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Planting the Seeds of Success: Funds Help Growth of Local Beer Business

Epiphany Malts will have malt available for sale to craft brewers by the end of the year. Courtesy: Epiphany Malt House
Epiphany Malts will have malt available for sale to craft brewers by the end of the year. Courtesy: Epiphany Malt House
September 17, 2015

DURHAM, N.C. – In North Carolina, there's no shortage of craft breweries, with dozens sprouting up every year across the state.

But brewers have a tough time keeping all of their ingredients local, and that need is what caused Sebastian Wolfrum of Durham to have what you might call an epiphany two years ago.

Wolfrum wanted to open a large scale craft malter to provide malt to brewers. After having trouble selling banks on the idea, and reluctant to offer up a share of his business to an investor, Wolfrum received a loan from the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF).

"The only other option people will have is to sell a piece of the pie to somebody who is willing to give you cash,” he explains. “It's a gap they really fill in a way that nobody really does."

NCIF is a business loan fund that looks to invest in communities in Central Appalachia and the Southeast. Last year the fund awarded more than $3 million in loans and offered 3,100 hours in advisory services.

Wolfrum's company, aptly named Epiphany Craft Malt, will be the largest craft malter in the state and will be able to provide malt to at least a dozen brewers by the end of the year.

Malt is made of sprouted and dried barley, and Wolfrum's need for barley has given Perry Farms, a tobacco grower in Wake Forest for more than a century, a new crop.

Tim Kuhls, the farm’s head barley grower and a home beer brewer, is excited to have an alternative and a way to ride the wave of craft beer's popularity.

"The decline in tobacco really gives us reason to think about what happens if one day we don't grow tobacco anymore and what can we do that's different and unique that adds value to something unique and creative like craft beer," he says.

Wolfrum points out up until now many brewers making large batches have had to purchase ingredients such as malts from out of state. His business now offers them an alternative that is more in sync with their business model of brewing locally.

"Buying from somebody like me is a lot more similar to who they are, you know, small business,” he explains. “Everybody knows who they are, and certainly in my case it's the same thing, I mean, everybody knows where I'm at and who I am and it just makes a lot more sense, I guess, for everybody."

According to the NCIF 2014 annual report, 74 percent of the companies it funds report higher profits and create 342 full-time and 306 part-time jobs.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC