With more than 35 independent establishments in Asheville and surrounding towns, the craft beer industry is booming in these parts. Voted “Beer City USA” in 2010 and 2011, Asheville has become the epicenter for a beverage movement unseen in not only the industry, but also the nation as a whole.
In 2014, craft beer pioneer and industry leader Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, California) opened its $100 million, 180-acre East Coast production facility in Mills River, right outside Asheville.
“The community around Asheville attracts such an artistic and eclectic mix of people, a very similar mix of people like Chico,” said Ken Grossman, founder/owner of Sierra Nevada. “The outdoors is something I try to do on a regular basis—get outside and hike. We’re near mountains, streams, and places to recreate in Chico, and Asheville is just like that.”
Alongside Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., industry giants New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, Colorado) and Oskar Blues Brewery both opened East Coast headquarters in Western North Carolina. New Belgium recently fired up its $140 million facility in the River Arts District of Asheville, a property that will become a beacon of economic and cultural significance for the city.
Owner/founder of Oskar Blues, Dale Katechis has built a wildly successful brand of craft beer that is rapidly spilling across the country. Originating in Lyons, Colorado, the business opened an enormous nine-acre, $10 million dollar east coast facility in Brevard in 2013. Katechis decided on the location after years of visiting the region, soaking in the ideal combination of southern culture and endless outdoor recreation.
“I fell in love with this area,” he said. “When we were looking to build, Brevard offered quite the temptation. I knew my quality of life was not going to suffer being here.”
“Seeing people sitting out here and enjoying our beer is a surreal thing, and we have more exciting things to come.”
—Jessica Reiser, Burial Beer Co.
Home to four breweries, Waynesville has become a scene in its own right, with Bear Waters, Boojum, Frog Level Brewing, and Tipping Point serving up a wide array of selections that perfectly compliment the innumerable varieties brewed in Asheville.
“This area is a vacation destination for the state, and all of these tourists are interacting with our companies while they’re here, and now they want our products where they live,” said Kevin Sandefur, owner/brewmaster of Bear Waters. “If we’re that kind of lasting impression, it’s great, and it says a lot of the breweries here and what we’ve accomplished in such a short time.”
Heading down the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, Dieter Kuhn, owner/brewmaster of Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva, sees the growth like a spider web, weaving its way out of Asheville and into the depths of Southern Appalachia.
“It has to do with support of agencies, people in the community, and, of course, the customers,” he said. “Everyone has been supportive. Yes, we’ve worked hard, we’re still here, but we couldn’t have done it all without the support.”
With brewing beer comes the keen philosophy of “work hard, play hard.” For Katechis, coming eastward was as much a business decision as it was a chance for adventure in the Great Smokies and beyond.
“We ride bikes and we drink good beer, and we want to turn other people into that,” he chuckled. “I don’t clock out and go home. I hit the trails and everyday is like Christmas out there.”
Opening in 2013, Burial Beer Co. in Asheville became a hit with craft beer drinkers and the region as a whole. They produced 150 barrels on a one-barrel system their first year, with that number skyrocketing when they installed their new 10-barrel system. The new system will hold the foundation for the main facility, as plans are in the works to build an urban farmhouse brewery outside of Asheville.
“It’s been crazy to keep up with the demand and that word-of-mouth popularity has been catching up with us, but that’s a good problem to have,” said co-owner Jessica Reiser. “Seeing people sitting out here and enjoying our beer is a surreal thing, and we have more exciting things to come.”
Hi-Wire Brewing in downtown Asheville. (Max Cooper photo)
With the craft brewery explosion in Asheville and greater Western North Carolina, Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville) co-owner Adam Charnack sees it all as friendly competition.
“This industry is filled with camaraderie,” he said. “So what about competition? The more, the merrier. Asheville is this mecca for craft beer, and the more people that place the words ‘Asheville’ and ‘craft beer’ in the same sentence, the better.”
And for Grossman, it’s about continuing to achieve perfection in a rapidly growing industry, one that has become a centerpiece of the Western North Carolina economy.
“We’ve been focused on quality since day one,” he said. “And I just like beer. I enjoy the whole science and alchemy of turning barley, yeast, and hops into something amazing and wonderful.”
This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to order your own free copy.