Asheville’s beer blitz

Cheers! Governor Bev Perdue, New Belgium CEO Kim Jordan and Tim Schaller of the Wedge Brewing Company and president of the Brewers Alliance toast to a new future of beer.

New Belgium on the Asheville map

Lots of folks are still reeling from New Belgium’s announcement on April 5 that the company will build its second brewery in the River Arts District. And I mean that in a good way — I’ve been seeing lots of celebratory Fat Tire and Shift Pale Lager being quaffed all over town.

This, mere months after Sierra Nevada decided to build their second brewery in Mills River, has definitely propelled us into the craft beer stratosphere. As Beer Guy Tony Kiss wrote, “It’s as if Asheville landed two major league baseball teams in the same season, as if the Yankees and Braves both relocated here.” Or to be more geographically appropriate, as if the Giants and the Rockies both relocated here.

Defining a craft brewer

In terms of beer-sales volume, Sierra Nevada currently is the second largest craft brewer in the U.S. and New Belgium places third. Sierra is on track to produce close to 1 million barrels of beer at their brewery in Chico, Calif., this year — one reason expansion seems like a good idea. New Belgium, on the other hand, will produce more than 775,000 barrels.

So one question a number of people have asked is: Why are these two corporations, who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build new facilities and who produce so much beer, still considered craft brewers?

The Brewers Association, which is the trade organization representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, defines a craft brewer as small, traditional and independent. However, the Association’s board of directors changed the definition of “small” in 2011; they’ve increased the maximum allowable annual barrelage for a “craft” brewer from 2 million to 6 million. It seems that “small” no longer truly defines the industry of craft brewing in terms of growth. The country’s largest craft brewer, The Boston Beer Company (maker of Samuel Adams), has surpassed the 2 million mark. Of course, 6 million seems a long way off for any of the traditional, independent breweries. Even with two breweries up and running on both coasts, it’s likely to be a good long time before either Sierra or NB hit that ceiling.

Just for fun, compare their numbers to Highland Brewing Company’s. Currently the largest brewery in Western North Carolina, Highland produced about 23,000 barrels last year. Only a handful of the region’s other breweries are batting 5,000. Sierra plans to start with a brewing capacity of around 300,000 in their new facility, while NB reportedly will go for 400,000. In two fell swoops, these companies will effectively produce more than 12 times the amount of beer being brewed in the region.

“This cements Asheville's status as the center for craft beer manufacturing in the eastern United States,” says Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith. “Our brewing community will be fueling the local economy for generations to come.”

The waiting game

To answer a couple of other questions that seem to be on many lips: No, neither company is hiring locally yet, nor do they have staff living in the area yet. Both companies say they’ll post job opportunities on their websites as they become available. Sierra has specifically asked that people do not send the company applications unless they are for positions actively posted on their website. I’m guessing NB probably feels the same.

That said, it won’t be long until Sierra will at least start spending some cash in the region. Sierra Nevada’s Brian Grossman says the company will break ground in the next few months. Grossman, son of Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman, will be moving to the area with his wife to oversee the building of the new facility and ultimately manage it. Sierra hopes to be brewing and selling beer by the end of 2013, he says.

New Belgium, on the other hand, is on a slightly slower timeline. That company plans to break ground late in 2013 and to be selling beer in 2015 — so don’t quit your day job any time soon.

Beer blitz, part two: even more brewers!

The next brewery slated to open is Brevard Brewing Company. Brewer Kyle Williams, formerly with Pisgah Brewing, will specialize in lager-style beers with a few ales thrown in for fun. He says he has five beers in the tanks, including a Bohemian Pilsner, his personal favorite. Look for news about Brevard’s first brewery opening within the next few weeks.

Ross and Amanda Franklin of Pack’s Tavern have announced that they will start a brewery, Yellow Truck Brewery, by next fall out of the former jail located behind the Tavern.

Blue Mountain Pizza’s brewery in Weaverville has permits and brewing equipment is on order. Altamont Brewing in West Asheville has some brewing equipment, but needs more (and permits). Jason Schutz of Asheville is looking for a space for One World Brewing — a Community Supported Brewery. CSB members will pay $40 per month, and get four to five growlers of different beer per month plus $3 pints in the One World Taproom (when it opens). The folks at Black Mountain Ale House plan to start brewing as well.

Tim and Steph Weber are moving here from Pennslyvania this summer to start working full-time to plan Twin Leaf Brewery and brewpub — somewhere in Asheville (like the New Belgium folks, the Webers heart the mountains). And Tipping Point Tavern in Waynesville is working on becoming Haywood County brewery no. 3.

Yep, it’s a beer blitz, for sure.

Best Firkin Beer Festival

Who can resist an all-firkin fest? Asheville Brews Cruise has one planned for Saturday, April 28 in the meadow at Highland Brewing Co. from 3 to 7 p.m. At least 25 breweries bring beers. “One of the most exciting things about the festival is that we told the brewers to be creative and bring whatever special firkins they want to,” says Shawna Hart, festival organizer.

Firkin is another word for cask. Cask-conditioned beers undergo secondary fermentation in the cask (or firkin) and are often referred to as “real ales,” especially in the U.K. Real ale can be an acquired taste as it’s often blander and less bubbly than non-cask conditioned beers. But a firkin fest is likely to include a number of beers that have been spiced up with adjuncts (fruit, spices, chocolate, etc.) to make them pop.

The festival’s theme is pre-Prohibition, says Hart, and in that spirit, Eat Box food truck will sell ploughman’s lunches and old-timey band Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks will provide tunes. Tickets cost $40, and only 400 tickets are available at thebestfirkinbeerfestival.eventbrite.com.

— Anne Fitten Glenn can be reached at brewgasmavl@gmail.com

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