Brewgrass, revisited

The 11th annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival returns to its original location at Martin Luther King Jr. Park this Saturday, and you and 3,499 of your beer-loving friends are invited.

The brains behind the brews: Doug Beatty, originator and organizer of the Brewgrass Festival, in the upstairs bar of Barley’s Taproom. Beatty recently sold his share in Barley’s to his business partner, Jimi Rentz, but he says he’ll always have a hand in Brewgrass.

If you already have tickets, that is.

It turns out that the event sold out two full weeks before the festival, marking the third sold-out year in a row. And a quick look at the details explains why.

This year’s Brewgrass will feature a couple dozen local brews, plus many more crafted by 36 other brewers from around the country. The music lineup includes Dry Branch Fire Squad, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Buncombe Turnpike.

In addition to cold beer and hot bluegrass, organizers promise to have 48 portable toilets at the event, a relief for those who spent what seemed like half the day in line last year. “There will be twice as many receptacles for your spent beer,” says Jimi Rentz, one of the festival’s organizers.

Initially, the goal of the Brewgrass Festival was to “develop a beer market out of WNC by educating beer consumers,” says Doug Beatty, who founded the sudsy gathering in 1997 and still serves as its director. A decade later, the area supports five microbreweries in Buncombe County, one in Sylva, and another in Morganton. Two more microbreweries are due to open in Asheville within the next year.

“Microbreweries are on par with the Biltmore House for something to do in Asheville,” declares Beatty.

If all this information seems like little more than a taunt to those of you in the ticketless masses, don’t despair. If you couldn’t land a pass to Brewgrass, you can still visit one or all of the area microbreweries listed below.

Pisgah Brewing Company

Jason Caughman and Dave Quinn opened Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain in 2005. Their first release, Pisgah Pale, received rave reviews from locals drinking it on draft in taprooms such as Barley’s and Westville Pub. “I’ve never seen a brewery hit it so far, so fast,” remarks Beatty. “They’ve become Barley’s best-selling beer.”

A taste of what’s to come: A pair of Pisgah Brewing Company beers.

Pisgah’s beers debuted at Brewgrass three years ago. “It’s a great way to showcase our products,” Caughman says of the festival. “It’s cool to go neck and neck with everybody there.”

Location: 150 Eastside Business Park, Black Mountain (582-7909 or
Beers brewed year round: Pisgah Pale, Pisgah Porter, Pisgah Stout, Pisgah Equinox, Pisgah Solstice, Pisgah Vortex.
Seasonals include: Baptista, Pisgah Equinox, Summer Ale.
Beers at Brewgrass: Pale, Oktoberfest, Stout and Solstice.
System and production: Ten barrels, producing about 100 kegs per week. Tours available by appointment.
Take out: Kegs and growlers.
Trivia: All beers are unfiltered and certified organic.

Highland Brewing Company

Asheville’s oldest and largest brewery started in the basement of Barley’s Taproom in 1994 when Oscar Wong teamed up with home brewer John Lyda.

In 2006, Highland moved to new quarters behind Blue Ridge Motion Pictures to expand its production capacity. To celebrate the move, the brewery offered a one-time release of Imperial Gaelic Ale, which sold out in several hours the day after last year’s Brewgrass festival. At this year’s festival, Highland will offer its new Imperial Kashmir IPA, a high-gravity version of their popular IPA. The Imperial Kashmir will be sold in 22-ounce bottles at the brewery from noon to 4 p.m. the day after Brewgrass.

Location: 12 Old Charlotte Highway (299-3370 or
Beers brewed year round: Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, St. Therese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir IPA, Black Mocha Stout, Tasgall Ale.
Seasonals: Cold Mountain Winter Ale.
Beers at Brewgrass: Most all of Highland’s year-round beers, plus the Imperial Kashmir IPA.
System and production: Fifty barrels, producing more than 12,000 barrels annually.
Take out: None.
Trivia: Highland was one of only 10 breweries at the first Brewgrass.

Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company

This brewpub first opened in 1998 as Two Moons Brew and View. In 1999, Mike Rangel, owner of a pizza carryout business, teamed up with brewer Doug Riley and renamed the business Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company.

The need to expand brewing capacity led to the launch of the downtown location, Asheville Brewing Company, on Coxe Avenue in 2006.

Locations: 675 Merrimon Ave. (254-1281) and 77 Coxe Ave. (255-4077 or
Beers brewed year round: Shiva IPA, Red Light IPA, Houdini ESP, Roland’s Red, Scottish Ale, Looking Glass Pale, Ninja Porter, Scout Stout.
Seasonals: Bulldog Bock, Oktoberfest, Oatmeal Stout, Kolsh and others.
Beers at Brewgrass: Shiva, Ninja, and Houdini.
System and production: Seven barrels, producing 1,100 kegs annually. Tours available by appointment.
Take out: Growlers.
Trivia: Food at both locations. Second-run movies for $2 at the Merrimon location. APBC beers have been available at Brewgrass since 1998.

