RALEIGH – Human beings have been brewing beer since time immemorial. In fact, beer is older than civilization itself, and according to some archeologists, the evidence suggests that our early ancestors likely began planting roots specifically so they could focus on this ancient craft.
And that’s just what Ryan and Jennifer Kolarov are doing at Neuse River Brewing & Brasserie; creating a community around the world’s oldest beverage right on the outskirts of Raleigh’s historic Five Points neighborhood.
They are not alone in this endeavor as the general Five Points area is now home to several craft breweries including Nickelpoint, Lonerider, R&D and Lynwood Brewing, making it Raleigh’s unofficial brewery district. Trophy Brewing Company is also expected to expand its operations into the neighborhood by fall 2024.
But much like ancient Sumer – the site of the earliest known human civilization – Neuse River Brewing was not built in a day.
Before there was a brewery, the Kolarovs worked in the Caribbean. It was here that the future business owners met, though they later traded in their beloved tropical beaches for wine country, electing to move back to Jennifer’s home state of California in 2008.
In the beautiful Sonoma Valley, Ryan began homebrewing while working for a company that supplied chemicals to wineries and breweries. At the time, homebrew stores were not as accommodating to household brewers as they are today.
“These breweries that I was going into for work were super helpful,” Ryan reminisced. “What I needed for homebrewing was spillage on the floor for them, so I got to play with a lot of fun grain. I would make beer, bring it in and let the guys try it out, and they would tell me what worked and what to try next. I learned a lot.”
Before they knew it, Ryan was dreaming up plans for a brewery in his hometown.
“There we were, living in Sonoma County,” joked Jennifer. “It was beautiful, and we were loving life, and then one day Ryan just goes, ‘I think I want to start a brewery and move back to Raleigh.’ And I just said sure. I honestly don’t think he thought I was going to say yes.”
In 2013, the Kolarovs moved to the City of Oaks and began looking for potential locations for a brewery. After a year of searching, they found the perfect location just streets away from Ryan’s childhood home. By the summer of 2015, Neuse River Brewing was officially open for business. Within four years, they opened the brasserie and began serving food to complement their craft beer offerings.
Just as the brewing process is the culmination of years of practice and experience, Neuse River Brewing is the result of the Kolarovs’ life experiences.
“Everything that we’ve done that has brought us here, to this point, is Neuse River Brewing,” said Jennifer.
The Kolarovs’ time in California and their intricate knowledge of wine has translated into their beloved selection of Belgian-style ales, which pair perfectly with their European-influenced cuisine. It can also be seen with just a quick glance at their extensively curated wine lists. Their years working in the Caribbean can be felt every time their bartenders blend up the famous cocktail of the British Virgin Islands, the Painkiller, or on Sundays when reggae music fills the air. Jennifer’s 20-plus years of experience working in the dining and hospitality industry reveals itself every time the waitstaff “serves from the left” and “clears from the right.”
The culmination of the Kolarovs’ experiences is a wonderful brewpub with all the familiar fixtures of a family-owned business and something to offer everyone. Even those who don’t drink alcohol can stop in and enjoy Neuse River Brewing’s award-winning burger, which was recently ranked best in the city by Raleigh Magazine.
The Neuse River Brewing business model goes beyond food and beverages as Ryan and Jennifer also devote their time to giving back to the community. Since opening their brewery, they have partnered with several local charities and nonprofits, including the Sound Rivers Organization, Neuse River Golden Retriever Rescue, Hops for Hope, the Bonehenge Whale Center in Beaufort, Roots for Reece, and Make-A-Wish Eastern NC. 5% of every sale of Riverkeeper’s Witt is donated directly to Sound Rivers in an effort to protect the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico watersheds and the communities that depend on them.
“Doing things for other people has been instilled in me since I was a child, so it’s really important to me,” said Jennifer. “Even in this business, at the end of the day, we are here for other people. It’s always about giving back; it’s not always about us and what we are doing.”
At the same time, the husband-and-wife duo have wasted no time taking in aspects of their surroundings and applying them to their brewing experience, even going as far as collaborating on a beer with local legend and Grammy-nominated artist Petey Pablo.
The Kolarovs have found the response from the neighborhood to be overwhelmingly positive.
“We get a lot of business from the neighbors,” said Ryan. “Even on snow days, we can have no cars out front, but the place is packed. Kids will sled down the hill out front while their parents have a beer.”
When asked about what contributes to their success, the Kolarovs were quick to give praise to their staff, which has become a second family for them.
“Everything goes back to the culture and the people who are working here,” said Jennifer. “This is everything that we enjoy; this is who we are. Welcome to our home.”