New Belgium • Asheville, NC
North Carolina craft beer enthusiasts have yet another reason to raise their glasses in Asheville. On May 2, New Belgium Brewing Company opens its newest location on the edge of West Asheville across from the city’s River Arts District. Just as the wildflowers begin to bloom in the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, locals and tourists alike can kick back on the deck of New Belgium’s Liquid Center tasting room and take in a view that’s been years in the making.
Founded in 1991, New Belgium’s brewing operation began in its owner’s basement in Fort Collins, Colorado. The company expanded its distribution for almost two decades before starting the search for a second location in 2009. New Belgium began working on building its new home on a 17.5-acre riverfront location in Asheville in 2012.
“For some of us, it sort of feels like we’re graduating from high school after four years [of] working on this project,” says Tyler Foos, New Belgium’s Liquid Center Manager. “We didn’t want to just take a cookie cutter and bring our Fort Collins location to Asheville. We’ve learned a lot about this community and hope when people come here, they walk into an environment that’s a little bit Asheville and also a little bit New Belgium,” Foos says.
Given Asheville’s appreciation for environmental sustainability, culture, and community, the city rose to the top of New Belgium’s list. The neighborhood’s vibrant artist collective was an additional perk. During the property’s initial deconstruction phase, the New Belgium construction crew carefully took apart the site’s historical buildings. Makers in the area then used these recycled materials to create furniture and artwork for New Belgium.
Darren Green’s Old Wood Co. is located just across the river in the River Arts District. He and his team built many of the pieces visitors will enjoy in the Liquid Center today.
“The really unique thing about the New Belgium project was that we had no design ideas before we even looked to see what deconstructed materials they had available. The design was based solely on what they’d recovered from the site,” Green says. “Our whole team feels a sense of accomplishment when we go to New Belgium and sit down at the pieces that we all had a true hand in developing.”
To Green, this creativity equates to the work of brewmaster. Whether brewing beer or building a bar-top stool, both brewer and artist have to approach their materials with a vision that determines the final taste or design.
Though the brewery and Liquid Center feel brand new — New Belgium brewery tours will begin this summer — New Belgium’s well-worn values will endure at its Asheville location. New Belgium is an employee-owned company, and Foos hopes that whether guests are taking a tour through the brewery or enjoying a New Belgium favorite in the taproom, they feel like they’re being taken care of at a best friend’s house.
“New Belgium makes craft beer, but we’ve really always been focused on community too,” Foos says. “We’re still all about experimentation, enjoyment, quality, and making something that weaves through peoples’ lives.”
Mystery Brewing Company • Hillsborough, NC
Upon first meeting Erik Lars Myers, it doesn’t take long to recognize his love of beer. He drinks beer. He brews beer. He attends brewing conferences to learn about beer, and he writes about beer. He’s also the President of the North Carolina Brewers Guild.
It also doesn’t take long to conclude that Myers must thrive on unconventionality. His brewery, Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, North Carolina, is proof.
Though Myers lives in Durham, he chose an alternative location in the Triangle for his brewery that wasn’t Durham, Raleigh, or Chapel Hill. He opted to bring the town of Hillsborough, with a population just over 6,000, its first brewery – one that residents in the small (but mighty) community have embraced. After becoming the first brewery to successfully fund a Kickstarter project, Mystery Brewing opened its doors in 2012. Myers has no regrets about his choice to make Hillsborough the brewery’s home.
“The culture of Hillsborough is kind of quirky and weird, right? You’ve got rural Orange County with salt-of-the-earth people who are absolutely fantastic and great farmers. Then downtown you’ve got retired professors who used to teach at Duke or UNC, or people from around the country who just moved here because it’s a really pretty town,” Myers says. “We’ve got artists and musicians, and all of these people give the town this really interesting, quirky amazingness.”
In addition to Mystery’s unique location, the brewery was founded using an unfamiliar business model: It has no flagship beer. All of its selections are seasonal. The Mystery team changes its tap lineup every quarter on the solstice and the equinox.
“The idea behind this [brewery concept] is that people don’t really live their lives on this constant. You change your clothes and what you eat and how you feel throughout the entire year based on the season,” Myers explains. “We want to be able to show that beer is really great with cuisine and goes along with how farmers change their crops. Life on earth evolves from season to season, so beer should as well.”
Instead of producing a fixed selection of beer, Mystery creates different brews within four style categories: session, hoppy, saison, and dark. This spring, Mystery guests can enjoy an ordinary bitter, a spring saison, a Carolina dark ale, and a London-style porter.
In addition to its revolving beer board, Mystery keeps locals and tourists satisfied with a small food menu and exciting event calendar. Pop in one evening and you’re likely to hear a songsmith or two crooning into a microphone on the pub’s stage, or a group of locals partaking in a spontaneous jam session. The Mystery taproom is located in an area that was once a mill village for employees at the nearby Eno River Mill. This sense of camaraderie resembles the tightly knit community that millworkers once fostered in this neighborhood a century ago.
