Outer Dunes or The Ponderosa?
The PubScout checks out Outer Dunes Brewing in Wilmington and finds some beers he loves.
If I hadn’t nearly run over owner Ellie Mabe while pulling the Harley around the back of the Outer Dunes Brewing property, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Ben Cartwright of Bonanza fame himself had greeted me at the door.
The large, multi-building complex shaded by beautiful oaks reminded me of the Ponderosa, not Porters Neck, where it’s located. I had made the trek from my own humble Ponderosa in OIB (which is located on a POND — get it?) for two reasons. First, because the missus read that Outer Dunes was doing a tap takeover in a week. The second reason is that the takeover was scheduled for my favorite pub — Tap Time in OIB.
The brand-new brewery building (where Mrs. Mabe was nearly run over) stands in stark contrast to the other buildings, which are decidedly rustic in design. The Taphouse, the larger of the two, and the Beach House, where the first Outer Dunes beers were concocted, are about 75 feet apart, and both overlook a pleasant, shady area that may be the perfect biergarten. In other words, distinctly similar to the Ponderosa of TV fame out in Virginia City.
Now that Ellie and her husband, Phil Mabe, are working with a much larger, state-of-the-art 10-barrel system, they are able to offer seven beers to those who make the smart choice to stop in. The main Taphouse, which was formerly a pub called the Liberty Tavern, required an extensive renovation, and it’s a cozy, pleasant spot in which to hoist a pint or two.
Asked where the name Outer Dunes came from, Ellie says, “We picked Outer Dunes as we are on the outskirts of Wilmington where people come together, similar to grains of sand in a dune. Of course, it’s a nod to our love for all things coastal.”
An event space outdoors can be reserved for parties and other special events.
It’s airy and delightful in good weather, but if Mother Nature becomes nasty, it has roll-up, roll-down plastic windows to serve as a barrier. Ellie, an event planner by trade, finds it useful.
Behind the bar as I entered was delightful Michaela, and as it was just after 1 pm, I had both the bar and Michaela to myself. She was a bit hesitant to chat at first, what with the arrival of a hoary old geezer in biker attire, but like a true professional, she sized me up in a minute and decided I was OK. ( I hope she doesn’t ask the missus.)
She poured me a flight of seven of the beers of Outer Dunes (and described them perfectly) and was a wealth of information about the pub, its operations, its clientele and its owners, despite having only been on the job for three months.
“I love it here,” she told me more than once, and the fact that she lives just minutes away was clearly a bonus.
No responsible beer writer/biker actually drinks seven beers before getting back on his iron horse, but I did have 8 ounces of an exceptional West Coast-style ale called Ocean Crest. After that it was just 4-ounce tasting samples (of which I had maybe 2 ounces each of the others).
Intracoastal Blonde was their 4.1% “transitional” beer, designed to give BudMillerCoors drinkers a truer Pilsner experience. I wanted to try the 5.2% Italian Pilsner, but, alas, it was unavailable. Too bad, because Italian Pilsners have come a long way from Birra Moretti, Rossini, Peroni and Nastro Azurro. They’ve become quite an interesting style. Oh, well, I’ll try it on the next visit. Michaela said that it flies out of the kegs when it’s on.
The Hazy D-Lite at 7%, hopped with Mosaic and Simcoe and with notes of pineapple, orange and lemon, is probably another that’s a big hit with the 30 and up clientele. For this IPA drinker, however, the Foggy Dunes was the way to go for a hazy NEIPA. 7% and hopped with Dr. Rudi and Topaz, it checked all the boxes — smooth, fragrant, bitter on the back end and lots of citrus notes in the nose and on the palate.
River Pilot Pale Ale was also decent, with a nice balance of malt and hops, and the Anchor Chain American IPA was a very good beer with a beautiful color, exceptional balance, notes of stone fruit and, at 6.5%, low enough to be a session beer.
But the surprise of the visit was the 6.1% Cowboy Cookie Porter, with peanut butter, chocolate and the slightest hint of coconut.
Probably not a summer beer for everyone, but certainly one for those chilly fall and winter nights. Break out some brownies with this baby, and you won’t be disappointed.
Ellie came in to take me on a small tour of the property, and as much as I enjoyed the pub and Michaela, their brewhouse is something to see. Glistening, clean and very high-tech, the space is cavernous. Ellie touched a button and two huge cooler doors swung open to reveal lots of sixtels and kegs. She said Phil is very happy with it and immensely proud of it, as well he should be.
I didn’t get to chat or bend an elbow with Phil, but that will change when he visits Tap Time. I did learn that the couple, UNC grads, did a 10-year stint in tony Lake Tahoe, brewing beer and planning events for the rich and famous before coming back to the Wilmington area, where they served the likes of me.
They’ll serve you, too, but if you go, I’d suggest you first have a few at the cozy bar, then grab your friends and go to the biergarten, which looks especially cool at night. You can sit and relax or play some cornhole.
If they can find the space to put in a horseshoe pit, maybe Ben, Hoss, Adam and Little Joe might show up.
Shucks, pardner, I’d buy them all a beer.
Want to go?
Outer Dunes Brewing
7976 Market Street, Wilmington