SILER CITY — After 20 years making his own ales and lagers as a hobbyist and beer enthusiast, Eric Stevens began classes at Wake Technical Community College in 2016 to better his brewing skills through the school’s craft brewing program.
“I thought I would work for a couple of years at a local brewery and then pursue opening something,” Stevens said.
But a year later, while interning at The Mason Jar Lager Company in Fuquay-Varina, he was approached by Stephen and Brandon Russell — the father/son owners of Pittsboro’s 580 Craft Beer shop — with an idea: to create a new drinking spot in Chatham County.
Now, he’s joined the Russells to become one of four partners (along with Chris Hackney) in Thirsty Skull Brewing, serving as brewmaster at Siler City’s first brewery and taproom.
Thirsty Skull, which formally opened Dec. 3, started out as a small operation with a one-barrel brewing system — making 31 gallons of beer at a time — and no physical taproom of its own. Instead, Stevens and his partners sold his creative brews in the 580’s taproom, as well as in other restaurants and breweries across the county.
“We started out in Pittsboro and kind of focused on the Pittsboro market and getting into taprooms there,” Stevens said. “We were very well received there.”
Thirsty Skull started to pick up a steady customer base across the county and even won Best Craft Drink in Chatham Magazine’s “Best of Chatham” contest in 2020. By then, Stevens and his partners had begun to look into opening their own location to enable Thirsty Skull Brewing to brew and sell its own beer.
They cast their eyes toward Siler City, where Stevens knew of an available property — a vacant building at 915 N. 2nd Ave. — that would be suitable for a taproom and brewery. The timing was ideal: in November 2019, a referendum passed in Siler City’s municipal election allowing the sale of alcohol without the purchase of food within town limits. After its passage, the partners acquired the property, and in late 2020, Thirsty Skull’s Facebook announced that construction on the brewery had begun.
Stevens said the entire building had to be gutted and renovated on the inside to create the perfect space for Thirsty Skull Brewing.
“There was one old bathroom in there we tore out, there was a little narrow front room with a wall that we cleared out and put a big beam in to open up the taproom,” he said. “Now the building is split in half with a taproom in front and the brewery space will be in the back.”
Inside, the taproom is adorned with bright orange walls, a skull-themed decor and retro-esque furniture; outside, it features a patio area for customers and a giant Thirsty Skull Brewing logo visible from the street.
Stevens said the community came out to support the new location during the taproom’s opening week, and they continue to do so even one month later.
“We had a great turnout from old friends from Pittsboro and a lot of new faces from Siler City as well,” he said.
Stevens says he and his partners want to provide a place where Siler City residents can try new brews they’ve never had before. Whether it’s the Pittsboro Pilsner or the California Dreaming West Coast IPA, customers can find something new to sample at Thirsty Skull Brewing.
“You’re gonna have some people where they’re set in their ways and they drink Budweiser, Coors or something like that, and just don’t want to try it,” he said. “But for the most part, we’ve had a lot of people come in and they’ll say something like that, and I’ll tell them to try my pilsner. I just have to break through where there hasn’t been a craft beer scene.”
The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, said Steven, who wanted to create a space where everyone is welcome.
“We wanted to go into it with a really open mind and hopefully attract everyone and not be exclusive,” he said.
The taproom features 16 brews on draft — ranging from amber-colored lagers to hazy India pale ales — all made by Stevens. Thirsty Skull operates on a limited schedule for the time being — it’s open Thursdays through Sundays. Stevens hopes he can add Wednesdays to the days of operation soon, especially if business continues to grow the way it has since opening day.
“It was hard to turn any kind of sizable profit on a one-barrel system,” Stevens said. “It was really more about just establishing the business and getting our name out there.”
Stevens said he’s grateful for Thirsty Skull’s success so far, ranging from the support the business has received from the Siler City community to the positive feedback he’s earned for his brews. And he can’t wait to unveil new creations he has been developing, including a Siler City-inspired brew still in the works.
“It’s been a lot of hard work trying to grow,” Stevens said. “To hear how well the beers were received and that people really enjoy it — that’s really the biggest part right now.”
Thirsty Skull Brewing is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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