Halloween has come and gone, but Burning Blush Brewery is out to provide gothic-themed ambiance — and quality beer — throughout the year.
The creation of head brewer Whit Lanning and his family, the Mills River operation, tentatively set for a December opening, takes its name from the Edgar Allan Poe poem “Song.”
“I’ve been a huge Poe fan for forever,” Lanning says. “He was sending letters back and forth to a woman he was interested in, and her father knew Poe was an editor and not making much money, so he intercepted the letters. She goes on to marry someone else and invites Poe to the wedding, sees him and gets a ‘burning blush’ on her cheek.”
A graduate of T.C. Roberson High School, Lanning earned a chemistry degree from N.C. State University in 2009. While at college, he began homebrewing, and for a graduation present, his father, Jim Lanning, agreed to send him to brewing school. After a four-month education at Brewlab in Sunderland, England (near Newcastle), Lanning returned to Asheville and brought an idea to his father, who started at Ingles Markets as a service clerk in 1975 when he was 16 years old, worked his way to company president in 2003 and added the role of CEO in 2016.
“As soon as I got out of brewing school, I wanted to open a brewery,” Lanning says. “But my dad, being the genius businessman that he is, was like, ‘Heck no! Work somewhere for 10 years, then we’ll talk.’”
With the 2010 Asheville-area brewing industry not as job-rich as its current form, Lanning went to Greenville, S.C., and was hired at Thomas Creek Brewery. He stayed there for six years, then gained additional experience at fellow Greenville brewery Birds Fly South Ale Project and then Carolina Bauernhaus in Anderson.
Two years ago, as the decade of prescribed practice neared its end, Lanning became serious about striking out on his own. Along with his family, he purchased land at 4891 Boylston Highway — around the bend from the long-standing Mills River Restaurant — in July 2017, and the high-ceilinged structure, which has a maximum occupancy of nearly 180, was built from the ground up.
As for the beer that will be made on his 15-barrel system, Lanning — a self-described “big hop guy” — will feature plenty of New England and West Coast IPAs and pale ales on the brewery’s 16 taps. He’s also a huge fan of lagers and barrel-aged beers and looks forward to using the wild ale practices he learned at Birds Fly South and Carolina Bauernhaus.
The English-style influences from his time at Brewlab and a continued interest in the efforts of Britain’s famous Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, will also shine through. Lanning hosted a regular cask night at Thomas Creek and plans to bring that long-standing tradition to Burning Blush, along with cider and wine options.
“We’re going to hit the whole gamut, for sure,” he says. “We want to be known for our beer. We’re going to be hitting everything traditional while also exploring more radical approaches and techniques.”
Beyond the brewery’s name, the Poe influence extends to the taproom’s Victorian castle aesthetic, beginning with its stone exterior, hanging glass lanterns and a period-appropriate giant wood door. Inside, the bar features beautiful stained glass that was manufactured in the 1930s and used in a Chicago pub. Many of the wooden chairs have slim, high backs, and 10 are clustered around a large table in the center of the room to offer improved large group conversation over the typical rectangular configuration.
“We want to create a European vibe with the community tables so that instead of people being on phones all of the time, they conversate and talk to new people,” Lanning says. “It might not be as trafficky as downtown Asheville, but you can park your car, bring in your dogs and kids and relax.”
Burning Blush will open with Lanning’s mother, Melody Lanning, as operations manager. Once Burning Blush has been open for a few months, Lanning plans to hire an assistant brewer and will bring in more employees after a canning line is up and running. A variety of food trucks will rotate outside, and he eventually hopes to construct an outdoor stage for live music to complement the venue’s wealth of indoor events.
With Bold Rock Hard Cider and Mills River Brewery’s forthcoming Banner Farm Road expansion nearby, it’s an exciting time for the local brewing industry — and Lanning says the town of Mills River may want to make it even more accessible to patrons by connecting the three businesses via a “fermentation trail.” Though town manager Daniel Cobb notes that no specific decisions have been made to link the breweries, plans are underway to develop bicycle and pedestrian paths and, considering the business’ proximity to property the Town currently owns, it’s possible that the locations could be connected in the future.