Green Man Brewing Company

Joe Eckert opened Jack of the Wood, an Irish pub, in 1996, including a small brewing operation that supplied the pub and The Laughing Seed restaurant above it.

In 2004, the brewery relocated to Buxton Avenue and opened the Green Man Tasting Room. Customers have nicknamed the new space, a rustic former garage, “Dirty Jack.” Green Man beers are also available at Eckert’s new restaurant in Weaverville, North Star Diner.

Location: 23 Buxton Ave., Asheville (252-5502 or
Beers brewed year round: Gold, Pale Ale, IPA, ESB, Porter, Stout.
Beers at Brewgrass: Gold, IPA, Pale, ESP.
System and production: Fifteen barrels, producing 800-850 barrels annually. Tours available by appointment.
Take out: Kegs and growlers.
Trivia: Green Man beers have been available at Brewgrass for 10 of its 11 years.

French Broad Brewing Company

Opened in 2000, French Broad Brewing is owned by a couple dozen small investors. Drew Barton started working there in 2005 as a delivery driver and climbed the brewery rungs until earning the head-brewer title six months ago.

“A lot of regional brewers make a real effort to be at Brewgrass,” Barton says. “There appear to be more actual brewers serving their own beer, not their distributors.”

Location: 101-D Fairview Road, Asheville (
Beers brewed year round: Goldenrod Pilsner, Marzen Amber Lager, Wee Heavy-er Scotch-style Ale, 13 Rebels ESB, Flanders-style Abbey Ale, Kolsch.
Seasonals: Oktoberbest. Barton plans to offer 10 seasonals this year.
Beers at Brewgrass: Debuting French Broad Pale Ale, plus five other beers, including Oktoberfest and Wee Heavy-er.
System and production: Fifteen barrels, producing 1,500 to 1,700 kegs annually. Tours available by appointment.
Take out: Kegs and growlers.
Trivia: The Tasting Room offers live music nightly, with a focus on undiscovered local talent.

Heinzelmännchen Brewery

Owners Dieter Kuhn and Sheryl Rudd opened their brewery in 2004, and now offer beer samples and a tour of the Sylva brewery six days a week. Growlers —  imported from Germany and featuring flip-top ceramic lids and stainless steel handles — are available for takeout and are collector’s items. Heinzelmännchen beers are available in restaurants and taprooms from Asheville to Robbinsville.

Location: 545 Mill St., Sylva (631-4466 or
Beers brewed year round: Gopher Ale, Ancient Days Honey Blonde, Weisgnome Hefeweizen, Middleworld Brown, Black Forest Stout, Kilted Gnome Scottish Ale.
Seasonal: Oktoberfest, Gnutty Gnome Ale, Hoppy Gnome Ale.
Beers at Brewgrass: Ancient Days Honey Blonde, Weisgnome Hefeweizen, Black Forest Stout, Oktoberfest.
System and production: Ten barrels, producing more than 400 barrels annually. Tours available during open hours (see Web site).
Take out: Kegs and growlers.
Trivia: In addition to harder beverages, the Heinzelmännchen Brewery also makes hand-brewed root beer, which is available at the Biltmore Estate.

Catawba Valley Brewing Company

Catawba Valley Brewing opened in Glen Alpine, N.C., in 1999, but moved to Morganton (55 miles east of Asheville) in 2007. Owner/brewer Scott Pyatt says he likes Brewgrass because “WNC has really astute beer customers and they’re all at the festival.”

Stirring it up: John Silver, assistant brewer, stirs the mash that will become beer at Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain. Photos By Anne Fitten Glenn

Location: 212 South Green St., Morganton (call (828) 430-6883 or visit
Beers brewed year round: Farmer Ted’s Farmhouse Cream Ale, Brown Bear Ale, Firewater Indian Pale Ale, Honest Injun Stout, Indian Head Red Ale.
Seasonals: Various, but include King Coconut Porter, King Don’s Pumpkin Ale, Blackwater Uber Ale, and the Whiskey River series of oak-aged beers.
Beers at Brewgrass: Five to six kegs plus the Blackwater Uber Ale.
System and production: Ten barrels, producing 500 annually. Tours available Fridays and by appointment.
Take out: Kegs and growlers.
Trivia: Like many area breweries, they offer a weekly public taproom event.

[Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]

The Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival takes place on Saturday, Sept. 22, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. At press time, tickets were sold out. Performers include: Dry Branch Fire Squad, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Kenny and Amanda Smith, Buncombe Turnpike, Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand. Bring your I.D.! 18 and older. No coolers, no pets and no Frisbees.


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