There were no seat belts and just about everyone was drinking beer. Still, we were surprised when the first Oskar Blues trolley from Asheville to Brevard was pulled over by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. It turns out there was just a minor license plate issue, or, in the words of our driver, Craig, “It’s all good!” But the humor of a red brewery trolley with 30-something beer-drinking passengers on the side of I-26 was not missed on Twitter.
The inaugural brewday event kept the excitement going. Head brewer Noah Tuttle speed-toured the crowd through mash tuns, fermentors, conditioning tanks and the skeleton of the bottling line. We didn’t get to see the inaugural mash-in of Dale’s Pale Ale, which was happening later that day. And, sadly, the canning line wasn’t running either — something about not having all the pieces yet. However, the facility was impressive even at a standstill. The main takeaways were the size (big) and the speed (fast) with which it all came together.
“The brewhouse equipment arrived nine days ago,” said Jim Weatherwax, project manager at Oskar Blues. “It’s been a lot of 12-hour days.”
The whole process from start to finish was equally speedy. Just seven months after the initial announcement, Oskar Blues is the proud parent of the largest craft brewery in the state of North Carolina. “It’s an historic moment,” said Anne Fitten Glenn, regional marketing director at Oskar Blues (and former Xpress Brews News columnist).
In 2013, they predict they’ll brew about 40,000 barrels (at 31 gallons per barrel), about 10,000 more barrels than the current big guy, Highland. With the ability to ramp up to 85,000 barrels in the future, you’d think Oskar Blues would remain the largest craft brewery in the state for some time. But, that will change quickly once Sierra Nevada’s facility comes online in Mills River next year.
The Oskar Blues folks are OK with that. “It’s not about size or being the biggest,” said Glenn, when asked about the process of choosing the eastern location. “It was always about finding a town like Longmont.” (Longmont, Colo., is where Oskar Blues built its original brewery.) Dale Katechis, owner of Oskar Blues and an avid mountain biker, echoed that sentiment. “I’ve been coming to Brevard for years and love it. And I’d keep coming here even if I wasn’t building a brewery.”
Employees hired from Brevard and the surrounding area were quick to say the good-fit feeling was mutual.
“Everyone I’ve met works really hard and everyone’s always smiling,” said Eric Dillon, a longtime Brevard resident, now the shipping and receiving manager at the Brevard facility. “It’s pretty remarkable. Not to mention the beer is good.”
Mike Green, another Brevard resident recruited as tasting room manager, was nearby snacking on cupcakes sent over by neighbors Blue Ridge Bakery. “They’re like family,” Green said. “Absolutely a great fit for Brevard and for Asheville.”
Want to get in on the Oskar Blues opening action? The tasting room, The Thirsty Squirrel, is located at 342 Mountain Industrial Drive in Brevard, and is now open to the public. Hours are 2 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and noon to 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays starting Dec. 21, the brewery trolley will depart from upper Coxe Avenue in Asheville (close to Thirsty Monk) at 5 p.m. and drop back off at the same location at 9 p.m. On New Year’s Eve, Oskar Blues will have a grand opening “Hootenanny,” complete with food trucks, special release beers and live music from Jupiter Coyote, The Foxfire and Pisgah Pickers with Jeff Sipe. Find details at http://www.oskarblues.com/tunes/oskar-blues-brevard-grand-opening.