Beer Scout: Hi-Wire gets ready to debut the Biltmore Big Top

BIGGER IS BETTER: Hi-Wire owners Adam Charnack, left, and Chris Frosaker are excited to show off their new 27,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

It has been just two years since Hi-Wire Brewing Co. opened downtown. When the brewery moved in and revamped the former Craggie Brewing Co. facility at 197 Hilliard Ave., it immediately drew attention in the brewing community for two reasons: It was the first local brewery to try to make its reputation on a year-round lager, and it was the first local brewery to bottle its beer in six-packs from day one.

“Before we opened a brewery, we were [the type of guys] who liked to grab a six-pack after work. … So that was always a priority,” says Adam Charnack, co-owner of Hi-Wire. “I don’t know how much money we lost [since bottle margins are lower than taproom margins], but that didn’t matter.”

What looked like a risky maneuver at the time has paid off for Hi-Wire. Its growth plan has accelerated beyond the owners’ wildest dreams, and Hi-Wire’s downtown brewery is now running at capacity, prompting the opening of a second facility at 2 Huntsman Place on the edge of Biltmore Village.

“It’s 27,000 square feet, and our old place is 4,000 square feet,” says Charnack. “To put it in perspective, the walk-in cooler at the new building is about the size of our entire building downtown.”

“The new brewhouse is a four-vessel, 30-barrel system; the new fermenters hold 90 barrels apiece (which is about 30,000 bottles per tank), and the new [larger] bottling line is lightning-fast, spitting out a case of beer every 10-15 seconds,” says Charnack.

In fact, since everything has been scaled up at the Huntsman facility, Hi-Wire has dubbed it the Biltmore Big Top.

Despite the size difference, for anyone who has stopped by Hi-Wire’s current taproom, the Big Top will feel familiar. “It’s like our old space in that our overall goal was to deliver that same feeling: You’re in a tasting room inside an active brewery,” says co-owner Chris Frosaker. There’s no formal separation between brewery and tasting room and, in many ways, the equipment is the focal point.

“We’re also going for the same raw feel as our space downtown. … I like to say in both cases we took the natural feel of the building and embraced it,” says Frosaker, adding that there will be other direct parallels. Chukk Bruursema is the architect behind both renovations, and in an odd stroke of luck the team was able to source salvaged barn wood from the same farm that they sourced from for the original brewery.

On the customer-facing side, there’s plenty to look forward to. The inside bar will have 16 taps, eventually all stocked with different Hi-Wire beers. There’s room to accommodate about two to three times the number of people the downtown brewery can hold, which opens up the possibility of more events. And there will be a small outdoor space in front as well as a true beer garden out back.

“I think the back patio will be Asheville’s favorite secret beer garden,” says Charnack. “It’s raw and industrial but with greenery — it feels private.”

Tours will also be part of the new Hi-Wire location, a first for the brewery. “We’re planning to run tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,” says Charnack. “They’ll be $5, which includes beer, and they’ll be a pretty intimate experience.”

“Adam and I have traveled a lot together, even before opening Hi-Wire, and we’ve taken a lot of brewery tours,” says Frosaker. “We know what we like and what we don’t like, and we think there’s a lot of room to shine when you do a tour the right way.”

Hi-Wire will be expanding on the beer side as well. In addition to moving into new territories, it will be able to produce more of its signature lager for existing territories and get more experimental.

“Nothing’s changing at our current brewery and taproom except the beer we brew there,” says Charnack. “That’s the exciting part: We’ll be using our old brewhouse to make a lot of creative new lagers there and other styles you don’t see every day. … For example, we’re starting a farmhouse series and will eventually have wild ales.”

While the brewery is already up and running, the first chance for the public to drop by will be at the Saturday, July 25, grand opening, from 5 p.m. to midnight. Hi-Wire plans to do it up big with two bands, three food trucks and many circus-themed activities, including carnival games, a face painter and aerialists. It will also release its second anniversary beer that night and roll out at least 10 specialty beers — including the brewery’s first two sour beers.

Hi-Wire’s Biltmore Big Top is at 2 Huntsman Place. After the July 25 grand opening, hours will be 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Fridays, noon-midnight Saturdays and 1-10 p.m. Sundays.  

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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