Carolina Beer Guy: Meet brewer Carl Melissas

O.G. STATUS: Carl Melissas has been been brewing professionally in Asheville since 2004, first at Green Man Brewery and for the past decade at Wedge Brewing Co. Photo courtesy of Melissas

Carl Melissas was looking for a brewing job, so he made the rounds in Asheville. He applied at Highland Brewing Co., French Broad Brewery and Green Man Brewery, but none of those efforts led to work.

Still, Melissas never gave up, and in 2004, he wound up at Green Man. One of his biggest fans was Tim Schaller, whose fondness for the brewer’s IPA got him thinking about opening his own brewery.

In 2007, Melissas partnered with Schaller to build Wedge Brewing Co., which began turning out beers in 2008, back when Asheville only had a handful of breweries.

Melissas is still on the job at Wedge, producing such beers as Iron Rail IPA and Golem Belgian-style Strong Ale, and is one of the longest-serving brewers in town. To celebrate Wedge’s year-long 10th brewing anniversary, Melissas is bringing back Super Saison this month after a long hiatus and generally reflecting on his early days.

Before moving to Asheville, he’d already had significant brewing experience, first at the old Dogwood Brewing Co. in Atlanta, and then at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, Penn. During that time, he won two medals at the World Beer Cup.

Melissas had also worked in construction, which was a big plus when he and Schaller set out to renovate a 19th-century warehouse in the River Arts District and remake it into the Wedge brewery. Back then, he recalls, the riverfront scene was colorful and sketchy.

“There was practically no one hanging out there,” Melissas says. “There were just artists in the [Wedge] building and homeless people coming off the train.”

Nevertheless, he saw plenty of potential for a brewery to succeed on that side of town. A 10-barrel brewing system was found in Jacksonville, Fla., and Melissas went to fetch it. Once acquired, squeezing it into the old Wedge warehouse space was a big undertaking.

“The Wedge building is extremely sturdy and had been used for everything from hog meat to bananas to car tires,” he says. “The walls are a foot thick. To bring those vessels in was quite an achievement.”

Somehow they fit, and Wedge has grown to be one of Asheville’s most popular breweries. It now has a second location also on the riverfront, though Melissas continues to work at the original Wedge.

The partnership between Melissas and Schaller has proven to be enduring and effective. Melissas makes the beers, and Schaller has named all of them other than Golem. (Some of the beers have railroad themes, while others honor important and now deceased local personalities like philanthropist Julian Price, original Wedge gallery owner John Payne and the late Russian artist Vadim Bora, all of whom had Wedge connections.)

It’s a working relationship that’s lasted despite their many differences, including Melissas’ claim that Schaller is far more social than he is and loves to hang out at the Wedge bar, having moved from IPAs to pilsners. “The term has been coined many times that we are the ‘odd couple,'” Melissas says. “You spend that many years in a business marriage, and we have come to completely trust each other.”

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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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