In 2013, we saw the opening of the first big newbie – Oskar Blues – as well as smaller breweries. But the craft beer industry in 2013 extended its influence into other sectors, such as education and tourism, even as Asheville lost the online polling title of Beer City USA – a mantle it held for the past four years. It’s all adding up to even greater national attention, a bigger economic impact and tastier beer.
Without further ado, and in no particular order:
Beer tourists flock to town: Asheville’s amazing craft beer offerings continues to draw beer geeks of all stripes. There’s the Asheville Ale Trail beer promoters, as well as Asheville Brews Cruise and Asheville Brewery Tours. There’s the Brew-Ed tour (noted below). There are the massively popular beer festivals, from the Beer City Festival to Brewgrass. There’s the continued linkage of the local beer and local food scenes, most notably taking shape in the form of popular beer dinners.
In another significant move sure to impact beer tourism and Asheville and across the state, Margo Metzger has been named executive director of the N.C. Brewers Guild. Metzger served as public relations manager for the state of North Carolina’s travel and tourism efforts, so she will bring that expertise to bear on the Tar Heel brew scene. As the economy grows and Asheville’s tourism industry continues to expand, watch for the beer industry to continue to be a key player.
Oskar Blues booms: The Colorado-based Oskar Blues opened its first East Coast brewery in Brevard south of Asheville just about a year ago. Since then, the brewery with a blue collar vibe and massive canning lines has been cranking out the beer best measured in a flow akin to a river rather than a stream. It’s growth chart is startling, as Oskar Blues continues to push distribution into new states. It’s Tasty Weasel tasting room is a hit, and the brewery is slowly establishing itself as a key sponsor of outdoor events that align with its brand. (Think NASCAR and mountain biking, for example.)
Wicked Weed winning: This local brewery on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville also just opened last December. But from day one, the Wicked Weed crew has been killing it with lines out the door and a head-spinning variety of well-made beer. Wicked Weed became the first local brewery to win a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, in the American-style brett beer category, which was an incredible win for a first-year brewery. The Wicked Weed crew is working on a plan to bottle some of its beers in the new year. All in all, the brewery showed that with a nice pile of cash to start with, some very talented brewers and plenty of thought, a local craft brewer can score big.
Beer education picks up: Yes, beer education is now a thing. From Cliff Mori’s Brew-Ed tour in Asheville to the Oskar Blues Brew School at Blue Ridge Community College to Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s new Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast (earn a two-year degree in brewing, fermentation and distillation), beer knowledge is deepening. (Also, don’t forget Appalachian State University’s on-campus brewery and degree program in brewing.)
South Slope as brewing destination: Some folks in Asheville think the South Slope of downtown should be called something like the Asheville Brewing District because of its concentration of local craft brewers. The addition of Hi-Wire Brewing on Hilliard Avenue and Burial Beer on Collier Avenue this year added to the locale, which already includes Green Man Brewing, Asheville Pizza & Brewing and Wicked Weed (in the general vicinity).
The west side of Asheville is holding its own with Wedge Brewing (in the River Arts District), Altamont Brewing and the addition this year of Oyster House Brewing at its own standalone location on Haywood. East Asheville has the venerable Highland Brewing (with Troy & Sons legal moonshine distillery right next door.) And south Asheville has the Thirsty Monk action. But the South Slope is hottest.
Beer City poll burnout: Asheville this year lost the title of Beer City USA, a crown bestowed by voters in an online poll run by beer guy Charlie Papazian. Asheville had won, or tied for first place, each of the past four years. The poll, while not scientific, certainly helped spread the word about Asheville’s burgeoning beer scene. But the lack of balloting on Asheville’s behalf appeared to signal that the city had outgrown the need for the title. Grand Rapids, Michigan, won the Beer City USA poll in 2013.
Cider and sake on the scene: As Asheville’s craft beer industry matured, other new brewing entrants arrived in the form of cider and sake. The Asheville area is now home to Black Mountain Ciderworks, McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks, Noble Hard Cider, and Urban Orchard Cider Co., as they serve up one of the coolest ways to use the many apples grown in our region.
Thirsty Monk expansion: The Thirsty Monk Belgian beer bar had its biggest year ever since opening in 2008 in downtown Asheville. Over the past 12 months, the Thirsty Monk opened a new speakeasy above its downtown location and a big new location at Biltmore Park complete with speakeasy and brewing operation, all while maintaining its existing downtown and south (Gerber Village) locations. The Monk also announced plans to open a north location at Reynolds Village. The Belgian beer concept is clearly one that is scaleable, and the Thirsty Monk has a strong brand known for delivering delicious food and drink in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Brew Pump shines: Here’s a shout-out to one of those only-in-Asheville beer concepts: The Brew Pump craft-beer-bar-in-a-gas-station. When I first started reporting about plans to open The Brew Pump inside the CitiStop convenience store and gas station on Haywood Road in West Asheville, few people took notice. But with its five taps of local craft beer, as well as expanded in-store offerings and a backyard space welcoming food truck foodies and neighborhood parties, the joint has been a hit. Congratulations to the locally owned CitiStop crew for hitting a home run with this concept.
Growler law change: A change in state law that was approved in 2013 allowed retailers to sell growlers (64 oz glass jugs) of beer. Before the law change, only breweries could fill and sell growlers. Now any retailer can take a shot at it, a move that has proven successful and popular in several others states around the U.S. Asheville Growler on Merrimon Avenue – Asheville’s first growler filling spot – faced delays when the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control crew was slow to adopt rules for sanitation and labeling rules but finally got opened.
Sierra Nevada begins to brew: This California-based craft brewer will be the next biggie to open an East Coast brewery in our area. The brewery operation is located in Mills River, in Henderson County just south of Asheville. Sierra Nevada recently started brewing beer at the location, but it is not yet open to the public. I have yet to see the location, but according to the plans that have been discussed, folks are saying Sierra Nevada is building the Disney World of breweries on 180 acres. Company officials have said their ideas for the site include everything from a large outdoor music venue to walking trails and boat access on the French Broad River. Mountain bikers dream about a bikeway/greenway connecting Mills River to Asheville.
New Belgium’s up-and-down year: Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing had a rollercoaster year in 2013. The company is planning to build a much-anticipated brewery on Craven Street in West Asheville. The location – an old livestock market – is technically in West Asheville, although it is just across the French Broad River from Asheville’s River Arts District. After two arson fires on the construction site, where New Belgium contractors were de-constructing buildings, company officials put the brakes on action there.
New Belgium folks said they were bringing the last remaining beer-making capacity available in Colorado online and thus didn’t need to build the Asheville brewery as soon as expected. The slowdown had many observers on the local beer scene openly questioning New Belgium’s commitment to opening the planned $140 million brewery. But New Belgium officials came back with a revised construction timeline that will bring an official groundbreaking in early 2014 and a likely opening date in late 2015 or early 2016.
Breweries we’re still waiting for: Twin Leaf Brewing; Catawba Brewing.
Other beer notables: A Green Man beer appeared in East Bound and Down; Catawba changed its branding and logo; Brewgrass in 2014 will have a new location in Asheville; Highland Brewing will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2014; Riverbend Malt House got a ton of attention in 2013 and is planning to expand in the new year; the Asheville Pubcycle his downtown streets to much fanfare.