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Craft beer boom boosts our burg

Even after we published 5,200 words on the craft beer boom in Hendersonville, Fletcher and Mills River, we still left a few angles on the cutting room floor.

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What’s important to recognize, I think, is that the craft beer growth here is chiefly a business story. As our special Libation Nation report explored, there is a risk that we’re on the cusp of a bubble when it comes to new breweries opening up. Andy Cubbin, the head brewer at Southern Appalachian Brewery, told us that a brewery closing gives the industry a black eye. Maybe. I think a business casualty would be more noticed by the brewers than by the consumer. If a brewery closes, craft beer drinkers will simply move on to another taproom they like as well or one they haven’t tried.
We’re already the lucky recipients of an embarrassment of riches. We’ve got Malt Disney World over at Sierra Nevada, a beer tourism destination that draws “beercationers” from across the South and East Coast if not the whole USA. We’ve got Southern App, the trailblazer on Locust Street and a catalyst for Seventh Avenue’s revival. We’ve got the Sanctuary Brewing Co., whose “kindness” brand quickly caught on. It’s the home of Joe Dinan’s Hop Pig IPA, yoga with kittens and caring wall. Sanctuary is a pioneer, too, as the first downtown brewery. We have Basic Brewery and Flat Rock Ciderworks and soon we’ll have Stags Head, creating a mini-brewery district on Seventh.
Our Libation Nation issue also profiled Gary Glancy, who has started a brewery tour business here and in Greenville, S.C. He’s also planning to start a walking tour of the downtown breweries (including Seventh Avenue). I can imagine a brewpub crawl as an event. We have every other kind of fundraiser. Someone will figure out a way to get the breweries together for a good cause.

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The first chapter in the profile of Andy and Kelly Cubbin covered the problems Andy encountered getting permits for SAB. The county inspectors back then — in late 2010 and early 2011 — didn’t know all the regulations. Those guys are gone now. And in the interim a shift in the balance of power on the Hendersonville City Council has made City Hall much more development friendly in general.
The experience Lisa McDonald and Joe Dinan had opening Sanctuary Brewing Co. exhibits how fast the regulatory landscape has changed. While Cubbin fought a six-month war with inspectors, Lisa and Joe encountered welcoming and helpful regulators in City Hall and at the county inspections office at 100 North King.
“I feel like it’s so much more pro-business,” Joe told me. “This county is just, ‘What do we need to do?’ When I tell other brewers that’s what we went through, they can’t believe it.”
As they finished one phase of building, contractors would warn them that they needed a county signoff before they could start on the next phase. Like all startups, Sanctuary was in a hurry to open up, tip the taps and bank the cash.
“We would walk over there (to the county inspections office) and be like, ‘Can you guys come over?’ and they would,” Lisa recalled.

 

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Over the past five years I’ve had conversations with Sierra Nevada’s beer ambassador, Bill Manley, and the brewery’s co-manager, Stan Cooper, about the astonishing success of the taproom. On Memorial Day weekend of 2015 the taproom almost ran out of beer. This past Fourth of July weekend, it sold 12,000 pints of beer.
“We have such super busy weekends that it’s almost hard to keep up with,” Manley told me. “We expected it to be popular but not as popular as it has been.”
There are almost as many reasons for the popularity of craft beer as there are flavors that these creative guys and gals concoct. We have good training at BRCC and at the big-league breweries, which serve as a reverse farm club. (Brewers from Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and Wicked Weed have all started microbreweries.)
I think people like that these enterprises are local. They like the fact that the owners are on site and always willing to talk about what they’re brewing today, what ingredients it contains, what’s the next session brew they’re thinking of making. They like the casualness of the taprooms and the fact that they’re family friendly (and often dog friendly). People here like to patronize locally owned and locally operated businesses. The dollar they spend in the taproom is in turn spent here.

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Not that there’s a pot of gold at the end of every brew cycle.
“You don’t see the books,” Andy Cubbin told me. “You don’t know what it’s like in January and February. It’s harder than it looks.”
Most people I talked to have an optimistic view of the future of the microbrewery business here. There are challenges, too. City Hall will at some point have to confront the food truck question. That’s not been an easy subject to tackle in Raleigh, Asheville and other towns. It requires a balancing of the economic interest of the breweries and the established restaurants.
Dinan says the brewery boomlet can only help drive traffic.
“I think it’s just going to bring more attention to this area,” Joe says. “The only thing I worry about is there’s no hotel in this town. There’s a tourism aspect to this that would just make this town explode on another level. This town is one or two hotels away” from a boom.
The city is already working on that. My prediction is that we’ll see a hotel under construction by next summer. City Manager John Connet and the City Council have welcomed and accommodated the brewery business. They understand that in a small town that’s already the envy of small towns across North Carolina, the taprooms are one more asset that attracts visitors and local spenders.
The craft beer boom deserves a toast, for sure. Watch this space for more news about what’s on tap.