Small Batch: Ponysaurus Opens at Raleigh Iron Works

The new location for this popular North Carolina brewer has a sour beer production facility, plus craft pizza and elevated bar food on the menu.
by Catherine Currin | photography Forrest Mason

On opening day, the line thronged around the block — ardent fans of North Carolina brewer Ponysaurus, excited to welcome it to Raleigh. While its beers have been popular bottle-shop picks for almost a decade, it’s the first time the brewery has had taps flowing here. 

The first Ponysaurus opened in 2015 in downtown Durham, and as its popularity grew, cans were sold across the region. It opened a second location earlier this year in Wilmington and a third, in Raleigh Iron Works, in April. “We wanted to share more of our beer with more people, and we really liked the vision for Iron Works,” says Nick Hawthorne-Johnson, who, along with David Baldwin, is a co-founder and co-owner of Ponysaurus Brewing Co.

The Raleigh location will be home to the brewery’s sour-beer production. “Beer is broken into clean beer and sour beer,” Hawthorne-Johnson says. “Sour is usually made with bacteria, and having that bacteria in your main brewery you risk contaminating your other beer.” But don’t worry — it’ll still serve a wide selection of Ponysaurus’ other beers in cans and on tap. 

“This space gives our team the opportunity to experiment with things like barrel aging and blending to create special, exclusive products,” Hawthorne-Johnson says. Sours tend to have a tart, sometimes cider-like flavor and seasonal ingredients — some of Ponysaurus’ offerings include its fizzy and complex Blackberry Peach Sour or the subtly pink Cherry Sour. Special sours from this location will include cork and cage bottles, plus large-scale bottles.

In addition to specialty sours, there’s an array of other beers and cocktails to enjoy. Some Ponysaurus favorites include its Golden Rule Saison, the Baltic Porter and a Session IPA, plus an array of frozen cocktails including an espresso martini. 

Aside from beer, a theme across all Ponysaurus locations is pizza — or as Hawthorne-Johnson calls it, “humble bar food.” Raleigh’s kitchen is led by chef Jeff Seizer, the former owner and executive chef of French restaurant Royale, which closed in 2020. “Through my friendship with Nick, I was able to join this hospitality group I really respect and cook pizza, which is something I have always wanted to do,” Seizer says. Hawthorne-Johnson adds: “Jeff is classically trained — he uses that same attention to detail in his execution of our food.”

Along with chef Roxy Garza, Seizer developed the Ponysaurus pizza recipes in collaboration with Oakwood Pizza Box’s Anthony Guerra. The menu has the classics — like Margherita and veggie pies — plus unique options like a chicken parm pie and a clam pie with chopped clams, garlic and lemon. “We are a brewery that makes great food,” says Seizer. “The menu is meant to be enjoyed while drinking a pint but also inspired by classic pizzeria and bar food.” 

The Ponysaurus menu also offers bar favorites like wings, chicken sandwiches, burgers and curly fries with homemade dipping sauces. “I love using seasonal and local ingredients to make great-tasting, classic dishes,” Seizer says. His current menu favorite is the Blistered Tomato Pie. “It’s a great combination of local, fresh tomatoes, cheese and sausage all on our signature pizza dough,” he says. 

The space has large concrete booths for group gatherings, bar seating and an upstairs dining room. Drinkers and diners spill onto the patio with picnic tables and standing areas to enjoy a beer. The focal point is the larger-than-life skeleton of a “Ponysaurus,” a mythical combination of a horse and dinosaur, and Rochelle Johnson, Hawthorne-Johnson’s wife, designed the space using framed maps and paleoart to lend the space a museum feel. 

“We want to be a part of the fabric of the community,” says Hawthorne-Johnson. “We’re bridging the Raleigh-Durham divide, and hope this will become a third place, part of the underpinning for people to have their social and community gatherings.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.