wicked_weed_new_logo_2014By Cliff Mori

2014 is shaping up to be a huge year for Asheville breweries. Over the past few months, Highland, Green Man, Hi-Wire, Burial Beer, Brevard Brewing, Catawba and Lookout have all announced expansion plans to meet with current demand and to prepare for what is expected to be a huge influx of new beer tourists. I’ve heard many people comment that the list of Asheville breweries NOT expanding is shorter than the list of those who are. Today one of Asheville’s hottest breweries announced huge plans for the future.

Wicked Weed Brewing will build a 40,000 barrel a year production facility in Enka-Candler and begin packaging its beers for sale outside of the Asheville area. This is the second expansion for the brewery this year, as their “Funkatorium” barrel aging facility and tasting room on Coxe Avenue is currently under construction and should be open for business later this year.

Since Wicked Weed’s opening in 2012, the brewery has garnered national attention for its beers, including a Gold Medal win at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last year for “Serenity,” an all Brettanomyces fermented “wild” ale. The brewery’s first year demand far exceeded initial estimates, as Wicked Weed produced 2700 barrels, 1500 more than anticipated. As a member of the opening team at Wicked Weed, I was regularly asked when the brewery’s beers would be available in bottles, and when those bottles would be sold outside of the Asheville area. Earlier this year, Wicked Weed began packaging some of its specialty barrel-aged beers in 500mL mini champagne bottles, though distribution has continued to remain limited to a few select accounts throughout North Carolina. With the new facility, that distribution footprint will be significantly increased.

A production facility was always part of the long-term plan for Wicked Weed. The brewery is known for innovation, and patrons of Wicked Weed’s Biltmore Avenue location can expect upwards of 25 different beers each time they visit. Perhaps even more impressive is that if they come back two months later, they will very likely see a DIFFERENT 25 on offer. Brothers, owners, and brewers Luke and Walt Dickinson didn’t want to have to sacrifice that creativity by rushing to package their beers. Many small breweries get pigeon-holed into only producing four or five products once they start bottling, as they suddenly have obligations to retail accounts to have available product. With a separate production facility to crank out the brewery’s core products, the Biltmore Avenue location can continue to experiment.

The production facility itself will be located in Enka near the site of New Belgium’s new distribution facility. An existing building was selected, which will allow Wicked Weed to get the facility up and running much quicker than if they chose to build something new. A 30 barrel brewhouse will feed 60 and 90 barrel fermenters, though the building will accommodate a much bigger brewhouse when the time comes. By year two, Wicked Weed expects to produce over 20,000 barrels per year. For reference, Asheville’s largest locally owned brewery, Highland Brewing, produced roughly 50,000 barrels last year and distributed that beer to nine states. According to co-owner and sales director Ryan Guthy, one of the first beers to roll off the line will likely be 22oz bottles of Freak of Nature, a Double IPA considered to be Wicked Weed’s flagship beer. Further plans involve a canning line.

Ryan told me that growth beyond 25,000 barrels a year will largely depend on legislation in North Carolina. Wicked Weed intends to self-distribute its beer for as long as possible. Currently, breweries producing in excess of 25,000 barrels a year are legally required to enlist an independent distributor to sell their product. Many breweries, including Wicked Weed, see this as a sort of cap. Distributors don’t work for free and breweries have to produce significantly more beer just to maintain the same profits. The new building is capable of housing equipment to produce 100,000 barrels each year, if the brewery chooses to expand further. Should Wicked Weed self-distribute 25,000 barrels of beer each year, dozens of jobs will be created including truck drivers, sales reps, administrative staff, and warehouse personnel. Additional brewers and support staff will also be needed to make all that beer.

If everything goes according to plan, the new facility will be up and running in the first half of next year. Ryan and his sales team have already been hard at work establishing accounts throughout the state at specialty retailers. With 20,000 barrels of product to sell, they’re going to be busy.

