When competing in a 5K, participants are usually focused on achieving a personal best time — not surviving a zombie attack. But for athletes looking for something different in a city where road races are held nearly every weekend, the creative costumes and undead “threats” of Catawba Brewing Co.’s White Zombie 5K are here to serve.
The second edition of the race takes place Saturday, Oct. 30, 9 a.m., on a route that takes runners across the South Slope brewing district. The inaugural event was conceived as the brewery’s headline event for Asheville Beer Week 2019, and a fun, distinct alternative to the usual pint nights and beer dinners. Last year’s gathering was canceled due to COVID-19.
“Catawba has always been positioned as an active-lifestyle, outdoor-oriented craft beer brand, so a 5K was a natural fit,” says brewery marketing director Brian Ivey. “And, most importantly, it was an opportunity to work with our friends at MANNA FoodBank to raise money for a great cause.”
The event is an extension of Catawba’s popular White Zombie brand, and Ivey describes its aesthetic as “5K meets haunted house.” While he and his colleagues saw an abundance of amazing zombie costumes in 2019, they wisely didn’t limit the dress-up options to reanimated corpses.
“Any Catawba character was fair game,” Ivey says. “One guy dressed up in Evening Joe business casual, in honor of Catawba’s Coffee Blonde, and pulled a papier-mâché float modeled after our HOPness Monster. Asheville’s creative spirit certainly didn’t disappoint.”
This year, Diamond Thieves Tattoo will be on-site as resident makeup artists for anyone who wants a zombie makeover. Additionally, all participants will receive a commemorative pint glass. COVID safety will be prioritized in the 5K’s organization and its afterparty.
“We’re really excited to do it again after missing last year,” Ivey says. “It’s another big step toward a return of normalcy — if you can accept that, ironically, running from zombies represents ‘Asheville normal.’”
Ivey also stresses that fun, charitable events like the White Zombie 5K — and everything else about Catawba, especially in Asheville — will remain unchanged even with the Oct. 8 announcement that the brewery had been sold to Made by the Water, LLC, the parent company of Florida-based Oyster City Brewing Co.
“The announcement was all about growth and expansion.” he says. “Outside of Asheville, the only notable change is that Catawba beers will soon be available in markets across the Southeast that we weren’t able to reach previously.”
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And just like that, Highland Brewing Co.’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale is 25 years old.
Asheville’s first beer to gain a cult following, and which just so happens to be produced by the city’s longest-running craft brewery, has remained a seasonal favorite among beer fans, who flock to Highland from near and far each November to get the first sips of that year’s batch.
“It’s humbling,” says Nikki Mitchell, Highland’s hospitality director. “To have a beer like our winter ale be celebrated for this long is amazing, and it’s our favorite time of the year, too. Cold Mountain represents collaboration, not only for the flavor profile of the beer, but across our entire team.”
The process starts each April, and though the core beer recipe stays true to form, it’s tweaked every year with different notes of vanilla, hazelnut, cinnamon and other ingredients. The speculation of how the latest batch will taste remains a favorite point of debate among devotees and inevitably invites comparisons to past editions.
Along with 2021 Cold Mountain (5.9% ABV), packaged offerings this year include the return of Imperial Cold Mountain (8% ABV) and Coconut Cold Mountain (5.9% ABV). Also in the mix is Super Spice Cold Mountain (5.9% ABV), a former small-batch collaboration with Spicewalla, featuring “an extra pinch” of the seasonal spice blend.
The 2021 celebration runs Friday, Nov. 12-Monday, Nov. 15, with events taking place all four days at Highland’s East Asheville brewery. Multiple small-batch Cold Mountain variants will also be available there, as well as at the brewery’s new downtown taproom in the S&W Market.
Mitchell notes that the dual locations allows downtown visitors to more easily experience Cold Mountain festivities, while hopefully luring them to the brewery for the larger events. The downtown taproom will also host its own distinct ticketed happening on Sunday, Nov. 14, featuring curated small plates items from all five S&W Market food partners, paired with a Cold Mountain flight or two pints of different Highland beers.
At both locations, Mitchell notes that lessons learned from last year will be implemented, resulting in limited capacities and $10 access passes required for events at the brewery taproom. Those who desire that coveted first shot at this year’s Cold Mountain are encouraged to place preorders online for a streamlined experience, and after the brewery events conclude, the beer will be distributed to area grocery stores and bottle shops. But wherever fans of the seasonal brew acquire it, the excitement around its release seems destined to remain high for years to come.
“We’ve had people who’ve gotten engaged during Cold Mountain. And we have a contest, usually while people are waiting in line, to see who’s traveled the farthest,” Mitchell says. “It’s just awesome to be able to engage with our guests that closely, and to have [brewery founder] Oscar [Wong] and [company President] Leah [Wong Ashburn] combing through the line, welcoming people, being a host and holding the door. That’s really what makes Highland who we are, and it shines so brightly at Cold Mountain.”
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Numbers to prove it
Following up a 2016 study, the latest Asheville Metro Area Breweries Contribution Analysis — which examined the industry in 2019 — finds these local businesses thriving to the tune of 3,471 jobs created or supported, $168.4 million labor income and $935 million total output. The findings were released Sept. 29 by Riverbird Research, a division of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, and reflect the impact of breweries in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties.
The analysis predates the pandemic, and though Clark Duncan, executive director of the chamber’s Economic Development Coalition, is confident that the global health crisis “will have a measurable impact on the industry,” he’s also quick to point out the creativity and adaptability of these businesses in trying times, resulting in the survival of nearly all such establishments.
“It’s important to note that the industry has seen growth in the Asheville Metro due to locally specific factors, not just the benefit of national trends,” Duncan says.
“Regional assets like our specialized workforce, a professional peer group like the Asheville Brewers Alliance that encourages innovation and collaboration, educational amenities like A-B Tech’s Craft Brewing Institute, community reputation and visitors that support local brands as they pursue regional and national distribution all have contributed to the economic success of the industry in our region,” he continues.
The study found that these businesses account for one-third of the state’s breweries industry total output, value added gross regional product and employment, plus 24% of total labor income.
Echoing Duncan’s statements on a strong support network, Heidi Reiber, senior director of Riverbird Research, also notes the industry’s use of advanced manufacturing technologies, which attracts a younger, more stable workforce, and that its supply chain loops in crop farming, connecting it with the region’s growers. She additionally points out that these robust findings exclude add-on effects, such as tourism or other partial industry presence, with the exception of beer wholesalers.
“The study is a real validation of the industry in terms of its economic value to our community,” Duncan says. “The growth and vitality of local manufacturing careers in beverage, life sciences, automotive and aerospace are often overlooked — and especially important to our goals of growing opportunity, wages and prosperity in Buncombe County.”
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