In November, Paste magazine published an article titled, “10 Fiercely Local Beers That Define Their Region.” Alongside Yuengling of Pottsville, Pa., and Russian River of Santa Clara, Calif., sat Black Mountain’s Pisgah Pale.
It’s hard to argue with that. While Highland Gaelic dominates malty ambers, and numerous local breweries fight to make the best IPA, Pisgah has won over the beer drinkers of Asheville with its pale ale. Yet until now, the only way to enjoy Pisgah Pale at home was to buy a growler (or a keg if you’re really thirsty). That may be OK for some, but most prefer bottles or cans.
In addition to Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, local brewers already in cans include Asheville Brewing, French Broad and Catawba. “Cans are the most sustainable package you can put out there that doesn’t come back to the brewery,” says Benton Wharton, the public relations director for Pisgah Brewing. “They were an easy choice for us. … They’re accessible, and they go many places [bottles can’t].”
So Pisgah made the decision to launch Pisgah Pale in cans, with one or two additional styles likely to be added down the road (probably Summer Ale and Grey Beard IPA, according to Wharton). The first Pisgah cans should be available at limited locations around town next week. Local bottle shops, as well as Ingles, Earth Fare and Greenlife, will get the cans first with other accounts to follow. “The cans will eventually be in the go-to places where people shop. It’s not going to be in every gas station, but we want it to be easy,” says Wharton.
Ready for the Demand
Many were pleasantly surprised when Pisgah made the announcement; for years, the brewery has had trouble keeping up with demand. Running out of pale ale wasn’t a matter of what if, but when. According to Wharton, that all changed in September, when the brewery completed a major expansion. The brewhouse itself remains the same — each batch is 10 barrels in size. However, Pisgah has expanded the number of tanks from eight to 15 and made a number of other improvements.
“My joke when I did the tour used to be that we’re actually a glorified homebrewer’s playground,” says Wharton. “But now we’re changing some of that [manual labor]. For example, we have equipment so the brewers finally don’t have to lift all the grain for each batch themselves.”
The brewery also scaled back distribution to better serve its core markets. “Unfortunately, we had to pull out of Charlotte due to the increase in demand even closer to the brewery. … We made the decision to prioritize our stronghold.”
The Organic Issue
The other big change for Pisgah happened earlier in 2013, but the root of it goes all the way back to 2009.
It used to be that brewers could label their beers organic even if the hops were conventionally grown since there wasn’t enough organic supply. But based on the number of registered farms in 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was confident that by spring of 2013 there would be enough organic hops available so that breweries would no longer need the exemption.
“For us, that would mean getting the hops we need is more difficult. … We’d run into hops shortages and have less selection. And there’s no guarantee the supply can keep up with our demand,” says Wharton.
So Pisgah chose to keep its recipes unchanged, with organic malt and whole-leaf (but nonorganic) hops, and drop the seal instead. “Our choice of ingredients was never for marketing,” says Wharton. “We do it because we believe in it ethically. We spend more for our ingredients because we think it makes better beer.”
Photo by Alicia Funderburk