Can There Be a Best of Anything?
Full disclosure: The PubScout looks askance at anything termed “The Best Of,” especially when it comes to subjective things like beers or beer bars.
I mean, how can one beer bar, set up in a partially hidden, nondescript house on a road with no street sign earn the title of Best Beer Bar in the entire State of North Carolina, which is what the Brewers Association, the nation’s largest trade group of craft brewers, suppliers, distributors and beer retailers, named Wilmington’s Fermental in March 2020.
The ENTIRE freakin’ state?
Do these people have any idea how big North Carolina is? I mean to travel from the beaches to the mountains of western N.C. is a six- or seven-hour drive, for God’s sake. And have they not heard of Asheville?
My buddy Dave and I decided to take the mere 45-mile trek north to Wilmington to see what made this place with the strange name of Fermental the “best beer bar and package store in the entire Tarheel State.”
In eastern Europe, the term fermental is a digestive aid, but that’s not why owner Steve Gibbs chose the name. He may have been the first to use it while playing around with “ferment” (which seemed apropos for his business), but he also wanted to note the emphasis on the “mental.”
Flashy, it’s not. In fact, if you’re coming up Market Street, you’ll probably drive right past it, like we did. It looks like somebody’s house — which is exactly what Gibbs wanted when he began this adventure seven years ago on March 1, 2013.
The interior, however, was another matter, and the recognition might have been given because of the more than 2,000 beers located within. Floor to ceiling, wall-to wall, cooler to cooler, this place is the answer to a beer nut’s dream. And with that many beers, one, two or a hundred trips to Fermental might not be sufficient to satisfy the dedicated beer nut.
Fermental holds beers of every stripe and style, from every state and from most nations, including some beers that are decidedly VERY difficult to find. Pilsners to saisons to radlers to goses to browns to porters to BBA stouts so thick they pour like used motor oil to a beer made with four leaf clovers, there is something here for everyone.
Milkshake and NE IPAs? Got ’em. Pale ales and IPLs? Got ’em. Local N.C. beers? Yep. Specialty beers from famous breweries like Rogue, Scaldis or Drei Fonteinen? Over there. Trappist beers? Belgians? Around the corner in the back room. Beers from Tilquin? Front room.
There are many little private rooms, all stocked top to bottom with great beers, outstanding wine and comfortable seating. These are great for conversation with friends or meditation with self. In fact, the only room that isn’t bulging with unique beer is the loo, which sees its share of use, I’ll be bound.
Gibbs, the 45-year-old owner, has been involved in craft beer on one level or another since 1996 (a year dear to this writer).
“I always knew I wanted to sell good beer from the cozy confines of a house, and this is the realization of that dream,” he says. Originally, Gibbs was a writer, having published collections of poems and fiction. “I love to write, so that’s what I did.”
Life, however, has a way of redirecting one’s energies and passions, and Fermental was born.
“I love playing with words,” Gibbs admits, “and one day this term just stuck in my head. I think it’s actually the name of a type of drink in the Ukraine, but we kept it and it works.”
Works indeed. Jim, our friendly bar stool buddy (and a Fermental regular), claimed the truck he drives just can’t drive past Fermental without turning in to allow him to enjoy some quality beers. He bade us goodbye, but took another 45 minutes to actually exit.
Another character who captured my attention was Allan Nance, and that was because he walked in through the front door carrying his own empty Fermental glass — which didn’t stay empty for long. He set up shop in a corner and regaled Dave with fascinating information about Fermental, his considerable work there and his own art business.
Allan was there when we left, but we left only after splitting three incredible beers: Heist’s Druid Pilsner (big, big, malt flavor and crisp, but remarkably smooth), Abomination’s Only Hell Can Save us Now Milkshake IPA and, upon Lindsay’s sterling recommendation, an 11.5% Perennial Coffee Stout (made with Dark Matter Coffee) that poured like the aforementioned motor oil but tasted like heaven.
So, was this the best beer bar in North Carolina? If the measure of “best” is a damned good place to find a lot of damned good beer and in a variety you’re not likely to find elsewhere —then, yes. There is absolutely no doubt that Fermental is a genuine find for the true beer nut.
There was no food available during our visit, though a Smithfield’s BBQ sits just across the back yard, and Gibbs has regular visits during the season from various food trucks. He also hosts live bands and games outside in the backyard when weather permits.
We may have missed the turn off to Fermental on this first visit. But that is a mistake we will most assuredly not make again.
Fermental Beer and Wine
7250 Market Street, Wilmington
For changing hours and operations during COVID-19 visit the Fermental Facebook Page
The PubScout susses out Fermental and its lofty designation from the Brewers Association.