With more than 30 breweries in Asheville and Buncombe County alone, it’s not surprising that employees come and go, sometimes moving from one local business to another or out of town. But one brewer who has stuck around for the long haul is John Stuart, head brewer at Green Man Brewery.
For 11 years, Stuart has been quietly making beer for the South Slope brewery — a length of tenure that puts him among the ranks of the city’s longest-serving brewers. But he started making beer decades before he joined Green Man. Born and raised in Texas, his first job was at a Dallas brewpub, where he worked for free to learn how to brew. “I was happy to do it,” he says.
He landed his first paying brewing job in 1988, and in the early 1990s, he made his first visit Asheville while on vacation. “I just fell in love with the area,” he says. He moved around for a while following various brewery opportunities, until eventually, during a stint in Atlanta brewing for a restaurant, he answered an ad for a job at Green Man, and the rest is history.
In those days, the area around Coxe Avenue had yet to be reborn into a lively brewing district. “It was sketchy,” says Stuart. “It was quiet. Dirty Jack’s [the original Green Man tasting room] used to close by 8:30 or 9 at night.” Parking was plentiful, however, which is not so true today.
In the beginning, Stuart brewed on a 14-barrel system, and it was for draft only. But since current owner Dennis Thies took over the business from original owners Joe and Joan Eckert in 2010, Green Man has seen dramatic growth. The brewery now operates a 30-barrel production facility with a packaging line next door to the old system, which has transitioned to making only specialty beers.
When Stuart arrived, Green Man was turning out 600 barrels of beer, he says. “I took that up to 900 barrels. There was a lot of growth potential. Today we are at 12,000 barrels,” he says, noting that Green Man’s distribution footprint now encompasses the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and Florida.
Stuart’s first beer for Green Man was an IPA, and it remains the brewery’s flagship offering. But for his personal taste, he says he enjoys English mild and bitter ales and light lagers. “The beers I gravitate to are the ones you could drink every day,” he says. He observes that since IPAs have become wildly popular, the style, which he says was once intensely hoppy has come to include milder hops flavors.
When he’s not working, Stuart enjoys camping with his wife, Kacia. He’s also a lifelong archer. But as far as being a brewer, he says, “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”