Carolina Beer Guy: Taproom styles convey breweries’ brands

UPCYCLED CHIC: New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Liquid Center tasting room features tables and chairs made from repurposed wood from the old Asheville stockyards and auction house that had previously occupied the property by the French Broad River. Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Co.
UPCYCLED CHIC: New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Liquid Center tasting room features tables and chairs made from repurposed wood from the old Asheville stockyards and auction house that had previously occupied the property by the French Broad River. Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Co.

Sometimes it’s not enough to simply make great beer. Many breweries put nearly as much energy into crafting appealing tasting rooms to enhance the overall customer experience.

Some business do it with fancy lighting fixtures and music or with artwork and creative seating. Certain spaces are big, while others are small and cozy, but regardless of the approach, the style each one employs speaks volumes about the brewery’s brand.

Fiery flourishes

Ginger’s Revenge owners David Ackley and Christina Hall wanted to convey the individuality of their ginger beer with their space at 829 Riverside Drive, which opened in March 2017.

“Our product is a little different, so we wanted the tasting room to feel a little different,” Ackley says. “We were thinking about ginger in particular and how it has a fiery quality. So we brought in some bold colors, the copper trusses and the red wall. We also wanted to convey energy — that ginger sort of stimulates your circulation.”

As a small startup brewery, Ackley and Hall were also mindful of their budget. “We used paint as a relatively inexpensive way of bringing some nice finishes to the space,” he says.

The owners made most of the style decisions themselves and hired Brushcan Custom Murals of Asheville to paint a giant version of the Ginger’s Revenge logo on the tasting room’s back wall. Another priority was that the brewing equipment be visible to visitors.

“Going to many breweries, I always enjoyed the opportunity to see what was going on behind the scenes,” Ackley says.

Tap handles have further added to the brewery’s style. “We ended up with a fairly simple concept,” he says. “The tap handles are basic wooden handles painted black.”

Ackley says he is continuing to tweak the space by adding new seats and would love to eventually put in some windows.

Riverside comfort

When New Belgium Brewing Co. began building its East Coast expansion plant and Liquid Center tasting room on what had been the old Asheville stockyards and an auction house, the company was determined to recycle many materials into its design.

“We like to showcase that [history],” says spokesman Michael Craft. “All the wood for the chairs and a couple of the really big tables [were repurposed].”

He adds that with a big patio that overlooks the French Broad River, the Asheville tasting room is a “welcome center” for New Belgium visitors. The space opened in early 2016, and the indoor room is filled with tables and chairs with a long bar along the front wall, with plenty more seating on the patio. Since then, the company has frequently refreshed the room.

“We hung a couple of our New Belgium Cruisers [bicycles] in there,” he says. ”I would hope that someone would call [the space] hospitable or homey or comfortable. We wanted to create a space with a lot of natural light. It’s big, it’s open. It’s designed for people to grab a beer or two.”

Authentic history

Highland was Asheville’s first craft brewery, but it was the last of the city’s legacy brewers to open a public space. The taproom at 12 Old Charlotte Highway welcomed its first guests in January 2011, and this spring it was given a makeover as part of a brand refresh.

“The tasting room is part of the brand experience, and I wanted people to feel it,” says company President Leah Wong Ashburn. “It’s casual and friendly. That’s what the revamp did. We’re looking to convey authenticity — that’s the Asheville spirit.”

The bar was made longer, and a lengthy community table was also built to accommodate a predicted increase in visitors. Refreshing the space also involved repainting the walls and upgrading the lighting. “We added furniture, including plush seating,” Ashburn says. “Some cushy seating was important for me.”

Highland’s pilot brewery, where small batches of beer are made, is visible through a window in the tasting room. Highland also operates a rooftop beer garden with mountain views, an event center for parties and receptions, and meadow space for live music and family-friendly fun.

Rustic charm

Homeplace Beer Co., the only brewery in Burnsville and Yancey County, opened in June 2017 with a distinctly Appalachian vibe.

“I would say [the tasting room] is quaint,” says brewery founder John Silver. “We have décor that gives the sense of being in the mountains. We have an old ironing board for a table, and a lot of the photography [on display] reflects the history of the area.”

Other than the repurposed ironing board, all the tables in the space were made by hand. “Some of the wood that we used came from an old chicken coop I had growing up,” Silver says. “We couldn’t have opened a flashy brewery with loud graphics or décor. Not that I wanted to — it had to be homey.”

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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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