US. Oskar Blues brewery opens in Brevard

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Oskar Blues Brewery, the first of three big national craft breweries coming to Western North Carolina, opened its new east coast expansion plant Wednesday in Brevard. Owner Dale Katechis talks about their plans.

The lively local craft beer scene really got hopping Wednesday with the opening of the new Oskar Blues East Coast expansion plant.

It’s the first of three big national craft breweries coming to Western North Carolina, and it joins almost 20 smaller breweries already open around the mountains, most of them in Asheville. Sierra Nevada will open its big local brewery in 2013 in Henderson County and New Belgium will arrive in Asheville in 2014.

“Six months ago, we decided to build a brewery, and here we are,” said Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis. The company’s flagship brewery in Longmont, Colo., had reached capacity, he said. “Forty percent of our beer is sold on the East Coast. We didn’t look anywhere other than Brevard.”

Katechis has been a frequent visitor to Western North Carolina and Oskar Blues is a sponsor of the annual Mountain Song Festival in Brevard. “This is the only place I was willing to travel,” Katechis said.

The plant becomes the largest brewery in the Carolinas, with 56,000 barrels of beer scheduled for production next year. Previously, Highland Brewing of Asheville was the area’s biggest brewer with 30,000 barrels of beer made in 2012.

All six of Oskar Blues year-round beers will be made and canned in Brevard. The company was a pioneer in canning craft beer and does not bottle its products. Some specialty draft ales will be only available at the brewery tasting room, which opens today.

Since Oskar Blues announced that it was opening in Brevard, local sales have spiked, said Brian Eddington, general manager of Skyland Distributing, which places the company’s beers in stores, restaurants and bars.

“We’ve doubled our sales since that announcement,” Eddington said. “In Western North Carolina, the community supports local businesses.” Meanwhile, sales remain strong for Highland beers, also distributed by Skyland, Eddington said. “They are growing at double digits,” he said.

Highland founder Oscar Wong expects Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium to be strong competitors.

“From a community point of view, I welcome them,” he said. “From a businessman’s point of view, I am fired up to compete.”

Local breweries “will have to up their game up a notch,’ said Asheville Brewing president Mike Rangel, who also cans his beers.

“We owe a debt of gratitude for being the first guys to go after the canned craft segment. That has trickled down here in a huge way.”

Opening day for the brewery didn’t go without one minor hiccup: A shuttle carrying media and local brewers to the Oskar Blues brewery in Brevard was stopped en route Wednesday morning by the N.C. Highway Patrol for questions about the vehicle’s license plates.

Trooper David Williams said he stopped the trolley because it carried a standard plate, rather than a “for-hire” tag. Since the passengers were not paying customers, no law was broken and the shuttle was quickly back on its way to Brevard.