Go west, young (and old) brew lovers, to quaff the beers created by brew master Chris Collier, who hopes to open Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City this spring.
Collier’s currently mixing test batches for family and friends, but if you show your thirsty face at Across the Trax (the bar next door) in the next few months, you might score a taste of what’s coming when the newest micro-brewery west of Asheville opens (of course, there’s the obstacle of that damn rock slide, but while we wait for clear roads, we can salivate in anticipation).
Atlanta-based home brewer and certified beer judge Collier and his wife, Christina, (also a CBJ) visited Bryson City during a motorcycle trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway in June 2008. There they met Mike Marsden, owner of local bar and restaurant, Across the Trax. During the next few hours, the threesome birthed a brewery. Or at least plans for one.
Fast-forward a year and a half, add in partners Joe Rowland and Ken Smith, and Nantahala Brewing’s much more than just ideas scribbled on cocktail napkins. Now there are beer pours on the way.
Collier purchased his brewing system from R.J. Rockers in Spartanburg, S.C., when that brewery expanded. The equipment didn’t arrive until September, so Collier’s been commuting between Atlanta and Bryson City while setting up the 10-barrel system in a huge Quonset hut that once stored the Tennessee Valley Authority’s machinery when Fontana Lake dam was being built.
Collier’s been mixing test batches of beer for months. “The water in Bryson is so pure that the mineral count is non-existent. I’m playing with the water and mineral mix to figure out which beers will work best,” Collier says.
He says his first beers most likely will be an IPA and a Stout. He also wants to brew a Czech-style Pilsner, noting that the water in Bryson is remarkably similar to the pure waters of Prague. Collier also looks forward to having “the luxury of making lagers.” Lagers need to age longer than most other beers, so he’s hoping to get one in the tanks this winter that’ll be ready to drink in the spring.
Nantahala Brewing Company’s first customer will be neighbor and partner Marsden’s bar, Across the Trax, though a taproom inside the brewery is part of the plan as well. Collier notes that the locale, just across from Bryson’s train station platform, gives the brewery excellent visibility. After all, who doesn’t want to hop off a train and wet their dusty whistle with a damn good beer?
Nantahala eventually plans to self-distribute draught beer within a 45-mile radius of Bryson, including throughout the towns of Franklin, Highlands, and Sylva.
Collier thinks Bryson City’s poised for growth. Asheville’s microbrewery explosion has proven that tourists plus residents committed to buying local can support a lot of craft beer sales. In fact, two other breweries are in the planning stages in the far west, looking to the success of Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva. That brewery recently celebrated its five-year anniversary.
We’ll be keeping an eye on Nantahala, as well as up-and-coming Tuskaseegee Brewing Cooperative in Sylva and Pot Licker Brewing Company in Haywood County.
Because, as the tag line on Nantahala’s Web site reads, “Water is for quitters.”