Pintful

Oskar Blues’ new Brevard brewery signals future of North Carolina craft beer scene

jfrank@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2013 

  • What’s On Tap Beercade Launch Party

    5 p.m. Wednesday at Big Boss Brewing in Raleigh.

    An arcade game that dispenses beer? Yes, you read that right. Play the Last Barfighter at Big Boss and to the victor goes beer dispensed from taps in the machine. The game was developed by McKinney and proceeds from the event go to Camp Kesem, a nonprofit group. The brewery is at 1249 Wicker Dr. Information: bigbossbrewing.com.

    Mystery Brewing 1-year anniversary

    4 p.m. Saturday at the brewery in Hillsborough.

    The official anniversary party takes place Saturday at the brewery with food trucks, live music and of course, beer. But the party rages all week at events throughout the Triangle. On Wednesday, hit Beer Study in CHAPEL Hill for the release of a traditional Gratzer Polish beer. And on Thursday, meet the brewers at Bottle Revolution in Raleigh and sample the brewery’s very first beer. For more details and a full list of events, visit mysterybrewing.com.

At first glance, it looked unremarkable: the owners of three craft breweries sitting on a stage talking shop at a beer festival.

But the scene from Sunday’s Bull City Food & Beer Experience said everything about North Carolina’s emerging status as a landmark on the national craft beer map.

The CEOs represented three of the country’s largest and best-known craft breweries: Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues. And all heaped praise on North Carolina, particularly the Asheville area where the three are planning to open breweries.

“They are just going to bring the state to a whole new level,” said Win Bassett, executive director of the N.C. Brewers Guild. “We were already a craft beer destination, and this makes us even more of one.”

Bassett moderated the discussion Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center. And he recognized the significance. “It was pretty amazing,” he said.

Of the three, only one is up and running so far. Oskar Blues built a brewery in Brevard in three months and opened a tasting room and shipped the first batches in December. The whole line – including Gubna, the Imperial India Pale Ale that made me love hoppy beer years ago – is now made in North Carolina. The brewery expects to reach full capacity in March.

Ahead of the Durham event, I talked to Katechis about how his Colorado brewery landed in the Tar Heel state. Here’s an edited excerpt from the interview:

Q: Why North Carolina?

I love North Carolina. I have been traveling there for 20 years. I grew up in Alabama and started traveling to North Carolina back in my college days mountain biking. Pisgah National Forest and Dupont (State Forest) have always had a special place in my heart. It’s a pretty magical place and some incredible mountain biking. ...

I was unwilling to forgo or sacrifice any quality of life for (expansion). So it was a requirement that I chose a place I was willing to travel to regularly.

Brevard was the only place that we looked. We didn’t really shop around. I went to Brevard one weekend, found a spot, said we’ll take this one and built a brewery. It was pretty much that simple.

Q: Describe the reaction from the community so far.

It’s been incredible. Brevard has always reminded me of the small town where we started Oskar Blues, which is Lyons, Colo. It’s a small, little mountain town nestled up against some of the best mountain biking in Colorado. ... The community has just given us a warm welcome.

Q: How does the North Carolina craft beer scene compare to Colorado?

I find it to very similar in a lot of ways. It’s a very communal atmosphere, and there’s a great deal of camaraderie. It’s kind of an all-in-this-together attitude. There’s a lot of great breweries making great beer. And there’s so many great breweries in (in Western North Carolina) that they’ve built a little culture there, and it was certainly something we wanted to be a part of.

What I’m drinking

March is approaching, but I’m not ready to give up dark beers yet. So I splurged on one of the best in the market: Mother Earth’s Silent Night, a rich, night-black bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout from Kinston. The flavors are refined with a subtle bourbon and oak touch that doesn’t overpower the beer. At $20, it’s an expensive buy – but so good you’ll want to snag another to put in the cellar.

Contact John at jfrank@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

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