- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - From the start of the craft beer scene in western North Carolina in 1994, Asheville was the place where many breweries set up shop, as evidenced by the 24 breweries operating in Buncombe County today.

But a new wave of breweries has gone in a different direction, choosing instead to open in surrounding smaller towns and cities.

“I could have easily moved to Asheville, but I have a family and we love small towns,” said Josh Chambers, who is opening his Ecusta Brewing in two Transylvania County locations - one on Main Street in downtown Brevard, the other on Pisgah Highway.

“Brevard has so much to offer,” Chambers said. “For the most part, the town has been supportive.”

Chambers will start the locations as taprooms offering guest beers while he awaits his federal brewing permit.

Hendersonville, Waynesville, Brevard and Sylva have seen clusters of breweries open as owners and brewers look for locations that are affordable and offer a different vibe.

That breweries are setting up operations outside of Asheville isn’t so much an economic success story for other places. The smallest breweries employ two or three workers, though the biggest like Sierra Nevada can have hundreds of people on their payrolls.

And it’s not about Asheville losing its luster as one of the nation’s top beer cities. Rather, for brewers it shows the industry’s expanding strength. And for small towns, adding breweries is a way of adding a little extra flavor to the area.

“When younger people find out there are breweries within walking distance, that is exciting,” said Jeff Miller, a Hendersonville city councilman who notes that the city has a reputation for being a place for retirees.

“The way to have consistent growth is making it inviting to everyone and mixing it up a little bit,” Miller said.

Henderson County has emerged as a brewery hot spot. There are four breweries in the county, including Blue Ghost, which just opened in Fletcher, and Sierra Nevada in Mills River, the region’s largest beer maker.

Southern Appalachian Brewery was the first in Hendersonville, followed by Sanctuary Brewing. Two more breweries are set to open in Hendersonville this year.

Business at Sanctuary Brewing has been booming, said Lisa McDonald, who opened the brewery with Joe Dinan last year. The taproom has a dozen house beers, she said.

“Hendersonville had one brewery (Southern Appalachian) for five years, and once we opened and (city) regulations (on downtown breweries) changed, that popped the lid off things.

“There is so much growth in Hendersonville. We have great restaurants and beer bars are putting us on the map. It is becoming a (craft beer) destination itself. It’s bringing jobs and more tourism, and it is becoming a dynamic place to live.”

The new arrivals in Hendersonville will be Stag’s Head, which will announce its downtown location in about a month, and Basic Brewery, which looks to open its taproom this month at 131 Third Avenue West.

“This is my home,” said Stag’s Head owner Jonathan Ayers, who had previously worked in construction. “I have a love for the community. And the brewery will be a lot of fun. It’s allowing me to plug deeper into the community.”

Basic Brewery, operated by Richard and Linda Wenger, is setting up shop in a space that was once the Falderal Winery in Hendersonville.

“My wife and I have been in the area for about three years and we thought (a brewery) would be a good idea,” Richard Wenger said. “We had created a distillery (Dark Corner in Greenville, South Carolina) with a couple of business partners.”

Wenger has since sold his distilling interests to focus on Basic Brewery.

Hendersonville was a more affordable place to open a brewery than Greenville, he said. “The business model that we are going for is smaller scale. We won’t have a lot of overhead. We can be flexible in terms of delivering product at an affordable price.”

Basic Brewery will open as a taproom with guest beers while awaiting a federal brewing permit, he said.

Kyle Williams, who operates Brevard Brewing just across Main Street from the downtown Ecusta brewery, said he is glad to see a new player. “It’s a solid brewing scene,” he said. Brevard is also home to the big Oskar Blues eastern brewery.

“Rent is cheaper” in Brevard, Williams said. “And Asheville ‘is becoming more jumbled’ with breweries.

“I’m in business and you don’t want to get lost in the crowd. Brevard is growing and every year is better than the last. Not just for me, but for the restaurants and other local businesses.”

In Sylva, Innovation Brewing co-owner Nicole Owen has watched a beer scene develop that includes the city’s first brewery, Heinzelmännchen, and its newest arrival Sneak E Squirrel.

She and her husband and business partner Chip Owen left Asheville for the smaller more laid back scene in Sylva.

“The lifestyle was the biggest draw for us,” she said. “We didn’t want to be in a city for the rest of our lives, but we wanted to be within an hour of Asheville.”

Officials in Jackson County and Sylva were “both enthusiastic and helpful in getting everything figured out” about opening a brewery there, she said. The couple has connected with the town’s other brewers, she said.

“If we need something, we know that we can borrow it from them,” she said.

Innovation sells most of its beer at the brewery, but has opened up some wholesale markets in Asheville and Franklin, she said. “We are only on a seven-barrel system. We’re not planning too big at the moment.”

The burst of new breweries outside of Asheville only makes sense, said Kendra Penland, executive director of the nonprofit Asheville Brewers Alliance, which represents area breweries.

“There are many quality breweries in the city of Asheville, but some people will want to open where they have more opportunities,” she said. “Smaller towns want to be part of this industry. They can bring more tourists and tax dollars and everyone wins.”

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com


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