How do you land a job as a head brewer in Asheville? For Aaron Wilson, it meant starting as a homebrewer, then getting work washing kegs and operating the bottling line at French Broad River Brewery.
It’s tough physical work, but Wilson stuck with it to become the lead creative force at one of the city’s oldest breweries. He’s been there nearly 11 years, leading a small team that turns out such beers as Gateway Kolsch and 13 Rebels ESB.
Wilson, who grew up in Asheville, started homebrewing in his college days. He then got work at the Asheville Brewers Supply shop with Andy Dahm, who also owned French Broad.
“I hassled him enough to get me into the brewery,” Wilson says. “I was eager to work on the brewhouse. I got to mash in a few times.”
When a brewing job opened at French Broad, he took advantage of the opportunity. “I always wanted to run a brewery when I was younger,” he says. “It’s been a good partnership, and I’ve learned a lot. By the time I took over as head brewer, I had five years’ experience in brewing already.”
Each day at French Broad begins early. “We get started around 7 a.m., get the water right, and by 7:30 we’re mashing in,” Wilson says. “Then I proceed with my other duties, [including] taking care of the raw ingredients [and] scheduling all the orders.”
Wilson adds that he’s responsible for “keeping all the [French Broad] beers that people have known and loved consistent,” but he also experiments with new recipes. Among the brewery’s most recent offerings are a session IPA, an Australian-New Zealand pale ale with Southern Hemisphere hops, and Mocha Heavy, made with Ecuadorian cocoa nibs and locally sourced coffee from Dynamite Roasting Co. All of the above and more are accomplished with just two other brewers and three packaging employees.
Wilson has seen a lot of significant changes at French Broad, perhaps the biggest being Dahm’s sale of the brewery in 2017 to Sarah and Paul Casey of Chapel Hill.
“I think it was a positive effect,” Wilson says. “It brought about rebranding and a big breath of fresh air to one of the legacy breweries here. Our working relationship is awesome. I love French Broad and the beers.”
Coming up in 2019, French Broad will open a new tasting room next door in what was the Toy Boat Community Art Space. The original tasting area will remain open, but Wilson says musical performances will move to the new location.