Andrew Ross admits that when it comes to expanding operations for the Asheville-based craft beer bar The Whale, his business partner Jesse Van Note has historically been the more proactive one. Recently, however, those roles reversed, resulting in a second local location at 2 Beverly Road in East Asheville. The combination retail and on-premise spot, which will be known as The Outpost, is slated to open this fall.
Before settling on The Whale’s new space, Ross and Van Note, who lives in Greenville, S.C., had eyed a few options downtown. But high real estate costs and the large number of beer businesses in a small area lessened the appeal. In the midst of their ongoing search, Ross and his wife, Elise, relocated to East Asheville. While numerous perks attracted them to the neighborhood, one major downside stood out as they settled in.
“It became very clear, very quickly that there wasn’t a place to buy good beer or wine on a retail level,” Ross says. “Your only drinking options over here are Creekside [Taphouse] and RendezVous, which both do a great job, but they’re much more restaurant focused.”
Consistent with the flipflopped manner with which the space was secured, The Outpost’s offerings will be somewhat of an inverse of the West Asheville location, focusing primarily on packaged product. But as with the original Whale, nonlocal breweries are the priority to both introduce people to new beers and direct them to the area breweries themselves if they want to taste Asheville-made products, which in turn is more profitable for their fellow local businesses.
While the tap list will be much smaller than the original bar, Van Note says to count on a rosé and a locally made house beer on draft, and another inviting atmosphere where patrons can relax for a few hours.
“The whole vibe is ‘country store,’” he says. “It’s what the place begs for: modern upscale bottle shop meets local provisions.”
Ross adds, “I gotta figure out how Mast [General Store] makes their buildings smell the same — get us some of that cedar smell.”
In addition to The Outpost, Ross and Van Note are also in the midst of opening their second location in South Carolina. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’d been eyeing an expansion to Charleston. But once lockdowns began, their focus turned to keeping their Asheville and Greenville locations afloat. With indoor capacity restrictions, the co-owners expanded outdoor seating at both locations and began doing weekly guided Zoom tastings of curated four-packs.
“There was this engagement that I think people were really worried about losing, especially in that two-month period where we weren’t supposed to leave our houses,” Ross says. “We were delivering the beer and we kept the garage door open so people could come in and get the beer. And then everyone got to sit together for two hours on a Friday afternoon and drink. That was one of those big pivotal points for us.”
Once the flagship bar was back to fairly regular operations, Ross and Van Note resumed their Charleston quest and secured a space in the mixed-use Refinery complex on Meeting Street, in what Van Note says is being called the city’s brewery district. And like the Greenville bar, it will spotlight Asheville brews that would otherwise be difficult to get in the area.
“We’re always down to gamble and go for the up-and-coming areas,” Van Note says. “COVID hit Greenville pretty hard, but things are starting to open up and head our way on Main Street. And then look at the block where we opened in Asheville. It’s just crazy.”
The Charleston location will have a grand opening on Saturday, Sept. 25, when it serves as one of only 28 host sites across the U.S. for Zwanze Day. Ross says being chosen by Belgium-based Brasserie Cantillon for the annual international celebration of lambic beers is a huge honor, especially for a business that’s been in operation a mere four years.
“I think people do trust us with alcohol decisions.” Ross says. “That’s a really cool thing to build our business on — no matter if you go to Asheville, Greenville, Charleston or The Outpost, you’re going to get something of high caliber without pretension.”
Helping ensure that consistent quality, Asheville General Manager Jesse Mellinger has moved to Charleston to run that location alongside former CANarchy Collaboratory General Manager Reed Rocheleau, who’ll serve as assistant general manager.