In 2012, Erik Lars Myers and Sarah H. Ficke published North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries, a loving portrait of the state’s then-emerging beer culture, its history, and profiles of its major players. Back then, the book included only 45 breweries. Since it was published, the number of breweries in the state has grown more than three-fold (including Myers’ own Mystery Brewing Company, which opened in Hillsborough in 2012).

Myers, the longtime president of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, and his wife, Ficke, an assistant professor of literature at Marymount University, went back to the well for a second edition, expanding their book to incorporate as much of the beer industry’s growth as they could squeeze into 480 pages. It still couldn’t quite keep up, Myers admits, though he says the book offers a good snapshot of the state of N.C. beer.

Readers and drinkers will get to hear Myers and Ficke discuss the beer industry and the book twice this week: Wednesday at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill and Thursday at Crank Arm Brewery in Raleigh. Both events start at 7 p.m. (Flyleaf’s talk includes a free beer tasting. At the Crank Arm event, a book purchase entitles you to a free 4-ounce pour of beer.)

We caught up with Myers, to talk about the state of North Carolina’s beer industry, where it’s headed, and the role breweries play in the community.

INDY: There’s been a huge explosion of new breweries since the first edition of North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries came out, and even maybe since the second edition has been finished.

ERIK LARS MYERS: Yeah, since the second edition has been finished, we’ve added almost as many as during the first book. Forty have opened since we finished writing it in December. In fact, I think we turned in our manuscript on Dec. 6 and we were out of date on Dec. 7. It was really kind of just crazy.

How do you keep up?

ELM: You don’t. I think that’s the real answer. [The book] does contain the history of beer in the state and it’s got a really good look at, particularly, the very long-standing and established breweries. Most of the breweries in the state, I think 75-80 percent of them, are less than three years old, so we’re a very young industry here. Even if it’s a little out of date, it’s a really fantastic snapshot of what’s going on in our industry.

Is there anything to which you would attribute that really incredible growth in the industry?

ELM: I think it’s because we’re a little behind the rest of the country. We’re catching up. We’ve got, in our state, a history of not-the-most-open laws. Those opened up for us by Pop The Cap about ten years ago, and that really fueled all of the growth. But even then, the rest of the country was way ahead of us in terms of number of breweries and styles. We’re seen as a beer state now. We’re one of the top tourism destinations for beer. It makes it an exciting environment to be in and it makes it a place that people want to start a business in.

Do you feel like we’re getting to a place where, rather than chasing trends, we’re setting them?

ELM: We’re definitely among the leaders at this point. From a brewing standpoint, we’ve got some of the most outstanding beers in the country. We’ve had gold medals for IPA from the Great American Beer Festival. That’s one of the most coveted medals in international competitions in IPAs, since it’s such a huge category. And we’ve been bringing those home. We’ve got some outstanding sours here. I really think we’re the cutting edge of the industry now, but I attribute it to the fact that we were not always a great beer state. It’s a combination of catch-up and excitement.

Do you anticipate the book becoming a periodically updated, comprehensive series? Do you expect to make future updates?

ELM: I’m not sure. I’ll be honest. It was an incredible amount of work. Particularly while running my own brewery. It ended up being a lot more complicated than I anticipated, even using my resources as president of the Brewers Guild and the fact that I had the first book written. It was still way more difficult than the first one. So I don’t know if there will be a third. We had to struggle to keep this one under 400 pages. When people are looking for really updated information, we send them toward the NC Beer Guys because they are just on top of everything. They have probably the most comprehensive map of breweries and breweries that open that you can find.

You opened Mystery in 2012. Did going back to the book after opening your own brewery change how you and Sarah approached it?

ELM: The plan has always been to focus on the people and the stories behind the brewery. And I don’t think that’s changed. That’s something I try to push about my own brewery. What makes the brewery tick? What makes us special? Beer is great, but we don’t talk about the beer very much. Some people make really outstanding beers, but for the most part, you’re looking at the people behind it, and what passion drives them to make this thing work. You know, is it run by veterans? Is it that somebody really wants to put a farm together and have all local ingredients? Is it that somebody really wants to play with funky yeasts because they find biology fascinating? Who’s the person behind the brewery, and how does that affect the things they’ve created?

