As a veteran of the craft brewing industry, Andrew Zinn has sage advice for any peer looking to take the next step: Don’t start a brewery unless you have something new to bring to the conversation.
Since launching Leveller Brewing Co. in Weaverville in December with his wife and business partner, Sally Anne Morgan, the couple have sought to stay true to their own ethos.
“I feel like we embody that [advice], both in making approachable and interesting beers, exploring new space within farmhouse-style beer and in trying to make the sort of business we’d like to see more of within this industry,” Zinn says. “I feel like there is plenty of space for small breweries doing something distinct from others in the region, producing top-quality beers.”
Zinn began brewing in 2005 as an undergraduate at Eastern Tennessee State University, getting homebrew kits from Asheville Brewers Supply with his friends. He then found work at Saugatuck Brewing Co. in western Michigan, after which he returned to his hometown of Holland, Mich., where he worked at a local homebrew shop and educated himself on recipe development, brewing technique and sour brewing.
His next stop was Asheville in 2012, when he landed a job with Wicked Weed Brewing — though not in the capacity one might think.
“I actually started there in the kitchen,” Zinn says. “I was part of the opening kitchen crew but showed up to my second interview with seven sour and wild beers I’d homebrewed. Very quickly after that, they got me working in the cellar, and not long after, I was put in charge of all barrel management and blending.”
Zinn helped build Wicked Weed into a national force for wild ales, warranting the construction of the Funkatorium, the East Coast’s first taproom dedicated to sour beer. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the brewery restructured, and Zinn was laid off, though he says he “left the program in excellent care with Jen Currier.”
Confident then that they had something fresh to add to the craft beer industry, Zinn and Morgan — a singer-songwriter and visual artist — began looking for a brewery/taproom location on the north side of Buncombe County, close to their Alexander home and hobby farm.
In October 2021, Zinn and Morgan secured the former Brown’s Floral building on Weaverville’s Main Street. The space is next to a free town parking lot and has patio seating.
“We never dreamed we could score such a great spot in a bustling downtown area and have felt real support from the locals,” Zinn says. “It feels like we are bringing something to Weaverville that is enhancing the town, not just squeezing in another brewery where there already are so many.”
What’s in a name?
Zinn and Morgan credit their folklorist friend Emily Hilliard with the inspiration for the brewery’s name. Once Hilliard told them about the Levellers — a radical agrarian movement in 17th-century England whose adherents believed the land should be held in common by all, not just the nobles — the couple say they immediately thought it had a nice ring to it, but more importantly a lot of symbolic significance.
“The shovel in our logo connects to labor behind the beer — the labor of the farmer growing the barley,” Zinn says. “The Levellers symbolize egalitarianism. They spoke of the earth as a ‘common treasury for all.’ This egalitarian mindset really resonates with us, especially existing within an industry that has not always been wholly inclusive and supportive of its workers.”
Zinn adds that he and Morgan are building Leveller to embody their personal and political beliefs, putting worker and community benefit at the core of their business. They also plan to become a worker-owned cooperative within five years.
The brewery’s 5-barrel main system serves a taproom currently outfitted with seven European-style faucets, one Czech side-pull faucet and two beer engines, though Zinn notes he’s not been able to catch up enough to have more than six beers available.
“We also have a 1-barrel system — my old homebrew gear — that I’ve been using as a bit of a working pilot system, and for beers like Bitter that are best consumed as fresh as possible,” he says. “Ultimately, we’re making the beers we want to drink — that’s a bit of a clichéd line at this point, but it’s also that ethos at the root of the whole craft beer movement.”
The brewer’s interest in farmhouse beers stems from the inherent freedom within the style’s broad definition. But for Leveller, he says its key aspects are local ingredients when possible and appropriate, interesting yeast expression and dry-finishing beers. Zinn also strives to add more Czech-style lagers and English session cask beers to the Asheville-area scene, and he’ll be sure to continue his sour beer tradition as well.
Like a good neighbor
Leveller is now the third production brewery in Weaverville, but despite the growing scene and proximity to the competition, Zinn and Morgan view their addition as complementary.
“We love our neighbors, Zebulon [Artisan Ales] and Eluvium [Brewing Co.], and think that by opening up near them, we are raising the profiles for all of us, encouraging more beer tourists to come to Weaverville,” Zinn says. “We’re only a 15-minute drive from Asheville, so we’re in a great spot for beer-focused tourists to be easily able to visit. And now that we’re a contingent of three, I think we’re drawing in more.”
He adds that Zebulon co-owners Mike Karnowski and Gabe Pickard are friends and inspirations. They also have a beer engine to serve cask beer, and the business owners joke that Weaverville now has the highest per-capita beer engine ratio anywhere outside the British Isles.
“The craft beer scene in general is so supportive of new breweries, and it feels good to not feel in competition but rather that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Zinn says. “There will definitely be some killer [collaboration beers] coming soon.”
Leveller Brewing Co. is at 25 N. Main St., Weaverville. To learn more, including hours, visit avl.mx/caz.