carolina, Pop the Cap (which raised the 6% alcohol limit) and Permit Beer (giving breweries the same promotional rights as wineries).
Sean met us at the bar and we started sampling our way down their tap list as he told us a little about the brewery. The plan was to create uniquely southern beers with a focus on local ingredients. The idea of ”plow to pint” looks to include the great regional food that North Carolina is known for into their brews. The flagship beers all have very southern roots from the Carver Sweet Potato Lager that utilizes North Carolina sweet potatoes to the Working Man’s Lunch stout that mimics the Southern tradition of an RC Cola and a moon pie while the El Toro Cream ale uses all North Carolina malts.
Fullsteam even created a crowd sourced beer program called Forager that pays customers who bring in fruit for their seasonal beers. Figs, persimmons, paws paws, and pears are found all over the region but often go to waste as they drop to ground and rot or get frozen out by the winter. The brewery pays market price to the customers that bring in this extra fruit and uses them to create some really unique beers. Sean shared a bottle of last year’s First Frost persimmon ale with us and it was unlike anything I had ever had. This winter warmer poured a dark copper color and wasn’t overly fruity but rather the persimmons lended some sweet spice notes to the flavor that is simply delicious. Each Forager gets a bottle of the finished brew for their efforts.
Of course we had to gradually lead the conversation towards branding and how Sean ended up working with famed creative firm Helms Workshop which is also responsible for Austin Beerwork’s branding. The connection was somewhat random as Sean was looking through portfolios online and came across the Helms website that said something to the effect of “if you are interested in working together send me an email…if you are a brewery call me now!”.
Together they created a “semi-fictitious steampunk plantation-owner from a distant time: Liborious Golhart. The narrative explores the contrast between industry and agriculture, two worlds to which Libby is equally dedicated.” It is a visually stunning use 0f typography and illustration but it doesn’t stop there. The brand is carried out throughout the brewery starting at the hangar door like entrance that opens to a wall of electrical gauges to the bar that uses an old library card catalog to organize the locals only Scythe & Sparrow member’s pint glasses.
After we finished up the samples Sean gave us a quick tour of the brew house before we had to hit the road again, but not before we got a growler of their Summer Basil farmhouse ale. We were honored to hear the story of Fullsteam from the inspiration through the execution and the challenges in between. Our conversation with Sean was a great reminder of why we travel for beer in the first place: to visit new places and see what makes them tick. This place ticks because of Sean and his partner and the great beer community that has supported them.