Saturday, January 22, 2011

Week #3 - Maaike Brender A Brandis

Maaike Brender A Brandis is part owner of Cape Fear Wine & Beer in Wilmington, NC - she runs a bar that is as much a diamond in the rough in its' own city as the city itself is a diamond in the rough inside of a large, active beer state. The selection of the beers at Cape Fear is a reflection of Maaike's smart buying and immense beer knowledge and sensibility. Brimming with music and good people, Cape Fear Wine & Beer is a "Must Add' for any trips down the East coast.

How did Cape Fear Wine and Beer come about and when did you open for business?

My business partner, Lector Bennett, opened Cape Fear Wine & Beer in July of 2003 and I became President in September 2006, just a few months after turning 21. I thought, I had never run a bar before but if I desired a truly great beer bar and worked to make it a reality, I would be successful. I had been homebrewing in Canada since I was 17 years old so beer was already familiar terroir to me. To be a young female in the beer industry in the south was at times difficult but completely worth all of the headaches.

Two years ago we left our original location of 800 sq. ft. for a 3600 sq. ft. spot on the main drag of downtown Wilmington and have never looked back. Our capacity tripled and so did the beer selection. We now boast 300+ bottles and 19 rotating taps with only the best American, German, Belgian and UK beers, including a beer engine for cask ale and cask-conditioned beers. Though we are not limited to beers from only those countries, we are rather focused on them. It is not rare to see Brazilian, Canadian, Dutch, Polish, or Russian beers in our coolers. We allow our customers to mix-and-match their own 6 packs so the combinations and permutations are endless. We also have one of the best and most diverse wine selections in the area.

We are a work in progress, as all good things are. We'll never claim perfection but always work towards it. But the day we hit it is the day the challenge is done.

How would you describe your customers and/or the general beer buying public in Wilmington?

Wilmington's scene is very diverse. There's a core of loyal beer drinkers that are well-read and have sought out exactly what they want. Even other bars have, for the most part, good beer offerings. It's not uncommon to see a few good placements around town. But the concentration of craft beer is not quite there. People are frequently willing to try new beers which is a nice change of pace. We're no Asheville but we gain momentum in the south for sales.

Our spot is a destination for good beer so we frequently have folks with specific requests. Many regulars have come in off the street with limited knowledge but leave our spot as connoisseurs. I like to think we've done a great service for good beer in our city.

We've got some great distributors in the state that make it easy to procure a wide variety of great beers for our customers. I keep hearing about states' distributing battles and alcohol caps and I feel very fortunate to be operating in the state of North Carolina.

It's hard not to immediately get the feel of Cape Fear Wine and Beer the second you walk through the door. How do you feel that your bar is different from others in Wilmington?

First and foremost, we all grew up with the tenets of punk rock and DIY and that is reflected in the physical appearance of our bar. Everything in here was built by hand. Our establishment has been described as one part German beer hall, one part British pub, one part record store, and one part tattoo parlour. We've become successful without many characteristics of other mainstream bars around. There's no loud live music so you can enjoy conversation, and we've forgone the meat market aspect so all of our customers feel comfortable. We refuse to sell BMC (Bud-Miller-Coors), which is unheard of here. All of our staff are well-trained and can answer any question about any beer. All of this makes us an incredibly unique business in town and I think people really crave that change of pace. Plus, we're all really proud of all of our accomplishments, including involvement in Pop the Cap and various distribution battles. We're also part of the international organization Beer Church and we have several charity events for our region throughout the year.

Music is always a highlight when I'm in Cape Fear, how big of a role does music play in the bar? Is it a dream come true to fill up a jukebox with your favorite albums or do you eventually suffer from over-exposure?

Music is an integral part of our atmosphere. We pride ourselves on our jukebox which is mostly punk rock, metal and ska, but we also have Johnny Cash, B-52's, Benny Goodman, Devo, and a variety of types of music. People say those last few bands aren't very punk rock, but we think that a wide palate for music is punk rock, no matter the varietal of music.

There are a few songs that we hear several times a night but that's a reality we have to accept. It's mostly the more popular punk rock bands. I hear “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” a few times more than I'd like to. But at least it's not the same Top 40songs over and over again. Even folks who aren't into our type of music are going to find something they recognize and like, and that adds to their comfort level. Though the fans of D.I. and The Avengers enjoy talking obscure punk rock with us.

You've got a strong musical background, what band(s) have you played in?

As a brass player, I've been in several jazz and ska bands. Most notably, the Madd Hatters, a ska-punk band that was based here in Wilmington, NC. I've had the fortune of playing several key spots up and down the east coast, including CBGB's & The Continental in NYC and Club 215 in Philly. I also toured with several bands in Canada: Running on Empty, Dianthus, and a brief stint on the road with my pals, One Shot Left. Even when I wasn't in a band, I was frequently touring with friends' bands, lugging around amps and selling merchandise.

I was trained classically on piano but picked up trombone and baritone in grade school. After that, I taught myself trumpet and tuba. I've got an eclectic collection of horns, including a slide trumpet, a pocket trumpet, a valve trombone, and a white fiberglass sousaphone. (There's nothing like rocking out with an instrument almost as big as you are, swinging it around like it's nothing!)

Do you still play?

My musical career has definitely taken a backseat to my career in the beer industry. I joke about playing music never paying my mortgage, yet it is still an integral part of my life. On first glance, anybody will see my entire back covered in musical-themed tattoos. Coming from a family of musicians, it will always be something near and dear to me. My maternal grandfather penned the tune, “Everybody Loves Somebody” (popularized by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra) among others from that era, and my grandmother sang and danced on Broadway. Music flows through my veins along with beer and, I suppose, blood.

Is there a place online where we can hear your music?

Unfortunately, there is not. There is a place online to view my beer list, however. or

Cooler gig: Musician or Publican?

It's arguable. I miss touring and traveling every day. I miss the nomadic lifestyle and constantly being around musicians. I miss playing music! However, I do enjoy being able to have a stable relationship and sleeping in my own bed every night.

Just like I come from musicians, I come from beer people. I've seen photos of our family's alehouse in Switzerland. Our family crest has bocks alternating torches. My Dutch uncle grows hops in his backyard. This is second nature; it's something I am good at, and I enjoy it.

Plus, there's the beer industry's too-numerous-to-count perks. I've met some of the best people I will ever meet in this industry. I drink the world's best beer. We promote an industry whose tenets I can stand behind. (I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I sold BMC for a living.) I don't have to worry about how many visible tattoos I have, or if I want to wear a hockey jersey to work, or if I want to dye my hair fire-engine red and black!

What beer do you always want to have a case of at your house?

My favourite poolside beers are Anderson Valley Boont Amber in cans, Fuller's London Pride cans, Ska Modus Hoperandi IPA and Ska ESB cans. (We have a rule at my house: No glass by the pool.) The general rule for household beers is the darker, the better, but we like wheats in summer and Belgians anytime. (Plus, I'm a huge sucker for a well-made amber ale.) The big brew for the house this winter will be the tart cherry chocolate oaked bourbon imperial porter we will brew. I also see a Terrapin Wake & Bake (coffee chocolate oatmeal imperial stout) clone in our future.

Though our fridge isn't limited to any of those specifics. If it's well-made and flavourful, I'm gonna drink the hell out of it, no matter who brewed it.

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