Earth is being 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 new WNC 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, including restaurants and smaller craft breweries.
The community's response to these efforts, according to Trey Wheeler, has been encouraging. Wheeler is New Belgium's North and South Carolina “Beer Ranger,” managing area sales, staff education and accounts. As New Belgium's “first employee with an Asheville address,” Wheeler has been very hands on with creating the company's local partnerships, including a Feb. 5 beer dinner with popular River Arts District bar and restaurant The Junction that sold out within days of its announcement via email and social media.
“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 most of the 60 or so tickets for the Feb. 5 event were sold simply by word of mouth with their 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 hand-in-hand with them a lot in the future. It would be foolish not to partner with them, considering all they do [for the community].”
Almost as soon as New Belgium announced plans to locate a second brewery, warehouse and tasting room in Asheville in the spring of 2012, the craft-brewing giant began making inroads with the local community. It immediately partnered with RiverLink to sponsor their first RiverMUSIC concert series in the River Arts District that summer, and got a bit more intimate that fall, hosting beer dinners at local dining spots including Sunny Point Café and Brixx.
Wheeler says other partnership schemes are currently underway, 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 around Feb. 20, according to Wheeler). Near the end of February, New Belgium brewer Matt Gilliland will fly to Asheville to complete the exchange with a brewing go-around on Wicked Weed's system.
Wheeler also mentions that New Belgium has 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 a 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.”