Even with the distinct allure of a taproom housed in a train caboose, Gina Miceli understands that some Asheville-area beer drinkers may hesitate to pay a visit Whistle Hop Brewing Co.
“The mountains kind of make people not want to go far. So, they think, ‘Fairview.’ They think, ‘Oh, that’s over another ridge.’ It feels farther than it really is,” she says.
Miceli, who co-owns Whistle Hop with her husband and head brewer, Tom Miceli, spreads awareness of the brewery through social media, and the couple have begun self-distributing a few kegs in Asheville to help increase name recognition and traffic. As is the case there and with Fairview’s other brewery, Turgua Brewing Co., visitors who make the drive to southeastern Buncombe County are finding qualities that are rare to extinct in Asheville’s South Slope brewing district.
“Asheville has become so crowded these days,” says Phil Desenne, owner and head brewer at Turgua Brewing Co. “The entire city is pretty much overwhelmed with tourism, and a lot of the locals do not like going into the city. And to have opportunities to go outside of the city where they don’t have to be in the hustle and bustle of the traffic and finding a place to park, that’s kind of what we offer.”
In addition to attracting area drinkers seeking a more relaxed atmosphere and pulling decent tourist traffic from Lake Lure and local Airbnbs and cabins, the two breweries strive to serve their neighbors, who have been supportive from the start.
“There is a very dedicated local crowd out here, and I don’t know if downtown gets that quite as much,” Gina Miceli says. “They get all that tourism, which is nice, but it’s so busy that I think it’s hard for taprooms to develop those core groups of regulars. We really get to be involved.”
Both breweries offer a diverse array of styles, and Miceli and Desenne have noticed a wide range of taste preferences among Fairview’s beer consumers. Miceli identifies the “old-school crowd” that asks for options comparable to Bud Light as well as craft beer drinkers who are excited to have a brewery in the neighborhood.
“There’s definitely an appreciation for local ingredients, I think, because it’s an agricultural community,” Miceli says. “A lot of folks have their own farm, or they moved out here to have more land and live off the land.”
As they operate just outside Asheville, a strong sense of camaraderie has arisen between Whistle Hop and Turgua. The Micelis and Desenne have discussed collaborating on beers — once they find some time — and share in the joys and struggles of running a Fairview brewery, including the challenges that come with being on a septic system instead of city plumbing.
“It held us up quite a bit getting our expansion done,” Miceli says. “We just had to figure out how we were going to handle wastewater. We were able to do our 1-barrel system on the amount of land we have here, but for a 10-barrel system, you need way more land to do the amount of septic to handle that kind of water.”
The Micelis are building a septic facility at her in-laws’ house but for now are paying to have wastewater hauled away. Miceli says that the silver lining to the situation is that it’s made them highly conscious about water use and therefore in line with the community ethos.
“Our system is extremely efficient — it uses the minimum amount of water,” she says. “If we were somewhere where we could just send it down the drain, we wouldn’t be thinking about that as much. We always try to be conscious of our environmental impact, but it’s made us even more so.”
The septic situation is also why Whistle Hop and Turgua are primarily outdoor venues — and why there aren’t many restaurants in Fairview. Miceli says indoor seating is limited by a business’s bathroom size, which is limited by the septic system, though visitors to both breweries enjoy sitting outside. Each location attracts a family-friendly crowd and offers yards where kids can play while parents enjoy a beverage.
“I wasn’t expecting this kind of outcome,” Desenne says. “I didn’t think people would be coming out here this much, but it turned out that way. There’s been a lot of [positive] word-of-mouth.”
Both owners view their businesses as destination breweries and make sure to have enough of their own products to make the drive worthwhile. (Miceli points to Innovation Brewing in even more remote Sylva as an inspiration for that model.) Whistle Hop’s recently expanded brewing capacity means an increasing number of house beers, which will soon match the eight Turgua brews that Desenne makes on his 3-barrel system and will also be served from a forthcoming bar in its box car space.
With that growth, however, the trick will be maintaining the setting’s appeal — especially the farmhouse feel of Turgua, whose name is a loose translation of “valley of the birds,” a nod to a communion with nature that’s at the heart of Desenne’s mission. Attracting three times as many people to his wooded property would almost certainly destroy the current ambiance, though he notes long-term financial stability will require increased traffic and revenue, likely in the form of an additional taproom at a second location, and striking that sustainable balance will require careful planning.