Six years ago, Carrieann Schneider gave her husband, Jon, a Christmas present that would change both of their lives. The gift was a simple homebrew kit, one that the engineer-turned-software developer outgrew in a month and replaced with a gravity-fed system on their back porch in Winter Garden, Fla. A certificate from the American Brewers Guild followed in 2014, and the hobby has now evolved into Sideways Farm & Brewery in Etowah, which the Schneiders plan to open in the fall.
The couple’s move to North Carolina was sparked by a trip to the Asheville area, during which they started learning about the local food movement. Desiring to live healthier and leave the land in better shape, the Schneiders attended seminars through Asheville’s Organic Growers School and Mother Earth News Fair and found inspiration in the work and writings of such key movement figures as Gabe Brown, Joel Salatin and Jean-Martin Fortier.
“We started falling in love with the idea of growing our own stuff, for us to eat and for beer,” says Carrieann, a former public school educator. “Florida is not very friendly for barley or hops or herbs, so we started looking for an area where we could do what we wanted to do.”
As for how they chose Etowah for their sustainable farm brewery’s base of operations, Jon says, “It chose us.” Enamored with Brevard and Hendersonville and wanting to be as close to Asheville as possible, the Henderson County area was geographically perfect. Though their Realtor took them to numerous properties that were at least 5 acres and within 90 minutes of Asheville, the Schneiders kept returning to one particular 11-acre farm at 62 Eade Road. They bought the property in early 2015.
“It was exactly what we needed in terms of growing area and had two houses — my parents ended up moving up and living in the other house,” says Carrieann, adding that the farm’s location off U.S. 64 and its proximity to the proposed Ecusta Trail hike-and-bike greenway also played a huge role in the decision-making process.
Though the farm’s soil had been left dry and all but devoid of life from tilling and various chemicals, the Schneiders have worked to restore it with broadforks and compost tea from Asheville’s Lotus Farm & Garden. Helping keep the fields contained and adding fertilizer to the ground are the farm’s sheep and chickens, all of whom live outside and get fresh pasture every week or two.
Thanks to these efforts, 2017 marks the first year the Schneiders have grown actual crops instead of merely cover crops. They’ve ordered roughly 200 varieties of seeds to test out on their land and will begin selling produce at the Henderson County and West Asheville tailgate markets in July. Carrieann is also growing a wide variety of cut flowers, both to help pollinators and for the simple fact that it makes her and other people happy.
Sideways’ brewery will start with a 3½-barrel system. The Schneiders have the ability to double that capacity but will first see if demand is more for unusual beers or for quantity. Regardless, they say they don’t want to be pigeonholed into having a flagship beer and will focus on creative recipes driven by seasonal ingredients, whether they’re grown on their own farm or sourced from other local farmers and Riverbend Malt House.
“We’re going to be using so much out of our gardens and things that we’ll have a base style of a certain beer, but we’ll tweak it,” Jon says. “Two weeks ago I did an American wheat, which is a loose term for it, and we put lemongrass and lavender in it. It’s one of those things where we’re just inspired by things that we’re growing on the farm.”
Among his recent creations, Jon is especially fond of a dark India ale, made with cocoa nibs from French Broad Chocolates and experimental hops — the combination of which gives the beer a chocolate-covered pineapple flavor. Meanwhile, Carrieann is looking forward to the return of his blackberry ale, brewed with fresh fruit from their property.
As with like-minded brewer Mike Karnowski of Weaverville’s Zebulon Artisan Ales, the Schneiders will also incorporate some historical beer styles into their menu. And in line with Carrieann’s teaching background, the couple are crafting tastings at Sideways to be an informative experience that differs from others in the local brewery scene.
“We want it to be much more like a winery, where you can actually see things grown but also have an educational tasting,” she says. “When you go to a winery, they don’t just hand you a flight and let you walk away. They actually walk you through the wine, and we want to do the same thing with our beer.”
Jon concurs: “We also want people to hold a hop cone and understand what it is and where the oil comes from and the different varieties we can grow on our farm. So it’s really being more intimate during that tasting.”
The taproom, which will hold up to 49 people, was also designed with help from the wine world. The Schneiders were impressed by the rectangular bar at Hendersonville’s Burntshirt Vineyards and how it encouraged interaction among people sitting across from each other. Burntshirt’s owners let the Schneiders measure the space to help plan their own, which the latter hope will encourage a similar sense of community. The building will also have a wraparound porch with outdoor seating.
Small as Sideways will be, its brews will see some local self-distribution. The goal is to team with a few bottle shops and farm-to-table restaurants within a certain radius of the brewery, but Jon says he and Carrieann are “going to really be picky about who [they] choose to carry the beer.” In the meantime, they’ll continue to work with fellow brewers and industry figures through the Asheville Brewers Alliance, which they see as important not just for Sideways, but for the local beer movement as a whole.
“We want to make sure that when people think of traveling to Western North Carolina, it’s a quality beer place,” Jon says. “We want everyone to shine through, and I think the alliance is really helping move that forward so that we’re all working together.”