If you get up every morning and drive an hour to work, you have a good idea what it’s been like to work in sales or deliveries for Catawba Brewing. For the past 15 years, Catawba has been driving thousands of barrels of beer from its brewery in Morganton to Asheville, the company’s largest territory since day one.
Two years ago, the company started trying in earnest to secure an Asheville site for a satellite brewery, tasting room and storage space. For the past year, Catawba’s owners thought that site would be 2 Fairview Road on the edge of Biltmore Village. “We tried very hard for that whole time to throw money, design changes and anything we could at [the site], but we just couldn’t make it work,” says Billy Pyatt, co-owner of Catawba Brewing.
He says the initial plan, to rehab the property’s existing structure, was the best decision financially for Catawba. However, the city never agreed with the construction company on how Catawba could resolve existing issues with the site. “I have no idea what the city approved or didn’t approve,” says Pyatt. “But our permits to move forward with the building were never issued.”
While Pyatt says the city was just doing its job to ensure safety and proper permitting for a building that sits in a flood plain and is affected by Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations, the fact remained that neither rehabbing the existing building nor a new building on the same site would be possible — at least not without going over budget by more than a quarter-million dollars.
A Temporary Tasting Room
For the past six months, Catawba has been moving ahead as best it can. The company has an entire brewing system assembled and ready to go. It has also rented space in Asheville for storage and a small tasting room at 63 Brook St. — also on the edge of Biltmore Village.
“We’ve been using our space there as both storage space and a taproom,” says Pyatt. “Sure, we needed the space …. but in four or five months of running the taproom, we’ve developed a deeper following than we ever had in our  years in Asheville. … Just having the footprint has made a huge difference.”
In fact, the neighborhood response has been so positive, Pyatt says that in lieu of Catawba building its brewery in Biltmore Village, he plans to keep the tasting room there open as long as possible. “That building will eventually be torn down,” says Pyatt, “but pending what the owners of the building want to do, we’ll keep it open as long as we can.”
Heading to the South Slope
Now, almost two years after Catawba initially announced its plans for an Asheville brewery, the company has finally found an alternate new home that will work: 32 Banks Ave. “We just fell in love with it,” says Pyatt. “It’s a large, open space. … We can see a lot of potential.”
While core beers such as Firewater IPA and Farmer Ted’s Cream Ale will still be produced in Morganton, the plan is to brew a handful of specialty beers on-site. Part of the team’s strategy is to barrel-age much more beer in whiskey, tequila, rum and wine barrels than it currently does in Morganton. “We barrel-aged our first beer, our IPA, about a dozen years ago,” says Pyatt. “We’re currently doing a few beers that way — including Hooligan and Brown Bear — but we’re excited to do more of that.”
Pyatt says the new taproom will feature two bars, one of which will exist inside that barrel-aging room. “We think having two bars will help us better serve the indoor and outdoor area, since the back bar will open to the deck,” he explains. “But we also see that back room as a place where we can host groups and events. We want it to be the special bar with the beers that aren’t available anywhere else.”
Tours, both self-guided and hosted by Catawba, will also be part of the experience. “We want the brewery here to be like the Blue Ridge Parkway,” says Pyatt. “We’ll have placards so you can tell what’s going on where if you want to walk around.” According to Pyatt, there will also be programs that go beyond tours, including the ability to come in with a group and brew a custom beer. “It will be like a mini [Sierra Nevada] Beer Camp,” says Pyatt. “You’ll be able to visit one weekend and design a beer and make it … and then a few weeks later you can come back in and you get to try that beer.”
The shell of the building will be finished by September, and Pyatt says that if all goes as planned, Catawba hopes to open its new location later in the fall.