Over the course of the past decade, the popularity of craft beers concocted by small, local breweries has grown exponentially. Small, local breweries have begun to spring up in towns across America, with the latest figures estimating the number of craft breweries operating in the United States at 5,234 as of the end of 2017.
According to the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, when it comes to the number of craft breweries, the Tarheel State—which boasts 230 craft breweries within its borders—is home to more craft breweries than any other state in the country. Although dozens of craft breweries have opened their doors and begun developing unique brews over the course of the past few decades—Raleigh and its surrounding suburbs alone are home to 25 craft breweries—only one can stake its claim as being the oldest microbrewery in the state: the Weeping Radish Brewery.
Originally founded by Bavarian native Uli Bennewitz in the small waterside town of Manteo on Roanoke Island, the Weeping Radish Restaurant and Brewery first opened in 1986 in an annex adjacent to The Christmas Shop on Highway 64. Bennewitz, who had emigrated from Bavaria to the United States in the 1980s, wanted to open a microbrewery similar to the ones he’d left behind in his homeland. At the time, however, only 100 microbreweries existed in the entire United States, and North Carolina law had declared it illegal for a brewery to sell beer directly to consumers.
Determined to succeed in opening his microbrewery and undeterred by the challenges presented by local laws, Bennewitz worked diligently with state politicians to have the law changed—eventually winning the opportunity to open his brewery on the Outer Banks and ultimately paving the way for hundreds of other craft breweries in North Carolina to do the same decades later.
From the beginning, the beers brewed by the Weeping Radish have been concocted according to the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot Purity Law of 1516. In addition to stating that no chemicals, preservatives or additives may be used in the beer-brewing process, this law also requires the brewmaster to use only four ingredients in the process: hops, malt, yeast and water. The beers brewed by the Weeping Radish grew in popularity among both locals and visitors to the Outer Banks, and Bennewitz eventually decided he needed a larger facility to keep up with the increasing demand for his products. In 2007 the Manteo location closed its doors and the operation was moved 35 miles away to Grandy in nearby Currituck County.
Four years later, groundbreaking began in Grandy, and in 2005 the new location—which featured a larger brewery, as well as a restaurant, farm and butcher’s facility—brewed its first batch of beer and opened to the public once again, this time as the “Weeping Radish Farm Brewery.” With the larger facility up and running and ready to offer craft brews to those in search of local breweries on the Outer Banks, Bennewitz took on yet another challenge: applying the Reinheitsgebot principles he had applied to his beers for nearly two decades—refraining from the use of chemicals and additives and working hard to ensure the finish product received minimal processing—to the food he served in his restaurant.
With the goal of reducing the current average distance food travels before it gets to the consumer from 2,000 miles to 200 miles, Bennewitz brought on Gunther Kuhle, a German master butcher, and set out to produce “Reinheitsgebot food” for locals and visitors to the area taking an Outer Banks vacation. The Weeping Radish Farm Brewery operates a 14-acre farm where organic vegetables are grown, and also works with area farms to source only free-range pork and beef for the charcuterie and sausages it serves in its popular restaurant located just 20 minutes from Kitty Hawk on the northern Outer Banks. From sauerbraten, beer brats, sausage samplers and pork schnitzel to burgers, soups, salads and sandwiches, the farm-to-table food served at the German-inspired Weeping Radish Farm Brewery has received such positive reviews it was featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri in 2013.
In addition to offering a spot for Outer Banks locals and tourists to sit down for a delicious lunch, dinner or just a tasty craft brew, the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery also features a retail counter where a variety of products ranging from sausages and pastrami to bacon and beer can be purchased. Guided tours of the on-site brewery are also offered to the public, so those interested in the brewing process behind the popular Outer Banks beers Bennewitz worked so hard to bring to the area can witness the inner-workings of the facility that put microbrewing on the map of the state of North Carolina more than 30 years ago.