Located nearly 10 miles from its bustling downtown Asheville pub and South Slope Funkatorium, Wicked Weed Brewing’s clean beer production brewery in Candler operates largely outside the sight of craft beverage consumers. Other than hosting two of the brewery’s Funkatorium Invitationals in the grassy area beyond its walls, the structure has been seen by few nonemployee eyes, and its interiors were once thought to be improbably large by the bulk of the company.
“When we came in in 2015, we were like, ‘There’s no way we can ever fill this place out, let alone think about adding another 30,000 square feet to it,’” says Wicked Weed founder Ryan Guthy.
The brewery has done just that in 2019 with a significant expansion to its 50-barrel production brewery, including a full sensory area, a new lab that’s double the size of the previous one, a barrel-aging room and eight new fermenters with more brite tanks still on the way. According to Guthy, 140,000 barrels per year can currently be produced at the facility, which also now serves as the brewery’s sole point of distribution, considerably increasing efficiency on that level. The build-out also comes with such enhanced employee spaces as new offices, a conference room and employee locker rooms, bathrooms and a break room.
But for the public, especially residents of the surrounding up-and-coming neighborhoods, the most important new component is the Wicked Weed West taproom, which opened June 7. The second-floor space seats 99 and features 15 tap lines and a full bottle shop selling all the brewery’s packaged clean and sour beers. Guthy says the company also plans to start a kegs-to-go program, where everything from one-offs to full distribution batches will be available to customers.
Fellow founder Walt Dickinson spearheaded the taproom’s design aesthetic, which seeks to acknowledge its shared environment with the surrounding nonsour brewery.
“Cleanliness is an important part of the brewing process and something we really pride ourselves on — every inch of this brewery being spotless,” Dickinson says. “And so what we tried to do was have a very clean aesthetic, a little more modern. But then we wanted to make sure this place felt integrated into [the production brewery] space, so we decided to incorporate this chartreuse green, which is [a color associated with] safety — pulling from that core for the palette.”
Complementing the chartreuse are rose gold chairs and plentiful plants — aided by the installation of grow lights — that, along with copious natural light, give the space a relaxed, tropical vibe. “We spent a lot of energy and love to create a really pretty facility inside a big box, so we wanted to have a taproom where we could show it off a little bit,” Dickinson says. “It’s kind of like if Apple acquired Anthropologie and then opened a tiki bar.”
Guthy notes that while Wicked Weed’s other spaces are decidedly not focused on TV, the founders wanted to provide a space at the Candler facility for people to watch sporting events while having a beer, all within view of the beverages being made.
“I think it’s very unique to have this level of exposure to a production-scale brewery,” says marketing director Kyle Pedersen. “Although Hi-Wire [Brewing] is very exposed, it’s not at this scale. You don’t have the same ability of overlooking a running canning line or seeing these fermenters or seeing the brewers at work. You’re not behind a plexiglass wall or window — for better or for worse, the heat is here, the fermenters are on, things are moving, and that heat is a demonstration of the activity that surrounds you.”
Guthy adds that there have been talks of hosting homebrew competitions and local cook-offs at Wicked Weed West, as well as developing an education center with classes on brewing and identifying off flavors. (It’s already a stop on the brewery’s four-site Grand Cru tour each Saturday and home to a recurring class on barrel aging.) As of June 17, a local food truck has been on-site every day in lieu of a kitchen, with such businesses as El Kimchi (Tuesdays), The Wood Fired Oven (Thursdays) and Trippy Dogs (Saturdays) having their own designated day of the week.
These local partnerships are consistent with what Pedersen calls Wicked Weed’s “strong DIY ethos,” which started with the creation of tap handles and labels six years ago. That approach has evolved into making as much as possible in-house at the wood and metal fabrication shop at the company’s Funk House sour brewery in Arden.
“The ethos of our company is: We’re artists, we create things. If we can create it, we should try to create it ourselves because that’s going to give us the result we want,” Dickinson says. “If we have the means to do it, we do it. And if we don’t, obviously we try to find a local partner. And if not, we’ll look somewhere else.”
Tying in with all of the above growth, the founders and Pedersen feel that Wicked Weed West is a means of enlightening skeptics who, following the company’s 2017 sale to Anheuser-Busch InBev, were concerned that its beer would be made off-site. By offering a direct glimpse of the magnitude of its Asheville operation, run by members of the local community — which Guthy says has involved the on-boarding of 131 employees thus far in 2019 — they hope that their ongoing commitment to the city where Wicked Weed began is evident.
“It’s very important,” Pedersen says. “Nowadays, everything is so cookie-cutter, and I think people assumed we’d [outsource] because it’s more efficient and less expensive, but Anheuser-Busch has only seen that as a point of differentiation for us, and they doubled down on it and want us to do more of it. They’re not saying, ‘How can you do less?’ or ‘How can you tag on to this resource that we have?’ They say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing — and let’s do more of it.’”
Wicked Weed West is at 145 Jacob Holm Way in Candler. Tasting room hours are 4-10 p.m., Monday-Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-8 p.m. Sunday.