- Associated Press - Sunday, August 27, 2017

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Bolstered by beer tourism and sales to cities clamoring for Asheville beer, even the smallest of local breweries can’t seem to stay small for long.

As they grow, so grows the web of supporting industries - malt and yeast-makers, for example - staking ever-larger claims in the business of manufacturing beer.

The growth can be felt all over: One World Brewing, a nano-brewery that opened in Farm Burger’s basement just three years ago, will open a second location this fall at 520 Haywood Road in West Asheville.

The new taproom and 10-barrel brewhouse will give One World seven times its current capacity, said brewery co-owner Lisa Schutz, noting the flagship location will remain open beneath the burger restaurant.

Although there will be plenty of room in the new space to grow by adding new equipment as needed, Schutz said One World plans to self-distribute regionally and stay focused on the taproom and bar.

Community support, after all, is what created such demand in the first place, she said. “We have had a successful three years so far and are maxed out at our current location, (where) there is a limitation of space due to being in the basement.”

Growth is not limited to breweries in downtown Asheville proper.

In a somewhat out-of-the-way location on Sweeten Creek Road, one-barrel Sweeten Creek Brewing will increase capacity 10-fold this year. Co-owners Joey and Erica Justice said they don’t have any specific hard limits on further growth. But they plan to do it “sustainably” and for now will self-distribute to a few local restaurants and bars.

“Our focus has always been on creating a community brewery that focuses on quality and consistency over quantity, and we’re willing to continue to grow as long as that remains our focus,” said Joey Justice. “Ultimately, we want to be pulled towards growth, not create it.”

In Biltmore Village, Hi-Wire Brewing has a different take on growth. “We are kind of a crazy company,” said co-owner Chris Frosaker. “We’re always talking about growing. It’s pretty much my day-to-day job.”

The brewery has a location on the South Slope but turns out most of its brews from the Big Top facility at 2 Huntsman Place, where the company will celebrate its fourth anniversary Saturday with a Ferris wheel and fun houses.

The Biltmore Village location is spacious, but still bursting at the seams in fermentation capacity. “We can’t squeeze another drop out of this building - and I’d say we’re only at 20 percent of what we can do,” Frosaker said.

Still, the brewery is on tap to sell around 15,000 barrels of beer this year to meet a thirst for Asheville beer throughout the Southeast and beyond.

To fill that need, Frosaker said Hi-Wire works with a network of 16 distributors, including the Asheville-based Skyland Distributing Company, which carries 40 percent of the brewery’s output to Western North Carolina and the greater Charlotte area.

“We’re big believers in being strong in our local market,” said Frosaker. “If we’re not well-represented in our own backyard, our opinion is, we have no business expanding out of the area.”

Expand they have, and Hi-Wire is now available statewide in North and South Carolina and as far west in Tennessee as Nashville. The brewery also has distribution rights throughout Georgia.

It’s part of a plan to grow sales by 60 percent this year and grow distribution in 2018. Frosaker said such growth necessitates partnering with the right distributors who understand the Hi-Wire brand and vision.

This year, that meant working with Premium Beverage Supply to become one of only two North Carolina breweries, including Highland Brewing Co., to enjoy statewide distribution in Ohio.

Frosaker, who talks to Cincinnati beer tourists in his taproom almost every weekend, said Ohio drinkers thirst for Asheville beer.

“Once they check it all out they want it at home,” he said. “They have to discover us, Burial, and other great local breweries.”

Burial Beer Co. has an expansion underway in its “Forestry Camp,” a historic two-acre complex of six buildings in the London Road area outside of Biltmore Village, not far from Sweeten Creek Brewing.

The new spot will serve as production space, retail, a barrel house and restaurant, the latter slated for a spring opening. Brewing efforts have been operational there since October.

Burial opened on the South Slope four years ago as a one-barrel brewhouse, turning out 150 barrels a year. Last year, the owners announced distribution in Georgia under a partnership with Liberator Distributing, which focuses on small craft breweries.

