*** Updated: Fill ‘em up … oops, not yet

[Editor’s note: This story originally published on July 17. We updated on July 18.]

UPDATE: Asheville Growler Hits Legal Bottleneck

Sean McNeal, owner of the forthcoming Asheville Growler, was contacted by Robert Hamilton, Deputy Administrator of the North Carolina ABC on July 18. Hamilton told McNeal that based on the ABC’s reading of the law, McNeal’s shop would be shut down by the ABC if it opened on Monday, July 22, before the rules accompanying the law are in place.

“Obviously I do not agree with their interpretation,” says McNeal. “Nowhere [in the law] does it state that a growler fill station is contingent on the ABC passing labeling and sanitation rules.”

The next meeting to write the rules is scheduled about a month from now, and McNeal was told that even after the meeting it could take an additional month to codify the rules. In the meantime, with a lease in place at 660 Merrimon, McNeal plans to explore the alternatives. “We’ve invested heavily in this business…at this point we’re considering opening up with an on premise permit as well as selling pre-filled Growlers.”

McNeal says, “I will most assuredly be at the next meeting….I hope the state, regional, and local authorities make a better effort [at the next meeting] to help small businesses that want to start and grow.” — T.H.

Since starting the Bar of Soap, owner Sean McNeal has built an impressive beer list. You can now choose from 60 beers. But they all have one thing in common: they’re canned.

“The three worst things for beer are bacteria, light and air. That’s why I love cans,” McNeal says. “But if you have good sanitation and the right container, you can get the same quality in a growler.”

Thanks to the new law, McNeal’s new business at 660 Merrimon Ave. plans to do just that. “Essentially, I’ll use growlers to get beers into the hands of craft-beer lovers that they can’t get in bottles or cans,” says McNeal. “The plan is to have 20 taps and they’ll be rotating. If I find something cool, I want to get it pouring right away.”

To start, there will be only two employees. One will be a bartender from Bar of Soap who has attended the Oskar Blues brew school. Another, yet to be hired, will be at the shop full-time Monday through Friday. In other words, the person behind the counter will know about beer, and how to properly fill a growler.

While it might seem easy, there are plenty of important details. Asheville Growler will have a high-tech counter pressure filler to operate. And then there’s the main issue with any growler fill: sanitation. “At the shop, we’ll be sanitizing every growler — even the ones people bring in. There’s no charge for that. But it’s important for people to realize that they need to bring in clean growlers. If the container’s not clean, it can’t be sanitized and we can’t fill it.”

That said, McNeal eventually plans to carry any and every form of growler he can, and he has no problem with filling growlers from other breweries. “We’ll be happy to fill someone else’s container. We’ll have to relabel it, that’s all. But if people bring in the shop’s growlers, that would be better. That way if it’s not clean, I can just grab another one of mine.”

As for the beer, it will be local, regional and national. McNeal is excited about bringing in beer from out of state that’s hard to get. But he’s even more excited about the impact his store can have for local and semi-local breweries. “Right now, we have phenomenal one-off, rare beers being made in town. But if you’re not going out to the bar you can’t get them,” says McNeal. “Also, breweries just outside of town — from Catawba and Pisgah to places out in Waynesville like Frog Level — we’re excited to be a part of getting more of their beer into town.”

Alongside the beer, look for a variety of beer-friendly snacks soon after opening. McNeal mentioned Hickory Nut Gap jerky, Lusty Monk mustard and “anything that you might want with the beer if you’re on your way to a party.” He also mentioned the possibility of carrying gear from the local breweries. With a location on Merrimon, it could be a way for out-of-towners to grab a Wedge shirt or Green Man pint glass before they hit the road.

The space is large and the future could hold a few options for expansion based on the business. There’s room for additional tap lines — there could be up to 30 beers. There’s also room for seating, so there may eventually be a tasting room alongside the bar. “If there’s demand for that, we’ll do it. It would be nice to be able to try a couple beers and then decide what you want for your growler fill,” says McNeal.

Asheville Growler will be located at 660 Merrimon Ave. As of press time, the opening was set for noon on July 22, but you can check their Facebook page for day-of details.


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