Much like the Appalachian Mountains that rise to gently define the western half of our state, so too has the tide of craft beer influence swelled of late in that same region. Now that New Belgium Brewing has broken ground on their facility in Asheville, there are officially three titans of the craft beer industry that have chosen North Carolina as their east coast hub. NBB will soon join Oskar Blues (Brevard) and Sierra Nevada (Mills River) as the biggest craft beer producers in the state.
Why is that important? It, quite simply, further cements North Carolina’s position as The State of Southern Beer. Consider this: annual craft beer production here currently hovers around 200,000 barrels, already one of the highest total in the southeast United States. Sierra Nevada’s projected first-year output alone (350,000 barrels) will more than double that number.
So what is it about our fair state that inspired Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium to make us a part of their family? Considering that the craft beer industry is as open and friendly as it is, we just went and asked them.
Started in Lyons, Colorado in 1997, Oskar Blues was the first of The Big Three to commence operations in North Carolina. They’re probably best known as the first U.S. craft brewer to can their own beer, which they’ve been doing since 2002.
Anne Fitten-Glenn holds the inventive title of ‘Beer Communicatrix’ for OB’s Brevard, North Carolina operation (as well as the even more inventive Twitter handle @Brewgasm), and is well-known in the region for her craft beer acumen. The author of “Asheville Beer: An Intoxicating History of Mountain Brewing”, Anne Fitten recounted for us the decision to bring OB to NC:
“Oskar Blues Brewery Sole-Founder Dale Katechis has kept a mountain bike at a friend’s house in Brevard for more than 15 years. When Oskar Blues started looking for a second home, Brevard seemed like a natural fit. In addition to the lifestyle and culture of the Western North Carolina mountains, Oskar Blues sells more than 40 percent of our beer east of the Mississippi River. Being able to drive our refrigerated trucks from NC up and down the East Coast makes it easier get the freshest beer possible to beer lovers. Brevard also offers the same eclectic mountain charm that inspired Oskar Blues to put Dale’s Pale Ale in a can back in the day in Lyons, Colorado. Brevard and Lyons share a small town, main street feel; outdoor adventures galore; and a healthy dose of fun and commitment to the local community.”
Oskar Blues produced 46,000 barrels out of Brevard last year, with an eye towards hitting 80,000 this year.
Way back in 1979, Ken Grossman combined a love of home brewing, a bunch of recycled dairy equipment, and the name of his favorite hiking trails, and started Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California. It has since become one of the patriarchs of the U.S. craft beer movement, and the country’s second largest craft brewer.
The decision to settle in North Carolina was the end result of a comprehensive search, according to Communications Manager Ryan Arnold:
“We explored more than 200 sites when looking for the home of our second brewery. Brewing factors like water quality and supply were big on the list, but we placed considerable focus on quality of life and outdoor recreation—what first drew our founder Ken Grossman to Chico. Mills River was the right fit, and the craft beer community of western North Carolina welcomed us warmly. We can’t wait to truly get rolling.”
Sierra Nevada began test brewing at the tail end of 2013, with the first cases leaving for store shelves earlier this year.
The new kid on the North Carolina block broke ground the first week of May in west Asheville, for a 133,000 square-foot brewery and tasting room that will eventually produce 500,000 barrels. NBB PR Director Bryan Simpson had this to say about their new NC digs:
“For New Belgium, Asheville quickly rose to the top of our short list. The quality of life, diversity of culture and vibrant arts scene really inspired us. There is a strong brewing tradition here – as there is in Colorado – and we’ve always found that’s a great way to stoke creativity and collaboration. Ultimately it came down to great water with which to brew and a high quality of life.”
John F. Kennedy famously said that a rising tide floats all boats. So to all our new neighbors, we lift a pint glass and say ‘welcome’. And hope you’re thirsty, NC beer fans – by 2016 there could be over 1.5 million barrels coming out of North Carolina breweries. Cheers to that.