Change has been the name of the game in local craft brewing in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic ripped across the country and brewery owners scrambled to keep customers safe and their businesses afloat.
In Hendersonville, a downtown brewery has seen its own big changes, though many of them are unrelated to the coronavirus. The old Sanctuary Brewing Co. has changed names and is now known as Oklawaha Brewing Co. The shift came after brewery owners Joe Dinan and Lisa McDonald split up earlier this year.
Dinan kept the brewery location and also held on to the Sanctuary staff. McDonald, who is deeply involved in animal rescue, kept the Sanctuary name. She wants to open a new Sanctuary brewery, perhaps in the South Carolina upstate, but says those efforts have been slowed by the pandemic.
Dinan continues to brew some of the Sanctuary beers, such as the best-selling Hop Pig IPA, Haziversary Double IPA and Bobby Beer Kölsch. McDonald says her brewery will also brew Hop Pig, Bobby Beer and a slew of favorites from the old Sanctuary.
In renaming the brewery, Dinan chose Oklawaha, the old Cherokee name of Mud Creek, which runs through downtown Hendersonville. There is also an Oklawaha Greenway for hiking and biking in the city.
“The folks who have grown up here, who are from here originally, everybody knows [the name],” he says. “I’m told that in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, there were a lot of businesses using that name.” Still, newcomers might have trouble with it. “Some people want to say ‘Oklahoma,'” Dinan says with a laugh.
Dinan and McDonald had been in a long-term relationship. “But great things come to an end sometimes,” he says. “We decided to go our own ways. It made more sense for me to keep the brewery and her to take the name. All the goodwill that the name has built up was really her.”
Dinan says he’s somewhat unsettled by media reports that inaccurately claimed the brewery was closed due to the pandemic or had gone out of businesses. “I just had to take a breath and realize that, over time, people would drive by [and see that the brewery was still open],” he says. “I knew that word would get back out.”
The changes were already in the works before the pandemic hit. “The wheels started turning right around the new year,” Dinan says. But the virus delayed the process.
Keeping his staff through the pandemic shutdown has proven key to relaunching Oklawaha. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” he says.
Dinan is working on getting a kitchen in the brewery by year’s end and is adding canned 16-ounce, four-packs of beer for purchase. Indoor seating has been limited, and masks are required for those coming inside. But the city of Hendersonville has permitted a patio on First Avenue, where the brewery’s pre-COVID commitment to live music endures. Seating is on the street, which is closed to traffic.
Among the musical events is the weekly French Broad Valley Music Association’s Wednesday night Mountain Music Jam, hosted by longtime local player Carol Rifkin. “I call it ‘traditional mountain music,'” she says. “It’s not contemporary by any means. People are so appreciative of it, especially since COVID. They are so happy to hear live music.”
Since leaving the brewery, McDonald has focused on her animal sanctuary. “A new brewery might be a year out,” she says. “Everything is up in the air because of COVID.”
McDonald is currently the lone caregiver for her animals. “I can’t take the risk of getting sick, so I have been pretty quarantined,” she says. “I have just started letting volunteers come over to help.”
She looks after dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, goats and a turkey. “They get along great,” she says. The animals keep her busy, but she misses working at the brewery: “It will always be in my heart. There are few things in your life that you get to create.”