It’s easy to let brewery openings big and small grab your attention. Here in Asheville, we have a lot of that going on. But when Foothills Brewing made an announcement last week that it was taking the next step in its expansion, I had to read it twice: a 72 percent increase in capacity? Turns out it wasn’t a typo.
Foothills is the Winston-Salem-based maker of popular beers like Hoppyum IPA, Torch Pilsner and People’s Porter. If you’ve ever had a Cottonwood Endo IPA or a Carolina Blond, that’s made by Foothills, too.
Just a few days ago, the company received the first of four 200-barrel fermentation vessels. The additional equipment is no small purchase. It takes Foothills from 13,000 barrels last year (about the size of Green Man) to a capacity of 40,000 barrels (which is more than Highland).
“We need this equipment to keep up with demand for Foothills beer. … Right now we’re having to use the brewpub [in addition to the main brewing facility] to keep up,” says Jamie Bartholomaus, president and brewmaster of Foothills.
While it might come as a surprise to some, those who have been paying attention to Foothills saw this coming. A little over a year ago, the company moved from downtown Winston-Salem to a facility in south Winston-Salem that’s about 50,000 square feet. Even at the time, the ambitious move to prepare for the future made sense. Since 2004, when Foothills began brewing, it has won numerous awards — including seven Great American Beer Festival medals and three World Cup Beer medals. Even more impressive: Foothills is one of two North Carolina Breweries in the Ratebeer Top 100 Breweries in the World for 2012 (the other is Duck Rabbit out of Farmville).
In addition to quality beer, a recent move from self-distribution to wholesale distribution is spurring the growth (Foothills went with Empire Distributors for the Asheville area). But despite the astonishing scope of this expansion, and despite the change to the sales-side of things, Bartholomaus says North Carolina will remain the hometown market, and Asheville will also stay important.
Head Brewer T.L. Adkisson put it this way: “Asheville is a very beer-savvy market. Regardless of your goals as a company and as a brewer, you just want to have a presence there. We’ve been very fortunate that Asheville has embraced us like they have. It’s two hours away but they’ve made us feel ‘psuedo-local.’”
To that end, Foothills hopes to do a better job getting both bottles and draft beer to WNC markets, noting that better draft service for outlying markets like Brevard, Sylva, and Cherokee is a priority. They are also looking further afield to Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia as possible new territories for Foothills beer.
There are exciting developments in the works on the liquid side as well. The new tanks will give the brewers at Foothills an opportunity to work on creative new beers. And new beers from the folks that make seasonals like Sexual Chocolate and India Brown Ale is a very good thing. “Our additional capacity should alleviate the need to brew production beers at the brewpub, and let it become our ‘playground.’ We should be able to come up with some new and exciting things,” says Bartholomaus.
Adkisson added, “It’s no secret there’s a love of IPAs around here. We’re looking forward to additional offerings of that style in both draft and bottle. Eventually we want to bottle Jade, one of our most popular IPAs, and this should help us move toward that. … We’d also love to do higher gravity lagers that take a while to age: Doppelbocks, an India Pale lager, and other stuff we just don’t have time to do now.”
Last but not least, they hope to release 12-packs of select beers as early as this summer. Likely candidates already in bottles include Torch Pilsner, Carolina Blonde, and Hoppyum IPA, though nothing has been released yet.