The more craft beer, the better, I say. As long as it’s exceptional brew. And brewer Gordon Kear, co-owner of the forthcoming Altamont Brewing Company on Haywood Road, knows how to brew exceptional beers. He’s been the brewer for Flagstaff Brewing Company in Flagstaff, Ariz., for the past six years. There he crafted an array of ales and seasonals, from an IPA to an English Brown Porter to an ESB. Now Kear and business partner Ben Wiggins are opening a brewpub/music venue to bring a little more cool to the western end of Haywood Road. Other businesses that have opened in recent months in the same area are music venue The Get Down and restaurant Pizzeria Ritrovo.
“Asheville has always been home for me,” Kear says. “I wanted to bring what I learned in Flagstaff back home.”
Kear grew up in eastern N.C., and came to the mountains to attend Warren Wilson College. He stayed on in the area for a number of years after college before moving to Flagstaff and taking on his first professional brewing job. While at Warren Wilson, he befriended Wiggins, the other half of Altamont Brewing. Wiggins has been working construction and running a beer and wine shop in Nantahala. While Kear focuses on brewing, Wiggins will book music and handle marketing. He’s also overseeing renovation and construction on the building at 1042 Haywood Road (formerly the Low Rider shop, an automobile renovation business now located on Patton Avenue).
Kear and Wiggins initially want to focus on making their place a haven for local beer lovers.
“There’s no brewery in West Asheville, and we’re going to really focus on having a brewpub/bar for local clientele to come into to drink,” Kear says. “Some day we’d like to distribute, but that’s down the road.”
The goal is to have the place open this spring, perhaps even in late March, though Kear may not be brewing by then. Licensing, as always, can take a while. Nor has he ordered his brewing equipment yet. But there’s always a chance that he could get a beer or two brewed by renting some tank space from one of Asheville’s other breweries.
When I ask Kear about starting a business in an area with a glut of brews (Asheville has one of the highest brewery-to-population ratios in the U.S.), he isn’t fazed.
“The market here is still not saturated,” he says. “The craft-beer market continues to expand because not one brewery is ever going to take over. The beers are all a little different, and more options [means] more education about craft beer.”
The brewery’s name has to be one of my favorites, though Kear says most people don’t get the allusions.
Altamont is Thomas Wolfe’s fictional name for Asheville in his novels. It’s also the name of an infamous concert that took place in California in 1969, headlined by The Rolling Stones.
“We want to represent Asheville with our name and with what we’re doing,” Kear says. “Plus there are great stories behind the name — from Thomas Wolfe to California.”
Learn more about Altamont Brewing Company on their Facebook page.
Pouring gold: LoneRider Brewing Company from Raleigh served their Sweet Josie Brown Ale at the Winter Warmer Beer Festival. The beer was a gold medal winner at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. —Photo by Anne Fitten Glenn
For the most part, the new venue in Asheville’s Civic Center Exhibition Hall was an improvement on the former site at the Haywood Park Hotel. There was more room to move around so the hall didn’t feel as packed. There were some areas near the stage that got clogged with the beer-drinking masses, but those spots were easily navigated. The highlights of the fest were all the lovely, yummy craft beers — all the WNC breweries represented, as well as some N.C. breweries from the plains, SweetWater from Atlanta, R.J. Rockers from Spartanburg and Yazoo from Tennessee to round it out.
I was thrilled to get a taste of Foothills Brewing’s 2011 Sexual Chocolate, which will be released here on Feb. 1 at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria. The Sexual Chocolate is one of two N.C. beers to win a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. It will be available on tap at several restaurants and bars around WNC — but it always goes fast. Sweet Josie Brown, from two-year-old upstart Lone Rider Brewing out of Raleigh also got the gold. Sweet Josie is available in six-packs at Ingles and local beer stores.
That said, Winter Warmer’s new venue did have a few problems — the biggest being bathroom scarcity. I expected that other areas of the Civic Center would be available, but that wasn’t the case. And no portable toilets were brought in. As a result, the lines for bladder relief, for both the men and women, were epic.
The other problem was that while food from Fiore’s Ristorante Toscana was included in the ticket price, and I hear it was delicious, there was only one food table, and the line for that was also quite long.
Suffice it to say, I neither ate nor used the facilities, but I’m thankful that Rosetta’s Kitchen was on my way home.