After a nice cool night camping by the French Broad River, on 2/24 we headed over to the brewery that honors the river with its name. French Broad Brewing Company was opened in 2001 by a group of passionate homebrewers with an appreciation for continental European styles and they just celebrated 13 years of craft beer success last December 12th. Currently, Andrew Dahm serves as the president of Asheville’s 3rd brewery, which opened its doors after Highland and about the same time as Green Man. They remain in the same space today as when it all began and are taking the approach of steady upward growth, focusing on maintaining quality and a positive, amiable environment. We spoke with head brewer Aaron Wilson who explained that his goal is to provide good, clean (as in filtered, which all of their beers are), and consistent beer because that is what he expects as a consumer.
Aaron is one of those rare Asheville natives in a city of transplants and, though he has left multiple times for different ventures, the unique city has a way of pulling one back. He had been a longtime homebrewer when he first got the job at French broad 7 years ago, bottling and cleaning kegs, and has since worked his way up to head brewer. He reminisced shortly of the original bottling line they called Frankenstein – ‘a homebrewer’s dream’ that churned out about 70 cases in 6 ½ hours with 3 employees – but quickly expressed appreciation of the Maheen bottling line purchased around four years ago to expedite the tedious hand bottling of 22oz bombers. The first Monday of last June things got a little more automated as they began canning their Gateway Kolsch, Wee Heavy-Er Scotch ale, and 13 Rebels ESB. The ESB and Wee Heavy-Er are longstanding beers that have been with the company since its inception. The introduction of a clean, easy drinking Kolsch in cans for an outdoors focused town led to the end of the Wee Heavy-Er’s extensive reign as French Broad’s most popular beer. Other year round offerings include the Anvil Porter and the IPA, which is the newest to join the line-up. The IPA recipe was created by Aaron and the old head brewer, Chris Richards, who has since been pulled onto the team at the new Sierra Nevada facility.
Seasonals may vary but always include the popular Zepptemberfest and random appearances from the RyeHopper rye IPA. The Light blonde ale was initiated last summer and there are plans to bring it back next year. If you stop in the taproom throughout the year you may be fortunate to find the Koko stout with cocoa nibs from the local French Broad chocolate lounge, a Barleywine, a cream ale, or even a Belgian version of the Wee Heavy-Er. The brewery is working on developing a small batch program, likely on a 2 bbl system, to create fun new recipes that would be released special for the taproom only. Assistant brewers Peter and Alex have already been experimenting with some new recipes in a smaller batch capacity.
French Broad has done a variety of collaborations in the past with the Asheville Brewers Alliance (ABA) and even participated in one where representatives from all 22 area breweries met in a room to hash out a recipe, settling on a Saison, which was featured at the ABA and Brewgrass Festival‘s joint venture, Beer City Festival. We were told there are some interesting collaborations lined up for this year so certainly keep your ear to the ground for that. Work with the ABA was furthered when breweries donated their time with a Habitat for Humanity project. Asheville is very community oriented so Aaron shared that the brewery loves to give back, working with the region’s active Wild South land conservancy, assisting with auctions to help pay for local students to go on field trips, at times donating percentages of pint sales to the local Manna Food Bank, Community Shares, and Asheville City Schools Foundation to name just a few.
French Broad beers are distributed to NC, SC, GA, Eastern TN, and recently made their way to AL. Some bombers can even be spotted in New Orleans where the brewery’s president, Andy, has roots. They are planning to add some more tanks but, after that, will be limited from outward expansion by the facility’s space but still have space for taller equipment. Despite their modest approach, French Broad is still churning out around 3,400 bbl a year on their 15 bbl brewhouse. Introduction of the cans will enable greater production as a 45 bbl bright tank is dedicated solely to cans in the summer months where 2-3 runs can be done each week, quickly clearing up tank space.
The dog friendly taproom is open seven days a week from 1-8pm and features a friendly staff, laid back atmosphere, and great view of the bustling brewing space. French Broad pints are $1 off on Mondays and I have to stress that the regular prices are incredibly generous at $3.50 for all beers. Wednesdays feature $1 off growler fills and a variety of live music acts can be experienced on every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. We recommend a stop by to enjoy a show with great European style beers then grab some suds to enjoy at home. Thank you to Aaron for taking the time to sit and chat with us about his beers and brewery, to Peter for sharing his knowledge and offering up great brewery suggestions around the country, and to Arielle for being so kind and taking excellent care of us at the bar.
Author: Brandon Wurtz