When Sean Coleman and Kyle McKenzie started working for Green Man Brewery a decade ago, one of their primary duties was filling and cleaning out growlers of ESB that were sold at Earth Fare — the only means of getting the company’s beer outside the taproom.
Now, the brewery has one of the most sophisticated canning and bottling lines and kegging systems in town, and its beer is distributed across seven Southeastern states.
Plenty else has changed for Green Man over those 10 years, and even more in the quarter-century since it started. The brewery celebrates its silver anniversary with three days of festivities starting Thursday, March 17. The revelry will include free live music from local bands and an array of specialty beers on draft — nearly one for each of the company’s 25 years of operation. And a portion of beer sales from the anniversary party will benefit the nonprofit WNC Bridge Foundation, which works to provide funding to support and assist people facing health challenges throughout Western North Carolina.
Changing hands and scene
As longtime Asheville residents know, Green Man began as Benefit Brewing, which Jack of the Wood owners Joan and Joe Eckert started in 1997 with Jonas Rembert and Andy Dahm. At the time, all beer was brewed in a small corner of the pub, which today houses the venue’s dart boards. Meanwhile, Highland Brewing Co., situated then just a few blocks east beneath Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria, was the city’s only other brewery.
Rembert and Dahm left Benefit Brewing in 1999 to start French Broad Brewing Co. (now French Broad River Brewery). Soon thereafter, the Eckerts renamed the business Green Man Brewery after the mythical character of English and Irish lore. Looking to expand, the Eckerts moved the brewery to Buxton Avenue in 2003 and opened the Dirty Jack’s tasting room, which remains operational.
In 2010, the Eckerts sold Green Man to current owners Wendy and Dennis Thies, who brought on Coleman and McKenzie. Back then, Coleman and McKenzie note, Buxton Avenue was far from the bustling South Slope brewing district that it is today.
“It was us, N.C. State’s Mineral Research Lab, The Prospect and Asheville Hardware. Those were the only businesses around, and there was nothing on Banks Ave.,” says McKenzie, now Green Man’s head of brewing and the specialty brewer. “We feel privileged to be one of the anchor businesses that attracted a lot of other breweries to put taprooms or build their breweries down in this area of town.”
Turning a corner
Coleman, who’s risen to Green Man’s brand manager, feels that keeping a relatively small distribution footprint has proved beneficial to the company’s continued success, while McKenzie notes that being Asheville’s second-oldest brewery has allowed Green Man to maintain a reliable, core group of brands over the years. Though they’ve added Wayfarer and Trickster IPAs and Lager to their year-round offerings, ESB, IPA and Porter remain some of the brewery’s bestsellers.
“Most of the younger breweries in town don’t quite have that following for a staple brand,” McKenzie says. “I think that’s certainly helped us and allowed us to experiment and play around in all these other styles with our specialty program that allow us to have a variety on draft in the taprooms, but we can still keep bringing in those longtime consumers.”
The variety of spaces in which to imbibe these creations likewise helps. In 2016, Green Man opened its Green Mansion, a three-story, 20,000-square-foot facility adjacent to Dirty Jack’s. The combination packaging hall and tasting room has provided employees with space to achieve their production goals and has seen an influx of new equipment, including a centrifuge, expanding the company’s distribution capacity.
“We really turned a corner as far as volume and quality of product when we got the centrifuge,” Coleman says. “You can do what you can do to mitigate issues, but if you don’t have the right equipment, you’re [not going to succeed].”
Strong infrastructure, continues Coleman, was essential to Green Man’s ability to weather the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many in the food and beverage industry, to-go and local delivery sustained the brewery amid government restrictions limiting indoor taproom activities. And once breweries were allowed to resume service, Green Man joined several other local venues in converting parking spaces into outdoor seating.
An eye on the future
McKenzie says that such pandemic-prompted changes have resulted in a more efficient serving system and will likely remain in place.
“The pandemic allowed us, as well as ownership, to realize how important it was to have a vibrant taproom experience,” McKenzie says. “We learned a lot of lessons about how to better serve our clientele, providing snacks and food and looking toward the future — just giving people more things to experience at the brewery than drinking beer.”
That dining component will soon be significantly enhanced: Green Man recently purchased the former French Broad Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room, 21 Buxton Ave., and is turning it into the Green Man Tavern. The menu will include English pub fare as well as other items and will focus on to-go service. Coleman says they hope to open by the end of 2022, providing a fitting bookend to the yearlong anniversary celebrations.
“It’s exciting. It’s one of the things where, especially as you see the brand grow, it feels like hard work paying off,” Coleman says. “It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by, but we’re in a good place.”
Green Man Brewery is at 27 Buxton Ave. To learn more, visit avl.mx/b8k.