“I kind of feel like this job is my destiny,” says Margo Knight Metzger, the new executive director of the N.C. Brewers Guild.
The 34-year-old Raleigh resident left a job as public relations director for the N.C. Division of Tourism to start in January as the first full-time leader of the organization that represents the state’s craft beer industry.
Her previous jobs included representing the state’s wine industry. “I have had kind of an unusual career path that has involved following my own muse,” she said. “Somehow all of my skills have led me to this and I feel like this is the perfect fit for me.”
In a recent conversation, Knight Metzger assessed the tasks ahead of her and also the state of North Carolina beer. Here’s an excerpt of the edited transcript:
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Q: What is your focus as the new leader?
A: I am eager to help the leadership in our state, lawmakers, policy makers and other decision makers in government, understand the value of this industry. It’s nearly an $800 million industry with 10,000 jobs. I don’t think we’ve done a very good job proving that point and making sure that the powers that be are aware of the real powerful impact we have in North Carolina. So that is a real priority for me.
Q: I hear the guild is looking at hosting its own beer festival. What is the latest?
A: It’s still very much in the planning stages. But the guild is eager to create a really special event that has a statewide feel to it. I don’t know if it will be in one location or several, but we’d like to have something that is brought to you by the brewers.
Q: What obstacles does the guild face?
A: This industry is doing really well, but there are still some challenges that we face, particularly with taxation. Our excise tax in North Carolina on beer in the ninth highest in the country. When you look around the country and you look at excise tax rates, the states with the very lowest have the most thriving industries – California, Oregon, Michigan. Those are the kind of things we do across the board that make a big difference in industry that is just overburdened unfairly.
Q: What do you think about concerns of saturation with so many breweries?
A: When you consider how small a percentage craft still is in the grand scheme of beer sales in this country, you start to realize we’ve got a long way to go before we reach saturation. Frankly, consumers are interested in flavor and they are interested in where their product came from, and now they have more choice than ever. ... Whether it is a big brewery like Sierra Nevada coming in, or just the little tiny neighborhood brewery that just supports its neighborhood, there is a lot of room for growth.
Q: How long until we see a native North Carolina beer get distributed nationally?
A: Oh, I think we are just on the cusp. There are several breweries that have excellent Southeastern distribution and are extending up and down the East Coast – like Highland, Lonerider, Natty’s ... they are starting to have some broad regional distribution and that’s just the first step. As they continue to grow, I think some of those brands are really going to take off nationally.
Q: What’s your favorite beer style?
A: I’m in tune with America because my favorite beer style is India pale ale and that is now the No. 1 category in craft beer. It used to be “seasonal” that was the category that sold best and now it’s IPA. I am a helpless hophead. I love, love all the many flavors and aromas that come from hops.
What I’m tasting
Bell’s Brewery’s Hopslam is all the rage this time of year. The double India pale ale’s honey thickness matched with big hop bitterness is famous. The first delivery to the Triangle is gone, but another round may come later in the season.
Didn’t get your hands on one of the most coveted six-packs of the year? Don’t fret. There are near-equal IPAs on the shelves near you. Try these three favorites of mine: Lagunitas Sucks, Olde Hickory Redeemer and Ballast Point Sculpin.