By Hannah Lee Leidy
April 2, 2021
When the ocean kicks up, there’s a surfing phrase used to express a promise of good waves: “Swell’s a’brewin’.” A new structure on N.C. 12 in Kill Devil Hills is eliciting a similar kind of buzz: The abstract design! So many parking spaces! What could it be?
The answer is Swells’a Brewing.
Local brewing enthusiasts and friends, Alex Wolcott and Brad Fitzgerald are two of the faces behind the Outer Bank’s newest brewery. Both come from beer-focused backgrounds. Wolcott was an original partner at Back Bay Brewing Co . and is part-owner of Bottlecraft, a bottle shop and bar, both located in Virginia Beach. Fitzgerald spent a season working in brewing production at Revelry Brewing Co. in Charleston, South Carolina. He’s also been an avid homebrewer for years.
“It’s every homebrewer’s fantasy to open their own brewery,” says Fitzgerald, who experiments with different styles, focusing primarily on American beers – the hoppy stuff – such as pale ales, IPAs, lagers and pilsners and makes a few stouts and sours, too. “I’ve always wanted to open (one) on the Outer Banks.”
The friends long dreamed of the endeavor. Wolcott says he recently ran across a 5-year-old chain of emails discussing the possibility. They watched the real estate market for years, knowing they needed an open space where they could also hook up a sewer system. When an L-shaped lot appeared at milepost 9.5 on the Beach Road, they jumped at the opportunity. With partners backing the project, including Laura Wolcott, Wolcott’s wife, and Samantha Harriss, Fitzgerald’s girlfriend and the founder and previous owner of Camp Cocktail, a local mobile bartending service, they started designing their brewery,s quite literally, from the ground up.
“We’re trying to step away from the more industrial design of a lot of breweries,” Fitzgerald says. They pulled inspiration from old-school Nags Head cottages, with their cedar-shake exterior and exposed juniper wood interior. Artwork and craftsmanship from the owners’ travels through the Caribbean bring modern, artsy touches to the space, too. Handcrafted copper lights from the British Virgin Islands will illuminate the building’s front, and the stucco fireplace in the backyard will include pieces of coral and shell the friends collected from around the world.
“We’re trying to make a real unique space for the beach,” Wolcott says. “I’ve heard people start describing us as ‘the living room of the Outer Banks.’” He’s proud of the moniker.
The artistic touches will lend a homey feel to the open-concept floor plan. Thanks to the oversized windows, the brewing facilities and barrels catch the eye throughout the building and even from the road. Visitors will be able to check it out from viewing points on the ground floor as well as from the upper mezzanine, where the tasting room will be located.
The upstairs opens onto an upper deck with ocean views. Back on the ground, a backyard gives a comfortable spot for people to come and bring their dogs and let their children play. If construction continues according to schedule, they hope to open Swells’a Brewing by early summer. Wolcott will manage the front-of-the-house side of the operation while Fitzgerald runs the brewing and production.
“It’s a little intimidating,” Fitzgerald says about taking his home-brewing hobby to the commercial level. “There will be more people involved, so the consequences are bigger. But it’s the same process and science as in my garage.”
Fitzgerald says he’s excited to be part of a burgeoning creative and entrepreneurial push on the Outer Banks, noting a community of homegrown distillers, coffee roasters and local nonprofit organizations. The pair says they want to be a year-round spot where people can relax and enjoy great beer. They also look forward to partnering with local artists to offer live music and art shows.
“We want to be community focused and have fun. At the end of the day, it’s just beer,” Wolcott says.