The name Mystery comes from Myers’ interest in the original meaning of the word: “The art or craft of a trade.” In fact, the world’s first guild of business was a group of brewers in 12th century London. Their mission was to protect “the art and mystery of brewing.”
“I thought this history really told a great story about how I feel about beer,” Myers says. “I like to tell people that in order to make good beer you have to be a good scientist; but in order to make great beer, you have to be a good artist. You need to be able to start with a wide pallet of raw ingredients and put them together to create something beautiful that is sitting in a glass that someone is going to enjoy. That’s not something you can do easily by applying a formula to raw ingredients. You have to have the vision.”
Myers admits the word “mystery” also sparks intrigue.
“I mean, there’s all kinds of great marketing opportunities with ‘there’s a mystery brewing,’ too. So, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Mother Earth Brewing • Kinston, NC
With a name like Mother Earth, it’s perhaps no surprise that the idea for this Kinston brewery took root in co-founder Stephen Hill’s garden. Every summer, Hill created his own organic tomato juice and mixed it with beer – a concoction that became popular among his family and friends. Hill, along with his son-in-law Trent Mooring, took notice of the demand for this unique, locally-grown creation, and soon their business plans to open a brewery began to blossom.
“It’s a recipe that was passed down to me from my uncle and everyone loved it,” Hill remembers. “We basically started a brewery around that beer.”
Lucky taproom visitors can still enjoy the celebrated drink, but only during the month of August when Hill’s tomatoes are ripe on the vine and ready for juicing.
In addition to their passion for beer, Hill and Mooring are deeply committed to revitalizing their downtown Kinston community. Both founders were raised in the area and are thrilled with the growth that Mother Earth’s neighborhood has experienced since the brewery opened in 2008. “You look at the brewery now and it seems like it’s in the perfect location,” Mooring said. “But when we built this brewery, everything was kind of dead around it.”
Past tenants of the building included a cotton gin, barbecue joint, Coke bottling plant, and North Carolina’s first drive-through pharmacy. Prior to purchasing the property, the building sat empty and boarded up for years. However, thanks to Hill and Moorings’ vision and a little sunlight, the corner space has been revived. Visitors can tour Mother Earth’s brewery and distillery, buy merch and beer to-go in the gift shop, and enjoy a selection of classic and seasonal beer in the modern taproom. One taproom wall features three bright tapestry paintings created by Hill, Mooring, and their brew master, Josh Brewer. “It’s the most local art you can find,” Hill joked.
Today, Mother Earth Brewing attracts tourists not only for its balanced beers, but also for its noteworthy building. Though the inspiration for their brewery’s name came from a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song, it came to hold even more meaning as Hill and Mooring constructed their building using environmental and sustainable practices. In 2013, Mother Earth became the first production brewery to gain LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification.
“We didn’t intend to become LEED® certified, but as we were building we used a lot of found and reclaimed products. For example, we busted out a bricked-over window and then reused that brick to build a wall downstairs.” Mooring said. “Once you start doing things like that, you kind of get the bug and want to see what else you can do.” (Watch the video above to learn more about the building and its green renovations.)
Though the LEED® certification process took countless conference calls with the US Green Building Council and over a year to complete, Hill and Mooring have enjoyed the process of adding new character and purpose to such a storied building in their community.
“In the end,” Hill said, “we’re just having a lot of fun.”
Waterline Brewing Company • Wilmington, NC
Though it’s located underneath the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, there’s no secret password or troll denying you entrance into Wilmington’s newest brewery. Waterline Brewing Company opened its doors in the old Jacobi Hardware warehouse in December 2015. It shares the building with The Art Factory, an art and antiques store and gallery, which offers additional character to the historical space. Despite its innocuous exterior, visitors will find an inviting atmosphere and true-to-style beers inside Waterline’s taproom.
Waterline co-founder and president Rob Robinson searched for a brewery space all across the Southeast before buying this building with his wife Eve and business partner Brian Bell. The three of them worked for more than a year with local contractors and artists to revitalize the building into a community-gathering place. “I’ve got space and wood from the 1940s. I mean, look around at this place. It’s gorgeous.” said Robinson. “This is 1940s hard pine, there’s reclaimed lumber from the 1800s in part of it. There’s just so much history in the building itself that the mixing of brewing craft beer, the location next to the river and under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, and then the size all came together perfectly.”
Though parts of the building’s 20,000 square feet sit unused now, Robinson and his team at Waterline have big hopes for the brewery’s future. “We’ve got plans to expand our taproom, distribution, and if things really work out we’ll have one of Wilmington’s first meaderies and cideries incorporated somewhere in this building someday,” Robinson said.
But for now, as Waterline’s first summer season approaches, he and Bell are keeping their focus on crafting quality brews and providing locals and tourists with a relaxing atmosphere — and the riverfront sunsets are no extra charge.