Beer brewing in Bryson City just took on a whole new look this weekend when Nantahala Brewing Company threw open the doors of its brand new tasting room. The town’s fledgling brewery welcomed friends and fans into its front room on Depot Street, which they’ve transformed into a rustic, high-ceiling tasting room – a beer bar to accompany the brewing operation that’s been cranking in the back for some time now.
Joe Rowland, head of the company’s marketing and part owner of the business, said that they’re thrilled to be able to serve their own brews. In fact, said Rowland, it’s the key to their business model, along with the self-distribution plan they’ve been working in the area.
“We want to be the beer destination in the area,” said Rowland, and with their tasting room just across the street from the Great Smoky Mountains Railway, they hope to pull in the droves of tourists that flock to the town in warmer weather.
For now, they’re pulling four of their own taps – Noon Day IPA, Appalachian Trail Extra Pale Ale, Bryson City Brown Ale and Eddy Out Stout – as well as a couple of guest spots reserved for brews from neighboring Greenman Brewing in Asheville. But Rowland says that they hope one day soon to be serving upwards of 20 different beer varieties, some of their own mixed with the plethora of other local brewers in the region.
And the region is replete with hometown craft breweries, a product, said Rowland, of the friendly environment North Carolina offers breweries.
Though the brewery taxes are high, he said, this is one of the only places in the country that affords beer-makers the right of self-distribution, allowing them to sell and send to restaurants, bars and stores themselves, cutting out the costly middleman.
Still, said Rowland, opening up in such a small location that’s so reliant on seasonal tourist traffic hasn’t been an easy proposition for the company, owned by himself and brewer Chris Collier.
“The brewing community is a very small community,” said Rowland, “and most of our friends thought we were insane.”
But sanity notwithstanding, they’ve been successful so far, getting their products into stores and restaurants from Weaverville to Murphy and even scoring places in Charlotte and Winston Salem.
Rowland said he was thrilled by the local response to the tasting room’s opening, too; they welcomed more than 120 visitors on Friday night alone, with only a few days’ notice.
“It’s been pretty huge,” said Rowland of the response, and with the opening comes a solution to one of the company’s perennial problems — regular hours.
When it was just a brewery, it wasn’t always easy for eager customers to catch someone at the warehouse. Now, those in search of a good beer and a good time know just when and where to come for them.
And for such a small community, Rowland said the regional response to their product has been pretty impressive.
“There’s a huge appetite for it here,” Rowland said.
This doesn’t really surprise Paul Gatza. He’s the director of the Brewer’s Association, a national organization that pretty much lives up to its straightforward name.
“All the consumer trends are pointing to a bright future for craft breweries,” said Gatza, which is good news for locals like Nantahala.
Technically speaking, a craft brewery is small, independent and brews their product in line with traditional beer-making techniques.
And those are qualities that appeal greatly to younger American consumers, even in this slouchy economy. While the major domestic breweries have shown a downturn in profits, the craft-brew revolution has meant a spike in profit for craft breweries, even in the most dire recession years.
“I think especially with the younger legal-drinking-age adults, they’ve been able to discover the world of craft beers themselves,” said Gatza. “There’s qualities of the small, local, independent that they can identify with in themselves.”
And with North Carolina being one of the most craft-brewery friendly states in the nation, it’s no wonder that last year, Asheville snatched the annually bestowed Beer City USA title from Portland, Ore., long crowned the nation’s best city for finding good brews.
Rowland and his company are happy to ride that craft-brew wave, and he’s confident enough in their product that even if the wave crests, they’ll still find an audience willing to shell out for the taste and experience that no other shop in the city can offer.