Within four months of each other, craft beer behemoths Sierra Nevada and New Belgium announced they are bringing their game east and will build breweries in Asheville, NC. They are the second and third largest breweries in the country, respectively, producing 1.3 million barrels of beer annually, which is about 14% of the total craft beer market.
The long-standing rumors proved true yesterday, when New Belgium announced they were coming to the neighborhood. This is the craft beer equivalent of the Broncos upgrading from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning, and then signing Drew Brees just for giggles. Asheville is a player now on the national beer scene.
It appears that both breweries are at least two years away from being operational, with Sierra Nevada planning on going live early 2014 and New Belgium sometime in 2015.
Sierra Nevada is setting up shop in between Asheville and Hendersonville near the Asheville Regional Airport. They have plans to include a restaurant with the production facility.
New Belgium will be right in the thick of things in the River Arts District downtown. It’s an area that’s been home to artists and industry for years, but recently has undergone a revitalization with several new restaurants and bars opening in the past year.
What About the Little Guys?
Ironically, when Wedge Brewing opened in the River Arts District in 2007, it provided an anchor business in what had been a rough area, bringing in a lot of traffic, which over time attracted other businesses and spurred development. The area is now attractive enough that it brought in the third largest craft brewery in the country.
That begs the question, what will the effect of having two brewing giants within 15 miles of each other in Western North Carolina? What happens to the other seven small breweries (and who knows how many others in the works) in the city?
Obviously, I think it’s good for the city of Asheville. The two breweries are going to invest several hundred million dollars and create a couple hundred jobs.
I think it will also be a benefit to the other breweries in the city and the surrounding area. I think of Odell being right down the street from New Belgium in Ft. Collins. It makes for awesome brewery hopping having two breweries within walking, or at least biking, distance from one another.
Asheville is also going to be a destination for beer geeks throughout the entire Southeast. People who have never been to Sierra Nevada (myself included) or New Belgium out West will have a chance to experience what it’s all about much closer to home. Having 7+ other breweries to check out will seal the deal.
While it seems like old news now, the craft beer market is still emerging. In 2011, Craft breweries only account for 5% of the total U.S. beer market. It’s not about Sierra Nevada or New Belgium taking market share away from the small guys, it’s about making the whole pie bigger for craft beer. There is a lot of room left for everyone.
This Isn’t Just Good For Asheville
This news makes me especially excited for those of us across the border in South Carolina. My hope is that the arrival of these two breweries draws the attention of the legislators in my fair state and they start wondering why the second and third largest craft breweries in the country chose North Carolina, and why North Carolina has over 40 breweries while South Carolina has seven.
Maybe, just maybe, it’ll wake some people up to understand that more favorable brewing laws, such as self-distribution and allowing on-premise and off-premise beer sales at the brewery, will level the playing field and make South Carolina competitive in the craft brewing industry.
I guarantee expanding the brewing industry in the state will create more jobs and tax revenue than the wholesale distribution companies whose interests they are protecting currently provide. But I digress, this is supposed to be about Asheville, right?
While I’m happy for my brethren 60 miles up Highway 25 and will surely reap the benefits myself, I’m still left to dream of what could be in my own city.
Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite breweries. Their beers are great from top to bottom. Having them and New Belgium will definitely be great for Asheville, both economically and beerically. The little breweries will get a chance to shine as people check out the big guys. It makes for a thriving beer scene.