UPDATE: A few more details: the production facility will be a $5 million investment on Wicked Weed’s part, Guthy said Friday night. The building is actually owned by Buncombe County (it’s off Sandhill Road). The county gave Wicked Weed a lease-to-own deal on the building, according to David Gantt, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

The company expects to add 80 jobs, according to Guthy.

RECENT POSTS

24 Comments

  1. To Luther: I’m not sure what Er no… meant. To illustrate my point here are few ratings from ratebeer:
    Wicked Weed Black Angel Cherry Sour 97
    Wicked Weed Dark Age Bourbon Stout 98
    Wicked Weed Freak Of Nature Double IPA 99
    Wicked Weed Genesis Blonde Sour 96
    Wicked Weed Hop Burglar IPA 96
    That’s in addition to their gold medal win at GABF last fall, something that is virtually unheard of for a first year brewery.
    And of course, there were others with scores that rank them among the best in the world. Now, they’ve made a ton of different beers and they’re obviously not all going to be home runs, but they have established a reputation that should serve them well in their expansion. Again, as I said above, they have used their tools well.
    To your second point, twenty somethings are the people who buy craft beer. That’s who you want to target with your brand. And they are interested in the more unusual beers. That’s how you make money. Here’s an article breaking that down for you:
    http://inthecapital.streetwise.co/2013/03/27/dissecting-the-craft-beer-consumer-a-look-at-what-an-awesome-beer-drinker-looks-like/
    So, I stand by the fact that they make beers that are ranked among the best in the world. Also, you can see that not all of those beers were unusual barrel aged offerings as you claim are the only ones beer spotters are interested in. Though, if you check out that article you’ll find that those very unusual beers are what most craft drinkers (the ones who are actually spending money on craft beer) say they are interested in buying. I agree that scaling to a larger operation presents challenges both in perceived exclusivity and actual consistency of product, but I’m not sure your comment takes into account the industry they’re in and how they’ve worked at positioning themselves.

  2. The Blunder Years says:

    Obviously it’s easier to “make it” when you have partners with deep pockets, and there’s no doubt they wouldn’t be expanding to this level without that capital upfront or secured against a loan, but at the end of the day these guys have lived up to the big expectations their financial head-start gave them. Exceeded them, really.

    They are easily producing the best beer in Asheville right now and setting a new standard for quality. Who cares where the money came from? I wish I were lucky enough to be connected that well and start and expand my dream business. Better for Asheville that big money was used by quality people to establish a brewery that adds to the town’s beer ethos, rather than diminish it (remember Craggie?).

    • Right! Rich people investing in talent is a good thing.
      Craggie actually made me like beer less in general. That god-awful Christmas brew was some of the only free beer I have ever turned down.

  3. Someone finally made it on their own? Umm, Oscar Wong and Mike Rangel say “hello”.

    • ashevillain says:

      Yep. Those guys did it too, albeit on a smaller scale. Kudos to them.

      If I understand this news release correctly though, WW will be able to potentially brew as much beer as both of those breweries combined.

      A rising tide lifts all boats.

      • Rising tide lifts all boats, true. But when that tide recedes, smaller boats don’t make the journey. There is going to be a backlash from all of this, I just don’t know when or what. But so what if they brew more than those two combined. Those two have been doing it for close to 40 years combined and have quite a few tasty beers(gold medal for Ninja Porter, btw). People buy from people and as far as Asheville goes, those 2 breweries will continue to thrive because they’ve been a part of the community for so long and also give back. Making a great beer on a small scale is one thing. Making that same great beer on a larger scale is a bigger challenge that WW may think. Plus, dealing with a distributor presents other challenges that only experience can teach you. I’m thrilled for WW but they don’t define the beer scene in WNC.

  4. ashevillain says:

    It’s nice that they’re doing this without any public money. Someone made it on their own in this state, for a change. Kudos!

    • Yes, their own money. Cough proactive cough

    • Wicked Weed was built and financed by their friend’s rich father. Is that “making it”?

      • ashevillain says:

        Yes. I don’t really care where the financing came from…friend’s rich father? bank? kickstarter? Warren Buffet?

