Walk into Blue Ghost Brewing Company
and you'll see a painting of an oak tree with 10 lights above it. They represent the family and friends who invested in the newest nano brewery in Western North Carolina.
Though partners Erik Weber and Zach Horn entertained outside investors in their new business, they ultimately secured enough money to start the brewery via an email campaign to family and friends.
Blue Ghost has a different goal than many of the craft breweries in North Carolina. Its focus, evident in that prominently positioned tree, is more on family than mass distribution of its beers. The brewery isn’t just stocked with furniture made by hand and brewing equipment, but also with games and toys for children to play with while their parents enjoy a pint. There’s alcohol-free root beer brewed in-house alongside the beer.
While Blue Ghost represents the exponential growth of the brewing industry in North Carolina, and specifically along the “Asheville Ale Trail”—where 10 new breweries are in various stages of planning and others are expanding—it’s a byproduct of another trend too. Craft brewing has become so pervasive that it’s creating destinations in the state’s smallest towns.
Breweries now sit in the center of towns like Hickory, Asheboro, Black Mountain and Rocky Mount. And breweries are coming to Wilson, Statesville, Seagrove, Albemarle, Waxhaw and Ahoskie, according to the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild
. According to Kendra Penland
, executive director for the Asheville Brewers Alliance
, Blue Ghost and other family-focused small town breweries represent “a return to the old-school pub environment.”
Situated in a refurbished warehouse in Fletcher, N.C., the brewery I visited on my spring break is named after the Blue Ghost firefly, which only comes out in the area during six weeks every year. Fletcher is located between Asheville and Hendersonville, both of which boast large brewery scenes. But the brewery is the first in Fletcher aside from the famous Sierra Nevada Brewing, helping to fill out what Weber calls the “Ale Trail”.
Blue Ghost is a member of the alliance, an organization that works to promote 52 breweries in the Western North Carolina area. While many breweries in the area encourage family participation, Blue Ghost is unique in marketing straight to young families. Besides the toys and games, there’s a craft day every week for kids. And Weber hopes to be able to plant a community garden beside the brewery, where patrons and their families can not only learn about gardening, but have the opportunity to keep the fruits of their labor.
Small town breweries have to make it easy for residents to come by—they have a smaller pool of people to draw from than the larger cities. They also have to be collaborative. Breweries often help each other in times of need, says Penland, citing a time when one brewery let another use its brewing system when the second’s wasn’t functioning. Marketing together as an “ale trail” also fits along with that “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality, she says.
It can help to make small town craft breweries as appealing as the big town ones. This reporter and craft beer enthusiast made the trip to Fletcher, after all.
In the short-term, the partners at Blue Ghost are focused on building a strong and sustainable business. That’s going well so far, as they surpassed week one sales projections by 184% in the first 20 hours. Weber was even fearful they would run out of beer.
In the long-term, they hope to expand their two-barrel system to 10 and add a kitchen and the ability to sell growlers to go. This kind of expansion could make the brewery more profitable, but also provide even more of a destination for families in the community.
In the craft beer market, especially in cities like Asheville and Raleigh, many breweries aim to expand throughout the Southeast. But Blue Ghost Brewing Company is helping to prove that there is another market for craft beer—in the state’s smallest towns.