AVL Beer Week 2018: Just Brew It promotes homebrew community, living wage at new venue

JUST CAUSE: Now in its ninth year, the annual Just Brew It homebrew festival attracts some of the area's best amateur beer-makers while promoting organizer Just Economics of Western North Carolina's mission of encouraging employers to offer a fair living wage. Photo courtesy Just Economics of Western North Carolina

Asheville’s popular Just Brew It homebrew beer festival will have a new look and vibe on Saturday, May 26, as it moves from the original Wedge Brewing Co. to the new Wedge at Foundation development, just down the French Broad River. The new location will offer significantly more parking than the previous space and won’t interfere with the businesses around the original Wedge. The popular 12 Bones Smokehouse barbecue restaurant next to the new Wedge, which always brings a lot of traffic to the Foundation property, isn’t open on Saturdays, freeing up even more parking.

Much about the 2018 festival is the same, though, starting with its mission. It’s still presented by Just Economics of Western North Carolina, which encourages employers to offer a fair living wage.

Just Brew It also continues to feature locally homebrewed ales and lagers. These are creative beers not sold in area taprooms and unavailable outside of this annual event.

Attendees also technically can’t buy a ticket to Just Brew It, as it’s open only to members of Just Economics. But the group will happily enroll new members online prior to the event at $30 for a basic membership that includes festival admission; $40 for a standard membership which covers festival admission and a souvenir glass and raffle ticket; or $60 for a VIP membership that comes with one-hour-early festival admission, the glass, raffle ticket and a food truck voucher. No one will be enrolled at the gate.

Now in its ninth year, Just Brew It “raises some important funds for our organization and celebrates the culture of homebrewing in Asheville,” says Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics.

She’s expecting 40-50 homebrewers to take part in the 2018 edition. Brewers may bring whatever beers they choose to the festival, and Meath says she’s seen a wide variety of styles over the years. Moving to the new Wedge brewery site provides more room for beer drinkers, which typically total 400-600 people. “And when you add the brewers involved, it gets higher than that,” Meath says.

The festival has also brought substantial attention to Just Economics. “Our mission is to educate, organize and advocate for a just and sustainable local ecnomy that works for all in Western North Carolina,” Meath says. “We work on the issue of living wages, better transit and affordable housing. We have the largest living wage certification program in the country. And we work on public policy at the local level and the state level. We are committed to working with people who are most impacted by economic injustice.”

Meath says the Just Economics living wage standard is “a more just number than the minimum wage.” In 2018, the Asheville and Buncombe County living wage is set at $13 an hour if the employer doesn’t offer health insurance, and $11.50 per hour if the insurance is provided. Even that level of income makes it difficult for many employees to support themselves, though Meath calls it “a starting point.”

The organization has been operating in Asheville since 2007. “We have around 400 employers that are certified,” Meath says. To qualify, every full- or part-time worker at those businesses must be paid the living wage, though there are exceptions for interns or apprentices. There’s also a process to determine if tipped employees make an average living wage.

“We’ve been able to work with new businesses every month,” Meath says. “We do outreach to new employers, and there is also peer-to-peer encouragement to become Living Wage Certified. And sometimes employers find us.”

She continues, “When we talk with employers, we talk about the benefits of our program, such as being marketed as a living wage employer. And there is increased productivity that comes along with workers who are not constantly looking for another job or having to take multiple jobs just to put a roof over their heads.”

Several of the area’s breweries have been Living Wage Certified, including Wedge, Hi-Wire Brewing, Burial Beer Co. and Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard.

Wedge has long been Living Wage Certified and is a big believer in the program. “Just Economics is really important for Asheville. We pay a living wage and always have,” says brewery owner Tim Schaller, who’s looking forward to once more hosting Just Brew It. “The homebrewers have helped make Asheville ‘Beer City.’ They are really educated drinkers.”

WHAT:
Just Brew It homebrew festival
WHERE: Wedge at Foundation, 5 Foundy St. justeconomicswnc.org
WHEN
: Saturday, May 26, 2-5 p.m. with 1 p.m. entry for VIP members of Just Economics of Western North Carolina. $30 basic membership/$40 standard membership/$60 VIP membership. No memberships sold at the gate.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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