        It wasn’t taxpayer funded! That’s the point!

          • ashevillain says:

            Example of what?

          • uh, example of your argument of a taxpayer funded business?

          • ashevillain says:

            New Belgium. Sierra Nevada. Linamar.

            All 3 received public money to subsidize their new facilities in NC.

          • ashevillain says:

            And for the record, I’m not making any “argument of a taxpayer funded business.”

            These businesses are receiving subsidies. Fact. However, you won’t find me arguing one way or the other about the ramifications of that fact. Don’t mistake me for Tim Peck.

            All I’m saying is KUDOS to Wicked Weed for not going that route.

    • Yeah, Wicked Weed rightfully deserves a hell of a lot of credit for everything they are accomplishing.

      But… While most the other breweries are starting at the bottom of a hill with a big damn boulder to push up it, they started at the top of the hill with a big push down. Momentum is a nice sidekick.

      • One of the harsh realities of business ownership is the need for resources at the beginning (meaning first 5-10 years). By “resources”, I mean money and connections.

        It is misguided for us to think that the american dream is to start with nothing but a good idea and become profitable quickly.

        • It’s really not the discussion here, JT, and it appears you’re missing the point. Ashevillain was giving kudos to Wicked Weed for not using public financing and for them “[making] on their own in this state for a change”. My initial response questioned if having someone with a lot of money financing your start-up business should be considered making it. For example, if Sam Walton decided he was going to finance me and a few friends to open a business downtown (money, connections, and a stout 5-10 yr plan), and costs aren’t an issue, I’m pretty sure we’d do alright doing whatever we wanted. So while my friends and I are now high-rolling, opening up 2nd and 3rd businesses in town, loving every tourist dollar, should we then be getting kudos for not using public money and “making it” on our own? That’s the point, JT. It seems misguided to think that deserves kudos.

          • What’s different here is that Wicked Weed has used that money to make award winning beers that are getting national attention. Yes, of course the resources of their investment partner helped them get to where they are faster than if they didn’t have those tools, but they have used them as tools, not as the reason for their success. If you go on any of the beer rating websites, you will find Wicked Weed’s products ranked among the best in the world. Money didn’t do that for them. You can give a lousy cook a great commercial kitchen to work in and a beautiful dining room to serve his customers, but if he’s a lousy cook the product will still be lousy, despite how expensive his knives are. For these guys, it has been the perfect partnership of great talent and an investor who saw the potential in them and is probably getting an awesome return. Luke and Walt and the gang are great at making beer, and the Guthys are great at business. Nothing wrong with teaming up, in my mind. I can understand the frustrations of small business owners who are doing an amazing job but can’t find the capital to grow, but to try to take someone down a peg because they have those tools doesn’t seem fair when they’re using them to do great things.

          • Cliff gets what I was trying to say. It takes talent AND resources.
            My point is that NOBODY “makes it on their own” in the world of business. I think we agree there, Leo.

          • luther blissett says:

            If you go on any of the beer rating websites, you will find Wicked Weed’s products ranked among the best in the world.

            Er, no. Beer Advocate and RateBeer are very obviously skewed towards beer-spotters who seek out and write reviews of limited edition trough-aged imperial dingleberry sour ales. If it’s 12% ABV with a catchy name and served in a silver thimble, then it’s a 98 on those sites before anyone’s tasted it.

            http://beergraphs.com/leaderboards/?s-bar=-1

            But I will admit that WW has a very good marketing / PR operation in the national media and has got its outreach to twentysomethings down pat. Let’s see if they can scale, and if the beer-spotters then decide that they’re corporate sellouts because you don’t have to fight to the death to claim a bottle and post the first review.

    • Re; your last post- you mean you’re not Tim Peck?

      You post like it.

      • Outing ashevillian as a ‘let the free market decide’.

        Free Market capitalism is like communism. Both work well in theory, but not so well in reality.

      • ashevillain says:

        I agree with a lot of your posts, but you are way off base with this one, guy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*