Lots of moves are afoot within the craft beverage industry as its members prepare to celebrate AVL Beer Week 2023. And the epicenter of activity is 101 S. Lexington Ave.
Less than a year ago, Bhramari Brewing Co. was seemingly thriving at its South Slope location and preparing to open its Charlotte taproom. Now, the business is no more, replaced by new brewery Terra Nova Beer Co., which is set to debut in Bhramari’s former home in late May or early June.
Such major changes are rare for the Asheville beer scene — but not entirely unheard of. Less than a year after Craggie Brewing Co.’s closure in 2012, Hi-Wire Brewing opened in that same Hilliard Avenue space; and Archetype Brewing moved with similar speed in 2019 to add its second location, mere months after Habitat Brewing Co. closed and vacated its taproom on Broadway.
But the swiftness with which Bhramari folded and the lack of transparency around its closing sets it apart from those prior shutterings, each of which was announced in advance. In mid-January, multiple Bhramari employees posted on social media about layoffs within the company. Xpress reached out to Josh Dillard, executive chef and managing owner, for comment, but emails were not returned.
On Feb. 7, Bhramari broke the silence with an Instagram post, citing “circumstances beyond our control.”
On April 13, Jay Munro, managing partner of Bhramari’s parent company, Hivemind LLC, confirmed the brewery’s closure “due to unexpected financial hardship” and announced the formation of an entirely separate brewery, spearheaded by a locally based leadership team. Munro, who lives in Finland, had a largely passive role with the company, but has been in Asheville since February, actively working alongside Terra Nova’s head of brewing, Kyle McKenzie, former Green Man Brewery head brewer; General Manager Steven Brett, past manager at City Bakery; and director of operations Doss Church, founder and former CEO of Asheville-based software company Galaxy Digital.
“It’s an entirely brand-new group of people doing something totally new. And so, we really can’t speak to the past,” Church says. “We are as a team focused on the future and what we’re doing next.”
Even the new brewery’s name, Terra Nova — Latin for “new land” — speaks to a fresh start, which will be evident across the board. Interior and exterior walls feature murals by local artist Amar Stewart, and McKenzie plans to offer a variety of beers from recipes he’s been developing so that there’s something for everyone. He says to expect everything from hazy and West Coast IPAs to German and Czech-style lagers.
“I want to make as much lager beer as this facility will allow us to make,” McKenzie says. “I’m very raw-material focused — and as minimally processed as we could possibly use. I plan on trying to use whole ingredients, whether that’s whole fruit or whole vanilla beans as supposed to vanilla extract.”
These beers, as well as craft sodas and pre-made cocktails will all be served from a redesigned bar. Additional renovations include replacing the property’s current parking lot with a beer garden. Church says that 15 large trees — all 20-25 feet tall — will be planted in the beer garden at the end of the year. He envisions the finished outdoor space as a lush, green area where all ages can hang out and enjoy the occasional musical performance from a new stage.
Meanwhile, Bharmari’s former Charlotte location is being leased to a Charleston, S.C.-based brewery that will be making expansion announcements in the coming weeks.
The house that Oscar built
Asheville’s oldest craft brewery is likewise not immune to change. In January, Highland Brewing Co. shed multiple jobs across the company as a result of internal shifts throughout the past few years.
Nikki Mitchell, vice president of brand development, notes that Highland’s staff has realigned as industry, company and departmental needs have changed. Reorganizations in the hospitality, brewing and packaging teams over the past two years subsequently gave way to consolidation in marketing and hospitality.
“It’s true a few great folks lost positions,” Mitchell says.
She also stresses that Highland is not exempt from the challenges facing the beverage industry. From supply chain issues to inflation, she notes that pressure is everywhere, particularly during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everything costs more now — ingredients, packaging, utilities, freight and people,” she says.
In turn, Highland’s model shifted from an 80/20 distribution-to-taproom sales model to 60/40 and scaled back its presence to four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
“We’ve taken the ‘deeper vs. wide’ approach to our distribution footprint over the past five years,” Mitchell says. “The focus keeps our beer fresh and our relationships strong. With that mantra in mind, we left Florida and Virginia.”
With the readjustments, Highland can better focus on the future, which includes new beer releases, as well the recent expansion of its volleyball courts at its East Asheville taproom and the completion of its 18-hole disc golf course.
But the brewery’s crowning achievement took place May 3, when Highland founder Oscar Wong was awarded the Order of The Long Leaf Pine — the highest civilian honor granted by the governor of North Carolina to individuals who have shown extraordinary service to the state. The accomplishment was followed May 16 with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque honoring Wong and the birthplace of Asheville craft beer on the main floor of Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria, in whose basement Highland operated for over a decade.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 19.