Program Report: Sean Wilson – Fullsteam Brewery and the Three C’s

One of the many things that I have come to love about Durham since moving here three years ago is its craft beer tradition! So, I found myself really looking forward to this presentation. Introduced by Rory Gillis, Sean Lilly Wilson, Chief Executive Optimist of Fullsteam did not disappoint.

There are several key dates in his life and business. Sean moved to Durham in 1992 and will celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary this October 23rd. On August 13, 2005 the State of North Carolina “popped the cap” on the alcohol content of beer; raising the legal limit from 6 to 15% after a surprisingly long three year battle that he waged with the state. June 6, 2006 Sean’s wife donated a kidney after Sean became very ill. He is doing fine now. Finally, in 2010 they launched Fullsteam after finding a downtown location that could fit a forklift and hopefully would attract patrons even on a Tuesday night!

The four C’s that govern the business are Craft, Community, Commerce and Competition. Fullsteam’s Craft is North Carolina focused as it strives to build the Southern Farm Economy by using locally grown and foraged ingredients. As their local purchases approach a half a million dollars, they continue to look for more unique ingredients; including some that people may not have heard of. (I only knew of paw-paws in a children’s song.) The first beer that they brewed was a Southern Basil Farmhouse brew. It was an R&D project that turned into a big summer hit.

Community is the choice of Durham as a place of business. Sean Lilly Wilson, loves Durham because of its warm, diverse, welcoming nature. He feels that their location is the front door to Durham. My introduction to Fullsteam came two years ago when a group of us attended “Beer and Hymns” on a Sunday night.

Commerce comes with Fullsteam’s support of the farm and agricultural economy. They support farmers who raise grains for their brews and they support others who process grains to make key ingredients like malt. In addition Fullsteam pays foragers who supply them with things like fresh persimmons. In each case they strive to pay a fair market price. One family who supplies foraged persimmons to them say that it is their “Christmas Money.”

Competition is an increasing factor each year in business. When they started up in 2010 they were unique in what they were doing. Now there are others who are entering the market and they are not so odd any more. They selected an area that would encourage traffic to their location but was still an unusual location for a beverage and food business. That is rapidly changing. So, Sean and his people are conscious of the fact that they can’t stand still. They are doing R&D on new offerings and are looking at ways to stay unique in a  “beautiful – stupid” way. To illustrate his concept of balancing beautiful and stupid, Sean encouraged us all to put August 26th on our calendars for the .262 Marathon – a run that goes just one one-hundredth of a marathon. We might even see a red gorilla!

Submitted by Doug Butler

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