At 18 months old, most toddlers are able to say a handful of words. Wicked Weed just needed two as it celebrated its own 18-month anniversary: massive expansion.
While most beer lovers already knew the Funkatorium — a sour-beer production facility and tasting room — was on the way, Wicked Weed surprised everyone by announcing an even more ambitious master plan that includes a 40,000-square-foot production facility outside of town. The brewery owners say the space will eventually enable them to brew about 50,000 barrels of beer per year. That would put them on par with Highland Brewing Co.’s current production — and Highland is now celebrating its 20th anniversary (in years, not months).
The Production Facility
The large building that Wicked Weed plans to use is owned by the county and located in Enka Commerce Park off Sand Hill Road. That’s also where New Belgium will have its own distribution center — the two businesses could practically use tin cans and string as means of communication.
The building will be purchased in a lease-to-own arrangement with the county, says David Gantt, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Rick Guthy, one of the owners of Wicked Weed, says the expansion will add 80 or more new jobs, and the total investment will be in the $5 million range. (The company already employs approximately 150 people.)
The brewhouse in the new facility will be 30 barrels, but with the right supplementary tanks and schedules, the brewery will maximize its capacity. Brewing is expected to be underway by fall 2015, and the first order of business will likely be bottles of Freak Imperial IPA, which is the closest thing Wicked Weed has to a flagship brew, according to the brewery. Plans down the line may include canning as well.
One interesting component of the expansion announcement is that Wicked Weed plans to continue self-distributing its beer. That means while its ability to send beer across the state — and across state lines — will grow exponentially, the owners do not plan to use one of the major beer distributors to get the beer to accounts. Currently, the largest brewer in the area that self-distributes is Pisgah Brewing, and its distribution is largely limited to Buncombe County.
Guthy also mentioned that the site will have a tasting room and is large enough to host concerts and other entertainment, although the ownership does not yet have concrete plans for things like a stage.
The production facility will not be online until 2015, but the Funkatorium will provide plenty of excitement in the meantime.
In a nutshell, the Funkatorium will have two roles. First, it gives the company the ability to house roughly 1,000 bourbon, wine, gin, rum and other spirit barrels that it uses to age some of its most popular beers. Second, it will have a small tasting room that focuses on these sour and barrel-aged beers.
In larger beer cities, such as Portland, Ore., it’s not unusual to stop by a tasting room and sample a half dozen sour or barrel-aged beers. It’s also possible to order bottles of beer that have been aged by the brewery for a couple of years or more. However, in Asheville, the Funkatorium will be the first tasting room that offers all of the above.
“Wicked Weed’s sour program was deeply ingrained in who we would be as a brewery even before our inception,” says Abby Dickinson, the company’s communications director. “Our first batches were crafted and barrel-aged months before our doors ever opened.”
The brewery has continued to make a name for itself with these beers despite the time and labor it takes to produce them. (Wicked Weed won Asheville’s first gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013 for Serenity, one of its sour farmhouse ales.) Since sour beers involve cultures beyond the yeast traditionally used, a separate facility is necessary. For the past year and a half, that facility was in Fairview. “We’ve basically been brewing and loading up a U-Haul to take beer out there,” says Luke Dickinson, head brewer at Wicked Weed. “Now we’ll do the same thing, except it’s only three blocks away.”
In addition to convenience, Abby Dickinson says, “The Funkatorium will allow for increased cooperage. It will provide much-needed room for foudres and puncheons [large barrels], and ample space for beers to age in barrels for six, 12 or even 24 months.”
The Funkatorium will be located at 147 Coxe Ave. It will have 16 taps and a limited tasting menu. It’s projected to open in September. Wicked Weed’s Facebook page will have the exact opening date and details once they’re finalized.