New Belgium Brewing Co. marked a milestone on Monday, May 2, when, after years of anticipation, the public was finally welcomed to its newly completed Liquid Center tasting room. It’s been about three years since the Colorado brewery began deconstructing the old Asheville Stockyards to make way for a new production facility in the River Arts District. With 18 taps, packaged beer and merchandise on offer, the Liquid Center (21 Craven St.) is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.
The tasting room will pour core brands like Fat Tire amber ale, Ranger IPA and 1554 black lager alongside seasonal offerings such as Heavy Melon watermelon lime ale and Hoppy Blonde ale. There will also be specialty beers from the brewery’s Lips of Faith series, including La Folie sour brown ale and a recently released golden strong ale crafted in collaboration with Belgian brewer Hof ten Dormaal. Many other limited-release drafts can also be expected to put in an appearance. And while the Asheville facility is focused on producing those core brands for East Coast distribution, plans are also in place to brew other year-round offerings here. In addition, the taproom will consistently feature Glütiny, the brewery’s new line of gluten-reduced beers, as a gesture of inclusion toward those trying to avoid the substance.
Adorned with works by local artists and built using 14 linear miles of wood reclaimed from the dismantled stockyard buildings, the Liquid Center was designed with a local contingent in mind. A cantilevered deck complements the interior, offering a panoramic view of the French Broad River, the River Arts District and, eventually, the French Broad River Greenway Westbank Extension, now under construction. The Old Wood Co., which sits just across the river from the brewery, fashioned the seating and table space from reclaimed wood.
“Ninety percent of the artists we work with have studios or shops within 5 miles of the site,” notes communications specialist Susanne Hackett. “Using local artists is part of how we make the space feel comfortable and familiar. We want it to feel like your living room — but with endless good beer.”
Opening the Liquid Center now gives local drinkers a chance to explore the taproom before tourist season cranks up. The building is connected to the production facility by a series of paths and footbridges spanning Penland Creek, a revitalized tributary of the French Broad that bisects the site. Brewery tours, which will begin at the Liquid Center, are planned for later this summer, after the staff completes an intensive training process. “Something unique to New Belgium,” notes Hackett, is that “we hire storytellers, so they need know how to tell stories as well as how to pour beer. One of the challenges is that we have to give them space to develop the story for their tours.”
Although the brewery site is still a work in progress, once the landscaping is completed, New Belgium intends to use its extensive outdoor space to host things like movies and benefits for local charities. For the past six months, planning has been underway for numerous events, including Bike From Work Week. A cooperative effort developed in conjunction with other local breweries, it will benefit the Friends of Connect Buncombe and Asheville on Bikes.
This summer’s festivities will culminate in the CeleBEERation, an Aug. 27 party commemorating both the opening of the Asheville facility and New Belgium’s 25th anniversary. Details of all events will be available on both the company’s website and through Mountain Xpress’ online “Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow” local beer news column.
Several preview events were held at the Liquid Center in advance of its public unveiling, giving community leaders, brewers and beer industry insiders an opportunity to meet their new neighbor and welcome New Belgium to Western North Carolina.
“We’re very grateful to be a part of this community — and this beer community, in particular,” says Hackett. “We’re selling our beer beyond Asheville, but Asheville is our home. Being able to connect with our neighbors and our community here is important to us, just as it is up and down the East Coast and nationally. Opening our brewery here allows us to be a national brand and lowers our distribution carbon footprint, which is one of our reasons for building a brewery on the East Coast. I think it’s awesome that we were able to do that in Asheville.”