Pearl Street is a narrow, one-block stretch of urban road just a little ways east of the bustling center of Durham. One-story industrial buildings on gravel and concrete lots are protected by chain link and razor wire fencing. From the outside, the aging brick warehouse that occupies the northern end of Pearl Street isn’t much to look at from the outside, either. But every Saturday afternoon, it comes alive with locals and visitors who happily hand over $3 to tour the 11,000-square-foot space.
It’s one of the best deals in Durham, and it also marks where the craft beer boom in North Carolina first started to take shape.
Triangle Brewing Company took up residence in that old warehouse in 2007. While the other two legs of “The Triangle”—Chapel Hill and Raleigh—each had a beer to call their own, there were no breweries in Durham. Two Connecticut transplants, Rick Tufts and Andy Miller, buddies since high school, decided it was time to change that.
“We talked for a long time about opening our own brewery,” Tufts says. “My wife basically said, ‘Do it or shut up about it.’”
The bare-bones location was the perfect match for a brewery whose tagline is “No Bull, just beer.” Choosing function over form and eschewing fancy names for sound brewing principles, Tufts says they simply “want to make beer that doesn’t suck.”
While they may not be Durham natives, Tufts and Miller fit right into the hard-headed, forward-charging town, whose mascot is a bull, after all. In the early days of the brewery, which opened shortly after a 2006 law increased the allowable alcohol content of North Carolina beer from 6 to 15 percent, the idea to begin with a high-gravity flagship beer was seen as a bit risky.
“People said we were crazy to open a brewery around an 8 percent Belgian strong ale,” Tufts says.
But the guys who just want to make good beer that people can understand won the argument. They began with a focus on traditional Belgian- and American-style ales, like the Belgium Golden (Tufts says they like to name their beers simply to help educate people on the style they’re drinking), which makes up 50 percent of the fast-growing brewery’s production. The easy-drinking beer is “lightly filtered with notes of banana, citrus, and clove,” says Tufts.
More recently, Triangle Brewing has found success in a habanero-infused pale ale that drinks surprisingly soft, with a light overtone of spice that grows slightly as the pepper’s oils build. Response to the unexpectedly balanced beer has pushed it from a seasonal favorite to a year-round offering.
But, despite the no-nonsense nomenclature and industrial vibe of the brewery, it’s not strictly business around here. During initial renovations of the basement underneath the brewery, a contractor found a decaying garbage bag stuck in the clay. Inside was a human skeleton, which was later determined to be an adult male, with no identifying marks. The name Rufus eventually stuck for the lost soul.
Rufus is now is a valued member of Triangle’s team, and his spirit is honored with a casket-shaped box kept on the premises. He travels to events and is regularly offered a beer tribute when mysterious things happen around the brewery.
Triangle Brewing Company beers are available all over North Carolina and at the company-owned, off-sight taproom called the Pint and Place. But for a real taste of where it all started, head to the brewery on Saturday afternoon for the tour. Triangle beers are free-flowing before and after, making it the best three dollars you’ll ever spend.