Wicked Weed has made a name for itself in its first year in business: It was the first Asheville brewery to routinely keep two-dozen of its own beers on tap; the owners flew to Colorado and brewed with New Belgium; the brewery already has about 10,000 fans on Facebook; it hosted Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Mitch Steele of Stone; and the brewers brought back the first gold medal to Asheville from the Great American Beer Festiva — but more on that later. What was it like on the inside?
"It felt like being a dog on wood floors chasing a ball across the room,” says part-owner Luke Dickinson. “You can't catch your footing and you don’t want to slam into something, but you’re also excited and you want to enjoy the surroundings you’re flying by. … It's been the quickest, craziest year of our lives.”
Out of all the achievements and milestones, one thing stands out to the owners: Their business is a part of Asheville now. “That was our goal opening this place,” says part-owner and brewer Walt Dickinson. “The people here pushed us toward what we wanted to do, and their demand made us able to do it faster than we ever thought possible," says Walt.
While the brothers originally thought that some of the beer — in particular saisons and Belgian-inspired sour ales —would take some time to find drinkers in Asheville, it turned out that wasn’t the case. “When we opened, we had two saisons on tap. Those saisons sold the slowest by far. Then, three months after we opened, the saisons were the best-selling beers behind the IPAs. Something happened, very quickly, and people were drawn to these beers," says Luke.
A Sour Success
A similar success story has played out for Wicked Weed’s wild and sour ales (the ones now labeled on the chalkboard as “From the Funkatorium.”) Originally, the brothers thought the craft beer drinkers would be the biggest fans. Then they brewed Black Angel, a dark sour ale with cherries.
“We brewed that beer and we never thought it would be the one to bridge the gap [to nonbeer drinkers],” says Walt. But we knew it was special when we had women in their 60s — the ones who usually would be upstairs drinking wine — waiting to come downstairs and drink Dark Angel. That was huge for us.”
If wine-drinkers choosing beer was a huge victory, Wicked Weed scored a superhuge victory on what is arguably the biggest stage for craft beer: the Great American Beer Festival. At the festival, another one of its sour beers, Serenity, took home gold against American brewing legends Russian River Brewing and Crooked Stave Artisan Ales.
"When Crooked Stave was announced for third place, I thought we were out of the running," says Walt. “And it was probably only a second later, but when Wicked Weed popped up, we lost sense of time. … We had seven people there and we were laughing and crying and hugging and kissing each other, because it's our first medal," says Luke. It was also the first gold medal for Asheville as a city.
With the success in sours, it’s no surprise that next year’s plans involve bottling and distributing them for the first time. There’s currently no date, but a bottling line has been purchased, and beer drinkers can expect to see beers like Black Angel and Serenity in large bottles (close to 22-ounce bombers in size) in early 2014.
The plan is not citywide or nationwide domination — at least not next year. According to Luke and Walt, they just want to share some of their beer with the rest of North Carolina. A few more kegs may also leave the brewery in the year ahead, but the focus will remain firmly on the brewpub.
"Even if we could produce more beer, that's not who we are or what we do,” says Walt. “We've been keeping 25 beers on tap for a while now. Our goal is to keep that or push that even further. Next year, we want to dig in to our recipes and make them as good as they can be. Those are the things we're working on.”