Beer Scout: Thirsty Monk taps Asheville’s homebrewing passion

YES, THEY'RE OPEN: The Open Brewing team transformed the former Thirsty Monk Gerber Village location into a brewpub. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

When I walked into Open Brewing a few weeks ago, the wall behind the bar had just been repainted, but the rest of the space was clearly a work in progress. As a reporter, it isn’t unusual to sit for an interview amid piles of boxes, with signage waiting to be hung. But this time, I wasn’t there for an interview.

Thirsty Monk’s head brewer, Norm Penn, had invited me there to brew a beer, which then would be offered on tap at the opening. While that might at first seem like a gimmick — let a reporter brew so he’ll write about it — that wasn’t the case at Open. I was just one of the first four homebrewers visiting that week to brew the beers that Open will eventually serve. (And truth be told, if a new brewpub is opening in town, I’m writing about it anyway.)

As the third or fourth brewer to stop by, I found the whole Open process well-organized and surprisingly close to a normal backyard brew day. The batch size may have been laughably large compared with my normal 5 gallons, and the equipment may have been a heck of a lot nicer, but we went through all the same steps. And at the end of the day, there was a brand-new beer in the tanks.

If you’re a brewer, you could be next. Anyone can submit recipes to Open by emailing hello@obrewing.com or taking a bottle to the taproom with a recipe. “We’re looking for unique, well-designed beers,” says Thirsty Monk Vice President Chall Gray. “But Norm Penn is an excellent teacher, so the brewer can be experienced and award-winning, or a novice.”

Quality homebrew goes commercial

While homebrew in some cities has to fight a bad reputation, Asheville’s homebrewers have proved they’re the real deal at events like Just Brew It, presented annually by Just Economics. Every year, our town’s commercial brewers pick the best of the best and brew them commercially.

So don’t expect wacky creations like pork chop ale or a peppermint lager on tap at Open. Instead, expect a mix of classic styles, like MALT Homebrew Club co-founder Dave Keller’s Scottish ale, and fun flavor riffs like Penn’s own coconut-infused tropical IPA. “All the batches will be brewed to Penn’s high standards,” Gray says. But really, if you’ve ever attended a homebrew meeting in town, it’s clear the standards are already quite high.

For nonbrewing beer enthusiasts, Open wants to give them a reason to stop by again and again. “There will be something new and different every week … and batches will be very limited,” says Gray. Still, at its core, Gray says the crew has worked to create a real neighborhood brewery. It just happens to be one where the neighbors are the ones brewing the beer you’re drinking.

Gray says he’s hoping to have those first few homebrewers’ beers on tap at the opening, but that ultimately depends on when those beers are ready to drink. Penn will have to taste them and decide what’s ready to go. The rest of the taps will be rounded out by commercial beers chosen by the homebrewers and by Penn’s beers, including Honey Badger Brown Ale.

Non-brewers welcome

For those who don’t brew, Gray hopes Open will pique their curiosity and maybe teach them a thing or two about the process. “We want the nature of the place to be very inclusive,” says Gray. “So in addition to bringing homebrewers in, we want to make sure we have graphics and displays that explain the brewing process, outline it really, for the other people that stop by [to grab a pint.]”

Gray says Open Brewing will operate on a four-day schedule, open only Wednesday through Saturday. The off days will give Penn the time and space at the Gerber Village location to brew Thirsty Monk’s own beers in addition to Open Brewing’s until the company’s Thompson Street site is built and ready for the bulk of the brewing operation.

As it turns out, the name “Open Brewing” may cause a little confusion when the pub is closed. “We’ve actually already had people walking up and trying the door, even though we have a ‘Closed’ sign and a note hanging up,” says Penn. “People just see ‘Open’ in large letters and they walk right up.”

Open Brewing is in Gerber Village in South Asheville. A soft opening is planned for Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 4 p.m. Regular hours will be 4-11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Look for opening specials the weekend of Dec. 6 and 7.  obrewing.com

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

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