Capacity continued to grow to meet that demand, and now drinkers in New York’s Hudson Valley; Denver; Portland, Maine; and other big beer-drinking cities quaff Burial’s brews. Still, co-owner Jess Reiser said there’s only so much beer to go around. And that’s by design.

Tim Gormley, Jess Reiser and Doug Reiser of Burial Beer.

(Photo: Courtesy of Burial Beer)

“I always attribute a lot of our success to word of mouth and organic growth,” she said. “We’ve never done true advertising. We’ve never even had a sandwich board outside.”

Small and off the beaten path is part of the brewery’s ethos, and the owners want to keep Burial small, with plans to cap output at about 10,000 barrels annually.

“Our taproom is very successful and always has been such a huge part of our brand and something we focus on first and foremost,” Reiser said.

Burial’s growing popularity could be attributed to a focus on craft products, she said. “People are looking for human connection to what they’re purchasing, whether it’s kombucha or beer.”

Burial’s own focus on community connection led them to source malts from Riverbend Malt House. “They had just started when we did, so it’s been a growing together sort of thing,” Reiser said. “I think our growth goes hand in hand with demand for craft beer in general.”

Founded in 2010, Riverbend is one of the original craft malting facilities in the U.S. and now has more than 120 accounts - from Kentucky distillers, to the tiny Fairview farmhouse brewery Turgua, to New Belgium.

“I hope we’re part of focus in the American diet on transparency, and we can build on that moving forward,” said Riverbend CEO Scott Hickman.

Swept along in the surging demand for craft brews with a local focus, Riverbend recently announced expansion plans including a long-term lease on 74,000-square-foot facility in South Asheville’s Gerber Village.

Plans are to increase production capacity 500 percent, to 3 million pounds of malt annually. Riverbend uses grain sourced from local farmers, who also stand to benefit from the craft beer explosion.

“Basically, we kind of see malting barley in this region like you would in any food system, where there are many links in chain between the field and fermenters,” said Riverbend founder Brent Manning.

Hickman said growing interest for quality malts, which don’t have the “sizzle” that hops do in the current beer culture, is exciting. “And we wonder what it will be like when the pendulum swings and beer goes more malt-forward.”

But the orders are pouring in, and Hickman said some brewers’ requests for malts for one-off brews and seasonals have increased from a couple of bags to entire palettes.

“And some of these new breweries, especially local ones looking to make a name for themselves in a somewhat crowded space, know that utilizing high-quality and local ingredients is a good tactic to differentiate yourself in the crowded craft market,” Manning added.

At Hi-Wire, Riverbend Malts show up in small-batch sours and the Uprisin’ Hefeweizen, a seasonal wheat ale.

“They’re a gem,” Frosaker said. “An awesome local resource, and it’s cool to be able to source local ingredients so easily.”

It’s the local beer boom that’s helped enable Riverbend to expand and make those ingredients even more accessible year-round.

It’s that growth that’s lured to the area White Labs, the San Diego-based alcohol yeast-production company that now has an outpost on Charlotte Street.

That explosive growth has fueled talk of a beer bubble, poised to eventually burst. But Frosaker said such a notion is just talk.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near the saturation point,” he said. Even Highland Brewing Company, one of the state’s biggest homegrown breweries, just surpasses 50,000 barrels.

Compare that to Colorado, which has five breweries among the 50 largest in the country. New Belgium’s Fort Collins outpost brewed nearly 1 million barrels last year alone.

“Not only is there relatively not a lot of volume being made, there’s still a lot of macro consumption going on here,” Frosaker said, meaning Western North Carolina still sells its fair share of Bud. “There’s actually a lot more room to grow.”

The biggest untapped market are the so-called “macro drinkers,” he said. Turn just 5 percent of them onto local beer? “Then we’re all going to be growing like crazy.”

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

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