“And cousin, business is a-boomin’.”
Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine may not have been talking about the Asheville brewing industry when he spoke those words in Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds, but he may as well have. As the city continues to grow, new breweries are popping up in developing neighboring towns while established businesses are expanding with new taprooms in the heart of the city.
Roughly halfway between Zillicoah Beer Co. and Riverside Rhapsody Beer Co. sits Woodfin’s newest brewery, Outsider Brewing Co., 939 Riverside Drive. Co-founders Kaeleigh McCauley and Julian Arena are aiming for a July opening. No strangers to the beer industry, the pair met in 2018 in Charlotte while McCauley was working as a sales representative for Birdsong Brewing and Arena was the head brewer for D9 Brewing Co.
True to its name, Outsider will offer patrons an experience unlike anything the local craft beverage industry has seen. Similar to a working art studio where patrons can see glass blown or pottery thrown, people who come to the Woodfin brewery will be able to watch Arena brew in transparent vessels, removing the barriers inherent with stainless steel tanks.
“There’s definitely a need in the area for people to engage with the brewing process a little bit more,” says Arena, who’s been homebrewing since high school. “In lieu of having a giant production facility, we kind of switched gears and now we have the smallest production facility you can imagine but also the most up-close-and personal-experience you can have.”
The co-founders were inspired to start Outsider after McCauley’s experiences selling beer during the COVID-19 pandemic and a shared desire to provide more in the craft brewing experience than the beverage itself.
“The whole point of it being glass is to see the ingredients that are going into the beer so you can understand a little more the differentiating factors between [styles],” McCauley says. “People love craft beer and drink it because they have some sort of connection with it. This is just providing a different connection with ingredients and showcasing the process.”
Wanting to be part of Asheville’s craft beverage industry, the pair left Charlotte in late 2020 and, after months of searching for an affordable spot that fit their goals, found the vacant space on Riverside Drive and got to work. While Arena admits that he and McCauley were naïve about how long it would take to get Outsider up and running, the prospect of setting up their first brewery in Asheville’s city limits — their original goal — now seems even more daunting.
“That would have been really, really difficult for us,” he says. “It’s been a really good ‘training wheels’ experience for us because Woodfin has been awesome — they’ve been really supportive and cooperative. We had one hearing to get our zoning change, and it was a piece of cake.”
The intimate taproom will fit roughly 30 people and will soon add outdoor seating in the courtyard behind the brewery. Arena plans to brew a wide variety of styles and prioritize local, seasonal ingredients, and both he and McCauley would love to eventually incorporate wild ales. Outsider intends to start with 12 taps, eight-10 of which will be house beers, with the others occupied by guest brews, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. The co-founders also hope to bottle in the future and generally play their part in an up-and-coming part of town.
“I definitely am excited to see how Woodfin grows because it is growing a lot, even in the short amount of time that we’ve been here,” McCauley says. “There’s the Silver-Line Park down the road, and they’re working on a greenway extension, so that’s exciting. It’s a cool spot to be in where it’s being developed and it’s not fully there yet, but we get to experience a lot of that growth.”
Like Highland Brewing Co., which made its triumphant return downtown to the S&W Market last year, another local legacy beer business has joined its ranks a few blocks away.
In late March, Wedge Brewing Co. opened its Grove Arcade taproom in the former Santé Wine Bar space at 1 Page Ave., Suite 152, providing downtown visitors and residents alike with another Asheville brewery option. Over the past few months, Wedge General Manager Lucious Wilson has seen a healthy mix of tourists and locals stop by the new taproom, adding to the brewery’s traditions of community and diverse yet approachable beer styles. But expanding those legacies, he notes, required moving beyond Wedge’s River Arts District roots, where having two breweries within a mile of each other limited its growth.
“The biggest catchphrase that I have for this particular venue is ‘a blank slate,’” Wilson says. “There’s a lot of tradition to the Wedge, and this is our ability to pay homage to that tradition, but also to create new traditions.”
In the meantime, the taproom connects the past and the present via works by RAD artists, including creative tap handles carved by woodworker and bartender Aaron Iaquinto. There’s also a mural by Ian Wilkinson of iconic Wedge figures like LaZoom co-founder Jim Lauzon, a former Wedge bartender, in his Sister Bad Habit garb. In turn, the third Wedge location has become a place to showcase the creations of Wedge Studios brewer Carl Melissas and Foundation brewer Bryan Bobo in a new capacity and bring more people into the Wedge family.
That communal focus also extends to the surrounding businesses in the Grove Arcade. Like the Wedge at Foundation taproom partnering with 12 Bones Smokehouse to highlight its food, the downtown location purposefully does not have a kitchen. Instead, customers are encouraged to support the plentiful options nearby and get to-go items from Nani’s Piri Piri Chicken, Huli Sue’s BBQ and Grill, and others.
“We’re trying to sort of take back the ability to go downtown and have this experience and have kind of a pit stop along that journey,” Wilson says. “We want you to be able to meet and see a face that you know and are comfortable with, and then go about your day.”