Celebrating Waynesville's proud beer history
You don’t have to be a barfly or a beer fly, to know that Waynesville has really come into it’s own as one of North Carolina’s great beer cities. Even the brewing hot spot of Asheville is buzzing about it.
That’s quite a compliment coming from the town that put North Carolina’s incredible beer scene on the map in 2010. That was the year Asheville shocked everyone (except its own avid beer enthusiasts) when it tied Portland, Oregon as “Beer City USA” in a nationwide poll celebrating American Craft Beer Week.
The following year, Asheville outpolled all American cities, standing alone at the top of the brewing world.
That was about the time, quiet little Waynesville was starting to bring its own brewing talent to bear — as in the symbolic bear logo for then Headwaters/now BearWaters Brewing Company.
Kevin Sandefur and wife, Melanie, received a grant from the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, giving them the “seed money” to take their home brewing to the next level.
At about the same time, another pair of local brewers, Clark and Jenny Williams, were smartly testing the waters (and the marketplace) with weekly samplings of their brews at the Gateway Club. Their dream of Frog Level Brewing was well on its way to reality, with beers chosen by the community.
The race was on, but it was a friendly competition that gave both teams a chance to grow and prosper.
At the 2011 “Fire and Ice” Winter Festival, while ice sculptors demonstrated their finesse with chainsaws, and dogs raced across the lawn pulling cardboard sleds, two hometown home brew teams served up craft beers that proved Waynesville could hop on the bandwagon and compete with the best of them.
Adding to the mix, the owners of The Sweet Onion, long one of Waynesville’s signature restaurants, were cooking up plans for a tavern that would feature (you guessed it) craft beer. Waynesville’s brewing history was about to reach the tipping point.
Owners of The Sweet Onion, Jon Bowman and Dan Elliott, tapped Denver, Colorado, brewer, Scott Petersen, to come on as brewmaster of their new venture — Tipping Point Tavern.
Peterson honed his brewing skills at Colorado’s first brewpub and craft brewery, Wyncoop Brewing Company. By the way, Denver, Colorado — my hometown —claims to brew more beer than any other city.
Waynesville doesn’t have the population base to compete on quantity, but we now boast three quality brewing companies, each with its own approach to handcrafted beer. And it’s quite fitting that Waynesville is “hopped” up about beer. After all, Waynesville can claim Western North Carolina’s first brewery — Smoky Mountain Brewing Company — that opened in downtown Waynesville in 1993, one full year before Highland Brewing Company opened up in Asheville.
Sadly, SMBC shut down in 1997, resulting in a few lean years for area beer lovers.
But we’ve certainly come a long way since then.
In 2008, the only craft beer option west of Asheville was Henzelmannchen Brewing in Sylva. In 2011, taps flowed for the first time at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City. That’s about when Waynesville started to blossom.
There are now five fantastic craft brewers in WNC, and they have really shown their creativity. Last winter, the WNC brewers gathered in Sylva to collaborate on a spring beer to showcase at Hickory Hops and also enter in the Carolina Championship of Beer.
The resulting Ryeway 74 Collaboration Ale, brewed with local barley and rye, medaled and was a big hit at Hickory Hops.
Better yet, all five brewers medaled in the Carolina Championship of Beer. And all are enjoying newfound fame, as visitors from Asheville and beyond visit Waynesville, Sylva, and Bryson City to sample the mountain magical approach to beer.
All five mountain brewers are poised for successful years — and the community has a great opportunity to celebrate all things beer this coming weekend.
From 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, Waynesville will host, what hopefully will become an annual event — the Waynesville Craft Beer Festival.
The event is the brainchild of Kevin Sandefur of BearWaters Brewing Company, who approached the Tourism Development Authority with the idea.
“Haywood County is the next frontier for craft brewing in North Carolina,” said Sandefur. “This festival is a real opportunity to showcase Waynesville.”
The field of dreams for this event is the American Legion Ballfield at 171 Legion Dr. in downtown Waynesville, and promoters expect more than 20 craft brewers to participate.
As of press time, the following craft brewers have signed on:
Altamont Brewing, BearWaters Brewing Company, Catawba Valley Brewing, Frog Level Brewing Company, Green Man Brewery, Heinzelmmänchen Brewery, Highland Brewery, Hi-Wire Brewing, Nantahala Brewing Company, Oskar Blues Brewery, Samuel Adams, Southern Appalachian Brewery, Sweet Water Brewing Company, Tipping Point Brewing, Wedge Brewing Company and Wicked Weed Brewing.
According to the website, more breweries are being added daily.
In addition to the craft breweries, several home brewers will also be sampling their beers, including The Mountaineer beer columnist, Greg Copen.
And three area bands will be adding entertainment — ‘Round the Fire, The Get Right Band and Smoke Rise.
Tickets for the Waynesville Craft Beer Festival are $35 general admission and $15 for designated drivers, and are available from Waynesville brewers and online atwww.WaynesvilleBeerFest.com. Only a limited number of tickets are available.
Finally, as testimony that Waynesville has become Mecca for beer lovers, Asheville’s Brews Cruise will be shuttling festivalgoers directly from Asheville to the American Legion Ballfield.
It’s Waynesville’s own “Field of Dreams,” proving that “If you brew it, they will come."