Pull Up A Stool with Mark Doble of Aviator Brewing Co.
Brewing has been a central part of the Doble family since the family’s days living in Europe in the 1980s. After teaching his older brother, Johnny, to brew, Mark Doble helped him open the BrewShack in Tampa, FL, in 1993. Johnny Doble and his parents would open Tampa Bay Brewing in 1996, where Mark and the third brother, David, would help out as well.
When the job market imploded seven years ago, Mark thought a brewery in North Carolina could help supplement income. Instead, the entrepreneur inadvertently created a community centerpiece in the heart of Fuquay-Varina, one of the fastest growing towns in the state.
AAB: Tell us about flying; it’s clearly wrapped around all you do.
I have two younger brothers, and both of them began flying years ago while our family was living in Belgium. So I went to the airport one day to get my license. When it came to looking at buying an airplane, there’s serious sticker shock. I got into kit building and built my own plane. I thought it would be quick, but it took four years to finish. Now I have a great plane, and [it] didn’t cost very much.
How long did you live in Belgium?
Three years, and in Holland before that. We used to drink Saint Sixtus pretty much all the time. I’ve spent most of my life outside of the United States, and it led me to pursue exporting our beers.
I had no idea you were exporting. How did that happen?
Yes, and we will probably sell as much beer abroad as we will in the U.S. I have always been interested in exporting. I’m overseas so much that I’ve learned to see it as a huge market, especially compared to trying to sell your beer in other states here. Italy, for example, loves American craft beer.
You have expanded very creatively in Fuquay-Varina.
We basically got kicked out of the hangar by Wake County. They said the brewery could stay but the bar couldn’t. So we bought the old train depot and moved the bar there. But it is hard to sell beer without food. So we got into the restaurant business, reluctantly. It was successful somehow, so we bought the building next to the restaurant for event space. Then the building across the street came up for sale. So we thought it would make sense to create a beer shop to promote not only our beer, but everyone else’s. We enjoy everyone else’s beers and think our customers do, too. We completed that whole corner, and each building has a completely different customer. The restaurant brings families, the bar brings husbands and wives, and the beer shop gets folks that just want to grab a beer and go home.
We’ve been lucky with a couple good decisions mixed in with a lot of bad decisions. Thankfully the town has been very supportive. When we started brewing, Fuquay had almost 17,000 residents, and now it is over 23,000. We are in one of the 10 fastest-growing towns in North Carolina. We are thrilled to be here.
What’s new for Aviator in 2015?
A lot! We are looking at getting into some barrel-aging, and Brett beers, but we don’t want to do that at our current facility.
Now that we sell beer throughout the Southeast, we started a trucking company. We had some delivery issues as we expanded that made us want to deliver all of our own beer. Keeping beer cold from the brewery to the distributor is a big deal in the Southeast.
We are looking closely at distilling as well. Our big thing has always been diversifying across our businesses.
What was your brewery plan when you started? How has it changed? Why?
None of what I did was planned at all. I lived in Tampa and moved to North Carolina to see if there were other tech opportunities. I was an engineer working for HP, and the job market was a disaster. I only know how to do two things: turn on computers and brew beer.
I bought an old brewing system, and the plan was to supplement my income while I found an engineering job. Trust me, the timing of a craft beer revolution was nowhere near my mind.
How do you see the North Carolina brewing scene?
When we started brewing in the hangar, I was very surprised how accepting people here were of local beer—that was so cool to see. You would bring your beer into a restaurant, and there was immediate acceptance. The Pit in downtown Raleigh was our first customer, and I was shocked that a very successful restaurant like that would put our beer on tap so quickly. Fast-forward seven years, people are saying the market is saturated, but I believe there is still opportunity to be creative and innovative. The innovative folks and those that truly care for quality are the ones to get tap handles and sell beer. We have been sort of successful managing quality, we’re not 100 percent at it, but believe we are headed in the right way.
The next five years are going to be very interesting and not sure anyone knows what is going to happen in the brewing scene.
Tell us about the range of your beers.
It is kind of like everything else: We don’t have much of a plan. We brew beer inspired by something, ignoring our overall lineup. That’s how Devil’s Tramping Ground came about. Having come from Belgium to the States, I was surprised not to see as many tripels being brewed here, and it is one of my favorite styles.
Mark Doble At A Glance
Brew Boss, Aviator Brewing Co.
Years brewing: Started brewing way back in 1985
Go-to beer from another brewery: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Beer that inspired him to brew: Fuller’s ESB
Couldn’t live without: An airplane
Favorite place to have a beer: the Aviator back deck, in the summer
Wishes he could buy a round for: Michael Jackson
Biggest passion besides brewing: Flying
Keeping him up at night: Nothing at this point; beer helps
Aviator Brewing Co.
Founded: November 2008
Annual Production: 13,000 barrels
Availability: AL, Brazil, China, FL, France, GA, Germany, Italy, NC, New Zealand, UK, SC
Editor’s Note: Pull Up A Stool is a regular conversation between All About Beer Magazine and people in the beer industry. Read more conversations from the magazine.