After an eight-month delay, New Belgium Brewing will resume site work in November on its Asheville facility on Craven Street in the River Arts District.
The holdup stirred local rumors that the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery might not make good on its plan to invest $175 million in the new plant. But New Belgium Media Relations Director Bryan Simpson says that those concerns are unfounded. "We never blinked or had a second thought about it," he says. "To us, it was self-evident that we were still going forward. Hopefully everyone in Asheville knows that's the case now."
This winter, contractors will focus on flood-plain mitigation, erosion control and concrete removal, he explains. Building construction will likely commence in late spring. It's estimated that the Asheville brewery will begin producing beer by the end of 2015.
“We are excited to enter this next phase of site preparation and building construction,” says Jay Richardson, New Belgium’s Asheville general manager. The brewery will ultimately produce 500,000 barrels of beer per year at the site, which will include production and packaging operations as well as a touring and tasting facility.
Negotiations are moving forward to secure a second local site for the distribution center as well. At press time, the company wouldn't confirm a location, although it states via press release: "The distribution center will be the hub for distributing product to the East Coast and will be located in an industrial area."
New Belgium anticipates hiring 50 people before opening in 2015 and expects to create 140 jobs at full buildout between the brewery and distribution center. "The idea of joining such a vibrant beer community is exciting for us," says Simpson. "There's all types of opportunities for collaboration."
Soon after the company announced the new construction timeline, Simpson sat down with Xpress at the Battlecat Coffee Bar, a few blocks from New Belgium’s West Asheville property. Here are some additional excerpts from that conversation:
Mountain Xpress: Have you been paying attention to the local City Council race? Did you see the video of the yelling match between Cecil Bothwell and Jonathan Wainscott over the merits of New Belgium's new local facility? What was your take on that?
Simpson: Certainly there's going to be all sides to any issue like this. And I think forums like that are a good place to air different, opposing views, but I think that needs to be done in a respectful voice. And people need to respect each other and the process. We are always open to anybody's questions, or kudos or criticisms, but I think there's a tone to it that should be adhered to.
What's the latest on addressing concerns people have about traffic problems, right here along the Haywood Road corridor?
Our goal is still to pursue two routes, so basically we are looking hard at that Riverside [Drive] route, and as has been noted elsewhere, that's going to take some work on the ground. We're going to have to widen an intersection. We may potentially have to raise a trestle or lower a road.
But in the interim, prior to that, we're actually looking at shorter-profile trucks. … We're doggedly determined to go forward and try to make the two routes available, so that we can disperse that traffic. … If we can't get that roadwork done in time, then we'll go ahead and use a smaller-profile truck.
Another concern that's come up is odor. People are wondering if there's going to be an odor in the surrounding neighborhood, and what you're going to do to minimize it?
The odor of brewing — I would assume most people are pretty familiar with it, because you've got a number of breweries here already. It's kind of a sweet, malty cereal smell. It happens. The biggest point where that odor sort of flares is during mashing. … We have a closed heat loop in there, so we're not boiling off-kettle. … So it's actually a closed cycle. Steam at the end of the process is captured to keep water for the next batch. So it is closed, but you do smell it. ...
It is well documented that we had an odor spike in an aerobic (open air) biodigester awhile back. In Asheville, we will be using a closed anaerobic biodigester, so we do not anticipate any similar issues.
Obviously there's a lot of interest in working at New Belgium from folks around here. What kinds of jobs will you be filling in the first round of hiring?
A lot of production positions. Brewers, cellar operators, packaging line operators will all be there. There will probably be health and safety people on-site. … Some sales folks already in town will probably move into that office space as well. And then a little bit of administration. We haven't determined whether there will be some branding/marketing positions. There's potential for that as well. And then liquid center representatives, that's our tasting room.