Mill Whistle sounds for good times

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By Karen A. Mann

Friday, July 7, 2017

Beaufort beer lovers have a familiar name to thank for the founding of Mill Whistle Brewing, the town’s flagship brewery: Mr. Beer.

Brewer and founder Tom Backman received one of the ubiquitous beginners’ kits as a Father’s Day present from his wife, Barb, and two sons back in 1996, the same year the family moved to Morehead City from Minnesota. But unlike others who brew one batch and quickly become frustrated, Tom was fascinated, brewing and perfecting his recipes in his garage for years.

“I mainly brewed for friends,” he says. “People kept telling me I should open a brewery.”

Eventually, Tom heeded their advice, and found a spot, tucked away in a small office park the site of an old Beaufort lumber yard. Saws used to run where the tiny tap room stands today. The lumber yard was well known for a whistle that blew at 4:45 p.m. every day and could be heard throughout the town. The original whistle, which was on loan to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, was procured, and installed above the bathroom, and a brewery was born. A replica of the whistle, installed on the outside of the building, continues the tradition of marking the time at 4:45 every day.

The one-barrel brewery has found success with its collection of sour beers, IPAs and various other brews, many of which pay homage to the vernacular and legends of the area. In Carteret County, the term “dingbatter” applies to a person not from the area. Tom put his own face on the label for the brewery’s “Dingbatter Bock.” A “dit dot” is a derisive name for someone from Raleigh. The Mill Whistle Dit Dot Kolsch features the Raleigh skyline on its label. The Girl in the Rum Barrel Stout commemorates the legend of a young girl who died at sea, and was kept in a rum barrel by her sea captain father until he could get her body back to Beaufort for a proper burial.

“Our mission was to be a neighborhood brewery,” Tom says. Since the taproom opened on April 1, 2016, the brewery has become a gathering place for residents and a magnet for tourists. Mill Whistle is in the process of expanding to two barrels, and has hired brewmaster Tollan Wade, formerly of Fuquay-Varina’s Fainting Goat Brewing Company.

Mill Whistle won’t be Carteret County’s only brewery for long. Three others are in various stages of development: Tight Lines, which has been operating as a restaurant in downtown Morehead City for several years; Crystal Coast Brewing, which will brew in Morehead City and open a taproom in Atlantic Beach; and Shortway Brewing, which is currently building in Newport, just west of Morehead City. Tom is involved with all three, and welcomes the growth.

“I believe there’s room for us all,” he says. “Beer tourism is a real thing, and Carteret County needs to get on it.” He cites studies that say a lone brewery has a harder economic time than breweries clustered together in a specific area. He also keeps track of his receipts in the tap room, and notes at 40 percent are from cards registered from outside the county.

“It absolutely makes sense,” says Tom. “There’s room for more breweries in Carteret County.”