Free Daily Headlines

News

Set your text size: A A A

New taprooms stock up for Apple Festival

Linda and Rich Wenger serve customers at their Basic Brewery, which is expected to reap the benefits of the Apple Festival crowd this weekend. Linda and Rich Wenger serve customers at their Basic Brewery, which is expected to reap the benefits of the Apple Festival crowd this weekend.

Basic Brewery on Third Avenue West regularly offers a flight of craft beer for six bucks.

Owner Rich Wenger has grounded flights this weekend. He expects to have hundreds of new customers during the North Carolina Apple Festival and pouring four four-ounce samples of foamy beer takes too much time.

“We’re going to get as much beer as we can get with the idea that if we get even a fraction of a percent of 300,000 people that we’d have enough product for them,” says Wenger, a brewery electronics specialist and former distiller who opened Basic Brewery last spring with his wife, Linda.

“It’s been getting better and better,” Wenger says of the crowds. “People are starting to discover that we’re here. We’re a block off Main and it’s a little hard to see us down here.”

That’s likely to change this weekend when thousands of Festival-bound people will stroll right by the tasting room. The North Carolina Apple Festival remains stubbornly dry but downtown Hendersonville hasn’t been since the early Sixties and it’s getting wetter all the time.

This year, for the first time, festival visitors will have two breweries and a cidery to choose when they do get a thirst for a cold one. Main Street has for years had Hannah Flanagan’s and other restaurants with bars. But thanks to changes in state law and proliferation of the craft breweries, Basic and Sanctuary, on East First Avenue, and Flat Rock Ciderworks, will all be stocked up, staffed up and ready to pour. Although Sanctuary had opened its doors on Labor Day weekend a year ago, it’s much better known now and is serving its own well-received beers.

 

‘Extra inventory’

Flat Rock Ciderworks may stand to benefit most of all, given that its ingredient is being celebrated all weekend long and that it’s the only one of the taprooms on Main Street.

“We’re looking for a great weekend,” says Jim Sparks, owner and operator of Flat Rock Ciderworks at 305 N. Main St. “We’ve been creating extra inventory for the weekend. We’re going to have different types of apples and some other fruit. We’ll have some blackberries. We’ll have some ciders and some local beers. We expect a great crowd. We’ve got our staff ready. We’ve had a number of meetings. … This is our first year on Main Street and we’re really looking forward to it.”

“We’re going to have some music playing. It’s a good opportunity to get out of the heat for a few minutes. Our place is a good place to stop in for a couple of ciders or a couple of beers.”

Because the cidery will ship its products all over, Sparks says he hopes to make some sales even if people don’t want to carry the product with them.

“We look forward to meeting a lot of new people,” he said.

 

‘Like packing in for a winter storm’

Lew Holloway, the city’s downtown development coordinator, says retailers, restaurants and now the microbreweries are wise to plan ahead and stock up.

“For the folks that have done it before it’s almost like packing in before a big winter storm,” he says. “They’re doing all kinds of things to make sure they’re ready for the volume. The way the restaurants deal with it is in most cases they trim down their menu just because of the volume they know they’re like to be dealing with.”

Shops, jewelers and boutiques experience varying degrees of success in terms of sales. The key, says Holloway, is knowing how to exploit the opportunity that hundreds of potential customers represent.

“For the retailer it’s a little bit different,” he says. “Garden Jubilee and Apple Festival are our two biggest festivals” and both shut down Main Street. “Garden Jubilee draws a great crowd but the Apple Festival draws such a big crowd that they have to target what they’re doing for the crowd that’s coming out. Obviously some are going to do a lot in sales but a lot of the traffic is just going to be in and out of their store. They almost have to use it as a marketing opportunity.”

A good example are stores that sell large items. Since shoppers can’t pull up to the store, they probably won’t be buying.

“I’ve heard that from one of our furniture retailers,” he said. “They said, ‘Our first year we really didn’t know what to do. The second year we got more engaged in having customer conversations, recognizing that we probably weren’t going to have a lot of sales but we’re engaging the customer’” who may come back later and buy.

“A lot of the stores are just stocking up on a lot of water and they sell a bunch of water and engage with the people,” he says.

Holloway acknowledges that the four-day Apple Festival “is a long time to close the street.”

When businesses complain about the four-day closing, his first reaction is to “validate that concern,” he says. “We have to be conscious of that. We’re always looking for a way to minimize negative impact.”

“It’s a huge volume (of people) and it’s probably in large part a volume that hasn’t seen you before,” he says. “Even though we talk about the crowd from out of town, there are many local people that can come back next week. It really is a mix. It’s not exclusively visitors from out of town.”

The taprooms figure to be among the big winners in festival sales.

“I think the Ciderworks is going to be a real hot spot this weekend,” Holloway says. “If I don’t see a line outside the door a couple of times I’d be surprised.” The pubs “have become kind of entertainment destinations too. It will be interesting to see how the event impacts them. I’m sure it’ll be a good weekend for all of them.”

 

Basic but experimental

At Basic Brewery, Wenger recalled his decision to start a brewery here instead of Greenville, S.C., or Asheville.

“I thought the market was a little oversaturated with breweries until I came to Hendersonville,” he says. “I found a much wider niche.

“Our concept here is a little bit different. We’re a very very small brewery.” He has just finished installing a small brewing system with a capacity of 55 gallons. “We’re able to make a lot of different flavors in small quantities. We’ll be able to try all kinds of crazy stuff. We want to be known as the brewery that’s experimental.”

The taproom’s name came about after he and his wife had volleyed dozens of ideas. Many were already taken. None seemed quite right.

“We were talking about this at lunch one day,” he says. “We were searching for names and we couldn’t find anything we were happy with.” His wife asked him to explain the goal. “We just want to start out with a small basic brewery. She said, ‘Maybe that will work.’”

Basic Brewery has a clean industrial look to it. The Wengers invite artists to exhibit their work. Customers can help themselves to fresh hot popcorn. They can sit at the bar, at a table overlooking Third Avenue or a conversation area with comfortable chairs, a love seat and coffee table.

“We like the feel of that kind of prohibition type bar,” Wenger says. “We kind of play off that.”

The brewery is attracting a crowd of all ages, about half local and half tourists, Wenger thinks.

“They get on their smart phones and Google breweries and we pop up,” he says. “On any given weekend we’ll get people from Charlotte, Greenville, Atlanta.”

Although he is firing up his nanobrewery downstairs now, it won’t be ready in time for the Apple Festival. This weekend Basic will do what it’s been doing since it opened. It has 15 taps featuring a rotation of local craft beers.

“We like to feature breweries that are small and also have no distribution,” he says. On Saturday, it was offering choices from Brevard Brewery, Innovation in Sylva, Lazy Bird in Charlotte and Boojum in Waynesville, among others.

“It’s a mix of stuff people are comfortable with and stuff we’re trying to introduce people to,” he said. “With the small breweries, a lot of times their brewers are actually delivering the beer. We can talk to them directly about their beer, why it’s called what it’s called, what ingredients they used.”

Even when he is serving his own brews, “We’re going to still stick with the model of being able to showcase other brewer’s taps,” he says.