Cigar City Brewing scouts Asheville

Cigar City Brewing draws inspiration from Tampa or Florida history for many of its beers, like Jai Alai IPA and Invasion Pale Ale. Photo courtesy of Cigar City

What do Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Cigar City have in common? They’re all award-winning craft breweries, and they’re all growing fast. Soon they might have another thing in common: a second brewery in Western North Carolina.

Yet while the breweries have some similarities, Tampa’s Cigar City is closer to the size of Oskar Blues than it is to New Belgium or Sierra Nevada. Actually, since it currently produces 34,000 barrels per year, it’s closest to the size of Highland.

Still, Cigar City has built an outsized reputation for itself with five Great American Beer Festival medals (including three golds) and four beers currently in the top 50 on RateBeer.com. So word traveled fast when Cigar City founder and owner Joey Redner traveled to the Asheville area and to Greenville, S.C., last week, scouting locations for a second brewery.

“We’re still looking at Florida, too,” says Redner, “[but] Western North Carolina as an area has always appealed to me. I have been visiting up that way since the ’80s. … My grandparents had a cabin in Murphy, so I got to spend a lot of time in the area and just grew to love it.”

Redner indicated the search was preliminary but already serious. He traveled with a site selection team including the president and vice president of the company, members of Merit Advisors and his dad. In addition to his love of the area, he said the team was also looking for a beer culture and business community that supported craft brewing — something he called “impressive” in Asheville.

The company’s second brewery would be more than a simple production facility, according to Redner. In addition to a brewhouse in the 50- to 100-barrel range, there would be a canning line, a large-format bottling line, a smaller pilot brewery and a tasting room. At full build-out, it would likely employ about 75 people. “We would want the tasting room to be similar to the original in terms of how it operates,” says Redner. That means in addition to keeping normal hours, it could see special-release events like Hunahpu’s Day (the brewery-only release of Cigar City’s most sought-after beer).

With an investment of around $25 million, Cigar City wants a permanent second home — one where it could put down roots. Many current beer recipes and names pull from Tampa and Florida history: Jai Alai IPA, Florida Cracker White Ale and Hotter Than Helles Lager are some of the most popular examples. A second brewery would expand the sources of inspiration, according to Redner. “We would wholeheartedly adopt a new home, and that includes drawing inspiration from the local area,” says Redner. “I have always been a major history buff. … I really enjoy researching forgotten or little-known local history and would be happy to do that all over again.”

Redner also says that acceptance by the local brewing community is important. “I have spoken with Joe Rowland from Nantahala Brewing Co., who I became buddies with on the [Sierra Nevada] Beer Camp Across America bus. He has been very supportive,” says Redner.

Due to the preliminary nature of the search, Redner says he has not yet reached out to other local breweries, but that would be part of any plan to move forward. “If we do find a site we like and want to build, the very next step would be to see how the brewing community feels about us being there. If the general consensus was that they’d rather we not, we wouldn’t build,” says Redner.

While he wouldn’t tip Xpress off with exactly where he would place his brewery, Redner did offer the following: “I really liked the Black Mountain area. … It has beautiful scenery and that relaxed small-town feel that sets my mind at ease.”

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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