Carolina Beer Guy: Transylvania County establishes its own brewing identity

OF WOODS AND TAPS: Ecusta Brewing Co. in Pisgah Forest is one of four breweries in or near Brevard, which has developed a hopping craft beer scene. Photo courtesy Ecusta Brewing Co.

There are many reasons tourists flock to Transylvania County. Many visitors explore the area’s outstanding outdoor offerings, though the shops and restaurants of downtown Brevard are also a draw.

Over the past few years, the local craft brewing scene has added to that allure with four breweries located in or just outside the city limits, plus a classy bottle shop right on Main Street.

The volume of options is impressive for a place that got its first professional brewery in 2012. That’s when Kyle Williams opened Brevard Brewing Co., which specializes in lagers.

“I knew I wanted to open a brewery,” says Williams, who was already an accomplished brewer before starting his own operation. “I looked at Asheville and Hendersonville, then I came to Brevard, and it didn’t have a brewery. I thought it was perfect. It’s funny to say this, but seven years ago I thought Asheville was saturated [with breweries].”

Williams says that when Brevard Brewing opened, there was “general anxiety” about starting a business. But Brevard embraced the brewery to the point that he now cans his beers, adding to his company’s income. “You can open a brewery about anywhere if you make good beer,” he says.

The national player

The East Coast location of Oskar Blues Brewery opened six months after Williams’ pioneer establishment. The brewery famous for Dale’s Pale Ale quickly bolstered the fledgling local industry, one that marketing manager Aaron Baker sees as working in tandem with nearby natural wonders.

“The crowds that come here to Brevard, often they’ve been in the woods all day, riding bikes or taking a hike or camping. And they come out and visit the breweries,” Baker says. “The great place we live in, between DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest, informs how everyone drinks beer here and who is drinking our beer, too.”

He adds that Brevard was chosen for the Oskar Blues expansion because company founder Dale Katechis enjoys spending time in the outdoors.

­­”It has everything to do with why Oskar Blues is here,” Baker says. “We didn’t have any fancy kind of site selection process like Amazon. Dale said if we were going to make an East Coast expansion, it was going to be in Brevard because that’s where he wanted to hang out. The place develops its own culture — you get a certain kind of employee, and it creates its own vibe. It’s worked out great for us.”

Oskar Blues sees a lot of tourists at the tasting room. “We’ve developed a sweet spot where we attract a lot of out-of-towners, especially during the season, May through October,” Baker says. “But we have a solid base of [local] regulars, too. We do a lot of engaging with nonprofits and hosting people here at the brewery, giving back to the community. And that attracts locals and regulars who kind of make this their hometown bar, even though it’s a brewery taproom — and we’re proud of that.”

The Asheville addition

A more recent sight in Brevard is the second location of West Asheville’s UpCountry Brewing Co., which took over the closed Peaks & Creeks Brewing Co. site a few blocks from downtown. John Cochran, who previously co-owned Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, Ga., opened the new UpCountry in November.

“We were looking around [for an expansion site], and Brevard just fits with who we are,” says Cochran, referring to the UpCountry brand’s focus on nature. “Brevard is the outdoors. That’s what it’s about.”

The sudden availability of the Peaks & Creeks site also appealed to Cochran, and he “jumped at” the opportunity. Currently, however, the UpCountry beer being sold in Brevard is made at the West Asheville brewery.

“We’re still waiting on the federal brewing permit,” Cochran says. “Once it comes through, the plan is to turn [the location] into a sour facility. From a technical standpoint, it’s not ideal to be making sour beers in the same location as where you’re making the clean beers.”

Since UpCountry has only been open through the late fall and winter months, Cochran says business has been primarily from local residents. He adds that before opening the Brevard location, the brewery established a local presence through its distributor, Budweiser of Asheville, which helped boost brand awareness.

Rounding out the scene

Just outside Brevard in Pisgah Forest, Ecusta Brewing Co. continues to attract a healthy dose of outdoor enthusiasts since opening in 2016. Owner Josh Chambers had previously commuted to Greenville, S.C., to work as a paramedic and was looking for an opportunity closer to home.

“The location was secured immediately at the entrance to Pisgah National Forest. The biggest hurdle was the funding,” Chambers says. “By the time I got into business, Brevard Brewing and Oskar Blues had already done the full craft beer introduction here. Brevard is a melting pot, and people are embracing craft beer.”

Largely missing from the scene, however, are collaboration beers. Back in 2014 when Brevard Brewing and Oskar Blues were the only breweries in town, they worked together on a 6-barrel batch of a white IPA called Memory W.I.P.A. While the local brewers all know and interact with one other and like the idea of additional collaborations, more brews of this nature have yet to materialize.

Should one emerge, it will likely be on tap at Wolfbrew Bottle Shop, which opened in November on Main Street across from Brevard Brewing. Owners Keavy McAbee and Lee Marchbanks also own the Magpie Meat & Three restaurant on King Street, which sells a big lineup of craft beer.

“We saw a need for a beer shop in Brevard and wanted to feature our local breweries and bring in fun beers from across the state,” McAbee says. “We always have six beers on tap, and we sell a lot of beers in bottles and cans. We keep our list curated to things we know.”

She points out that the shop does not stock domestic brands commonly found in grocery stores, which results in customers buying a lot of IPAs and wild and barrel-aged beers. As for the future of the local industry, McAbee thinks there’s room for more beer growth in Brevard.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all [to see more breweries open],” she says. “Craft beer isn’t going anywhere.”

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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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