The Busy Bee of the Brewing World
5 Questions with Brian Ballard, owner of Pour Taproom and Ironclad Brewing
Brian Ballard, owner of Pour Taproom and now Ironclad Brewing, is handy, friendly, driven, gregarious, beer-savvy and busier than a bee. Actually, to use one of those unique North Carolina expressions, he’s busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
You’ve got to love the Tarheel way of saying things … after all, it’s where I learned to replace the word “toilet” with “thunder mug.”) And even that comparison is apt if you’ve ever found the need to use the rather unique men’s loo at Pour Taproom in ILM, the first of Ballard’s challenges. Situated in the old Murchison Bank Building on Front Street, the taproom was built almost exclusively by Ballard’s hands.
Pour Taproom, for those who are unaware, is like going to an entire beer festival indoors. Some 65 to 75 beers are available for the imbiber to sample in whatever amounts he or she chooses. With your handy-dandy little red wristband (worn properly around the middle of your glass, by the way), a beer nut can pull as many samples of as many beers as he cares to try, within sensible limits.
There’s a monitoring system in place to ensure that customers don’t guzzle their way into trouble — or oblivion. After 32 ounces, an attendant gets a notification and comes over to make sure you’re not face down on the terrazzo floor. If you’re not face down, or otherwise “in your cups,” you’re cleared for more.
That the place and the concept is thriving, even despite the strains of the pandemic, is a testament to Ballard’s focus as well as his ability to multi-task. He’s currently not only the owner and CEO, he’s also the kitchen manager responsible for the very good pub food that emerges from the space. I suppose that also makes him the chief cook and bottle washer as well. (Hint: If you’re looking for work, get down there!)
You would think that kind of commitment to a dream would keep a guy busy. Not Ballard, whose dreams are apparently cut from a different cloth. During my last visit, he informed me that he had bought Ironclad Brewing over on N. Second Street, a block or so away.
Yours truly did a story some time back on Ironclad and its bold decision to open a whole golf course up in Hampstead. It being a brewery, the owner at the time had a 30,000-square-foot biergarten built into the plans. You can read about it here.
And Ironclad Brewing is, as is typical of edifices in ILM, in a most historic building that can and does host major events like weddings, engagement parties, corporate parties and other events where large amounts of beer are consumed — like visits by me.
So far, Ballard has already initiated a major change in the operation of his new brewery: He’s made the business hours much more user-friendly. Previously, beer nuts could only drink there about four days a week. Now they get seven.
On my last visit to Pour, I noticed a number of Ironclad beers gracing the beer wall, and now it makes perfect sense. The drinking ambience is decidedly different in each place, and though the beer may be the same, the atmosphere will not be. Ironclad, though a neat place to quaff, isn’t a “beer festival” type of atmosphere, but then again, I’ve yet to see an elaborate wedding at Pour, though, based upon my chat with Brian Ballard, that may change.
The two businesses do have a couple of other things in common: First, both have second floors. Second, you’re likely to see the Busy Bee on all of them.
Just not at the same time. Although with this guy, you never know.
I asked the busy entrepreneur a few questions. Herewith his responses:
What motivated you to buy Ironclad?
Ted Coughlin, the previous CEO, had moved out of town, and he saw how I ran Pour and how I was dedicated to its success. He needed somebody to take over and do the same over at Ironclad so he reached out to see if I would be interested. Ironclad is such a beautiful place and the main reason why we have so many weddings and events held there. It is just being underutilized and I am in the process of filling those gaps.
Will you be in control of the Hampstead golf course as well?
No, that is a separate operation being managed by third party
Will all of Ironclad’s beers eventually find their way to your Pour Taproom wall?
Already there, brother!
Any major changes planned for Ironclad? (I’m already happy to see you’ll be open are days than the previous iteration!)
Yes. First, we are making some very unique and outstanding beers by our head brewer Laren Avery. I am allowing him to take the gloves off and giving him the freedom to go outside the box and really let his talents shine. The feedback has been outstanding. Next, we have been known as an event space that brews beer. I need to change that perception. We are a Brewery that happens to do events not just weddings. Finally, [I want to be] open to the public as much as possible so they can try our new selection of beers and enjoy another very unique setting in Wilmington.
And perhaps most intriguing, where the hell will you find the time to devote to not one, but two massive undertakings?
Very good question…. It really comes down to finding good staffing, and for me to let go and let my management crew anage! I need to allow my staff do what they do best — taking care of the customers. You will also notice we will be taking the synergies from both locations and sharing staff, so do not be surprised if you notice some familiar faces. Knowing every part of the operation allows me to fill in all areas when I am needed, and with the staffing situation I am needed a lot! We now have the two largest and most unique locations in downtown Wilmington with Pour having 7,800 square feet and Ironclad having 10,000 square feet. We are set to have large groups at both locations. The great thing about Pour is there is no waiting for you drink…..if you are waiting it’s your fault.
Want to go?
201 N. Front Street, Wilmington
Visit the Pour Taproom site here
115 N. Second Street, Wilmington
Check out the Ironclad site here