Carolina Beer Guy: Budweiser of Asheville is big on local craft brands

Since 1985, Budweiser of Asheville has been independently owned and operated by the Wood family, including Hubey Wood, right, and Chad Wood. Although most of its business is with A-B InBev’s brands, the distributorship now also carries local craft beers, which make up 15 percent of its business.
Since 1985, Budweiser of Asheville has been independently owned and operated by the Wood family, including Hubey Wood, right, and Chad Wood. Although most of its business is with A-B InBev’s brands, the distributorship now also carries local craft beers, which make up 15 percent of its business. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Some of Asheville’s most popular beers are stashed in a big, ordinary-looking warehouse in Fletcher. Cans of Asheville Brewing Co.’s Shiva IPA are in there, as are bottles of Green Man Brewing’s ESB, Catawba Brewing Co.’s White Zombie White Ale and many more.

They’re all under the watch of Budweiser of Asheville, Inc., which delivers the brews to grocery stores, convenience markets, taprooms and restaurants in a 12-county region of Western North Carolina. That commitment to Asheville-area breweries might surprise some beer drinkers who hear the company’s name and figure it’s merely a division of global brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, but its local roots run deep.

Independently owned and operated by Hubey Wood and his family since 1985, the distributorship makes its own calls on which beers to represent. Most of its business is still with A-B InBev’s brands — including Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob. But in recent years, Budweiser of Asheville has also carried local craft beers, which now make up 15 percent of the company’s business, according to sales manager Chad Wood.

“We got into [craft beers] later than we should have,” he says. But since taking on Asheville Brewing as an early craft client, Budweiser of Asheville has made up for lost time. Other local craft brands in its portfolio include Nantahala Brewing Co. of Bryson City; Currahee Brewing Co. of Franklin; Boojum Brewing Co. and Frog Level Brewing of Waynesville; Brevard Brewing Co. of Brevard; Appalachian Mountain Brewery of Boone; Bold Rock Hard Cider of Mills River and Bhramari Brewing Co. of Asheville. The distributor also handles RJ Rockers Brewing Co. of Spartanburg, S.C., and Lonerider Brewing Co. of Raleigh.

Wood says the confusion between Budweiser of Asheville and A-B InBev became more intense in May after the global brewer announced it was taking over Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing. That deal, however, had nothing to do with Budweiser of Asheville, which does not carry Wicked Weed products. (Skyland Distributing handles Wicked Weed on the local level.) Nonetheless, Wood supports Wicked Weed’s decision to sell. “There is not a person I know who wouldn’t have done the same thing,” he says. “We congratulated them. It’s a great thing for them and well-deserved.”

Asheville craft brewery owners who have hired Budweiser of Asheville say the distributor has helped them grow and promote their businesses. “They are a class act at what they do,” says Billy Pyatt, co-owner of Catawba Brewing, which operates in Asheville, Morganton and Charlotte. “They get the products to the right places. It’s a family company like Catawba. There may be people who confuse Budweiser of Asheville and their affiliation with A-B InBev, but we are not confused and none of that has blown back on me.”

Asheville Brewing was the first local brewery to sign with Budweiser of Asheville, according to brewery president Mike Rangel. “They are locally owned and have been around here a long time,” he says. “We felt like they would be a good fit. It was a game-changer for us.”

He adds that about 60 percent of Asheville Brewing’s business is generated through Budweiser of Asheville, and that letting the distributor handle deliveries allowed the brewery to concentrate on making and packaging beer. “We would not have started canning if we didn’t have had an outfit like them doing a lot of work for us. It gave us the opportunity to expand our portfolio of beers. It’s been a great relationship.”

Budweiser of Asheville has 120 employees, and their days can start early and run late. The first crews begin making deliveries around 4:30 or 5 a.m. and the last trucks will return at 6 p.m., making for 50-55 hour work weeks.

Wood notes that beer sales have seen a slight dip recently as some drinkers switch to sweet, malt-based beverages, wine or liquor, but the balance of A-B and craft products keeps his business strong. And as far as differences between selling and distributing craft beer versus Anheuser-Busch products, he says there aren’t many. “I think we had to get a little more sophisticated in knowing the different [beer] styles,” he says. “And we got more educated in pairing the beers with food. I think we have the best sales and service team in the market. It takes good people to get the product out there in the marketplace, to get shelf space and displays [in stores].”

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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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8 thoughts on “Carolina Beer Guy: Budweiser of Asheville is big on local craft brands

  1. Beer Lover

    I understand and appreciate the local focus of the owners. However, what is not discussed, so one can only guess, is their contract with AB. But given the recent article in the Charlotte Observer where franchise agreement between Anheuser-Busch LLC and R. A. Jeffreys, a Raleigh-based wholesale distributor, requires Jeffreys to give Anheuser-Busch “priority over all other products.”

    The difference is between “how” they want to run their business, giving a level playing field for all products they carry, and what they are “contractually” required to do as a AB (Bud) distributor.

  2. Just sayin'

    I wonder how much of that sweet free beer ‘Ol “never met a free beer he didn’t like” Tony Kiss needed to write a fluff piece on an ABInbev distribution network company.

  3. Tony Kiss

    I want to make it clear that neither Budweiser of Asheville or AB InBev suggested or requested this column. Nor was I offered an incentive such as beer or cash to write the piece. Nor did anyone at Budweiser of Asheville or AB InBev see the piece before it was published.
    The idea was my own and it came from several conversations I had with local brewers who are carried by Budweiser of Asheville. I thought that many drinkers had no idea that their Asheville Brewing Shiva IPA or Green Man ESB had been delivered to stores, bars and restaurants by Budweiser of Asheville. And I thought the timing was right given the recent deal AB In Bev made to buy Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing Co., a deal that Budweiser of Asheville had nothing to do with.
    My intention was not to examine AB InBev’s business strategy of buying craft breweries but to instead show how a locally owned beer distributor had come to represent many popular craft brands. I will stand behind what I wrote. Tony Kiss

  4. Randall Conway

    I’m grateful to Budweiser of Asheville for making it possible for me to buy my favorite beer (Brevard Brewing) in cans rather than in growlers, which have a short shelf life. It seems that all lovers of craft beer should appreciate what this distributor is doing to support local brewers.

    • Bill

      Randall, where did you find Brevard Brewing in cans? They are also one of my favs but I didn’t know they had cans yet.

  5. Beer Lover

    Craft beer is only 15% of their business, and yes I see Asheville Brewing and others in the local Ingle’s. But their business is based on AB products, craft is likely the gravy. (no idea how wine plays into their bottom line)

    Empire Distributing has over 30 craft brews on their list, many of which are in my refrigerator right now, so let’s not pretend like Budweiser of Asheville is saving us from only finding Bud in the grocery stores and restaurants.

  6. Charlie Calcaterra

    I was glad to read this article, which helped clear up some of the murkiness of the beer distribution layout in WNC. I think provided we have good, independent resources like these folks for craft brewers to turn to to help spread their product and grow their business, that rising tide is going to lift all boats, some sooner than others.

    Good job on the piece, and I for one found it informative, well-written and a great investment of time.

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