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LIBATION NATION: Mills River Brewing Co. breaks ground

Patrick McCarthy, Bob Kramer and Joey Soukup celebrate the ceremonial start of brewery construction. They hope to be open in about a year. Patrick McCarthy, Bob Kramer and Joey Soukup celebrate the ceremonial start of brewery construction. They hope to be open in about a year.

MILLS RIVER — Like most craft beer entrepreneurs, Mills River Brewing Co. founders Joey Soukup and Patrick McCarthy can tell you exactly where they were when they hatched idea of starting a brewery.

“It started about 5½ years ago when we were just on the beach, fishing about 3 in the morning, and decided to open a brewery,” McCarthy says to dozens of family members and friends who turned out for a groundbreaking on Sunday afternoon. “I wasn’t sure how serious he was and then about a week or two later he called me and that’s when we were starting pretty much. We found a spot over in the Shops at Rockwood and grew from there. Now we’re in over a hundred different bars and restaurants in the Western Carolina area and then with the new facility we’re bringing in Andersons and Kramers,” two new investors.
Then, in a sun-splashed vacant field, Soukup and McCarthy turned a shovel of dirt to ceremonially mark the next phase of the brewery’s impressive growth.
The Mills River Town Council agreed last December to sell 3.7 acres of town-owned land to the brewery for $416,250. The flat parcel fronting on Banner Farm Road slopes up at the rear into a hardwood forest.
“We definitely want people to enjoy the space,” Soukup says. “We’d like to put in some event space but leave it natural.”
An outdoor courtyard at the foot of the hill will tie into a covered area at the back of the taproom. With a new 10-barrel brewhouse, Soukup and McCarthy will be able to expand their already impressive distribution of kegs on tap in bars and restaurants. They plan to install a bottling line at the new location.
“That’s what this is going to open up for us,” Soukup says. “Right now the space is so small we can’t fit it. Even mobile canning lines won’t fit in the back.”
A former contractor, Soukup expects brewery construction to take about a year. Although he’s not settled on seating and hours, he expects to have 15 to 20 taps. The current location in the Target shopping center on Airport Road has 24.
“We hope to grow as quick here as we did at the Shops at Rockwood,” he says. “If we can manage that we’ll be happy successful people.”