Despite Asheville’s increasingly crowded brewery market, the number of dedicated craft beer bars available to local consumers has remained relatively stagnant over the years. But that’s about to change with the introduction of The Whale Craft Beer Collective in West Asheville, expected to launch in early October. The brainchild of Wicked Weed veterans Andrew Ross and Jesse Van Note, The Whale will showcase world beers alongside esoteric local offerings with a focus on educating independent beer lovers looking to expand their horizons.
The name is particularly significant to Ross and Van Note, as the term “whale” is shorthand in beer trading circles for highly sought-after and hard-to-find rarities, an aspect of beer service in which the bar intends to specialize. Beyond difficult-to-obtain beers, however, the secondary title’s emphasis on “collective” denotes the bar’s community focus, an integral component of the Whale’s mission statement, according to Ross.
“A craft beer collective is something we spent a lot of time thinking about,” he says. “Most of our friends work in craft beer, and when we set out to do this, we wanted to approach it from a perspective of gathering the ideas of people in our community about what we were lacking as a community and creating a space we all wanted to hang out in. We want to create something approachable, friendly and at the same time cater to a more knowledgeable crowd of beer consumers.”
The Whale will open with 20 draft handles and a substantial bottle list, and while “whales” will be a defining component of the beers on offer, more affordable options will be available as well. Customers can expect those less expensive beers to include the traditional antecedents to popular modern styles — such as Pilsner Urquell, a classic Czech lager introduced in 1842 —as opposed to more commonly available cheap U.S. macrolagers.
“I think it’s really important to be able to educate consumers about where these beers came from — for people to be able to drink their favorite beers, but also to understand why those beers exist,” Van Note points out. “For example, without Urquell, there would be no Budweiser or Miller Lite.”
The Whale plans to host regular educational programs and weekly classes, with guest instructors culled from Ross and Van Note’s network of industry connections. Lectures, guided tastings and frequent beer festivals are expected to be consistent features of the taproom’s event schedule. A grand opening festival showcasing noteworthy beers from around the world is currently in the planning stages, following soft-opening events throughout early fall.
While Urquell may be a regular offering alongside other classics such as Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen or Spaten Lager and traditional Belgian ales, Ross and Van Note plan to build on the extensive relationships they’ve developed through their years in North Carolina’s independent beer community by contributing to the creation of brews unique to The Whale. Mike Karnowski of Zebulon Artisan Ales will brew a pilsner as The Whale’s exclusive house beer, and plans are already underway to collaborate on other one-off beers with esteemed local and regional breweries such as Fonta Flora.
“It’s legally impossible to open with a world-class cellar,” Ross notes. “That could take years to develop, although we’ll start building it immediately. But we’ll also supplement vintage offerings with beers made specifically for us by brewers we respect like Mike [Karnowski].”
The Whale shares a building at 507 Haywood Road with Haywood Common, a restaurant from Belly Up food truck proprietors Hannah and Rob Starr that will also provide food at the taproom. The bar will feature an inviting Scandinavian aesthetic with a large outdoor patio.
The initial staff-out will be limited, with résumés currently being accepted. Applicants with prior beer industry are encouraged, and a high degree of global beer knowledge is a prerequisite.
As is true of the bar’s namesake, The Whale is designed as something to be sought out rather than stumbled upon. By locating on an up-and-coming stretch of Haywood Road, Ross and Van Note hope to attract neighborhood locals and tourists willing to seek out the best beer bar experience in town by venturing off the beaten path typically explored by downtown pub crawlers.
Van Note’s succinct explication of The Whale’s guiding ethos suggests a venue intended for drinkers seeking to engage with beer on a deeper level. “We don’t want to just focus on whatever beer is the hottest new thing,” he says. “We also want to celebrate where those beers came from — the past, present and future of beer. The people who are the innovators of the future need to be celebrated too, but I think staying current while also respecting the past is the key to a successful beer bar.”
The Whale Craft Beer Collective will open in October at 507 Haywood Road. To apply for a job at The Whale, send a résumé to firstname.lastname@example.org.