Beer Scout: Hi-Wire, UpCountry and Archetype thrive in former brewery spaces

BROADWAY DEBUT: Stacy Johnson, event coordinator for Archetype Brewing, stands at the brewery's new downtown taproom and event space. The West Asheville brewery's second location has its grand opening on May 11. Photo courtesy of Archetype Brewing

The Asheville area has had the good fortune of seeing only a few breweries close over the past 25 years. Just as encouraging is that in the handful of cases when a brewery has decided to shut down, the space in which it crafted and served beers has quickly been filled —  by another brewery.

The first instance in what’s recently become a trend occurred in November 2012 when Craggie Brewing Co. closed on Hilliard Avenue. Its lease was transferred and the brewing system was sold to Hi-Wire Brewing owners Chris Frosaker and Adam Charnack. With neither business partner having any previous brewery experience, the circumstances allowed Hi-Wire to open in June 2013, which Frosaker estimates is a quarter of the time it would have taken had they needed to bring in a new system.

“While there are a lot of imperfections in that building and in that brewing system, it was an awesome opportunity to step into a turnkey brewing situation,” Frosaker says. “It’s very rare where you can just walk in and everything’s hooked up and ready to go.”

The new tenants personalized the interior by tearing down an enclosed area and making an entirely new taproom that flows into the brewery side to create one cohesive space. New furniture and paint colors also made a big difference in establishing the new brand, as did the addition of another brite tank and a small bottling machine, which allowed Hi-Wire to package from day one.

In addition to reusing the building, they also kept on two Craggie employees who remain integral staff members: Nick Alwon, who started as a cellar man and is now head of production maintenance, and head brewer Luke Holgate. “We really leaned on them,” Frosaker says. “They knew the equipment in and out. They had brewed on it and experienced it and had their own ideas on how to improve processes there to make better beer.”

Their experience was essential in Hi-Wire overcoming people’s perceptions of the building and the beer that could be made there — a hurdle that Frosaker says was the hardest part of opening the brewery. Though he liked Craggie’s beer, he’s aware that a lot of people didn’t, and along with that opinion came a stigma behind the equipment, which just happens to be Highland Brewing Co.’s original brewing system.

Other brewers told Hi-Wire they were crazy for continuing to use the completely manual set-up, some falsely believing it to be infected. But over the next year, the fledgling company proved them wrong.

Now firmly established in markets throughout the Southeast, Hi-Wire will have five retail spaces among Asheville, Durham and Knoxville, Tenn., by the end of May, all of which have been repurposed. “It’s kind of who we are,” Frosaker says. “I can’t picture us ever building a new, fancy building or anything like that. [We prefer] coming into old spaces and making them work with all their quirks.”

Twice is nice

The current king of brewery recycling is UpCountry Brewing Co. owner John Cochran, who’s converted the former Altamont Brewing Co. in West Asheville and Peaks & Creeks Brewing Co. in Brevard.

“It’s not my M.O. by any means. It’s just kind of a coincidence that it happened twice,” he says. “It’s not necessarily easier, but it’s a somewhat faster way to get started.”

Cochran notes the financial savings of using established brewing equipment and also points to the built-in customer base and the ability to consult the sales history of various beer styles in the space as advantages.

“The negative is actually the same thing: The equipment’s already there, so you may not be able to get exactly what you want,” he says. “You could also say the fact that it’s an existing business is a negative because you have to educate people and let them know you’re doing something different. It’s a process. I wouldn’t give it a huge plus or minus, but in both cases people were excited to see something new pop up.”

In both transactions, Cochran sought the former owners’ advice regarding the space, equipment and clientele, and has maintained excellent relations with them. With Peaks & Creeks, the closure of which stemmed from the co-owner Jon Bowman’s health issues, Cochran kept selling Bowman’s beer for the remainder of 2018 and gave him 100% of its sales, not just the profits.

Downtown style

Originally intended for a late March opening, CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective — whose members include Oskar Blues Brewery and Cigar City Brewing — will debut its CANarchy Collaboratory in the former Lexington Avenue Brewery space in early June, according to Aaron Baker, senior marketing manager for Oskar Blues.

While intensive redesign and construction has delayed the Collaboratory’s opening, West Asheville’s Archetype Brewing was able to establish its second taproom in the old Habitat Brewing Co. spot in a matter of weeks this spring and will have its grand opening on Saturday, May 11. Founder/owner Brad Casanova credits the quick turnaround to merely having to make cosmetic changes to the existing tasting room. He feels that he and his colleagues have set themselves up for success in the new location.

“I think not being apologetic about your own style is important, while still paying respect for what Habitat built in this space. We’ve definitely continued relationships with some groups that have used this space, but we’re going to do it our way,” he says. “We’re different and we wanted to change a few things. Visually, I think changing a few big things helps people recognize the change in style and ownership.”

Longtime friends of Habitat owners Jen and Matt Addis, Casanova notes there was a lot of interest in the building from local and out-of-town breweries as well as other businesses. Maintaining that relationship proved crucial in taking over the space, and he believes that carrying on the former owners’ ethos will allow Archetype to thrive.

“When it came time for them to vacate, we just kind of talked about our visions and there was a lot of overlap in that community aspect,” he says. “I feel very honored that they went with us without really exploring even further, because they felt good about who they were passing their customers on to, and I think that’s important.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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