Greening the hill: Greenman Brewery quietly takes over

Buxton Hill Bitter: Dirty Jack’s is the only place you can get this little brother to the ESB, which bears the neighborhood’s historic name. Photo by Max Cooper

If you drove down Buxton Avenue two months ago, you would have to keepsearch for the entrance to Greenman Brewery’s tasting room. Now almost half of the Buxton block is painted in shades of green. There’s no missing it.

While we were all paying attention to the grand openings of Oskar Blues and Wicked Weed, Greenman quietly acquired four lots, two buildings and enough equipment to double the production of its core beers.

“This represents a very significant investment,” said owner Dennis Thies. “Last year, 2012, was really a year of putting the golf ball on the tee. Getting the clubs ready. Now we have the ability to swing.”

Greenman has been around for 16 years, and growing very slowly for much of that time. That changed to rapid growth when Thies took control. “In a nutshell, what’s happened for our brewery has been pretty special. We were probably 700 barrels the year I bought Greenman (2009). It was the stepchild of a restaurant,” said Thies. “Then last year we about doubled our production from 2011 … we hit 2,800 barrels. We’re really appreciative of Asheville for the support that made it possible.”

With the expansion, they can now produce 6,500 barrels in 2013. Just as important, the buildings give Greenman a secure base on Buxton, no matter how quickly the neighborhood develops. And for the first time in years the company has the ability to move in a few new directions.

Creating new beers

As the new brewery (aka the “East” brewery) takes over production of the flagship beers, the “West” brewery behind the tasting room will become the brewers’ playground. It will exclusively produce small-batch beers to put on tap at Dirty Jack’s and select accounts around town.

“We’ll have a few different directions,” said brewer Mike Karnowski. “We definitely want to bring out some authentic British and American beers, things like an 1870s Burton Ale and an old-school Mild. We’ll do traditional American and European lagers, too. Hardly anyone is doing German- and Czech-style lagers in North Carolina, so we’re excited about that.”

The first new beers are already available at the tasting room. There’s Schadenfreude, a very sour Berliner Weisse that’s already sold out in bottles. 828 Pale Ale and Buxton Hill Bitter are also both on tap (and tap only). The bitter is a little brother to the Greenman ESB, making it a fitting beer to carry the Buxton Hill name. It’s just 4.2 percent ABV, but it packs plenty of that signature Greenman malt flavor.

Coming down the pipeline soon are Rainmaker, a 9.3 percent ABV Imperial IPA with pounds of Centennial, Citra and other American hops, and Lemmy, a dark and strong British Winter Warmer.

Starting-up six packs

“Six packs are one of the things I’m most excited about,” said Thies. And rightly so. For the first time in its 16-year history, Greenman will be selling six packs of their ESB, IPA and Porter — maybe as soon as spring.

They will be available first at “independents … the places that have always supported us,” according to Thies. Though he added they hope to eventually see distribution through grocery channels as well, including Earth Fare, Whole Foods and Ingles.

Specialty beers will also see wider distribution in bottles. In the past, 750-milliliter releases of beers like Dweller Imperial Stout and Maceo, a sour brown aged on cherries, were limited to about 150 bottles — blink and you missed them. In the future, most releases will come closer to 500 bottles. It’s still a small run, but good news for fans of Greenman’s creative side.

Exploring barrels and sours

Barrel-aged beers and sour beers are still few and far between for Asheville area breweries. Along with the newly opened Wicked Weed Brewing, Greenman has plans to change that. Part of the new space is already dedicated to barrel aging both clean and sour beers.

“We have wine barrels from Biltmore Estate and whiskey barrels from Finger Lakes Distillery we’re using right now,” said Karnowski. “We’re finishing up Dweller and we’re starting a new batch of Maceo soon.” There will be plenty of new recipes hitting barrels in 2013, too. 

So what’s the best way to keep on top of goings-on at Greenman? You can find some of it at: Facebook.com/GreenManBrewery. However, according to Thies, “We really like to share with folks that come around. Just drop by our tasting room and have a pint.”

You won’t have any trouble finding it.

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