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Nov 28, 2014

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Friendly Competition
January, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Jonas Rembert left his brewing job in July 2000. As brewer for Green Man/Jack of the Wood pub, Jonas spent over three years perfecting his rendition of classic European, mostly UK, style beers. From this tiny, behind-the-kitchen Asheville, NC brewhouse came wonderful ales, lovingly designed, carefully crafted. Never a hophead, the laid-back brewer left his delicious beers - Everyman’s Gold Cream Ale, Rat Alley Red, Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Green Man IPA, ESB and Porter - behind in order to pursue a bigger goal.

Dealing with all the tedious realities (red tape, licenses, inspections, boiler certification, etc.) of life in the brewing world, Jonas has been assembling a microbrewery in a south Asheville warehouse since he left Green Man in July. Partner Andy Dahm, who runs Asheville Brewing Supply, and assistant brewer George Reeves have helped, but Jonas has had the day to day responsibility.

So it was with much zealousness that French Broad Brewing Company fired up the brew kettle for the first time on December 19, 2000. Anxious to be brewing again after the six month lay-off, Jonas wasn’t fazed a bit when the original mash took four times longer than expected. Ben the Beer Guy, a former South Carolina (Downtown and Reedy River) brewer and Jonas’ friend, was there to assist and drink celebratory beer. The 15 barrel brewhouse, purchased from a Brooklyn concern, worked pretty much as expected. Eight fermenters (flat bottomed, which makes harvesting yeast difficult), two bright tanks and a walk-in storage cooler will take the first brew, French Broad Extra Special Bitter, to completion.

Never one to get excited, Jonas was adamant about French Broad. “I just happy to be back brewing,” he exclaimed, biding time while fermentation worked its wonders. Look for French Broad beers on tap in the Asheville area.

And just fifty miles down the road in lovely, dry Glen Alpine, Scott Pyatt has been extremely busy this past year. His 18-month-old microbrewery, Catawba Valley Brewing Company (CVBC), has been suffering growing pains, the good kind of pain. Scott spent most of 2000 re-investing in the brewery he owns with his brother and sister-in-law, Billy and Jetta Pyatt. A concrete-lined pit was the big project. Dirt was removed, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, to enable placement of two 20 barrel fermenters inside the low ceiling basement brewery on Highway 70. And ingenious Scott did most of the work himself, assisted by friends and neighbors when necessary.

Catawba Valley produced 300 barrels of Buffalo Nickel Ale, Brown Bear Brown Ale, Indian Head Red and Firewater IPA last year. These beers have found regular spots in bars and restaurants from Hickory westward. With the addition of a new grain mill and auger, a glycol coolant system, a second walk-in cooler and, thank goodness, a real bathroom, the keg-only micro’s annual capacity was upped to 1200 barrels. It’ll take more than Scott can do alone to reach that level, but the sociable brewer is not beyond trying.

CVBC just polished off their very first Limited Production brew. Unlike most winter-time beers, usually ales, Pyatt created a beer for what has been, the past few years, a relatively warm Christmas season. Regardless of his meteorological miscalculation, Indian Summer Lager is very mellow and smooth, free of rough edges, from start to finish. Even without Yuletide spices, the Indian Summer has been well received in the dead of winter. (Check Ham’s on 321 in Hickory, as well as bars in Asheville and Black Mountain).

Scott is also particularly pleased that CVBC just took on sponsorship, in conjunction with Barley’s Taproom, of the Asheville Iguanas. If there’s one thing a rugby team can do, it’s drink beer.

Like many in the beer business, Scott Pyatt and Jonas Rembert have become good friends. Though their breweries may compete, eventually, for the same bar tap space, each has gone out of his way to help the other, loaning equipment, ingredients and advice. Similarly, Highland Brewing head brewer John Lyda and Asheville Pizza brewer Doug Riley have also provided helping hands to the younger Catawba Valley and French Broad breweries.

Friendly competitors, these brothers-in-brewing have taken a positive outlook toward their businesses. There’s plenty of business for everyone. And life really is too short to drink bad beer. Besides, the real competition is imported beer and the budmillercoors mindset. Whatever their reasoning, whatever their concerns, French Broad and Catawba Valley Brewing are helping to keep craft brewed beer alive in Western North Carolina.

Support our local brewers.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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