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].”