Beer Scout: Whaley Farm Brewery opens in Old Fort

LOVE AND MARRIAGE ... AND BEER: Chris Whaley, left, and Jessica Whaley are the owner/operators of Whaley Farm Brewery in Old Fort. Photo by Angeli Wright

Despite still being dry, Old Fort is suddenly a two-brewery town.

Hillman Beer became the McDowell County town’s pioneer brewing establishment in 2020, following the passage of N.C. Senate Bill 290, which permits beer, wine and cider to be served on the premises where they are made, “regardless of the results of any local malt beverage election.” Two years later, Whaley Farm Brewery has doubled the town’s local beer options.

The husband-and-wife team, Jessica and Chris Whaley, began pouring Chris’ brews from a 7-barrel system in late July, nearly three years after purchasing the property at 178 Catawba Ave. The “Farm” component of the business’s name refers to Jessica’s agriculture operation in Black Mountain, which specializes in salad mixes in addition to other crops grown throughout the year. Her produce can be purchased at the brewery and is gradually making its way into the beer.

“We started talking about building a farm brewery about 10 years ago and having a small radius of sourcing ingredients,” Chris says.

Though both are originally from the Midwest, the pair met in South Florida, where Chris taught homebrewing classes at Funky Buddha Brewery. Following a brief stint in Vermont, the Whaleys relocated to Asheville. And after completing South College’s brewing program in 2015, Chris continued working on his craft at a number of local establishments, including Thirty Monk Brewery, Appalachian Vintner and Zebulon Artisan Ales.

Though the Whaleys live in East Asheville, they plan to eventually move to Old Fort, which has long held special significance for them. The couple got engaged at nearby Catawba Falls shortly after moving to Asheville in 2014 and, while they enjoy the vibrancy of Asheville, prefer a more leisurely pace of life.

“We’ve always had a passion for small towns — both our families are from small towns,” Chris says. “And we really wanted a pub experience where the community could get together and have good conversations.”

Such neighborhood gatherings will be fueled by a variety of brews — traditional styles, lagers, farmhouse ales and classic English pub ales — nearly everything except IPAs.

“I love classic styles and followed that path through the cicerone program and doing all those certifications,” Chris says.

Best Bitter Ale is the brewery’s first bottled beer. More recently, Chris introduced the 1910 London Porter on tap. The recipe comes courtesy of Amsterdam-based beer historian Ron Pattinson, whom Chris met through Mike Karnowski, co-owner of Zebulon Artisan Ales. The new porter and other creations are poured via the brewery’s two beer engines, and the cask-conditioned ales have earned the approval of customers with a palate for authenticity.

“There are three British expats who’ve been coming in every weekend from Marion,” Chris says. “The biggest compliment ever has been them saying, ‘Oh, this takes me back to being a kid.’”

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Apples to apples

After a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, CiderFest NC returns Saturday, Oct. 8, at a new host site. A fundraiser for Asheville-based sustainability nonprofit Green Built Alliance, the gathering will take place at Olivette Riverside Community & Farm, a 346-acre planned community and historic farm located alongside the French Broad River. The event’s host is a longtime member of Green Built Alliance with homes that have been certified through its Green Built Homes program.

“Olivette is the region’s first ‘agrihood,’ built around a four-season organic farm and designed to connect people with nature, community and their food,” says Cari Barcas, associate director of Green Built Alliance. “The fact that Olivette is not only a stunning riverside event venue but also a residential community committed to sustainable living with deep ties to our nonprofit makes them the perfect fit for CiderFest NC.”

As has been the case since the event’s 2013 launch, attendees will be able to sample ciders and mead from over 20 producers, most of them local (e.g., Black Mountain Ciderworks and Urban Orchard Cider Co.) or from across the state, including Durham-based Bull City Ciderworks. And for the first time, Green Build Alliance is partnering with the N.C. Cider Association, which Barcas notes sets CiderFest NC up for a strong future.

“They are a statewide association of award-winning cidermakers, and their leadership team has helped us tap into relationships within the craft beverage scene that would have been difficult to cultivate otherwise,” she says. “We want to bring together makers and artists who are committed to supporting our beautiful community in sustainable ways, and we are proud to have so many talented people coming together to create this festival.”

Barcas adds that she and her colleagues have missed having the opportunity to gather with cidermakers in person and celebrate the robust state and regional industry. Delighted to be back, she’s also thankful for the opportunity the event provides to amplify Green Built Alliance’s mission and community efforts, such as providing no-cost energy-efficiency upgrades and solar system installations on the homes of local low-income families as well as schools and nonprofits.

“Our work focuses on advancing sustainable living, green building and climate justice in hopes of cultivating a community where everyone has equitable access to healthy homes and a thriving natural world, and CiderFest helps us further that mission,” she says.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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