Mystery Brewing Company Thrives on Unconventionality
Upon first meeting Erik Lars Myers, it doesn’t take long to recognize his love of beer. He drinks beer. He brews beer. He attends brewing conferences to learn about beer, and he writes about beer. He’s also the President of the North Carolina Brewers Guild.
It also doesn’t take long to conclude that Myers must thrive on unconventionality. His brewery, Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, North Carolina, is proof.
Though Myers lives in Durham, he chose an alternative location in the Triangle for his brewery that wasn’t Durham, Raleigh, or Chapel Hill. He opted to bring the town of Hillsborough, with a population just over 6,000, its first brewery – one that residents in the small (but mighty) community have embraced. After becoming the first brewery to successfully fund a Kickstarter project, Mystery Brewing opened its doors in 2012. Myers has no regrets about his choice to make Hillsborough the brewery’s home.
“The culture of Hillsborough is kind of quirky and weird, right? You’ve got rural Orange County with salt-of-the-earth people who are absolutely fantastic and great farmers. Then downtown you’ve got retired professors who used to teach at Duke or UNC, or people from around the country who just moved here because it’s a really pretty town,” Myers says. “We’ve got artists and musicians, and all of these people give the town this really interesting, quirky amazingness.”
In addition to Mystery’s unique location, the brewery was founded using an unfamiliar business model: It has no flagship beer. All of its selections are seasonal. The Mystery team changes its tap lineup every quarter on the solstice and the equinox.
“The idea behind this [brewery concept] is that people don’t really live their lives on this constant. You change your clothes and what you eat and how you feel throughout the entire year based on the season,” Myers explains. “We want to be able to show that beer is really great with cuisine and goes along with how farmers change their crops. Life on earth evolves from season to season, so beer should as well.”
Instead of producing a fixed selection of beer, Mystery creates different brews within four style categories: session, hoppy, saison, and dark. This spring, Mystery guests can enjoy an ordinary bitter, a spring saison, a Carolina dark ale, and a London-style porter.
In addition to its revolving beer board, Mystery keeps locals and tourists satisfied with a small food menu and exciting event calendar. Pop in one evening and you’re likely to hear a songsmith or two crooning into a microphone on the pub’s stage, or a group of locals partaking in a spontaneous jam session. The Mystery taproom is located in an area that was once a mill village for employees at the nearby Eno River Mill. This sense of camaraderie resembles the tightly knit community that millworkers once fostered in this neighborhood a century ago.
The name Mystery comes from Myers’ interest in the original meaning of the word: “The art or craft of a trade.” In fact, the world’s first guild of business was a group of brewers in 12th century London. Their mission was to protect “the art and mystery of brewing.”
“I thought this history really told a great story about how I feel about beer,” Myers says. “I like to tell people that in order to make good beer you have to be a good scientist; but in order to make great beer, you have to be a good artist. You need to be able to start with a wide pallet of raw ingredients and put them together to create something beautiful that is sitting in a glass that someone is going to enjoy. That’s not something you can do easily by applying a formula to raw ingredients. You have to have the vision.”
Myers admits the word “mystery” also sparks intrigue.
“I mean, there’s all kinds of great marketing opportunities with ‘there’s a mystery brewing,’ too. So, it’s just a lot of fun.”