One time while I was off campus with a group, one of my friends said, "You know, I haven't been to any bars in Durham besides the usual two—Shooters and Devine's." I looked at him in disbelief. Firstly, Shooters and Devine's hardly qualify as bars, considering most Duke students probably just know them as sweaty, smelly gathering spaces filled with drunk, gyrating college students.

Secondly, Durham has plenty of easily accessible bars, each with a unique personality and promise of a good time. To be fair, I've only visited a handful of said venues, and don't know all too much about them, anyway. I decided that it would be a good idea to highlight some of the bars and breweries near Duke. Not only would I be able to learn about what makes each bar special, but perhaps I would also convince my friends (and others) to try something new on Saturday night, besides Shooters. My first stop was Fullsteam Brewery, home of darts, board games and distinctly Southern beer. 

Pioneering Beginnings

pizza, coffee, tea
Brian Chan

I traveled to Fullsteam on a lazy Thursday afternoon, where my host was Ryan Gunzel, the tavern's manager, who was kind enough to talk to me about Fullsteam's story. Fullsteam was opened six years ago by Sean Wilson, a Fuqua Graduate. Wilson was involved with the Pop the Cap campaign, which successfully raised North Carolina's limit on beer's alcohol per volume percentage from 6% to 15%. Craft beer and India Pale Ale (IPA) lovers should thank him for that, as many brews in those styles regularly contain more than 6% alcohol. Wilson became interested in the craft beer movement, and thus decided to open his own brewery: Fullsteam.

If you've ever been to Fullsteam, you may know it as the bar with Thursday trivia, darts, and board games. But really, it's much more than that. "Fullsteam's basic, core mission is to create a Southern beer economy," explained Gunzel. Fullsteam uses as many Southern ingredients as it can, which helps Southern farmers. By incorporating the Southern community to craft its beer, the brewery brings people together and boosts the Southern economy. For example, Fullsteam often uses malted grains from Durham and Asheville, and most of the fruits and herbs utilized are locally sourced.

Though Fullsteam does try to use as many local and Southern ingredients as possible, there are some things–like hops–that just don't grow well in the South. But to get around that, sometimes Fullsteam creates beers with corn grits or sweet potatoes, which are North Carolina staples. 

Unique Ingredients, Unique Beers

kettle, wine, beer
Brian Chan

So how exactly does someone decided what ingredients to put into a beer? It turns out, the decision has to do with what ingredients happen to be brought to the brewery that week. Gunsel elaborated that Fullsteam has a network of foragers who stop by with different ingredients, ranging from persimmon to Japanese rhubarb. Gunzel shared that "One time, someone came by with a bunch of hearty oranges. Hearty oranges are a little more bitter than other oranges, and his idea was that we could use these instead of hops as a bittering agent. So then we built a beer around that ingredient." 

Many times, ingredients influence a beer's name, as well. For example, the Brumley Forest beer was a Baltic porter that used black walnuts and hickory from the nearby Brumley Forest. Other names just come from whimsical brainstorming by the Fullsteam staff–such as the "Attack, Delay, Sustain, Release", Ryan's personal favorite beer. What makes this beer special? It's a lager with coffee. That's right, coffee-beer. Or beer-coffee. Either way, "it's killer," according to Gunzel.

Building a Name for Itself 

Though a number of bars are located nearby, including Motorco and Surf Club, Fullsteam was actually one of the first breweries in Durham. As the area has grown and more businesses have been established nearby, Fullsteam still manages to attract crowds and stay popular amongst patrons. Gunzel explains that Fullsteam's use of local and Southern ingredients really sets it apart from other breweries. Though other breweries are starting to follow suit, Fullsteam was amongst the first to create Southern beer. "It's what we want to do, and it's what we like to do. We enjoy drinking it. Using ingredients that are available to us here in the South really makes us unique." 

Something else Fullsteam is doing to stay competitive is adding food to its menu, in addition to its brews. The brewery is also considering expanding the seating and service areas. "It takes a lot of innovation [to move forward and grow]. We can't just stand around and do what we've been doing for six years. We have to change. We have to progress."

Fullsteam is for College Students, Too

cake, tea, beer
Brian Chan

A place like Fullsteam may seem intimidating to the average college student. But the staff welcomes, and even encourages, students to stop by. Students add a youthfulness to the environment, which can be lacking when only Durham locals are in attendance. "It's fun to watch when locals and students come together because you get a lot of engagement. We love being open to everyone at Fullsteam, which reflects something that I've noticed about Durham in general. No matter who you talk to, whether it's a Duke undergrad, or a medical student, or a local, everyone is very open to conversation," Gunzel adds. 

Scared that you don't know enough about beer to become a Fullsteam regular? Ryan has some suggestions for the novice beer drinker on how to start trying things out. "Don't be afraid to try beers, especially ones you haven't heard of before. It takes time to learn about the different beers and styles." He also shares his own personal tip for trying anything new, including food, TV shows and music: give things at least three tries. The first time you try a beer, you may not like it. But by the third time, maybe you'll really enjoy the flavor. "You just have to learn to change your expectations; not all beers taste the same."

If you want to try something new on your Saturday night out, look no further than Fullsteam. With exceptional beers and exceptional people, Fullsteam provides Duke students with a change of pace that shows off Durham's unique offerings. Plus, aren't you tired of Shooters yet?