Before 2010, Burnsville was a dry town. While surrounding Yancey County remains that way, Homeplace Beer Co. became the county seat’s pioneer craft beverage business in June 2017 and has transformed the local perception of what a brewery and taproom can be.
“Burnsville’s a very tightknit community, but we also want to see growth and people not from here coming through and supporting us and learning about us and the events we put on and the things we do here,” says owner/brewer John Silver, a Burnsville native with over a decade of brewing experience in Western North Carolina.
“I really just enjoy bringing a component of what Asheville is doing to this area,” he continues. “We’re not trying to be anything like Asheville as far as the brewery we’re doing. We’re trying to make approachable beers that people enjoy. We do some experimental things, but we mostly want to have a homegrown product that supports jobs and enhances the community.”
Knowing he had to quickly establish Homeplace as a family-friendly spot, Silver used his many town connections to turn the taproom into a community event space, partner with local groups to raise money for local causes and collaborate with nearby nonprofit food hub TRACTOR Food and Farms to source ingredients.
Thanks to a generally welcoming clientele eager to learn about craft beer, Homeplace has thrived, and a second location is in the works. Renovations are well underway at the new location at 319 W. Main St., a few blocks away from the original brewery and taproom in the Burnsville Town Center building. Silver aims for it to open around the start of 2020 and will hire 12-15 new employees.
“We always thought there might be another brewery that would show up in Burnsville one day, and there very well could be — and if that happens, great. I think that would be good for everybody,” Silver says. “But we also wanted to cement our presence here with a space in a way that was kind of an exclamation point for this town.”
Formerly the home of Banco Lumber, the three-story structure was gutted and is undergoing a thorough overhaul, complete with a sizable square cut into the second and third floors to open up the space and tie the triune levels together.
The main bar will be on the middle floor with an entrance directly off Main Street. Similar to Hillman Beer’s partnership with Rise Above Deli, Homeplace will rent out the space at the back of the room to local food truck Hog Hollow Wood Fired Pizza, which will serve its namesake pies along with burgers, sandwiches, chicken wings and other pub food.
Off to the side is a deck that can seat about 80 people with a view of the property’s sprawling outdoor space. The grounds feature ample parking, fire pits and — instead of cornhole boards that have become ubiquitous at breweries — horseshoe pits.
Below the deck is a stage for live music and possibly a projector that will allow for outdoor movie and sports nights. The exterior will play host to numerous other events and perhaps next year’s No Place Like Homeplace Beer Fest. This year’s celebration of smaller, underrepresented breweries and well-known area names takes place Saturday, Sept. 28, in the courtyard of the Nu Wray Inn and on South Main Street and has already sold out its 600 tickets.
Silver says the new Homeplace location can fit close to 1,000 people for such an event — which means plenty of photo opportunities by the old rock chimney at the corner of the property, which he plans to deck out with flowers and antique machinery. “You see a lot of breweries do this the right way, where they have a focus point and everyone wants to take a photo in front of this thing that represents their brand — like Burial [Beer Co.] does with [its mural of] Sloth and Tom Selleck,” Silver says. “We want to do something similar, where we have something that reflects our brand.”
The bottom floor features an outdoor service bar and will house Homeplace’s 5-barrel brewhouse, which will be moved from its current space. Silver says he has to time the relocation just right so he can be operational in the new spot without running out of beer. He’ll increase his fermenters from six to 10 before opening, then eventually add four more and ideally build out to a 10-barrel brewing system.
Meanwhile, the upstairs will become an event space and sports/game room with shuffleboard, darts and multiple large TVs. The top level satisfies several community desires that the existing Homeplace taproom couldn’t accommodate — or, in the case of TVs, that Silver wasn’t interested in providing. Though the original space has a tube screen that plays old Western films, its purpose from the start has been as a conversation room where people could connect over quality beer. That vibe will be maintained on the new location’s main floor, thereby opening the upstairs to a new set of patrons.
When the forthcoming Homeplace isn’t open to the public, the upstairs can be rented out for private events, meeting a demand the current space is unable to accommodate. Though Silver says the Burnsville Town Center is great for larger events, the new Homeplace’s ability to be reserved for a few hours with food and beverage on-site will hopefully cement it as the local go-to zone for corporate meetings, parties and other local gatherings.
As for the original Homeplace taproom, Silver plans to add a kitchen and turn it into the brewery’s version of Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium. Dubbed “Second Home,” it will feature Homeplace’s barrel-aged and experimental beers, along with guests taps from breweries in Asheville and beyond that aren’t available in the Mitchell/Avery/Yancey tricounty region.
“You want to support the place you came from and the community you live in,” Silver says. “It’d be nice if in 10 years we can look back and see this as the starting point of helping in some small way to get Burnsville to the next step economically and interest-wise for the broader area.”