A lot of college students have probably boasted — perhaps on a Friday or Saturday night — that they would gladly work for beer. Mark Heath actually did it, and now he makes his living brewing beer.
Heath studied microbiology and genetics as a student at NC State. So, as he says, he was someone predisposed to the science of brewing when he graduated in 1991.
But he initially worked in pharmaceuticals before quitting about 10 years ago to be a stay-at-home dad. He had dreams of opening his own brew pub some day, and was looking for ways to get some hands-on experience when an opportunity presented itself at Carolina Brewing Company in Holly Springs, N.C.
“The guys out here were looking for somebody to fill some gaps on brewing days,” Heath says. “I just kind of lucked into it.”
So for eight years, Heath worked as a volunteer at Carolina Brewing for a couple of days each week. He was, in essence, working for beer. But he was also getting an education in the brewing of beer. “That was my main goal, but I would also help with the packaging and the bottling line,” he says. “There were a lot of boxes to be made, a lot of menial grunt work to be done.”
Then, a little over two years ago, one of the original owners let it be known that he was interested in getting out. Heath and another volunteer bought him out, so Heath is now one of four owners of Carolina Brewing. They have one paid employee and a lot of volunteers. “People love the idea of working for beer,” Heath says.
As an owner, Heath has taken on some responsibilities that have little to do with brewing. He developed a new website for the company, worked with federal regulations dealing with labeling and took on responsibility for sales in parts of Eastern North Carolina. Previously, sales had been concentrated in Wake and surrounding counties.
“I did lose some of the in-house brewing responsibilities,” he says. “That part was hard for me. I like the brewing aspect of it. That’s a fun part of it. But our sales are up, so I’m finding myself back at the brewery brewing more often.”
One of Heath’s new responsibilities is recipe development. Carolina Brewing recently made its first wet hop beer, which involves using the hops before they are dried.
“I have greatly enjoyed being essentially the sole person in charge of recipe development,” he says. “That’s really fun. There’s some trial-and-error involved. It’s pretty stressful when you’re getting ready to make 600 gallons.”
The craft beer market in North Carolina has exploded since Carolina Brewing delivered its first keg to the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh in 1995. Carolina Brewing is trying to grow, as well. The company is expanding sales along the North Carolina coast and in Fayetteville, and then hopes to move into markets in places like Greensboro, Asheville and Charlotte.
Heath’s original plans to own a brew pub have been shelved, but he’s happy with the way things have worked out.
“This has worked out well for me,” he says.
Carolina Brewing Company is one of dozens of vendors – including restaurants, farms, breweries, wineries and bakeries – participating in the Red & White Food and Beverage Festival during the week of homecoming. All of the vendors have NC State connections, with alumni as owners or managers. The festival is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at The State Club in the Park Alumni Center. Visit the festival website to register and see a full list of vendors participating.