Can you tell me how the campaign for Don’t Be Mean To People got started and, from your perspective, where it went? It’s raised more than $40,000, so clearly it’s been a success.

ELM: And it’s still going. The week that HB2 passed, we were all trying to figure out what can we do to express ourselves. What can we do to have a voice in this? That was a common conversation at my work. I’m pretty good friends with Keil over at Ponysaurus, and I saw that he had been similarly ruminating on how he felt about it from his company’s perspective. So I went over and had a beer, and we started talking and we thought, “What could we do to make something happen here? We have these platforms that are community centers, and we want our businesses to be represented the way we see things, not the way it’s going to be narrated from someplace else.” We wanted to be able to show the world that there’s more to North Carolina than this awful law.

True to what we thought, the public dialogue since HB2 is how miserable North Carolina is. But it’s really not. It’s a beautiful, wonderful state with a lot of things going for it. We wanted to have something that expressed that, so we came up with the idea for the collaboration and tried to keep it very positive. “Don’t be mean to people” is a really good message. It’s basically how we feel we could fix all of this mess and almost every other mess we find ourselves in this country. So we invited everybody else in the state to join us if they wanted.

A lot of the breweries didn’t necessarily provide material support, but they showed up and were very supportive, or they’ve been echoing the sentiment. Now that we’ve had that beer on the market, we’ve been selling it and that money is also going into donations. I’m keeping a spreadsheet active so, at the end of all of this, we can report how much we actually raised. I suspect it’s going to be well over $50,000. It feels really good.

With the amount of businesses that have jumped on to support it , and the number of people who’ve supported the campaign, it really does feel like a petition from the beer community.

ELM: Yeah, that hasn’t always gone over very well with the politicians in the state, unfortunately. I think the fundraiser has had some ramifications from the lawmakers’ standpoint that has not been what we intended or wanted. Some of the members of the General Assembly have been holding the Brewers Guild responsible for the actions of some of its members, which is unfortunate. I think we’ll probably see our legislative hopes in the Brewers Guild suffer a little bit because some of us have decided to speak our minds. And it’s unfortunate because they’re really just generalizing a population and making a negative assumption about that population based on the actions of a few. Which seems to be the whole problem to begin with.

In your role as a brewery owner, as the president of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, and, with the book, as a sort of record keeper of North Carolina beer history, what role do you think a brewery can, or should, play in its community?

I think we’re very natural community centers. Just speaking from my perspective at Mystery, we’ve been open for four years. And in those four years, we’ve been the host of everything I can think of in the midst of the community. We’ve had weddings. We’ve had engagements. We’ve had PhD defense parties. We’ve had bridal showers and bachelor parties and bachelorette parties and baby showers. We had a wake.

People are coming to us, not necessarily asking anything of us, but it’s a place where they spend time with their friends and they feel at home, so it becomes a natural extension of their lives. Everybody interfaces with it in their own way, but in the grand scheme of things, that community is what keeps breweries strong and operating. It’s what breweries have been in society for thousands of years, and they will continue to be so.

Where do you see North Carolina headed in terms of beer culture and the beer industry?
ELM: It’s a tough call. It’s changing constantly. North Carolina’s population density is very spread out. We have these cities that are in big places. So Charlotte’s got a lot of people around it and Raleigh’s got a lot of people around it, but we have an enormous amount of population spread out into little pockets throughout the state. I suspect that we’ll have a lot of very small breweries pop up around the state that are just servicing their town or their neighborhood.

They’re opening up and saying, “I love this town. This is the place I’ve always lived. This is the place I want to be. And this is who I want to make beer for.” That’s their growth plan: Make beer for my community. So I suspect that’s where we’re going to go.

That sounds like a pretty good place to be.
ELM: I can’t complain. It sounds like a lot of fun. I know that when I’m traveling around, the thing I try to do no matter what is try the local beer. It is an expression of the community that you’re in, so it’s really great to see that popping up in smaller and smaller places in North Carolina.