Carolina Beer Guy: Brewery building and expansions proceed during COVID-19 crisis

PATIENTLY WAITING: Dan Juhnke, brewer/owner of Asheville's forthcoming New Origin Brewing Co., is one of many area beer industry figures who've experienced delays in construction stemming from COVID-19 obstacles. Photo by Courtney Juhnke

Building a new brewery or making a significant expansion or improvement in an existing operation is never easy. But it’s proved even more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the mountains, from Brevard to Old Fort and around Asheville, a number of brewery projects were already underway when the coronavirus thundered into the region in mid-March.

Like many small businesses, breweries took a nasty hit as taprooms temporarily closed and draft sales dried up. Many North Carolina tasting rooms have reopened in the wake of Gov. Roy Cooper‘s Phase 2 reopening plan, though some remain closed to the public.

For those that were in the midst of construction, the projects have pushed on with owners still hoping to finish this year and start selling pints and packaged products.

In Brevard, Noblebräu Brewing is nearly complete at the 185 King St. music hall in the Lumberyard Arts District, an area that co-owner Madeline Magin describes as similar to West Asheville. She and her partner Cody Noble purchased the business in November and quickly started working on the brewery. “The music venue is going to continue, and it will also serve as the taproom for the brewery,” Magin says.

Noble is an accomplished brewer who attended the brewing program at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. He was the head brewer at Boojum Brewing Co. in Waynesville before transitioning to Noblebräu.

The pandemic “has definitely delayed the opening,” Magin says. “But it’s given us more time to do things ourselves instead of hiring people to do them.” The duo hope to open Noblebräu by early July or late August with a 5-barrel brewhouse, focusing on IPAs and German-style beers.

Construction of Asheville’s New Origin Brewing Co. at 131 Thompson St., not far from Brouwerïj Cursus Kĕmē, has been delayed due to waiting on necessary city permits. “It’s been difficult,” says owner Dan Juhnke. He intends to sell all of his beer on-premise and doesn’t expect to open before late fall or early winter.

Hillman Beer has continued its construction of a big new production brewery in Old Fort. “We pulled back a little for safety reasons,” says co-owner Brandi Hillman. She’s not ready to announce an opening date but notes that the pandemic has delayed it some.

The pandemic has also pushed back plans for Highland Brewing Co. to open a tasting bar in the historic S&W building in downtown Asheville. “We still believe in the project,” says brewery President Leah Wong Ashburn. “[COVID-19] has slowed progress for sure. We had to turn our attention to the brewery during the crisis.”

Asheville Brewing Co. has continued construction on its outdoor entertainment venue — now named Rabbit Rabbit — in the former Wells Fargo bank property at 75 Coxe Ave., next door to the company’s South Slope brewery. The venture is a joint project with The Orange Peel.

Brewery President Mike Rangel says that they were lucky to have all of the project’s construction approved by the city of Asheville prior to the pandemic. “Being the optimistic bunch that we are, we went ahead with work on it during the crisis,” he says. “We’ve had some delays here and there.”

Rangel hopes Rabbit Rabbit will open in late July. The venue will host live music and movies, and include a bar and food trucks on-site.


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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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