AVL Beer Week 2019: Asheville brewery taprooms expand beyond WNC

MILE HIGH MONK: Thirsty Monk CEO Barry Bialik says his Colorado location “feels like a local Denver neighborhood brewery.” Photo courtesy of Thirsty Monk

Opening a second location is typically a good sign of a business’s success. But for a handful of Asheville breweries and beer bars that already have multiple spaces on the local scene, expanding into new markets beyond city limits or state lines has become the logical next step.

Thirsty Monk was the first to take such a leap and did so not in another part of North Carolina or in an adjoining state, but across the country. Its Denver brewpub opened in March 2018 with a 12-barrel brewery literally behind the bar, and head brewer Brian Grace crafting beers and tending to its wood-aging and sour program. Thirsty Monk CEO Barry Bialik says the location “feels like a local Denver neighborhood brewery.” And he notes that the area’s sense of camaraderie among brewers results in shared resources that in some ways makes it easier to operate a small brewery there than in Asheville.

“One example is there are shared cold storage warehouses that store beer and manage many of the warehousing and shipping logistics that each brewery here in Asheville has to fend for themselves,” Bialik says. “It makes it easier to scale your growth based on your needs.”

Thirsty Monk’s Portland, Ore., location followed in June 2018. Plans to place a small brewery in the space have been delayed due to limitations with the building and past building permit issues, which Bialik notes are “pretty frustrating and hard to resolve without being there.” In the interim, the bar and kitchen are operating, though he thinks the spot in the hyperlocal city will be “able to root in the community better” once the brewery side is up and running.

“In any satellite location, it’s important to us to truly be a comfortable local brewpub,” Bialik says. “We’re not trying to emulate Asheville and carbon copy that. We are more sharing our soul of what the Thirsty Monk is about, whether it’s in Asheville or Denver or Portland or wherever. We are sharing our relaxed, European vibe, our quality Belgian-rooted beers and our environment that encourages folks to talk with one another. That soul of who we are works anywhere.”

Chris Frosaker, co-owner of Hi-Wire Brewing, and Jessica Reiser, co-owner of Burial Beer Co., are seeing similar responses to their breweries’ new locations in the North Carolina Triangle. Both of the South Slope stalwarts wanted to make it easier for their loyal customers three to four hours away to have access to their beers while forging a deeper connection to the brands via firsthand experiences in a brick-and-mortar space with friendly, knowledgable staffs.

Hi-Wire’s Durham taproom opened in November, and Frosaker says it’s been the brewery’s busiest retail location every month since. In early July, it will be joined by a Knoxville, Tenn., outpost to satisfy the demand in what he says is “the largest growth state in terms of percentage of beer sold the last two years, a trend that’s continuing [in 2019].”

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: It is hard to launch a physical location in another city,” Frosaker says. “There’s the geographic difference. There’s the factor that you’re not ‘local’ in that market. So, there are some obstacles to overcome. You need to have a great staff out there that you can trust on a day-in-day-out basis. All of those are important pieces of the puzzle that you have to work for.”

Meanwhile, Burial’s Raleigh location has been operating since January and will soon expand into the building’s adjoining space. Reiser echoes Bialik’s observation of not wanting to replicate Burial’s Asheville taproom and notes that the South Slope structure’s organic evolution made such an undertaking next to impossible and would have felt inauthentic to the brewery’s history.

Instead of copying the Asheville room’s style and decor, down to the now iconic velvet Tom Selleck painting, “The Exhibit” space features framed prints of David Paul Seymour’s artwork from Burial’s packaged products as it continues to build its distinct Raleigh identity. “People keep asking where Tom Selleck is, and I want to tell them they need to bring us their own version of Tom Selleck,” Reiser says. “So what they will be, who knows?”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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