By Briana Aguilar
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
“The country celebrates our anniversary every year!” says Rick Tuft, co-owner and head brewer of Triangle Brewing Company. Indeed, the NECD-based brewery opened its doors on July 4, 2007.
Tuft and his partner Andy Miller, co-owner and head of sales and marketing, built their business from the ground up, working almost 80-90 hours a week, to make sure their micro-brewery is a success.
“We were two navy brats,” says Tuft.
Miller and Tuft became friends at school in Connecticut. Miller moved to North Carolina to attend graduate school at East Carolina University. Tuft soon followed and found a job working as a school psychologist for Durham Public Schools.
When Tuft and Miller decided to become business partners and open a brewery, they chose Durham because they felt like it was an overlooked area when compared with neighbors Chapel Hill and Raleigh.
“No one loves Durham like the people in Durham,” says Tuft. “We believe we’re ahead of the curve.”
Tuft and Miller were the only two employees until September 2009. They brewed, kegged, and distributed everything themselves.
With the addition of their first employee, Luke Studer, Tuft and Miller were able to cut their hours down from 80-90 hours a week to 60-65 hour a week.
Studer had help getting his foot in the door at TBC since he graduated from the American Brewer Guild, an online program where Tuft also received a degree.
Tuft allowed him to complete his six week apprenticeship at TBC. Then he volunteered at TBC one year before they finally he hired him as an official employee.
TBC likes to keep their beers simple by not using fancy names.
“We are still trying to educate the community about the different kinds of beers,” says Tuft, who puts together all the recipes.
Before beginning TBC, Tuft honed his brewing skills with home brewing kits.
“The more comfortable I’ve gotten with it, the easier it has been to put it together,” says Tuft.
TBC runs three beers year round: a Flag Ship Belgium Golden Ale that has eight percent alcohol content, Extra Pale Ale with four and a half percent alcohol content and a Belgium Style White Wheat Ale with a five percent alcohol content.
TBC also has seasonal beers such as the Belgium Abbey Dubbel Ale which the brewery pours from September to Feburary, a Winter Stout which pours from December to March (Saint Patrick’s Day) and a Bourbon Abbey Dubbel Ale from the Rufus Reserve Series.
In December TBC introduced a winter warmer beer: the Habeñero Pale Ale.
“It adds a nice spicy flavor, but it’s not too much, you can really taste it around your third sip,” says Tuft.
TBC uses locally grown habeñero peppers from Needham’s Pepper Patch. The beer was also showcased with the third course at Alivia’s Durham Bistro Beer Dinner in January.
TBC has something else that sets them apart from other breweries: Rufus, who they claim is their patron saint.
Rufus is the name they gave to a decomposed body found during building renovations. He was hidden in clay but his body was “preserved” in a trash bag.
After extensive research they were unable to tell Rufus’s race, age, or who he was because there were no dental records.
They were, however, able to find information about the trash bags, which leads them to believe his body was tucked away in the clay in the mid 1940’s.
“Rufus continues to haunt us today,” says Tuft. “Every now and again weird stuff will happen, so we’ll pour a little beer to keep him happy.”
TBC has made a beer in his honor. Rufus means “red” in Latin, so Tuft and Miller decided to make a reserve Imperial Amber. They also made a casket where they actually pour beer from when they travel to beer festivals and events.
TBC beers can be located in over 50 restaurants, pubs, bars, and hotels with multiple tabs on draft in Durham, Orange, Wake, Cumberland and Chatham County, along with the cities of Greenville and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.
TBC only produces draft beer, but are working on canning beer in the future.
According to the owners, brewing beer isn’t a fast process. It takes eight hours to brew a batch.
Once they’ve cracked the grain, it goes into the fermenter, then it ferments and conditions for two weeks.
TBC wants to can their beers to make them “environmentally friendly and North Carolina friendly,” says Tuft. “North Carolina is a place where you can swim in the ocean in the summer and ski in the winter. Glass is not always accepted everywhere.”
Canned beer will have a longer shelf life and stay fresher.
Bottled beers are exposed to 5-10 percent sunlight and oxygen which can change the taste of the beer.
“Cans will prevent sunlight and oxygen from getting in,” says Tuft.
TBC entered eight beers in the 2009 Carolina Championship of Beer competition and won six medals: three silver and three bronze. It was their first time entering a competition, and they plan on entering again this year.
TBC is a part of a documentary called Beer Y’ALL where seven friends and some students from the UNC-Chapel Hill toured 27 microbreweries and brewpubs (breweries that have restaurants attached to them) in North Carolina. The documentary is available on DVD.
TBC gives free tours every Saturday. Gates open at 1:00 and tours begin at 1:30pm.
“We heard about it (Triangle Brewing Company) on a blog, talking about the best things to do in Durham,” says Lenea Bearding, a Durham resident; during a tour of brewery.
“This is really good” says Kelsey Goebel, a California resident who was visiting. Both left with their bellies full and souvenirs in their hands.
Although Tuft, Miller, and Studer put in long hours, they admit that it’s not all work. The ping pong tables, hacky sack and darts, located in the brewery, allow the boys to take a load off by playing a few games and enjoying a nice cold beer.
“We make our very tough decisions playing over there sometimes,” says Tuft.
Weblinks: following their blog at www.trianglebrewingcompany.blogspot.com, or calling 919-683-BEER(2337)