The explosive growth of the Asheville beer industry has affected every brewery in town, and perennial favorite Wedge Brewing is no exception. While the small River Arts District operation has long resisted distribution of its beer — and will continue to do so — a new expansion facility in the nearby Old Lyman Street structure that once housed the historic Hans Rees Tannery will open to the public in early February.
The new location is currently referred to as “Wedge at the Foundation” in reference to a nearby skateboard park on the 14-acre site. The building will house a large bar area with adjoining event space and production floor, adding sorely needed capacity to one of Asheville’s smallest tasting rooms. Wedge owner Tim Schaller had no intention of expanding when he stumbled across the location in the search for additional cold storage for the brewery, but he recognized the potential of the site immediately. “Once I saw it, I realized that if I don’t do it, somebody else will,” he says.
The 118-year-old building has been painstakingly restored, and a new 7-barrel brewhouse from Canadian manufacturer Specific Mechanical Systems is in place and ready to brew. The system features a combination mash/brew kettle that allows for decoctions and cereal mashes, unique processes employed by Wedge brewmaster Carl Melissas to highlight specific malt characteristics and facilitate the use of unmalted grain, respectively.
Five fermenters, consisting of three 7-barrel and two 14-barrel brite tanks, will nearly double the original brewery’s capacity. But according to Andy Shepard, who will head up brewing operations at the new facility in partnership with Ian Leightner, the goal is to produce interesting new additions to Wedge’s lineup rather than simply augment the supply of its current offerings.
“The Wedge you know and love will still be the Wedge,” explains Shepard. “All of Carl’s beers will still be produced over there; this second brewery is just here for us to expand our repertoire.”
He and Leightner intend to craft lower-gravity beers to complement Melissas’ high-gravity brews, with beers being regularly transferred between the two locations. “We don’t have plans to box ourselves in, but Ian and I both tend to enjoy sessionable beers. We’ll make the beers we want to drink, and let the public decide what we keep brewing.”
Beers expected to be produced initially at the Foundation will include Cold Beer Cream Ale, Narrow Gauge Session IPA, a nitrogenated pub ale and a chocolate rye porter. A 1-barrel pilot system will also allow for further experimentation, but Shepard says a sour program is not on the immediate horizon for the Wedge. Shepard and Leightner plan to use local ingredients whenever possible and have already reached out to Riverbend Malthouse to secure supplies of malt as well as unmalted locally grown grain for their cereal mashes.
The climate-controlled tasting room will boast two bars housing 16 taps each at the outset, with future additions likely. The room itself is planned to have multiple intimate seating areas, and ample outdoor space will further increase the facility’s already substantial capacity.
An adjacent event venue can comfortably house 100 people standing or 75 seated, and a second-story mezzanine level is in the works to provide extra space. One of the primary advantages of the location is its almost limitless parking, which will appeal to drinkers tired of circling the South Slope in search of a legal spot.
A number of new front-of-house hires are expected for both the bar and event venue, with job postings likely to emerge in the coming weeks. Shepard and Leightner’s brewing positions at the original production facility have been filled by Eric Diehl, former head brewer at Triangle Brewing of Durham, and David Graham, a longtime Wedge regular.
The Foundation will also be the new home of 12 Bones Smokehouse, which is expected to open Wednesday, Feb. 1. The two businesses are connected by a shared hall that can be closed from either end as operating hours demand. Wedge at the Foundation and the new 12 Bones are also united by a common aesthetic, achieved through the reclamation of construction materials from the historic building and the preservation or repurposing of sophisticated graffiti found on site, in keeping with the original brewery’s distinctively eclectic style.
The pre-existing artwork has been supplemented by a mural featuring cherubs that graces the front of the new facility, painted by local artist Ian Wilkinson, and a work by Wedge Studios artist Julie Ambruster will adorn the primary bar.
The bar surface itself was constructed by Wedge front-of-house manager Julian Harris from wood restored by the nearby Old Wood Co. According to Schaller, the refined DIY aesthetictic is intended to both correspond to the original Wedge and honor Wedge Studios founder John Payne.
“We tried to maintain as much of the aesthetic as possible. We cleaned the place up, but not totally,” Schaller says. “At the original, I was building the first outdoor table out of an old door; I cut it in half and put four legs on it. John said, ‘That’ll work, but everything’s an opportunity, so take it apart and put something together that you’re proud of.’ I keep trying to remember that.”
Wedge has carefully managed its growth to stay close to the brewery’s roots and maintain its appeal to locals, points out Wedge general manager Shelton Steele. “Our goal is to continue to engage our neighborhood drinkers, the people who come in every day. We want to always have new beers that they can come in and try alongside their favorite staples.”
Wedge at the Foundation is at 339 Old Lyman St., off Amboy Road less than a mile from the current Wedge location. The opening date is expected to be confirmed soon. Look for updates on Wedge Brewing’s Facebook page.
Photo gallery by Scott Douglas.