Growing up in Burnsville when it was still a dry town, John Silver was well aware of bootlegging and what he calls “a lot of folks driving to the county line to get their Coors Banquet.”
While Yancey County remains dry, Burnsville voted to allow alcohol in 2010, opening the door for Plumtree’s Blind Squirrel Brewery to build its Burnsville Outpost in 2016, which joined the Snap Dragon Bar & Grill’s well-received craft beverage selections. In June, Silver opened Homeplace Beer Co., the county’s first brewery, in a space adjoining Burnsville Town Center.
“It was obvious there was going to be a brewery here one day, and I just had an opportunity after working in the industry for 10 years and maxing out what I wanted to do — or what I was available to do — in Asheville,” he says.
Silver’s first industry job was at Pisgah Brewing Co., which had just started distributing to Barley’s Taproom when he came on board in 2005. He washed kegs for the fledgling Black Mountain producer and was paid in growlers. He then went on to brew for Catawba Brewing Co. in Morganton from 2005-07 until Pisgah hired him as head brewer. He held the position through 2009, when he handed the reins to Kyle Williams, now the owner and brewmaster at Brevard Brewing Co.
After Pisgah, Silver worked as a staff brewer at French Broad Brewing Co. and was the lead brewer for Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard for almost three years. The jobs afforded him significant production brewing experience and the opportunity to learn new systems, but he says that he’s not sure if he was ever cut out to be the head brewer of a production facility. “It definitely takes a certain personality to do that,” he says.
In Homeplace’s 5-barrel brewhouse, Silver makes four different year-round beers — Brown Mule Brown Ale, Faith Healer Session IPA, Golden Heart American Lager and Frankie Amber Lager — to serve in the taproom and for some distribution. The four other taps feature rotating small-batch brews, and for all of the above, he tries to incorporate at least one local ingredient.
Brown Mule is made with local honey, the Watermelon Lager with fruit from a local farmer, the Belgian Blonde with lavender and herbs from nearby Mountain Farm and the Nitro Stout with fennel that Silver grew himself. The Frankie Amber — named after Frankie Silver, John Silver’s distant cousin and 19th-century folklore icon who chopped her husband into pieces and buried them in numerous places around the county — uses malt from Riverbend Malt House, while Golden Heart eschews corn syrup and pregelatinized corn flakes for a more wholesome approach.
“Not to sound like the Budweiser ad, but it’s kind of brewed the hard way,” Silver says. “We actually do a separate cereal mash with the corn grits we get from Guilford County, and that breaks down the grits to where the starches are able to be converted into sugar when we put it in the barley mash. So it’s kind of a labor-of-love thing, but it makes a really nice, clean, crisp, great-tasting American-style lager.”
Wanting Homeplace to be a social hub for Burnsville residents to visit on the weekends and after work, Silver encourages patron interaction by not having televisions in his taproom. Though he plans to make bigger beers once the weather turns cold — specifically mentioning oak-aged stouts — 80 percent of his beers will clock in below 5 percent ABV, an approach that further encourages people to linger and talk with one another.
“Our whole thing is just making sessionable beers that have a lot of local flavor and stuff that’s not super-watered-down but still not going to get you hammered,” Silver says. “I think there’s a lack of balance, and sessionable is such a thing now, but I feel like a lot of brewers — not really anybody locally, but on a national level, it seems like ‘sessionable’ automatically means ‘watered-down.’ Especially session IPAs: A lot of them just seem like hop water to me.”
Silver says Faith Healer has been the taproom’s best-seller by far and has been doing well in a few Asheville establishments. Barley’s often sells a little over a half a barrel a week of it and will soon add Frankie to its offerings. Faith Healer has also been on tap at Archetype Brewing and The Black Cloud metal bar, and Silver is in talks with Habitat Brewing Co. and Sweeten Creek Brewing about guest taps. Otherwise, he’s been focusing on Boone for distribution — which he calls “a little more wide open than Asheville” — and will have multiple products there this month.
Silver also hopes to start doing limited can runs by fall. Homeplace’s space is too small for a mobile canning apparatus, but he envisions making a half-manual, half-automated system of his own to produce four-packs of 16-ounce cans. They’ll be sold primarily out of the tasting room, but some will be sent to Appalachian Vintner and other Asheville bottle shops.
Beyond packaging and distribution, Silver is starting to talk with other brewers about collaborations and is planning to pour at the Brewgrass festival in September. He’d also like to be at the Hickory Hops festival in 2018 and possibly Blind Squirrel’s Avery County Beer and Wine Festival.
Homeplace Beer Co. is at 6 S. Main St., Area C, Burnsville. Tasting room hours are 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 2-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday and 1-6 p.m. Sunday. The tasting room is closed on Mondays. For more details, visit homeplacebeer.com.