Earth is being moved (and moved and moved ) at New Belgium Brewing’s Craven Street construction site as the Fort Collins, Colo.-based company prepares to finally begin construction on its Asheville facility. As progress is made on the physical aspects of New Belgium’s North Carolina presence, the company, long-known for its community-minded initiatives, is also steadily working on building a less tangible structure: a network of partnerships with local businesses and organizations.
New Belgium’s Clips of Faith film tour program has supported Asheville on Bikes since 2010, and the summer after the craft-brewing giant announced plans to locate a second brewery, warehouse and tasting room in Asheville in the spring of 2012, the company partnered with RiverLink to sponsor the first RiverMUSIC concert series in the River Arts District. That fall New Belgium got a bit more intimate, hosting beer dinners at local dining spots including Sunny Point Café and Brixx, and it has continued to reach out to local eateries, as well as to smaller craft breweries. Most recently, the brewery partnered with popular River Arts District restaurant and bar The Junction for a Feb. 5 dinner with New Belgium beer pairings that sold out within days of its announcement via email and social media.
The dinner featured five inventive dishes by The Junction Chef Chad Kelly paired with six New Belgium brews, including many hard-to-find varieties from the brewery’s Lips of Faith series. According to The Junction co-owner Tanya Triber, New Belgium staff members not only actively helped with the planning of the dinner, but have been working at forming relationships with The Junction and other River Arts District restaurants since the company decided to move to the neighborhood.
“Trey’s been coming around regularly since day one,” says Triber, referring to Trey Wheeler, New Belgium’s North and South Carolina “Beer Ranger,” who manages area sales, staff education and accounts. “They’ve been getting to know us; working with us. They don’t have to do that; they could have just landed [in the neighborhood].”
As New Belgium’s “first employee with an Asheville address,” Wheeler has been hands on from the beginning with building the company’s local relationships. And he says the community has mostly welcomed these efforts. “It’s amazing to have that kind of reception,” says Wheeler. “The general overall consensus [about New Belgium coming to Asheville] has been positive, and there are a lot of good opportunities for partnerships here.”
Courtney Foster, The Junction’s bar manager, says many of the 60 or so tickets for the Feb. 5 event were sold simply through word of mouth with customers. The Junction’s staff and owners planned the dinner as a way to celebrate New Belgium coming to the neighborhood, says Foster, who is familiar with the brewery and their community-building efforts from having lived for several years in Fort Collins.
“They are our neighbors down the street,” says Foster. “I definitely see us working with them a lot in the future. It would be foolish not to partner with them, considering all they do [for the community].”
Wheeler says plenty of other partnership schemes are afoot, such as a brewing collaboration with Wicked Weed Brewing that involved flying that brewery’s owners, Walt and Luke Dickinson, to Fort Collins to craft 10 kegs of a Brett IPA on New Belgium’s system. (Those kegs are due to be tapped at Wicked Weed near the end of February, according to Wheeler.) In the coming weeks, New Belgium brewer Matt Gilliland will fly to Asheville to complete the exchange with a turn brewing on Wicked Weed’s system.
Wheeler also mentions that New Belgium contracted Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House to provide products for RyePA, a New Belgium Hop Kitchen offering that will be released in Western North Carolina at the end of this month and nationally in early March.
“They’ve kept the pedal to the floor to produce enough malt for that batch,” Wheeler says. He notes that Low Down food truck owner Nate Kelly has been enlisted to cook for the RyePA release party.
As for projects yet to come, Wheeler says details are sketchy at this point, but there are plans in the works for collaboration this spring or summer with Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder chef Mike Moore that “promises a unique beer-pairing concept.”
“We have a great beer community here,” says Wheeler. “It’s all about getting together to support craft beer. I’m sure there are many new ideas brewing.”