Having opened at the end of 2015, Sweeten Creek Brewing is one of the newer kids on the block, but it’s slowly coming into its own. The venture, which includes a brewery, taproom and sandwich shop, is spearheaded by Ashevilleans Chad Gibson, formerly of 12 Bones, and master brewers Erica and Joey Justice, who both previously worked at Highland Brewing Co.
With the recent launch of a summer picnic series that makes use of the South Asheville brewery’s generous outdoor area, Sweeten Creek Brewing is making it clear that its operation is as much about the food as it is about the beer. Xpress recently talked with Gibson about the business, his sandwiches and plans for the future.
Mountain Xpress: How did the partnership among the three of you come about? How are duties divided?
Chad Gibson: I’m the food service manager and chef. Joey is the head brewer and operations manager, and Erica is head of quality control and chief financial officer. They brew; I cook. We all built it; we all manage it by consensus.
I decided to partner with Erica and Joey because their approach to brewing was very similar to my approach to food. Neither of us focuses on trendy or esoteric styles. We all feel it’s best to compete based on quality, not flash. For Joey and Erica, this means stringent testing and quality control protocol; they both come from large-scale brewing operations and really emphasize quality and consistency. Their favorite beers are sessionable, accessible beers — stuff that is great to sip while you’re sitting around a picnic table with friends.
On the food side, I try to mirror what they do. The menu is based on classic, recognizable sandwiches such as the Monte Cristo, a hot Italian grinder or Reuben. I also do shareable charcuterie plates and vegetarian options such as the Lentz wrap, which is a house-made black-eyed pea patty on naan flatbread with a horseradish yogurt sauce.
Are you a brewery or restaurant?
We’re both. The sandwich shop and tasting room have the same hours, so you can order food in the tasting room anytime. I also do counter service in the sandwich shop for lunch and during the week.
Do you have anything special planned for the summer menu?
We’re focused on highlighting our back lawn — 2½ acres of shaded green space) — and we’ll be hosting a picnic series where we plan to feature live music, plenty of beer and outdoor food such as fried chicken baskets and catfish po’ boys.
Your hot dog is getting a reputation. Why?
It’s a traditional Mexican street hotdog — Sonora style. I don’t have a grill in my kitchen, so I start with a quarter-pound all-beef dog. I split it and griddle it cut side down until it’s crispy. Then I put it in a big soft bun with fresh avocado, spicy mayo, two strips of bacon, griddled onions and pickled jalapeno. I don’t really deviate from the traditional. I just cook it very well, put it together carefully and try to make every one perfect.
You use sambal mayonnaise in a few dishes. What is that?
Most people make spicy mayo with sriracha sauce. I don’t like sriracha. I believe it’s the most overrated condiment in history. As a result, I make my spicy mayo with sambal oelek, a Vietnamese chili paste, and my three-chili fermented XXX hot sauce. It sounds superspicy, but it’s not. It’s got a mellow zing, and it looks pretty, too.
What’s your most popular sandwich?
The Big Bird. It’s a turkey, bacon and avocado melt with really great house-made pimento cheese on big slices of thick-cut wheatberry bread.
What are some of your popular side dishes?
All of our salads are homemade. People love the potato salad — it has green peas in it. And the watermelon salad is really refreshing in the summer. It’s got a hint of mint. I also do sauerkraut pretty well — specifically a pink one. It’s made from red cabbage and it’s pink once it’s done.
How much beer do you produce?
About three barrel batches per week. We generally have four of our beers on tap, plus guest tap beers, cider and wine. We have had as many as eight Sweeten Creek beers on tap at once.
What are your future plans?
We will definitely be getting a larger brew system and moving into packaging and distribution. The kitchen will be expanded to accommodate more volume and diversity, but the focus of the menu will remain sandwiches, shareable appetizer plates and bar snacks.