Beer Scout: Eurisko Beer Co. lands on the South Slope

KEEPING IT LOCAL: Eurisko Beer Co. head brewer Zack Mason, owner and brewmaster Zac Harris, and general manager Matt Levin in front of their home-brew equipment.
KEEPING IT LOCAL: Eurisko Beer Co. head brewer Zack Mason, owner and brewmaster Zac Harris, and general manager Matt Levin in front of their home-brew equipment.

With the profusion of new breweries opening in Asheville, it can be difficult to stand out in the crowded scene. One project on the horizon has arrived at a refreshingly basic solution: Keep it simple. Eurisko Beer Co., slated to open on the South Slope in late June or early July, will focus on brewing traditional beer styles flawlessly while maintaining an extremely limited distribution footprint. The idea is to grow smarter rather than faster, with an eye toward serving Asheville first and foremost.

“Between all the buyouts and mergers and expansions, in the public’s mind, the bigger craft breweries are becoming almost indistinguishable from the macrobrewers,” says Eurisko owner and brewmaster Zac Harris. “But it’s possible to compete on a national or global level, even if you mostly just sell your beer in your taproom. We want to stay Asheville-specific as much as possible — we’re never going to be a shelf-staple.”

Along with founding partners Zack Mason and Matt Levin, Harris intends to specialize in Old World beer styles brewed to exacting standards. Offerings will run the gamut from dark to light and malty to hoppy in a wide range of gravities, with a particular focus on barley wines and saisons. For the time being, Eurisko won’t produce sour beers in order to reduce the risk of infection inherent to mixed fermentation taking place alongside single-culture brewing.

“We want to cover both ends of the spectrum — big, chewy stouts [and] high-gravity barley wines, but also dry, crushable IPAs and very traditional, well-attenuated Belgian-style saisons,” says head brewer Mason, a former employee of Brawley’s Beverage bottle shop in Charlotte who has toured Western Europe’s best breweries with Harris. “We’re not going to brew American wild ales with lactobacillus and a bunch of adjuncts and then call them saisons. We’re going to brew everything to style — we really want to nail barley wines.”

Harris was an avid homebrewer who worked at Appalachian Vintner before earning his World Brewing Academy Master Brewer Certificate from the prestigious Siebel Institute. The rigorous course of study included extensive hands-on training at the Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany, and deepened his love of Old World beers and brewing techniques. He then cut his teeth as a professional brewer at one of North Carolina’s largest craft breweries, NoDa Brewing Co. in Charlotte, where he learned the ropes of operating a successful brewery in the U.S.

Taking the front-of-house reins for Eurisko is general manager Levin, a food and beverage service veteran who brings extensive bar experience to the table (or taproom). “I’ve worked in restaurants and bars for at least 30 hours a week since I was 16,” he says. “So out of everybody, I’ve probably got the most service industry experience. I was fortunate enough to be around Zac [Harris], who had the brewing background, and Zack [Mason], who’s such a wealth of knowledge. But four years ago when I said, ‘We should start a brewery,’ it didn’t seem feasible at all.”

That improbable dream is soon to be a reality, with Eurisko’s 15-barrel brewhouse due to be installed before the end of May. Fabricated by Vancouver, Wash.-based Marks Design and Metalworks — which built an identical system on a slightly larger scale for Burial Beer Co.’s Forestry Camp production facility — Eurisko’s system includes heated mash tuns ideally suited to step-mashing grain for lagers according to traditional European methods.

Housed in a former barbershop at 257 Short Coxe Ave., Eurisko will be downtown Asheville’s southernmost brewery. The production facility and cellar space are connected to a two-story taproom, with ample outdoor space for a beer garden adjacent to the brewhouse.

The upstairs taproom is a bright, open space featuring reclaimed wood and original hardwood floors, while the downstairs space is characterized by a darker, warmer atmosphere consistent with a high-end dive bar, according to Mason. The plan is to differentiate draft offerings based on the aesthetic distinction between the spaces, possibly featuring darker, barrel-aged beers downstairs.

Longtime friends before undertaking their professional venture, the Eurisko team’s exhaustive knowledge of beer is far from the only credential on their nerd curricula vitae — their discussions are often liberally peppered with Tolkien references, a portrait of “Twin Peaks” character Laura Palmer is never far from their brewing equipment, and even the name Eurisko itself is taken from an early episode of The X-Files dealing with artificial intelligence. But the talk always comes back to their passion for brewing and the Asheville beer community.

“I like to drink beer,” Mason says. “So being in a position where beer is the focal point of my life, making beer with friends in a place that I love, is pretty ideal.”

Eurisko Beer Co. is expected to open at 255 Short Coxe Ave. in June or July. For updates, visit the brewery’s Facebook page.

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