Waynesville's first microbrewery comes of age
It was a little more than a year ago that Frog Level Brewing Company opened its doors in (you guessed it) downtown’s historic Frog Level.
For hometown and homegrown owner, operator and head brewer, Clark Williams, and his sidekick/wife, Jenny, it was a dream come true.
It was also a milestone for all of us in WNC who celebrate good craft beer, and had been schlepping down to Asheville, or over the river and through the woods to Sylva and Bryson City — all these years.
Whooohoo. Waynesville finally had its own microbrewery.
The opening of Frog Level Brewing Company was personally fulfilling to me. It was like watching good friends run a marathon, then celebrating with them over a few pints of great beer.
My wife and I had followed Clark and Jenny Williams on their journey, as they tested their brewing art weekly at The Gateway Club. We were there two years ago at the county chamber's Fire and Ice Winterfest, when both Frog Level Brewing Company and Headwaters Brewing Company provided the “winter warmers.”
Both my wife and I had our favorites. Carol loved Catcher in the Rye — one of Jenny’s creations. I preferred the Bug-eyed Stout — a beer that married chocolate malt and Panacea coffee beans.
Personal favorites aside, when FLBC opened its doors last Dec. 2, we celebrated with a pour of a “rare keg” seasonal brew, aptly named Ale be Home for Christmas.
It seemed like all of Waynesville celebrated with us that day — it was a huge crowd.
Now a year later, after things have settled down a bit, I met (drank) with Clark as he reflected about the journey. The first year of every business is a learning experience, and the Williams (both of them) have learned a lot about brewing and business — and how difficult it is to marry the two.
Still, Clark is living his dream, and as he says, “It’s a true joy to know my beer is out there and people are asking for it.”
Yes, demand for Frog Level beers is up — way up. After just four months in business, and way ahead of the schedule on the business plan, FLBC expanded from the initial 15-gallon brewing system to full three-barrel system that produces 80 gallons of beer each brewing session. It was not an easy transition, and Clark freely admits, “We wasted some beer in the process.” But now that the new system is dialed in, FLBC can produce between 240 and 320 gallons a week.
The first year also threw FLBC a few curves. Like when, as Clark says, “The world ran out of Amarillo hops.”
They were the very rare hops that gave Catcher in the Rye — FLBC’s top-selling beer at their tasting room — its signature taste and aroma.
So FLBC had no choice but to reformulate. It took several brewing sessions to come up with the right blend of Cascade and Chinook hops to “come close” to the same beer.
Not wanting to go through that again, Clark has ordered several hundred pounds of Amarillo hops, estimated to ship toward the end of 2013.
FLBC has also expanded from its three flagship beers to five fan-favorites on tap at the tasting room, and an occasional “rare keg” — is (timing is everything) right “Ale be Home for Christmas.”
Which reminds, “Ale” be at Frog Level Brewing Company for their huge anniversary celebration from 6 p.m. to “whenever" Friday, Dec. 14, featuring (along with the great beers) door prizes, great eats from Blue Ridge Barbecue, and (drum roll) entertainment by the Grammy-nominated Darren Nicholson Band.
It will also be one of your last opportunities to support the USMC’s Toy’s for Tots campaign. Bring two new, unwrapped toys to FLBC’s anniversary celebration, and get a ticket for a free pint of Frog Level brew.
Oh, and one last thing — Did you know? You can find Frog Level beers on tap at many local eateries — including J. Arthur’s, Bourbon Barrel, Nick and Nate’s, and (recently added) Laurel Ridge Country Club. Ask for them by name.
Remember — Good beer tastes even better when you support local brewers.