As the NCAA basketball tournament was in full swing on Saturday afternoon, two of the proprietors of the Rathskeller Coffee Haus could be overheard discussing local brews with some visitors who had stopped by to ask about a local brewery. Adam Kimsey and his wife Natasha described to the visiting couple the various breweries that are located around Western North Carolina.
“But there's not one here in Franklin?” the couple asked.
Another patron at the coffee house chimed in and informed them that next summer, hopefully there would be. The patron was referencing a decision made last week by the Franklin Board of Aldermen to allow a proposed lease for Lazy Hiker Brewing Company to enter into an upset bid process — the first step towards establishing the business. Lenny Jordan and Ken Murphy hope to have the craft brewery up and running by early summer 2015.
If all goes as planned, the pair will join the 100 breweries that are located in North Carolina. The N.C. Craft Brewers Guild estimates that the industry provides close to 10,000 jobs in the state while impacting the economy by adding almost $800 million in revenues.
These sort of returns could be part of the reason that Gov. Pat McCrory has declared April to be N.C. Beer Month with a proclamation that declares the state to have the highest number of craft breweries and brewpubs of any state in the south and 10th in the nation.
“North Carolina's craft beer industry reflects the state's rich agricultural heritage by sourcing local ingredients, a fact reflected by the North Carolina State Fair's addition of the North Carolina Brewers' Cup to competitions,” reads the proclamation.
Some of characteristics that craft beers and brewers have as suggested by the Brewers Association are:
According to the brewery map provided by the brewer's guild, 31 breweries and brewpubs in WNC make the western portion of the state the largest market.
Not all breweries began with intentions of diving into craft beer production. Andrews Brewing Company located to the west of Franklin began as a winery seven years ago before converting to a brewery just a year ago – a seemingly good move considering the turnout generated throughout the year.
“Even during these cooler days, we have 20 to 40 visitors to the brewery. During the warmer months, that will triple,” said Eric Carlson, who along with his wife, Judy, owns the company.
Some people may find themselves wondering about breweries and specifically, how are they any different than an average sports bar. Carlson points to the characteristics of his customers as one of the main differences.
“We don't get the Bud Light crowd. For two reasons. One, our prices are higher and two, those wanting to drink local craft beer understand that our prices are worth it,” he said.
A selling point that Murphy and Jordan made was that adding a brewery to Main Street will help to revitalize that area in Franklin and thus strengthen the business for other local stores, restaurants, hotels, etc... In response to this, Carlson says that he believes the addition of the brewery in Andrews has improved the local economy there.
“For starters, we do not serve food so folks who come to Andrews to drink our beer head over to local restaurants. I hope that eventually, we have multiple breweries here,” he says.
With breweries taking off, many locals are ready to enjoy the ride.
The enthusiasm of these homegrown breweries has begun to overflow to the general public. Just a few years ago, many people found themselves making weekend trips to Asheville just to see what the fuss was all about. Visiting breweries like French Broad Brewing Company, Green Man Brewery and many others was a great way to find out, but also a great way to help somebody else's economy.
With each one that has popped up closer to Franklin, more and more people have begun to see potential benefits of having a hometown brewery. Local resident and business owner Matt Bateman points to short and long term benefits as his reasons for supporting the new business.
“The addition of a local brewery to downtown Franklin is a game changer, in more ways than one,” he said. “For the short term, the brewery should add an additional 'hook' to keep both locals and visitors downtown for extended periods of time. This means more traffic, and in turn, more revenue for our locally owned businesses.”
“For the long term effects, Franklin will hopefully become a unique extension of the current craft beer explosion that's been happening in neighboring Asheville. I see us as a brand new 'stop' for many outdoor/beer tourism folks. The same folks that might bypass Franklin altogether. And the crucial piece of this is that the new brewery [The Lazy Hiker Brewing Co.] that helps highlight our greatest asset, our natural resources. And who knows, an addition like this could spur an entirely new direction for my hometown. A direction that positions us as the number one mountain destination for those south of us.”
Shortly after the visiting couple left the Rathskeller on Saturday, Kimsey echoed the sentiments provided by Bateman.
“I think the brewery is something the town needs. You have people of all walks of life that want to enjoy a craft brewery. The people that seek these kinds of brews usually aren’t looking just to drink. They are more interested in design. What goes in to the process. People come to Franklin like that couple and learn that we don't have a brewery but Bryson City does so a lot of times they just keep going,” he said. “It will definitely be an asset to the community.”