Sean Lilly Wilson

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What’s your current position at your brewery, and how did you get started in the craft brewing industry?

I’m the founder and chief executive optimist of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C. It all began in 2003 when a friend poured me a pint of barleywine and told me that the beer was illegal to brew or sell in North Carolina. I had never heard of such a crazy thing. So I started a grassroots lobbying organization to lift the state’s 6-percent alcohol cap. I didn’t start Pop The Cap with the intent to launch a brewery, but it’s been a natural progression.

What’s new at Fullsteam?

We’re in the middle of build-out, so our 8,000 square-foot facility is constantly in flux. For a while, I was calling it “the warehouse.” Now I call it “the brewery.” We hope to open in the late spring.

What’s the best part of being a part of the craft brewing community?

Taking a quote from Greg Koch’s “I am a craft brewer”…I love craft beer. I love the mix of creative art and exacting science. I love the process. I love the final product. And I love how good beer brings good people together. To me, no other food or beverage facilitates such community.

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?

We don’t have electricity or an Internet connection yet at the brewery, so I work from home about half the time. I’m often meeting off-site with vendors, advisors, and potential customers. I guess this question is more about hobbies, but I’ve had to put a lot of non-work-related interests on hold. Starting up a new business can be all-consuming, and most of my free time is spent with my wife and two daughters.

What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?

Though I love IPAs, some of my favorite beer pairings are with lower-hopped beers. Porter and pie is probably my favorite. It doesn’t matter if it’s savory like a meat pie or a sweet dessert pie. One of the most memorable pairings I’ve ever had was a banana cream pie at Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, N.C. paired with Asheville-based Highland Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Porter. Salty-sweet pie with roasty-malted beer…time to try that combo again!

What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?

I guess this is still somewhat related to my job, but voluntarily helping to change two beer laws ( and It makes me proud to know that new businesses are emerging and existing businesses are hiring in part because of these two political campaigns.

What’s your favorite beer that your brewery does not produce?

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. It’s my wife’s favorite beer, too. For her birthday last year, I promised her that the fridge would always be stocked with Two Hearted. Larry Bell was kind enough to write her an email wishing her a happy birthday. That was so cool of him!

What’s the most exotic travel destination at which you’ve had a chance to sample the local beer?

Several years ago I toured the Mendocino region of Northern California, visiting Anderson Valley, North Coast, and Russian River. The day was a Culinary Tour of Awesome, with cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, fresh Hog Island oysters, and beer from three pioneering breweries. It may not be as exotic as some far-away international places, but local food and beer doesn’t get any better than that day.





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