Raleigh’s Brewery Bhavana is not your average beer destination. Part brewpub, part dim sum restaurant and part flower shop and bookstore, the genre-defying space blends a surprising mix of ideas, but it’s masterfully unified in its vision. “We wanted to create a living room where people from all walks of life can co-exist, collaborate and be inspired by one another,” says co-founder Patrick Woodson, a former Peace Corps volunteer and current head brewer at the brewpub.
Woodson had always dreamed of opening a brewery, but his path to Bhavana was not a straight line. While volunteering in Laos, he and his wife Aubrey fell in love with the country’s cuisine and culture, so when Woodson heard the North Carolina town where his parents recently relocated had a reputable Laotian restaurant called Bida Manda, he was intrigued. “We sat at table 7, which we always cite because we remember the moment,” Woodson says as he recalls meeting business partner Vansana Nolintha. “Van was managing that night, and he introduced himself and we shared stories and photos.”
At the time, Patrick and Aubrey didn’t know where they’d settle, but Raleigh immediately pulled them in. They decided to move there, coincidentally, a block away from Nolintha. “When I started brewing again for fun, we’d often hang out and drink my random recipes. That snowballed into Brewery Bhavana four years later,” Woodson says.
“We were thinking about how we could engage with the community in a way that feels authentic and genuine, so we were thinking about the power of words and books,” says Nolintha of their unique blend of concepts. “We did an open call asking about 500-600 friends, mentors and strangers to tell us what the few important books were in their lives, and people showed up and wrote really intimate, personal notes on these books that were important to who they are as people, and they offered them to our library.”
To help make Bhavana look and feel like an inviting community space, the owners worked closely with art and architecture firm Clearscapes. Unlike many brewpubs, the bar is not the focus of the large space. Instead, they put the flower shop and bookstore right in the middle, underneath a skylight and moved the bar to the left side of the room and the restaurant to the right. “It creates a circle of motion surrounding this calm and serene center,” says Nolintha. “Even on a Friday or Saturday night when we have over 1,000 people coming through the space, the middle is this positive stillness even though everything around it is energetic.”
Daylight from well-placed skylights floods the quadrants with a lovely interplay of soft light and shadows, and at night orb-like light fixtures cast a warm glow, setting a tranquil mood. A marble backbar, whitewashed brick and light wooden stools add to the feeling of softness. Behind the bar, Woodson takes an equally subtle approach. “As a brewery, we strive to maintain a level of nuance and create flavor profiles that don’t overpower anything,” says Woodson. “Dim sum and beer is not a typical pairing, so we’re not brewing anything that purposefully pairs with certain dishes, but we have 20 offerings all the time, and there are any number of things that go well with the food.”
With a background in fermentation engineering, Woodson plays to Raleigh’s willingness to try new flavors when he develops beers like the Sneaky Fig Dubbel and Cardamom Tripel. His creativity shines through the wood-aging program, where he’s beginning to blend some of the wine barrel-aged beers they started developing over a year ago. He hopes to continue to refine and expand the diversity of the program in the coming year. “What’s exciting to me is that Patrick’s style of beer is such a generous introduction for people who don’t consider themselves beer drinkers,” Nolintha says. “One of the comments we get all the time is, ‘I don’t normally like beer, but I like Bhavana beer.’ That relationship is exciting.”
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