WILMINGTON – They did not want to wait until the profits started rolling in.
No, Jud and Amber Watkins would immediately set up a fund to disperse to various nonprofits once they opened the doors of the Wrightsville Beach Brewery for business in January 2017.
“We did it right out the gate,” said brewery owner Jud Watkins. “That’s been one of our founding goals to make sure that, with careful business planning, to just do right by the community. You can always be generous from day one of your business.”
Thus was created a line of “give-back beer,” 11 percent (that extra 1 percent to “give a little bit extra”) of the proceeds of which go to a different nonprofit each month for 11 months. In December, the proceeds are divvied up between each nonprofit, from those that help youth to those aiming to protect and preserve the environment.
Their selection of nonprofit partners stems from a passion of working with children, which is how Jud and Amber Watkins, co-owner and nonprofit liaison, reconnected and later married after initially meeting at college. They’re also committed to protecting and nurturing the natural resources that have been a staple in Jud Watkins’ life, his childhood memories filled with being in the waters around Wrightsville Beach swimming and oystering with his grandfather and father.
“I grew up fishing and surfing and swimming these waters, so I want to be sure these waters are around for future generations,” he said. “I’d love to do everything I can to make sure that 100 years from now people are able to get oysters from those waters.”
As a native Wilmingtonian, Jud Watkins has seen firsthand the population boom New Hanover County has experienced. He understands the draw – the beaches, rivers and creeks, and mild winters.
“I think we need to find a way to be calculated at how that population grows so that it’s not at the expense of our natural resources,” he said. It’s what makes Wilmington special.”
An Idea Too Good to Pass Up
They’d shared this moment many times before.
Relaxing with a couple of beers plucked from a six-pack after oystering, a tradition borne out of a father-son bonding moment, the thought occurred to Jud and his father, Bruce Watkins.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Why is there only one brewery in Wilmington?’” Jud Watkins recalled.
Watkins and his father had been homebrewing on and off for years at the family home using the same propane burner that steamed fresh oysters.
It seemed, like the saltwater delicacy with the right beer, a perfect pairing.
“We always felt that nothing goes better with a nice porter or stout than an oyster,” Jud Watkins said.
About six years ago, well before the microbreweries exploded onto the craft brew scene giving beer enthusiasts their pick of a pint, father and son made a promise to one another.
They would wrap up their professional lives and go all-in on a brewery and oyster bar.
Two months after they made that pact Bruce Watkins, a businessman, conservationist hailed for brokering land deals as a land protection specialist for the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, and co-founder of the Cape Fear River Watch, died of a heart attack.
Jud Watkins would have to turn their dream into reality without his father. “It was just too good of an idea to let it go,” Jud Watkins said.
For the next three or so years, he helped his mother with the family real estate business, wrapping up loose ends as he set his sights on the brewery and oyster bar.
‘No Oyster Died in the Making of This Beer’
It’s named the “Oysterman’s Stout,” a traditional dry Irish-style brew, a rich, malty beer that holds up to the salinity of an oyster.
“They complement each other,” Jud Watkins said.
The running joke in the brewery is “don’t worry, no oysters died in the making of this beer.”
Eleven percent of the proceeds from the sales of Oysterman’s Stout go to the North Carolina Coastal Federation, publisher of Coastal Review Online and a nonprofit that has been instrumental in oyster restoration and clean water initiatives.
“Obviously oysters are a very big part of what we do and part of our brand and that’s why places like the Coastal Federation are so important,” Jud Watkins said. “We want our customers to know that.”
Wrightsville Beach Brewery was one of the recipients of the federation’s 2018 Pelican Awards.
The brewery has also earned the highest rating under the North Carolina Green Travel Initiative, which recognizes businesses as “green” travel-oriented businesses.
The brewery at 6201 Oleander Drive in Wilmington was awarded last year a preservation award from the Wilmington Tree Commission.
Despite the competition, Wrightsville Beach Brewery has been holding its own.
“We’ve been fortunate to be busy,” Jud Watkins said. “We are very, very fortunate to have the support of our locals.”
Business surged last year in October, the start of oyster season.
“We do everything we can to get the freshest local oysters we can,” Jud Watkins said.
Last year, the brewery supported local fishermen, buying only from those within a 30-mile radius.
The brewery is partnering with the federation and local shellfish growers to host “Oystoberfest,” the proceeds of which will go to oyster growers and the federation.
Information about the October event is to be available on the brewery’s Facebook page.