A little over two years have passed since Boojum Brewing Co. made its debut in Waynesville. Though many new Western North Carolina beer producers have opened in the interim, the brewery has established a considerable following, selling its beers around the region and at its downtown brewpub.
An upcoming expansion will include a new canning line and the ability to make up to 10,000 barrels annually, up from the current 2,000 to 3,000 barrels. The brewery is also turning out a collaboration IPA for the Asheville Brewers Alliance and AVL Beer Week festivities.
Distributed by Budweiser of Asheville, Boojum’s canned beers are stocked in Ingles supermarkets throughout the area, giving the brand a high profile. The new expansion will let Boojum satisfy increasing demand, says Kelsie Baker, who founded Boojum with her brewer brother, Ben Baker.
“We just can’t keep up [with demand],” she says. “We really didn’t know what we were getting into. We knew we had the drive and we put in the time, and it worked.”
Perhaps more surprising than Boojum’s growth is that neither of the Bakers had any experience in professional brewing. Kelsie was working as an environmental engineer in Boston, and Ben was working in a nuclear power plant in Florida. Family connections drew them to Waynesville, and they soon formed the fourth brewery in Haywood County, joining Tipping Point Brewing, Frog Level Brewing Co. and BearWaters Brewing Co., the last of which has since relocated to Canton.
Boojum built its brewery in a nondescript warehouse on Dayton Drive outside of Waynesville, a location that lacks a public space. But a few months after opening, Boojum launched its downtown taproom restaurant, which has since undergone an expansion both indoors and outdoors. “I’ll be happy when the construction is done,” Kelsie Baker says.
The taproom draws a busy crowd from the Waynesville area, and on the weekends visitors come from elsewhere, including Asheville. Baker adds that the menu is “not just bar food – we have burgers and sandwiches, but we also have salmon and upscale dishes.”
As Boojum has grown, the brewery’s flagship beers have shifted. Graveyard Fields Blueberry Coffee Porter was the initial big seller, then Reward Pale Ale took over the top spot during the warmer months. Now, Hop Fiend IPA is exploding in sales, which Baker attributes in part to the Asheville market’s fondness for that style. By contrast, she says Haywood County customers prefer Balsam Brown Ale and Hounds of Helles Lager. The brewery also tries out different styles with a small-batch release each Thursday at the tasting room.
Boojum has long canned its beers by using a local mobile canning company, but Baker says installing its own canning line makes good business sense. “We wanted to be able to can when the beer is ready instead of when we are scheduled to do it,” she says. “If we have fresh IPA, we won’t have to wait a week to can. Or if the canning line is coming sooner, you might have to rush the beers.”
Having a sales outlet through the Ingles chain has been instrumental in helping Boojum grow. “That was huge,” she says. “That changes things for a brewery. But once you have that spot on their shelves, you have to be sure you have cans there or someone else could take your place. It makes your production shoot up.”
For now, the Bakers are happy to sell their beers in Western North Carolina, but they’d eventually like to spread their footprint throughout the state and possibly into Tennessee or South Carolina. Perhaps then, the number of questions concerning the brewery’s mythical mountain monster-inspired name will pick back up – queries Baker says she used to get all the time.
Boojum Brewing Co. is at 50 N. Main St., Waynesville. Tasting room hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday. The tasting room is closed on Tuesdays. For more details, visit boojumbrewing.com.
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