Hoppin' Around No. 2: Shortway Brewing Company in Newport NC
Location, Location, Location
Shortway Brewing Company is proof that you can open a successful craft brewery anywhere, even in a small town with a population under 5,000 with a downtown just a few blocks long. Driving through Newport, a small coastal town in North Carolina, you hardly notice that you’re driving through a town at all. The buildings start to get closer together, you pass a church and a school and a small strip mall. If you aren’t looking closely, you’ll drive right by it, but in the middle of the strip mall is a modest sign proclaiming “Shortway Brewing Company.” Sharing the strip mall are a martial arts studio and a deli. The space directly next to the brewery is available and has a sign in the window, “Looking to lease to artisan business.” The beginnings of Newport’s downtown revitalization.
What does the name mean? We spent a while pondering this question before finding out that the answer was a simple one. The brewery shares its name with its founders, Matt and Lindsay Shortway. After serving in the Marine Corps, the family of five opened Shortway Brewing Company in Newport, North Carolina just under a year ago with the goal of creating a neighborhood brewery, a congregating place for the locals of Newport to enjoy good beer, a comfortable atmosphere, music, and church (The brewery hosts a worship service every Sunday called Bread and Barley). You will not find Shortway bottles on any shelves. The brewery sends kegs as far as Greenville and the Crystal Coast, but the best place to drink their brews is in their own taproom in quiet Newport, NC.
As with many newly opened restaurants, breweries, etc., one of Shortway’s missions is to be as locally sourced as possible, fitting with their local, neighborhood atmosphere. While it is almost impossible to locally source some ingredients to brew beer in sufficient quantities for a full capacity brew house (such as hops, which grow in North Carolina, but not well enough for the those of us who like hoppy beers!), Shortway does its best to use as many local ingredients as possible.
For example, the “Foundation of Fermentation” and staple ingredient in beer: barley. Shortway sources a large percentage of its barley from a company called Epiphany Craft Malts in Durham, North Carolina, which malts North Carolina grown barley to sell to brewers. Only fitting that a craft brewery should have a craft maltery. The result is a somewhat inconsistent but diverse flavor profile that embraces the natural fluctuations in the seasons. Epiphany is working to create a resilient grain that captures local flavors and creates (To borrow a word from the wine world) a sort of terroir in the beer. Therefore, Shortway’s beers have a maltiness that is unique to and characteristic of North Carolina.
However, the brewery doesn’t exclusively brew with the Reinheitsgebot four (The only four ingredients allowed in beer according to German Beer Purity law: water, grain, hops, and yeast). Shortway creates seasonal offerings with local fruits. Featured this summer were the aptly named Blackbeard’s Loot, a blonde ale brewed with local blackberries (a beer so successful in the taproom that its first batch lasted only two weeks!), and Ordinance No. 25, a watermelon lime gose with pounds and pounds and pounds of local watermelon.
Shortway Brewing Company has a well defined niche. Not only do they focus on local ingredients, but they also focus on local people. The brewery is reminiscent of an old neighborhood Irish public house, albeit with a distinctly American Southern feel. With chalkboards, suitcases full of boardgames, and a piano in the corner, the taproom plays host to not only to beer lovers but also their families and children. The day we were there, there were at least five children under the age of eight running around (Not including our 10 day old son, Duncan!), leaving notes to each other in chalk and dancing to the live music. For those who do not partake in the beer, they also have homemade sodas on tap, often designed and brewed by the Shortways’ five year old son. On Sundays, locals meet for a church service called “Bread and Barley,” after which is an afternoon of local music and craft beer and fellowship. The band even invites those in the audience to step up and sing with them. The atmosphere is comfortable and homey, and even those visiting from out of town feel welcome and a part of the community.
After being open for nearly a year, the brewery is brewing almost to capacity just to fill its accounts and the demands of its taproom. When asked if they were considering expanding their operation, Matt Shortway replied that the couple had been thinking and praying about it, but for the time, they want to hold on to their neighborhood focus and stay close to their roots. The Shortway mission is locally focused, and there, the brewing family is content, as are most who step into their taproom for either a quick pint or a long, lazy Sunday afternoon.
Waste Not, Want Not
This is the section for beer geeks.
Shortway Brewing Company is an exercise in efficiency. From malt extraction to hop additions to fermentation capacity, Matt Shortway is making every grain count. The brewery is divided almost evenly in half. One side is home to the taproom, tables, and small stage where most of the public activity happens. The other half is home to the brew house, a five barrel system complete with five 180 gallon glycol jacketed fermenters, brite tank, and kegging station. The entire system was commissioned from a startup brewing supply company based in Colorado, because the Shortways believe that small, artisan business should support one another.
The malt extraction and boil all happens in a single unit that acts as a large “brew in a basket” system—mash tun, lauter tun and boil kettle all rolled into one. Installed around the kettle is a lift system that raises the grain from the wort for sparging and dumps the 500 pounds of spent grain into a spare bucket to be donated to hungry local cows. This system allows Matt Shortway, the head brewer, to brew large capacities more or less single handedly.
Next, the brewery is also experimenting with Cryo Hops, a kind of hop powder and new method of hopping beer that decreases the beer loss through hop absorbency and also decreases the vegetative flavor from the hops that sometimes makes its way into the final product. This is particularly useful in especially hoppy beers such as IPA’s, which often can lose up to two kegs worth of beer per batch because of absorption of the beer by the hops. These Cryo Hops are featured in the Down East IPA, a seasonal IPA which is currently on tap in the taproom.
Once transferred to the fermentation tanks, the brewer adds Fermcap-S, a solution that allows fermentation vessels to be filled to 95% capacity! Because of the dynamic nature of fermentation, often, a large amount of space must be left in the fermentation tank to prevent loss of beer by blow out, but Fermcap-S decrease the space required to complete fermentation and allow more complete filling of the tanks. This saves time and money as fermentation space is often the limiting factor in any brewing operation.
About the Beer
These days, it seems that breweries represent so much more than the beer that they serve. They are often a cornerstone in community social life, the American Irish Pub, and in Newport, North Carolina, Shortway is definitely that. But let us not forget the real reason that breweries exist: Beer! Not only has Shortway Brewing Company striven to find a local niche in the community, but it also has a focused approach to its beers. You won’t find any lagers or Belgian tripels at the brewery. Shortway only serves American Ales, and all of its beers are brewed with the same yeast strain. However, this does not mean that its offerings are not diverse! There are 12 handles in the taproom with seven staple beers, four rotating seasonals, and a house soda.
The portfolio features styles and colors from all ends of the beer spectrum. Blonde ales, wheat beers, IPA’s, red ales, porters, stouts, and even goses. Many beers draw their flavor from the four principle beer ingredients (Remember: Water, grain, hops, yeast), and many experiment with additions such as fruits, Cajun spices, ginger, and citrus zest. As evidenced by the diversity of Shortway’s rotating taps, focusing on American Ales and perfecting a single yeast strain is not a limitation but perhaps forces the brewers to be more creative with treatment of the yeast and experiment with grain bills and novel ingredients.
Check it out
On trip to Shortway Brewing Company, you’re likely to see a side of Newport, NC that you never knew existed and you’re likely to love it. From comfortable, local atmosphere to comfortable, local beer, the hours will tick by before you realize it, and you’ll find yourself wondering why you’d never been to or heard of Newport before.
For more information, check out their website!