Beers We’ve Loved and Lost: Mystery Brewing

When I heard that on October 31st, 2018 Mystery Brewing would be shutting it’s doors for good, I was disheartened, and very sad.

 

Mystery Brewing was started by Erik Lars Myers in 2012, after being one of the first to successfully run a Kickstarter campaign to raise capital. It’s aim was to be the first “seasonal only” brewery, with no flagship beer. Their concept included a session beer, a saison, a dark beer, and a hop-forward beer or IPA, but variations on these four styles changed seasonally.

 

Myers also went on the short lived CNBC show called “Crowd Rules” and won, Taking home the prize of national exposure, and some cash.

 

 

However, they faced a tough road from the start- not only with their seasonal only approach, but choosing to open up a new brewery in Hillsborough, NC, a town of 6,000 – 20min NW of the Triangle. Myers has stated that they had been “bootstrapping up” the operation from the beginning. Opening their Public House/Taproom in 2013, and in 2017, expanding the pub to two store fronts – and adding a kitchen with a menu of elevated, seasonal brewpub fare designed to complement the beers on tap. They had package beer as well – growlers at first, then 22oz bombers, and finally in 2015, landing in 16oz cans. They signed a distribution contract in 2013 to help spread their beer around the NC, which Myers called a “very package driven state”, and then exited that agreement to begin self-distribution, again, in 2017.

 

Bigger Than Just Beer

 

Mystery was a large part of the North Carolina beer scene, with Erik serving as North Carolina Craft Brewer’s Guild President for several years. He even wrote a book highlighting NC Beer called North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries, penned just after the opening of the brewery, with an updated version coming out in 2016 co-authored by his wife, Sarah.

 

After the disastrous NC State House Bill 2 (HB2), Mystery teamed up with fellow Triangle brewery, Ponysaurus to brew Don’t Be Mean To People: A Golden Rule Saison” in support of LGBT+ people – raising over $20,000.

 

They were also an employer of 26 people, were a Certified Living Wage employer in Orange County, NC, and even provided healthcare to their employees, both of which are nearly unheard of in the beer industry or food and beverage industry on the whole.

 

The Public House had a stage, and a house band in the Wiley Fosters, oftentimes collaborating with other local bands, and businesses. They even had a Sunday night “Beer Church” that showcased other brewery’s beers – and a monthly rotating charity they donated proceeds to.

 

 

Amazing Beer

 

But while the exit of Mystery leaves a hole in several communities, what is most missed is the beer. Mystery made top quality beer. Full stop. Since I wasn’t a local, I didn’t get to have a lot of beers they made that sounded amazing (like A Peel for Clementcy, a Clementine Rosemary Sour – or Keen, a Salted Caramel Gose with Peaches). I consider myself lucky to have tried as many of their beers as I was able to. 

 

Some of my favorite beers from Mystery:
Umbra, Black Mexican Lager with Black Limes
Thornfield’s End, Smoked Rye Stout
Pickwick, Mild Ale 
Locksley, Ordinary Bitter
Sawyer Session, Session IPA (Collab with Yep Roc Records)
Batch #1, Brett Golden Ale
America, Extra Pale Ale
Admiration, Barrel-Fermented Belgian Rye Stout w/ Cherries

 

You don’t just have to take my word for it. Mystery won many awards over the years. Among them, Silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014, in the category Belgian-Style Other for La Querelle, a Seefbier – a traditional Belgian-style beer made from barley, wheat, oats, and buckwheat, coriander, and salt. They won 7 medals at the Carolina’s Championship of Beer in 2015. They took home Silver at the 2017 U.S. Open Beer Championship for Pickwick Mild. Even named one of 19 Craft Breweries to Go Out of Your Way For” by Food & Wine in May 2018, (along side industry heavy weights like Three Floyds, Russian River, Fonta Flora, Dogfish Head, Jester King, and Hill Farmstead) it just wasn’t enough.

 

Craft beer as an industry has shifted from the time Mystery opened to today. The choices they made throughout the years, while right for them at the time, put them at a disadvantage in today’s beer market.
When announcing the closure, Mystery said “This has been an incredibly difficult decision. We’ve always been undercapitalized, and it’s been a struggle to operate for some time now. We’ve suffered a string of pretty bad luck over the past couple of years: equipment failures, construction and permitting delays, storm-related outages and losses. The end result is that we can no longer afford to operate.”

 

I consider Erik a friend, and met so many other great friends through Mystery. Amanda, Ari, Anita, Andrew, Chris (and more!). I’m sad to see this company close it’s doors, and I will, very much so, miss their beers.

 

Virginia is the Products, Programming, and Educational Director for Craft Beer Cellar. In addition to being a Certified Cicerone, she is an Introductory Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Her home base is Chicago, but she’s often found in the Boston area, or wherever her passion for good food & drink takes her.

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