Beer Scout: Mills River Brewery

SUDS FOR THE SOUTH SIDE: Mills River Brewing co-owners Joey Soukup, left, and PJ McCarthy hope their business will attract craft beer lovers living in South Asheville and Mills River. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

At Mills River Brewery, the brewhouse isn’t up and running yet. And if you searched for it on Google as recently as a week ago, it was on the third page of results after various links to Sierra Nevada’s Mills River brewery. However, co-owners Patrick (PJ) McCarthy and Joey Soukup aren’t letting details like that deter them.

“I grew up in the Mills River area and I think we’ve needed something like this on the south side of town for a long time: a local craft beer bar and [soon a] microbrewery with plenty of parking,” says Soukup. “Actually, I’m sure there will be other breweries down here eventually, but right now we’re the first.”

McCarthy also grew up locally and has been friends with Soukup for about 15 years. For their first business venture, Soukup will be the brewer — he’s been homebrewing for seven years and took brewing classes at A-B Tech. McCarthy brings the hotel and restaurant management know-how to the team with a degree in the field and years of experience working in corporate restaurants.

While the pair wait on permitting, they’re running the business like a craft beer bar with a deli on the side. “We have 24 taps we’re constantly changing out,” says McCarthy. “We’re keeping on a mix of national and local — everything from Asheville to California.”

McCarthy says while the guest taps are the main focus, he and Soukup are trying to host plenty of events to spread the word that they’re open — including at least one pint night a week. Regular hospitality nights and seasonal events will soon be part of the program as well. “We’re planning to do special events for Oktoberfest and we’ll definitely have a night for pumpkin beers,” says McCarthy. He also says come fall they’ll play NFL games on multiple TVs, giving the brewery a bit more of a sports bar feel than most tasting rooms.

While some downtown breweries have never bothered with food, Soukup says they knew they needed to offer something in-house starting from day one. “When you walk around downtown, it’s easy to find food right next door to a brewery, but down here we realize the options you can walk to are a bit more limited,” says Soukup. “If people get off work and come by, we had to have something ready for them besides beer.” With that in mind, they’re currently serving fresh-baked pretzels from Carolina Mountain Bakery, subs and charcuterie boards with a mix of meats, cheeses, fruit, hummus and pita.

In addition to crafting sandwiches, Soukup feels up to the challenge of building the brewery once the pair pass the permitting process. “I can get that type of work done quickly since my background is in construction,” says Soukup. “In fact, just about everything in the taproom right now came straight from [my workshop] in my garage — the bar, the tables and even the stools.”

Soukup says they can’t control everything in the timeline, but they hope to be brewing in the next one to two months on their 3-barrel system. What will the first Mills River Brewing beers be?

“Our goal will be to have a flight of our own beers, maybe four at all times,” says Soukup. “We want to have a couple recipes that stay consistent while others are really pushing the envelope.”

As far as styles go, Soukup says he has long brewed stouts and porters as well as nontraditional recipes, like a farmhouse blonde. He’s also big into IPAs and brews many different variations of the style. There are no beer names yet, but the team plans to name their flagship beers after the trails system in Mills River.

“We’ve started this with a small loan and some credit cards, and when you look at Oskar Blues or Sierra Nevada, you can’t imagine a business [starting where we are and] being there,” says McCarthy. “But we’re inspired by seeing what’s happened in Asheville with our local breweries. They all started small, and look where a lot of them are now.”

“We’re not really seeing any tourists yet, but we’re not brewing … and we’re slowly becoming a neighborhood bar already,” says McCarthy.

“And if you search for us this week on Google, we’re on the first page,” says Soukup, smiling.

Mills River Brewery is at 33 Rockwood Road, Unit 103, in Arden. For updates on the brewery, including when it will debut its first beer, go to Facebook.com/millsriverbrewery.

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

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