Beer Scout: Growth and brew-gineering at Lookout Brewing

BREW-GINEER: "We're getting there," owner John Garcia says of Lookout's success. "We just have to keep that beer good. It seems to be working." Photo by Jesse Farthing

Lookout Brewing Co.’s name might conjure images of a rocky outcrop overlooking an idyllic valley, but at the Black Mountain nanobrewery, nothing is ever set in stone. The tap list can change daily, and even the three mainstay beers can vary in flavor as owner John Garcia constantly tweaks recipes to hit just the right notes.

Since opening a little over two years ago, Garcia says he’s brewed more than 75 finished beers and tried more than 90 recipes. Garcia and his brewing team try to keep three beers consistently on tap — Black Mountain IPA, Dark Town Brown (Summertime Brown in the warmer months) and Alison’s Front Porch Pale Ale (named after Garcia’s wife) — but the others are in constant flux, depending on what’s fresh and what the brewers come up with next.

“If you’re not doing something wild,” he says, “you get burnt out. I could give you Pliny the Elder and say, ‘Here you go: Brew this for the rest of your life,’ and in about three months you’ll say, ‘To hell with Pliny the Elder.’

“So, by doing this, we keep a passion for brewing and keep looking for the next focus.”

Lookout is in a constant state of growth and change. Since opening in May 2013, it’s expanded twice into neighboring units of the vacant strip mall where it began, and in the coming months, Garcia plans to add a covered outdoor area, stage and deck, and a pass-through to a second bathroom that will eventually raise the maximum occupancy. He hopes to have the stage and covered outdoor area completed before the cold weather arrives.

Lookout’s brewers produce about 200 gallons a day, two to three times per week, but they recently ordered six new fermenters and expect to start brewing 800 gallons per week soon.

Garcia began getting into beer while working as a bartender at the Black Mountain Ale House, where he started dealing with distributors and breweries and learning more about different beers and the brewing process. Eventually he bought a home brewing kit and started trying different recipes.

“After my third batch, I was thinking I wanted to do this for a living,” Garcia reveals. “So my wife and I started looking at our finances … and decided to buy a really good brewing system. We bought that, rented a space out here at Ridgecrest and started brewing all the time.”

It wasn’t exactly his dream space, however.

“When I first walked in, I was like, ‘Hell, no,’” Garcia recalls. The carpeted floors and drop ceiling immediately discouraged him, but he wanted to be close to downtown Black Mountain, and the strip mall space was the best thing available.

Alison and I ripped up the carpet,” he recalls. “We went through a couple of pairs of shoes. We were up at 3, 4 in the morning scraping glue off the damn ground. It was nuts.”

Garcia enlisted the help of his mother and stepdad to further renovate the space.

“My stepdad and I built everything you see in here,” Garcia explains. “This bar, we built it from the ground up.”

The DIY aesthetic is evident everywhere. A wooden pallet painted with chalkboard paint displays the current tap list behind the bar that Garcia and his stepfather made; the two walk-in coolers are hand-built, with foil-faced foam insulation.

Garcia calls it “brew-gineering,” a less expensive way to get things done.

“A glycol system is about $8,000 to start,” he estimates, showing off his own brew-gineered cooling system: a freezer filled with water and canning salt, plus a pump, coil and tubing. “This freezer is about $170. [The] pump is about $150. … It’s definitely not $8,000. There are ways to make stuff work.”

It’s a lot of work running a brewery and keeping everything together, says Garcia. “But at the end of the day, you get to have beer. I like it. My wife puts up with it; my kids somehow deal with it. It’s fun.”

Asheville Oktoberfest

Tickets are still available for Asheville’s seventh annual Oktoberfest celebration, which happens Saturday, Oct. 10. The event will transform Woodfin Street into “Little Germany,” featuring tastings from local breweries and special seasonal releases.

Tickets ($40 until Oct. 1, $45 after that) come with a sampling mug. Designated drivers and children over 8 can get in for $10; no charge for children under 7. Check-in begins at noon; the event runs from 1-6 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit ashevilledowntown.org.

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About Jesse Farthing
Jesse Farthing can be reached at beer@mountainx.com.

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