Carolina Beer Guy: Taprooms open with significant safety measures

TAPS AND MASKS: Hi-Wire Brewing taprooms director Christine Ferguson Weaver and her staff have welcomed patrons back to the brewery's Big Top taproom — with a range of safety measures in place. Photo by Javier Bolea

Following the implementation of Gov. Roy Cooper‘s Phase 2 plan to reopen North Carolina, most Asheville-area breweries are again pouring pints after being closed for two months in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of these businesses have made big changes to protect visitors and staff, and some have not yet reopened their indoor public spaces, including the region’s three largest brewers and several smaller ones. Still closed are New Belgium Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues Brewery, though each is selling beer to go. Also not yet open are Ginger’s Revenge, Zillicoah Beer Co. and Oyster House Brewing Co., with Asheville Brewing Co. set to reopen its locations on Thursday, June 4.

As the local brewing scene slowly emerges from the clutches of the coronavirus, the industry also counts one less business among its ranks. Fermented Nonsense Brewing had its last day on Friday, May 29, and celebrated its run with the canned release of Endearing Nonsense Coconut IPA, brewed in collaboration with DSSOLVR.

Hi-Wire Brewing has reopened its Big Top tasting room at the edge of Biltmore Village, but its Hilliard Avenue brewery on the South Slope is still closed to guests, says taproom director Christine Ferguson. “We are figuring out how to open up Hilliard,” she says. “The capacity there is going to be like 24 when we open.”

Hi-Wire is requiring all visitors to wear a mask when entering the Big Top building. “So far, 100% of the people have been compliant,” Ferguson says.

Wicked Weed Brewing opened both its Biltmore Avenue pub and the South Slope Funkatorium on May 23. Big crowds turned out, and a Facebook photo generated a lot of buzz when it showed a long line of customers waiting outside, crowded together and not wearing masks.

“The photo shared on Facebook was taken in front of the brewpub before we opened,” says spokesman Kyle Pedersen. “Once we opened, the line decreased significantly.” The Biltmore Avenue sidewalk was marked with six feet of social distancing, and Pedersen says visitors “were encouraged to wear masks while waiting in line.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot enforce the wearing of masks on the sidewalk,” he says. “Once guests entered the property, masks were required.” Pedersen adds that the Biltmore pub was opened at 30% occupancy and the Funkatorium at 25%.

PHASE DEUCES: Riverside Rhapsody Beer Co. owners Joey Cagle, left, and Mike Vanhoose welcome customers from the brewery’s service window. Photo courtesy of Cagle

Highland Brewing Co. reopened its tasting room on May 29. The space has been rearranged to provide distance between tables, says President Leah Ashburn. A host seats visitors at tables inside or outside on the front porch, and guests follow one of two routes to the bar to purchase beer. For now, the property is only open to people ages 21 and older, and the brewery’s big side meadow is also closed due to grass reseeding.

Hillman Beer reopened its Asheville taproom on May 22 “when we got the green light,” says co-owner Brandi Hillman. “We walked through the process a thousand times,” she says. “Our guests were grateful and followed the rules.” All patrons are required to wear masks when not drinking while seated at tables.

Ginger’s Revenge owner David Ackley says he has not yet decided on an opening day for the taproom. “We are still operating the brewery to service wholesale customers,” he says. “We’re going to stick with dockside [sales to the public] for a while longer.”

Oyster House will close for indoor visitors until North Carolina enters Phase 3 of its pandemic recovery program, but to-go sales will continue, according to owner Billy Klingel.

In Haywood County, BearWaters Brewing Co. had a grand opening May 29 at its new Maggie Valley brewery, which has been dubbed “Creekside.” Its Canton “Riverside” brewery remains closed, says owner Kevin Sandefur.

When it tentatively reopens June 4, Asheville Brewing will only offer seating on its patio at Coxe Avenue and at Merrimon Avenue in a new outdoor patio in the front parking lot. “We are still waiting on patio tables with umbrellas [for the Merrimon lot],” says President Mike Rangel. Visitors will order at a window at each location and be given buzzers to alert them when their food and drinks are ready.

Archetype Brewing’s West Asheville location has reopened with eight-10 indoor tables, says owner Brad Casanova. Beer orders are taken both at tables and at the bar. “We have a strict mask policy while not seated at a table,” he says.

Riverside Rhapsody Beer Co. in Woodfin is open, but only with outside seating, says co-owner Mike Vanhoose. Beer orders are taken at a brewery window.


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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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