The Asheville beer scene continues to spread out beyond the city limits. The latest hot spot is Fairview, where the new Whistle Hop Brewing Co. has set up shop in an old railroad caboose just off busy Charlotte Highway.
Co-owner and brewer Tom Miceli opened the taproom in December with limited indoor seating and a spacious patio. While he describes the project as seasonal, Whistle Hop is quickly building a reputation on the beer scene with a nice lineup of craft entries plus guest beers and cider. “We are very happy with the way everything is running,” says Miceli. “The beer inventory is the biggest issue — we are doing our best to keep up.”
Whistle Hop uses a 1-barrel system, but three more fermenters are on the way to expand production. The caboose tasting room has eight taps. Miceli says using guest and house brews “lets us offer more styles, and I get to have some beers that I really love.”
An engineer by trade at Linamar, Miceli is an accomplished homebrewer, which led him to open Whistle Hop. His homebrews were “very popular with friends and family and the people we shared them with,” he says. “Having an engineering background, we had a lot of the pieces in place to do a brewery.”
His family, meanwhile, had collected some vintage cabooses that were being phased out by the Norfolk Western rail line and were purchased for their scrap value. The one Miceli installed on the brewery property dates to 1959, and he can trace its service through its railroad number. The rail car has seating for about 24 with more visitors accommodated on the heated patio.
The tight indoor seating means slower business during snowy or rainy weather, and with limited production, Miceli is holding his hours to Thursday-Sunday. But he’s drawing a lot of visitors from the immediate Fairview area as well as Asheville, which is about 20 minutes away.
“We’re getting a good bit of repeat business,” he says. “Over the short time we have been open, we are seeing a good base of repeat customers.”
As for the beers, Miceli has been shaking up the line a lot. Rather than developing a core line of regular brews, he’s been trying out a lot of different styles. “Of course, IPAs are popular,” he says. “The double IPA is the most popular beer we have had.”
While his lineup changes regularly, Whistle Hop has lately been pouring a 4.5 percent golden kolsch made with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops; the 4.6 percent South of the Border Porter using pasilla peppers and roasted cacao nibs; the 5.2 percent Full Moon Dunkelweizen, which benefits Full Moon Farm Wolfdog Rescue and Sanctuary; the 5.5 percent Signal Red Saison made with New Zealand Pacific Jade hops and hibiscus petals; and the 5 percent Pineapple Rail Session IPA with Hop Union’s Zythos hops blend, Australian Vic Secret hops and fresh pineapple.
“It’s hard to choose what I am going to brew next,” says Miceli. “I have so many recipes.” Because of production limitations, Miceli is not looking to distribute anytime soon, nor does he sell by the growler. Recent guest brews have been Burial Beer’s Blade and Sheath American Farmhouse Ale, Hi-Wire Lager and Urban Orchard Ginger Champagne cider.
Miceli’s day job at Linamar also stretches his time, but he has been getting a lot of help from his family, including father Frank, mother Laurel, brother Spanky and wife Gina. As Whistle Hop grows, “it will be necessary to get some [outside] help,” he says, adding that the brewhouse is near the tasting room on the same property with “room for expansion.”
Buncombe County is now home to just over two dozen breweries, with more on the way. Miceli has worked to get to know his fellow brewers. “It’s a collaborative environment,” he says. “When we do have free time, we go to the other breweries and enjoy their beers.”
The brewery already offers a few outdoor activities, including a six-hole disc-golf course. Looking ahead, Miceli wants to add an outdoor stage and offer live entertainment during warm weather. He’s also thinking about bringing in a family-owned boxcar to add to the operation, and he hopes to expand his brewing capacity to a 10- to 15-barrel system, which would greatly increase production. “I’m not sure of the timing on that,” he says.
Whistle Hop will soon have a brewing neighbor, Turgua, which is going in at 31 Firefly Hollow Dr. in Fairview. Turgua will have an altogether different concept as a farmhouse brewery using locally sourced ingredients.
For now, Miceli is happy to serve the growing Fairview community with his products. The brewery patio tends to attract a diverse crowd, including families with children and pets. “It is a place for people to hang out,” he says. “That is what we intended. I think we are on the right track.”
Whistle Hop Brewing Co. is at 527 Old U.S. Highway 74, Fairview. Hours are 4-10 p.m. Thursday, 3-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday. The taproom is closed Monday-Wednesday. For details, visit whistlehop.com.