Carolina Beer Guy: Burning Can lights up weekend beer scene

ALUMINUM ALL-STARS: Oskar Blues Brewery's Burning Can beer festival is back this weekend at the brewery's REEB Ranch property in Henderson County.
ALUMINUM ALL-STARS: Oskar Blues Brewery's Burning Can beer festival is back this weekend at the brewery's REEB Ranch property in Henderson County. Photo courtesy Oskar Blues Brewery

When Oskar Blues Brewery launched the Burning Can canned beer festival in 2008, it faced some challenges in finding breweries to take part.

The canned craft beer scene at that time was much smaller than it currently is, and to draw in breweries that hadn’t invested in a canning line, the Colorado-based brewery actually did the heavy lifting for some of its peers and packaged beverages for them.

It’s a different story today. Canned craft beer is commonplace, and more than 65 breweries from 19 states will take part in this weekend’s Burning Can festival, Friday, Aug. 10, to Sunday, Aug. 12, at the Oskar Blues REEB Ranch property in Henderson County.

A shuttle will take festivalgoers to REEB Ranch from the Brevard brewery, which is celebrating its fifth year hosting the North Carolina edition of Burning Can. While there’s a lot of music on Friday and Saturday, the beer festival itself will be Saturday. As for the canned beers, some will be familiar, and others will be from out of the market, says brewery spokesman Aaron Baker.

Area players taking part include Wicked Weed Brewing Co., Highland Brewing Co., Boojum Brewing Co., Ecusta Brewing Co., One World Brewing and Hillman Beer.

They’re joined by such out-of-town breweries as Holy City Brewing Co. of Charleston, S.C.; DuClaw Brewing Co. of Baltimore; DESTIHL Brewery of Normal, Ill.; Squatters Craft Beer of Salt Lake City; Against the Grain Brewery of Louisville, Ky.; and many more.

The out-of-market brews “are one of the things that make this festival unique,” Baker says. “We wanted to make sure we had breweries that people didn’t have access to [in Western North Carolina].”

The only real qualification for a brewery to take part in the festival is that it must offer canned beer.

“It’s a lot easier [now] to find breweries that can,” Baker says. “But for out-of-state breweries, there’s a long and tedious process to go through with the state of North Carolina to make sure that the beer is properly registered.”

In its early years, the Brevard Burning Can ran afoul of the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement office for lacking the proper permitting. But it quickly recovered by opening the gates and making the 2014 event a free party. Now, all out-of-state breweries are properly registered.

According to Baker, organizing the festival takes about a year. “We dedicate a lot of staff time to planning, and Skyland Distributing helps us a lot in getting those [out-of-state] breweries into the festival,” he says.

Breweries are invited in a number of ways. “We start with the breweries that we’re familiar with and who may have participated in the past,” Baker says. “The festival has picked up steam, and we have a lot of breweries that reach out to us and say they’d like to participate.”

He continues, “We want to make sure that it’s fun for the brewers to take part. We give them a great camping area so they can hang out and we throw a brewers party. That event is closed to the public, but the brewers get to taste a lot of great beer.”

Breweries donate their beer to the festival to benefit the nonprofit Canned Aid Foundation. That organization has been involved in many charitable causes, including flood relief. Baker says the breweries bring 10-15 or more cases of cans each and the empties are all recycled.

While beer is a main attraction for many participants, the weekend is packed with lots of live music with some of the biggest acts playing Friday, including Lettuce and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. On Saturday night, bands include Nude Party, Acoustic Syndicate and The Hip Abduction.

Baker says the festival usually draws a crowd of 3,000, making it one of WNC’s biggest beer events. Camping is also available, although some of those ticket plans have sold out. Other activities include bike riding, trail running, a paddle trip and yoga.

Weekend passes are $75. Friday day passes are $35, but for Saturday they’re $55. A music-only Saturday pass is $30. A tent camping pass for one person is $30. Order online at www.oskarblues.com/event/burning-can-north-carolina. If you buy at the gate, it’s $10 more per ticket.

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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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