Fall 2012 was a crazy time for Oskar Blues Brewery. Within 90 days of closing on its Brevard facility and becoming the first nationally distributed craft brewery with an East Coast hub in Western North Carolina, employees were brewing a batch of the company’s flagship Dale’s Pale Ale. Four years later, the brewery reflects on that whirlwind time and its many interim accomplishments with a party celebrating its “Brevardaversary” on Monday, Dec. 12.
Oskar Blues’ journey to Brevard begins with John Felty, who runs the town’s White Squirrel and Mountain Song festivals. He was also in the band Jupiter Coyote, which years ago played an Alabama restaurant where Dale Katechis tended bar. Felty and Katechis became friends, and on visits to Felty’s Brevard home, Katechis fell in love with the area and its mountain biking scene. During that time, Katechis founded Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colo., and built it into a national brand. In 2012, he started looking at how much beer was being shipped east of the Mississippi River — and not just shipped, but cold-shipped, a pricey venture over long distances, yet one that improves the beer’s quality.
“They could have expanded the Colorado brewery and made one large brewery, but it made sense to do what we’ve been doing. We were pretty good at having a medium-sized brewery, so why don’t we make another one of those?” says Aaron Baker, marketing manager of Oskar Blues Brewery North Carolina.
“Dale made the decision that if he was going to have to visit a place often and build sort of a new hometown for Oskar Blues, he wanted it to be in a place he liked to visit and had that culture he felt like we could absorb and could fit with what Oskar Blues already had going on,” says Baker. “A huge part of it is the mountain biking here and the proximity to Pisgah National Forest. You can ride straight from the brewery and be at the trail in five minutes, so it was mainly that, and we sort of worked everything else out as it came.”
Not all Brevard residents, however, were excited about having the brewery as a neighbor. Baker acknowledges that being a company from a faraway state inspired a healthy dose of skepticism from parts of the local community, but he feels that Oskar Blues has excelled at integrating into the Transylvania County scene from the beginning.
“A lot of that is due to local hiring. There were five original people that came out here from Colorado, and we’ve hired everybody else. Some people have come in regionally [and from] across the country, but a lot of people are also Brevard locals or from Asheville and Western North Carolina,” Baker says. “We’re up to [a staff of] 55 or so now, and we’ll probably be hiring 15 more production staff over the next couple of years.”
Oskar Blues’ nonprofit Can’d Aid Foundation has furthered the brewery’s impact in the community. Its collaborations include work with the local Boys and Girls Club and the Rise and Shine after-school program, the latter of which received between 30 and 40 bicycles built by Can’d Aid around the time of Oskar Blues’ Burning Can beer, music and sports festival in mid-July. The company’s response to recent natural disasters within the state has likewise helped spread its humanitarian interests.
“When Hurricane Matthew hit, we sent a truckload [of canned water] east pretty quickly after that happened — within a week, we had water on the road,” Baker says. At press time, efforts were also being made to get canned water to firefighters battling the wildfires plaguing Western North Carolina as well as dispatching the Oskar Blues food truck to feed those combating the flames.
All of those efforts and accomplishments and more will be feted at the anniversary party, which Baker calls a “very Brevard-focused event.” In addition to live music from funk and R&B band Soul Magnetics and a silent disco (a dance party where the music is broadcast to participants on wireless headphones) DJ’d by Asheville’s Nex Millen, Oskar Blues brewers are making a small-batch brown ale, using such local ingredients as honey, water from Looking Glass Falls and malt that was smoked with wood taken from a Bradford pear tree that fell down on the brewery’s property during a storm.
The Brevard brewery’s recent expansion and Oskar Blues’ continued growth suggest plenty more reasons to celebrate in the foreseeable future. In late summer, 17,000 square feet were added to the rear of the brewery, primarily for extra fermentation space to be used by 30 new 300-barrel tanks and a few new 300-barrel brite tanks. By the end of 2016, Baker expects the Brevard location’s total output to reach 95,000 barrels with a goal of 180,000 in 2017 and 200,000 shortly thereafter, allowing it to meet the East Coast demand of Oskar Blues’ 50-state distribution and that of such international markets as Australia.