The arrival of cold weather, followed by snow and ice, is a double-edged sword for Western North Carolina breweries.
While the release of popular seasonal beers, such as Highland Brewing Co.’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale and Wedge Brewing Co.’s Vadim Bora Russian Imperial Stout, attract sizable crowds, the dip in temperatures generally means slower businesses at area taprooms.
Outdoor spaces like patios, decks and rooftops become less used or even shut down for winter, though some breweries have winterized outdoor components or have added significant indoor capacity to keep tasting room crowds comfortable. Others turn to live music or game nights to help bring in customers, but both longtime brewery owners and those new to the scene realize that winter in the mountains can be tough on their bottom line.
“Business has always declined in the winter to some degree,” says Wedge owner Tim Schaller. “The first few years, people toughed it out.” Steps were then taken to make the front deck of the brewery more hospitable. “We started with those mushroom-style heaters that have gas tanks. But then they would go out, and I’d see someone out there with a BIC lighter trying to start them. And I thought, ‘OK, this is a little scary.’ So we modified and got the overhead heaters and the plastic curtains. It does make a difference [in business]. With the indoor spaces like at Highland and Hi-Wire [Brewing] and Catawba [Brewing Co.], why would you go outside and freeze? That was one of the reasons we opened the new space.”
Debuting earlier this year, the Wedge at Foundation location has stayed busy hosting private parties as well as the general beer-drinking crowd.
Schaller says he will sometimes plow a snowfall in the parking area outside the original Wedge. “Snow melts pretty quick here,” he says. “We’ve had people cross-country ski in here.”
He will adjust employee staffing in colder weather. “Sometimes you have to cut back,” he says.
Highland has already closed its rooftop space for the winter and moved all entertainment — namely live music four nights a week — to its indoor tasting room. “The whole city feels [the effects of winter on business],” says Highland President Leah Wong Ashburn. “We’ve got this great indoor space that can fit 500-600 people in the tasting room.”
She adds that private events and “things that we just want to do” help draw crowds, as do post-Cold Mountain beer releases. On Friday, Dec. 15, Highland rolls out a new canned brew, Missing Pieces, a New England Double IPA, which will be sold exclusively at the brewery.
In Burnsville, Homeplace Beer Co. founder John Silver will experience his first winter as a business owner. The potential impact of winter has been on his mind for months. “It’s all I have thought about since [I opened) last spring,” Silver says. But he has discovered that about 80-90 percent of his business is local, and he’s hoping that those customers will keep coming through cold or snowy months.
Homeplace, which does not have outdoor seating, also offers events such as trivia nights, live music and regular nonprofit nights. “We partner with a local nonprofit charity organization and donate 10 percent of our gross sales for that day to the group,” Silver says. “That brings in lot of people from the community. Our goal is to keep our calendar stacked with events to keep people coming out even when it’s cold.”
Archetype Brewing in West Asheville will also face its first winter. Co-owner Brad Casanova will continue offering events like trivia and live music at the brewery. “And we have programming for kids, too, so parents can hang out,” he says. “We feel like we’re suited for winter because we’re more of a community-based brewery. We don’t rely on tourism.”
Archetype has both front and back patios, which Casanova says will remain open for customers who bring dogs or want to smoke. He also has plans this winter to construct a rooftop space at the brewery.
Hillman Beer on Sweeten Creek Road opened in April, and though co-owner and brewer Brad Hillman is preparing for the business’s first winter, he’s uncertain what the season will mean for the brewery. “We’ve been asking ourselves that question,” he says. “We have a full menu of food at the Rise Above Deli, we have trivia and live music, and we are enclosing our front area with plastic to keep the doors open.”
For its second winter of operation, Currahee Brewing in Franklin is keeping its outdoor space warm with a fire pit, says brewer Taylor Yates. Winter “is something we watch very closely,” he says, noting that the brewery draws from both nearby Georgia and Western North Carolina. “We have live music, which is acoustic generally, that we call the Fireside Sessions,” he says. “And we increase the one-off [beers]. Our solution to the winter decline is to work a little harder with creativity and innovation of events.”