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Woodfin's developing riverfront lures its first brewery
How many breweries does Asheville have? And how have these growing numbers contributed to the local economy? Bobby Shipman/Citizen-Times
In Asheville, breweries often act as harbingers of building booms. It happened with the South Slope, and it happened with the River Arts District. And now it appears to be Woodfin's turn.
Woodfin's first brewery, Zillicoah Beer Co., is in its soft-opening phase on the eastern bank of the French Broad River on Riverside Drive. Soon, Taqueria Muñoz will have a permanent food truck on brewery grounds.
Zillicoah will specialize in open-fermented farmhouse ales and lagers and barrel-aged brews. The brewery has a few house and guest beers on tap while it awaits the completion of its wild and sour beers, including a gose-like open-fermented lime-basil wheat farmhouse ale. The brewery's official launch could come as early as next month.
Zillicoah takes its name from the Cherokee word for a particular stretch of the 218-mile French Broad, one of the oldest rivers in the world. The river is a focal point of the brewery's four-acre property, and what sold the crew on the site.
Founding brothers Jeremy and Jonathan Chassner, Mike Healy, Steve Wilmans and Head Brewer Johnathan Parks are behind the brewery.
Jeremy Chassner said the river called them to this area of Buncombe County, while the site's 878 feet of riverfront helped seal the deal.
"We were sort of open to a location in the beginning — not specifically Woodfin or Asheville — we were looking and feeling it out," he said. "Then the property at 870 Riverside Drive came available, and it was more of a feeling than anything you could put your finger on."
Woodfin is banking on that undefinable allure to draw businesses and residents to the area, said Jason Young, Woodfin's town administrator. "Our town is still one that welcomes growth," he said, noting investment in the river corridor has drawn heavy interest from restaurants, retail and other businesses.
The town in 2009 began to assemble funding and plans for the Woodfin Greenway & Blueway, which is beginning to coalesce with private and public sector support, he said.
Passage of the Woodfin Bond Referendum in the last election cycle helped fund the forthcoming network of greenways and parks to the tune of $4.5 million, with additional funding coming from other agencies, including the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.
Silver-Line Plastic has also offered land and funding to help support the construction of Silver-Line Park, which will offer, among other things, a whitewater wave.
A 5-mile main loop of greenway will run along the French Broad River from Broadway near UNC Asheville to Elk Mountain Road, veering east to connect with Reynolds Village, then along Beaverdam Creek back toward Beaver Lake and the City of Asheville.
It's part of a plan to create more community spaces, Young said.
"We're always looking to enhance the amount of public space we have, whether it's parks and greenways or the construction of the Reynolds Village area," he said. "We want to create an environment where the community can thrive, come together and meet with neighbors, family and friends in ways often lacking in the urban environment."
Woodfin has this year seen the opening of a new location of Asheville-based Hi Five Coffee Bar. A second location of South Asheville-based Baked Pie Company is forthcoming.
There are now more than 200 businesses in a town of around 6,400 people, with new ventures increasingly focused on entertainment and recreation, Young noted.
Zillicoah plans to offer both.
"Our phase-one stage is to provide a beautiful space for families to come out and drink beers by river, and maybe offer some hammocks," Chassner said.
But as the outdoor area falls in the 100-year flood plain, the brewery is limited as far as what sorts of permanent structures it can build there.
For now, the space is ripe for Frisbees and lawn games, but the Zillicoah crew hopes to eventually host beer festivals.
"Open spaces are most conducive to that," Chassner said. "We'd also like to host small live music shows — any number of things."
Chassner, who used to work in the administration department at Sierra Nevada's park-like Mills River brewery, has plenty of experience watching the way a beer business can optimize open space.
"Anybody who’s been down to that Mills River brewery, it’s hard not to be wowed," Chassner said.
He said his new Woodfin property is more than perfect for creating a similar, albeit much smaller, ode to the outdoors.
"We love camping and fishing," said Chassner, who's also a motorcycle enthusiast. "This outdoor space is just another way this piece of property spoke to us."
The brewery's 5,000-square-foot indoor space was another draw. Under its roof will soon be four Foeder barrels to be used as aging vessels.
The space also contains a bottle-conditioning room, custom-built open-fermentation room, pilot-brew system and two separate cellars for fermenting, aging and blending.
The tasting room, largely assembled by the founders by hand, uses reclaimed wood from the Rankin Press Lofts Building with roll-up doors and a service window.
Geared toward on-premise sales, taps will feature small-batch, limited brews and staples including IPAs and porters.
The interior is industrial-rustic, with some enhancements such as a granite bar and subway tile as a back splash.
The end result is a bit like the Woodfin river corridor itself: "It's industrial with a little sexy," Chassner said.