Beer Scout: The beer scene in ‘15

NEW YEAR, MORE BEER: Green Man Brewing Co. is already at work building its new facility in South Slope. The company hopes it will be open by this summer. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

Will Cigar City be Asheville’s newest brewery? Will New Belgium be open for tours by the end of the year? What brewery has a surprising expansion up its sleeve?

While the answers to some of the biggest beery questions for Asheville are elusive this early in 2015, one thing’s for certain: We have another big year on tap.

Let’s start with the big unknowns. Ever since Cigar City’s owner, Joey Redner, came up to Asheville and Greenville with a serious scouting team in October, it’s been a legitimate possibility bubbling under the surface. Rumors have gone around that Black Mountain is a finalist for a second Cigar City brewery, if not a sure thing. Redner even hinted at Black Mountain in particular when he talked to Xpress, saying, “It’s a relaxed small town that puts my mind at ease.”

The other rumor to track in the new year also started in October when a short entry was posted on ProBrewer.com saying that “an Asheville brewpub” was for sale for $3 million. Those most interested in the rumor latched onto the word “brewpub” and focused on the few true brewpubs in Asheville proper (meaning breweries that also have their own restaurant). Yet those true brewpubs — Asheville Brewing, LAB and Oysterhouse — were all soon struck from the list. Will we see a brewpub or brewery change hands in 2015? (Or if a sale doesn’t come through, will we see our first brewery closing since Craggie?)

Confirmed openings and expansions

Moving beyond speculation, there’s plenty of concrete action in 2015.

First, let’s backtrack and start at the end of 2014. Thirsty Monk’s new venture in Gerber Village, Open Brewing, opened on Dec. 3. Since then, it has released only one beer, but many more will be hitting the taps in the coming weeks. If you haven’t heard of Open yet, this is the premise: Thirsty Monk brewmaster Norm Penn is working with talented area homebrewers to scale their recipes up and brew them in the Thirsty Monk brewhouse. So once they’re off and running, you’ll be able to stop in and sample a variety of taps from a variety of local brewers.

To the west, Boojum Brewing in Waynesville will likely be the first new brewery officially opening in Western North Carolina this year. They haven’t yet set an opening date, but co-owners Ben and Kelsie Baker are already brewing their first batches. When it opens, Boojum will join Bearwaters, Frog Level and Tipping Point to become the fourth brewery in Waynesville. Unlike its competition, Boojum will start off with two locations: a production brewery outside of town and a pub at 50 N. Main St.

Next up are two local breweries opening satellites in town. Catawba just sent out an update and released plans for its new satellite brewery and tasting room on Banks Avenue on the South Slope. Co-owner Billy Pyatt says the brewery plans to complete the bulk of the work by March. Hi-Wire won’t be far behind with its second Asheville location. It aims to have a production facility, along with its own taproom and tours, operational by mid-2015, according to co-owner Adam Charnack.

While not a brewery, Tasty Beverage Co. will expand Asheville’s beer scene in a different way. The store will have more than 1,200 beers available in bottles (so it’s a serious bottle shop), but it will also have draft beer available — and eventually it may have a small selection of charcuterie and cheeses as well. Owner Johnny Belflower says the construction is slightly behind schedule, but it’s likely opening in spring 2015.

Keep your eyes open for some large expansions at two longtime breweries as well. Green Man will add to the South Slope bustle with a $4 million project, already underway on the corner of Buxton Avenue. By the summer, it should have a new 18,000-square-foot packaging hall complete with a new retail space and an outdoor beer garden.

Over at Highland, communications manager Drew Stevenson says changes will be on full display by summer as well, thanks to a combination loan and Tourism Development Authority grant. “By summer we will have doubled our production space, built a new cooler three times the size of our current cooler, opened entertainment areas on three levels (ground floor, mezzanine and rooftop bar) and we will be powering all production with the sun,” says Stevenson.

Of course, the last opening of the year will be the biggest yet for Asheville proper. New Belgium, which provided a comprehensive update to Xpress last week, will definitely be brewing beer in Asheville this year. The only question now is whether it will be open to the public as well in 2015.

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

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2 thoughts on “Beer Scout: The beer scene in ‘15

  1. Kevin Dobo

    Excellent summary, but no mention of Wicked Weed’s expansion into a larger production facility?

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