Wicked Weed Brewing is growing yet again. Now in its fourth year and with two major expansions already under its belt, the brewery is planning to add a newly acquired 57,000-square-foot production facility in Arden, not far from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Mills River brewery.
The new facility will house a 30-barrel brewhouse custom-made for the production of Wicked Weed’s award-winning sour beers as well as office space and a training campus for distributors, retailers and staff to take part in product education. The 17-acre property will also provide room for future events and further growth.
The Arden operation, projected to come online July 1, will be Wicked Weed’s fourth production space, following the original Biltmore Avenue brewpub, the Coxe Avenue Funkatorium and the company’s new Enka-Candler facility, which opened last year to increase production of the brewery’s clean beers. It also creates a third area for cellaring the brewery’s barrel-aged beers, allowing Wicked Weed to relocate many of its sours from the overcrowded Funkatorium barrel house.
Plans for the Funk House, as it is currently being called, have been in development for roughly a year, with the intention of allowing Wicked Weed’s brewing staff the necessary space to perform to their full potential. “The ideal situation is that we are always making better beer,” says head of brewing and co-owner Walt Dickinson. “And I think the way we do that is by streamlining our process and our ability to kind of breathe and work efficiently.”
The warehouse was already uniquely suited to the task of brewing sour beers with little to no remodeling or construction. “We found a climate-controlled warehouse with floor drains — it’s pretty much perfect,” Dickinson says. “I don’t think it’s possible to make sour beers here in the Southeast without being able to control the environment the beers are aging in.”
The brewers won’t be the only employees to benefit from the larger headquarters. Administrative staff will be able to take advantage of 13,000 square feet of additional office space. With close to 200 employees currently working for Wicked Weed in some capacity, staff in departments such as administration, accounting and human resources become increasingly essential. Along with the Wicked Weed sales and marketing teams, all will find new homes when the campus is ready for occupation in early July.
While the Funk House is expected to create a number of jobs in the future, Dickinson says an early wave of new hires similar to the staff-out that immediately followed the opening of the Enka-Candler facility will not be necessary. Prospective applicants are encouraged to check with the brewery later in the year for new positions, as hiring is an ongoing process for Wicked Weed.
Despite the urgent need for offices, production is still the primary driver for the expansion, and the Arden facility will afford the brewery’s output of sour beers a growth rate commensurate with that of its clean beers. Even with the recent addition of distribution to markets such as Atlanta and Boston, roughly 90 percent of Wicked Weed’s sour beers are still consumed in North Carolina. Traditional sours are inherently more limited than clean beers due to the time- and space-intensive fermentation and aging processes they require. As national demand for the brewery’s offerings continues to grow, maintaining the availability of Wicked Weed’s sours becomes more challenging.
The Funk House was conceived to match the increased production output seen in the clean-beer program that is the focus of the Enka-Candler facility. “We’re excited about taking our sour beer and being able to put it in more major craft beer markets, but given our current production, there’s literally no way we can do it,” says Dickinson.
“Our goal is that, [since] sour beers and farmhouse beers are such a big piece of the Wicked Weed portfolio, as we grow […] we don’t want people to think of it as a small piece that nobody can get their hands on,” he adds. “We need a facility that can grow with us as we grew our clean-beer production.”
The benefits of the Funk House are not limited to production and logistics. The free space at the Funkatorium will allow for a reallocation of resources to Brettanomyces-fermented farmhouse beers and some exciting new surprises will be on the horizon from the Coxe Avenue facility. And although there are no plans for a tasting room at the Arden facility, Asheville beer enthusiasts are likely to enjoy future festivals and events on what co-owner Rick Guthy describes as “17 acres of perfectly flat mowed grass … a rare piece of property” in the mountains.
However, the unique suitability of the location for Wicked Weed’s purposes was overshadowed by a less tangible value for Guthy, whose son, Ryan Guthy (also co-owner and head of distribution and sales), was raised in Asheville alongside the Dickinson brothers. “We made a very conscientious decision to stay in Buncombe County,” says Guthy. “We could’ve gone some places that were probably less expensive. But these guys grew up here, … so Buncombe County’s a big part of our heritage, and we wanted to make sure we stayed in Buncombe County. It cost us a little bit more money to do that, but that was part of our commitment.”