This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wake Technical Community College.

It’s easy to assume that technology has greatly impacted almost every industry as it continues to evolve throughout the 21st century. But for some industries, the art of the craft still comes first.

This is especially true of the craft beer industry. North Carolina has seen tremendous growth in the brewing industry over the last decade, with brewing pioneers like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada choosing the state to be home base of their east coast operations, and breweries like Bond Brothers garnering nationwide accolades.

But many in the local brewing industry attribute this growth to the “pop the cap” initiative passed in 2005, which removed the six-percent alcohol limit on beer and paved the way for new brewers to enter the scene. They don’t see the lift as a direct result of major technological advances.

“Equipment has evolved minimally over the last five years,” said Michael McAdoo, lead consultant for ABS Commercial. “We’ve really just seen a refinement of the technology that has been developed.”

Rather than change the art of the craft, larger technological advances over the last two decades have instead added efficiencies to the brewing process.

Scott Craddock, head brewer at Raleigh Brewing Company, says they use very simple lab equipment to control different aspects from temperature and fermentation, to bottling or kegging.

“Without technology, we wouldn’t be able to have complete control over every aspect of the brew day and fermentation, so beers would not be consistent from batch to batch,” Craddock said.

Raleigh Brewing Company

Photo Courtesy Darryl Tait

Technological efficiencies aside, most brewers consider brewing a true art form.

McAdoo, who is also an avid homebrewer, said he thinks one of the biggest mistakes someone can make in the brewing industry is over-trusting technology.

“There is a skill to making the same beers time and time again,” McAdoo said. “A brewer who has a strong understanding of the full operation without the aid of any automated systems is the brewer I want on my team. One who is also receptive to using the advancement in technology is another.”

He added, “Brewers need to be mechanics, chemists, biologists, sanitation engineers, safety specialists and process engineers all in one. Using technology to aid in this balancing act should help keep operations running smoothly.”

It’s a fine line – using technology to your advantage without losing the artistic approach to producing quality craft beer. And as demand for skilled brewers grows, so does the breadth of knowledge that employers expect new brewers to possess.

A growing industry demands a growing workforce

Since the “pop the cap” initiative, North Carolina’s brewery count has climbed to well over 200, bringing new types for beer lovers to enjoy. In such a heavy market, you might assume this leads to an oversaturation, but for craft beer, it’s quite the opposite.

“As more craft brewing comes to our state, the people who live in our state, their palates are becoming more sophisticated as well,” said Ben Wagoner, the beer brewing program supervisor at Wake Tech. “The demand is growing along with the industry.”

This also increases the demand for talent– but a love of beer isn’t all you need to jumpstart a brewing career. Wake Tech is helping lead the charge in educating emerging brewers so that qualified employees can take on these roles.

Wake Tech offers a craft beer brewing program for those seeking a brewing role, but also offers a myriad of courses for other facets of brewing operations. The eight-week program helps prepare students for entry-level work in craft breweries and blends classroom learning with hands-on apprenticeships.

“The main objective of our program is to get them the training as quickly and affordably as possible, and into the workforce,” Wagoner said.

A holistic approach to supporting the beer industry

Wake Tech also offers free resources through its Small Business Center and Center for Entrepreneurship to ensure new businesses in saturated markets like craft beer get started on the right foot.

Antares Nicklow and Shannon Cummings knew they had a passion for bringing new beer to the Triangle, but didn’t feel like opening a brewery was the right path. Instead, they opened The Beerded Lady, the first bottle shop in the town of Garner.

The Bearded Lady is a bottle shop in Garner, N.C.

Cummings put together a first draft of their business plan, but they wanted advice from others who had started businesses successfully. They turned to Wake Tech for help.

“They were available at no cost,” said Nicklow of his decision to work with Wake Tech. “They were there and willing to give their help and their information and not charge us.”

Nicklow said that Katie Gailes, currently the director of Wake Tech’s Entrepreneurship Initiatives, helped them register their business, obtain their tax and federal IDs, reorganize their business plan and made sure they had all of the elements needed to apply for a loan.

But above that, Nicklow said he received advice that was crucial to the beginning of the shop’s success.

“We were being pretty secretive about it,” Nicklow said. “Katie said to not do that. She said ‘You know what? Tell the world.’ ”

Gailes’s advice was fruitful.

“We got a large community following from it,” Nicklow said. “People started liking our page. We asked what kind of beer they’d like to see so we were able to purchase some things ahead of time that we knew people in the community would be interested in having.”

Overall, Nicklow said that working with Wake Tech helped propel their business forward.

“We wanted to [hear] that we were doing it right from somebody that has done it several different times and [who had] seen what people do right and what people do wrong,” Nicklow said. “I feel like a lot of times, that is overlooked. There’s like a shame in asking questions and that shouldn’t be the case at all.”

If you’re an entrepreneur with a ‘hoptimistic’ outlook on beer in North Carolina, Wake Tech can help you find resources and courses to hone your skills – both technical and in the art of the craft.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wake Technical Community College.