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4/9/2012 - Asheville brewers cheer planned New Belgium expansion in River Arts District
ASHEVILLE — The city’s booming craft beer community is toasting the arrival of New Belgium Brewing’s East Coast expansion as a “fantastic” economic win for the city that can only benefit the many smaller breweries here.
New Belgium, America’s third-largest craft brewer, announced Thursday plans to build a $175 million brewery on Craven Street in the River Arts District. It joins the nation’s No. 2 craft brewer, Sierra Nevada, which is building an expansion brewery 10 miles away in Henderson County near Asheville Regional Airport. Buncombe County is already home to 10 craft breweries.
“Obviously, it brings more clout to Asheville’s beer community,” said Jason Caughman, owner of Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain. “And it brings more beer tourism, which is something all the (local) breweries count on.”
Beer-related tourism will be “huge,” said Tim Schaller, owner of Wedge Brewing and president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance, the nonprofit organization that represents resents the area breweries.
Wedge is just across the French Broad River from the New Belgium site. “There is already a lot of beer tourism here, and this will crank it up to a bigger number,” Schaller said.
The two breweries are bringing plenty of prestige here, along with jobs and large labs that can benefit the smaller area breweries, said Mike Rangel, president of Asheville Brewing Co.
“The No. 2 and No. 3 craft brewers are coming here,” he said. “It’s a win-win for Western North Carolina.”
Both breweries will be offered membership in the Brewers Alliance, Rangel said.
New Belgium and Sierra Nevada already have big followings in Asheville, said Jimi Rentz, owner of Barley’s Taproom on Biltmore Avenue, where both brands are sold.
“I don’t see them grabbing any more market share than they already have,” he said. “At least not from the local guys. They might take (customers) from the big guys: Bud, Miller and Coors.”
Sierra Nevada expects to hire 95 full-time workers and another 80 part-timers, while New Belgium will employ 154, with hiring — apart from construction jobs — not to begin for about two years. Some of that work force could come from Asheville and Western North Carolina breweries.
“If we did start to lose people, it wouldn’t be because of New Belgium or Sierra Nevada,” Rangel said. “It’s up to us to have a great work environment.”
Asheville’s first and biggest craft brewery, Highland Brewing, is the state’s biggest craft beer producer, but it will drop to No. 3 with the opening of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium.
Owner and founder Oscar Wong, who launched the Asheville craft beer scene in 1994, expects that Highland might also lose some staff. “We will see a lot of pressure, but that is the American way,” he said.
He also believes the benefits of having two large craft breweries here will far outweigh the challenges. “It will make a huge difference in everything here, including real estate. This goes way beyond anything I ever dreamed of seeing here, that’s for sure.”