AVL Beer Week events highlight sustainability and philanthropy

TEAMWORK/DREAMWORK: Asheville Brewers Alliance Executive Director Karis Roberts, far right, is pictured at a 2023 AVL Beer Week event with a group that includes Highland Brewing Co. President/CEO Leah Wong Ashburn, third from left. Photo courtesy of Asheville Brewers Alliance

In her first year helming AVL Beer Week in 2023, Karis Roberts learned a lot about the annual event. Some components worked well and others struggled, but across the varied happenings the executive director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance saw one particular theme rise above the rest.

“Collaboration is key,” Roberts says. “Many of our beverage producers and brewing industry professionals love a good collab. Beer Week has been a great opportunity for neighborhood businesses to create fun and exciting joint events that promote their brands and foster new relationships.”

Looking to reignite the flames of teamwork from 2023, Roberts, AVL Beer Week committee members and local craft beverage industry partners have plenty of returning favorites and fresh concepts planned for this year’s edition, which runs Thursday, May 16-Sunday, May 26.

Blended goodness

Beer Week’s mix of new and established options has likewise stuck with Roberts over the past year. Looking back on 2023, she points to two events as the most memorable offerings.

Up in Weaverville, Eluvium Brewing Co., Leveller Brewing Co. and Zebulon Artisan Ales united for the Altbier Pub Crawl. Each business brewed its own version of the classic Dusseldorf altbier, and drinkers were encouraged to visit all three breweries to sample their distinct takes on the style.

“Each brewery had a limited edition glass with different artwork for sale, individually or collected as a set. The event ran throughout Beer Week, but glasses sold out on the second day,” Roberts says. “This was a hugely successful event with folks flocking to Western North Carolina to try these delicious variations.”

Another standout was Wicked Weed Brewing’s annual Ménage À Freak Triple IPA release celebration, complete with live music, acrobatics, aerial shows and carnival activities. But not everything in AVL Beer Week went quite as smoothly.

“There is always room for improvement,” Roberts says. “Each event we produce, we learn from our mistakes and find ways to make the events better the following year.”

For example, Roberts had a goal of establishing new drinking districts throughout the Asheville area during AVL Beer Week 2023, bringing together breweries close enough to each other to form Lil Woodfin, Weaverville Way, Sweeten Creek Sweep and others. But due to planning constraints, the concept didn’t come to fruition. For 2024, she and the Beer Week committee members recalibrated and are focusing on the Sweeten Creek Sweep Bar Crawl, which runs through the 10-day stretch of events.

The event features seven beverage producers, extending from Sweeten Creek Brewing in South Asheville to Hi-Wire Brewing’s Big Top taproom in Biltmore Village. Participants who visit all seven businesses during Beer Week and claim “stamps” on a free digital passport system will be entered into a drawing for a gift bag with brewery merchandise from all participating venues.

“For me, success is measured by the staff — front of house and back of house, business leadership and community participation,” Roberts says. “As a bartender, I have high hopes for filling taprooms and generating hype for breweries and beverage producers that I love so dearly.”

Lagers for Loraxes

Other offerings include AVL Beer Week’s usual range of beer releases, tours, trivia nights and talks by industry veterans. But even a cursory glance at the events calendar reveals a greater emphasis than in past years on philanthropy and environmental sustainability — focus areas that Roberts says have always been priorities for the ABA and many local breweries.

On Tuesday, May 21, 6-8 p.m., the Wicked Weed Funkatorium hosts Brewing Some Good for the Environment. According to Roberts, the event has its roots in UNC Asheville environmental studies major Ava Ingle’s 2023 work with Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency and Land of Sky Regional Council’s Waste Reduction Partners to evaluate the historical energy consumption data of four local breweries: Wicked Weed, Hi-Wire, Cellarest Beer Project and the River Arts District Brewing Co. Professor Evan Couzo served as her advisor.

Using a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star checklist designed specifically to identify energy efficiency improvements within a microbrewery, Ingle identified opportunities within all participating microbreweries.

“Ava will soon share the results of her study with each microbrewery so they can come up with a plan to implement efficiency improvements that yield the most cost savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions,” Roberts says. “Now that Ava has graduated, UNCA is in talks with another student who is eager to continue this work, advancing sustainable breweries as part of an annual summer internship.”

At the event, AB Air Quality and others will recognize the four microbreweries for participating in this effort and highlight any other breweries in Buncombe County that have opted to take the Energy Star Challenge by pledging to reduce their energy intensity by 10% within five years.

Roberts notes that such efforts are hardly new among ABA members. With water being one of the four main ingredients of beer, and the Asheville area’s water quality being a well-documented reason why Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., and Oskar Blues Brewery have established East Coast facilities in the region, it’s only natural that they and other breweries would want to preserve that high standard.

They do so through partnering with organizations such as Adopt-A-Highway, Asheville GreenWorks and MountainTrue on collective river cleanups. And a consortium of six local beverage producers collaboratively installed a facility in Candler that allows them to break down some of the industry’s harder-to-recycle materials.

“These focus areas are important to our beverage producers and the ABA, who are working to minimize issues like litter and address ways to impact the environment more sustainably for the future,” Roberts says. “Many of our breweries contribute to philanthropy by giving back to a nonprofit of choice in some capacity. Even though the ABA is a nonprofit organizing an event, we believe it’s important to highlight other nonprofits doing great things for our beverage industry and the Asheville community at large.”

Among AVL Beer Week’s cause-driven events this year is the Asheville-Biltmore Rotary Walkathon to Fight Dementia on Saturday, May 18. The fundraiser begins and ends at Hi-Wire’s Big Top location and seeks to raise $60,000.


Roberts feels that such efforts are especially worth celebrating during Beer Week, even as the celebration may have lost its luster for certain consumers. Though the sparkle of Asheville’s “Beer City” days has diminished and, thanks to constant innovation and creativity at local taprooms, any week can feel like Beer Week, Roberts feels that the annual event remains relevant.

“Beer Week is important because it brings the beverage community together with the general public,” Roberts says. “It encourages not only continuing education but also provides a closer glimpse into the industry through tours, panel discussions, educational sessions and the WNC Craft Beverage Expo & Tasting Experience.”

AVL Beer Week also provides a chance for the local industry to celebrate its accomplishments from the past year, the greatest of which Roberts feels “stem from growth and tenacity.” She points to Highland Brewing Co. and The Bier Garden celebrating their 30th years in operation — pioneering businesses that continue to inspire their neighbors.

“We are seeing many of our local favorite restaurants begin to brew and distill, as well as locals, young adults and educators finding new and innovative ways to make a living in this industry,” Roberts says before noting ways that her organization has helped keep such industry workers in Asheville.

“[The ABA has] proudly begun new partnerships with local nonprofits to help our members address basic necessities for their part-time and full-time staff, like affordable health care plans with Mercy Urgent Care, dental services with Park View Dental and mental health services with All Souls Counseling.”

Nearly halfway through her second full year as ABA executive director, Roberts aspires in the short term to have a successful AVL Beer Week. But her longer-term goals are centered on being a vital resource for her membership and the community at large, particularly fellow people of color.

“I hope to create more avenues for continuing education, deepen relationships with community partners to help our members and advocate for more folks who look like me to gain positions of power in the beverage industry,” she says.

To learn more, visit avl.mx/bkz.


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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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