The new White Labs facility in Asheville, North Carolina
This spring, local yeast purveyor White Labs will join the ranks of San Diego breweries producing beer on the east coast when it builds a brewhouse in prominent craft beer destination, Asheville, North Carolina.
Of course, while Stone, Green Flash, and Ballast Point wanted to open production breweries in Virginia to distribute fresh beer to the east coast, the primary reason White Labs has invested 10 million dollars establishing a presence in Asheville is to distribute yeast.
"About half the breweries we sell to in the US are in the east," notes White Labs founder Chris White. "San Diego is a long way from other parts of the country, so shipping costs were fairly high." While the company's proprietary plastic Pure Pitch yeast packets don't weigh nearly as much as a pallet of beer, they do require overnight shipping in an ice pack.
The expansion to Asheville has been in the works for a couple of years, and the facility begin yeast production this week. Six White Labs employees have made the move from San Diego to set up and operate the lab, and White's team has been working with a community college out there to develop training courses for new local hires. He estimates 20 employees will be hired this year, with the number rising to about 65 in the next three.
Part of that number will come from the small brewhouse and tasting room that, like White Labs' Miramar location, will serve beers brewed to highlight the differences between specific yeast strains as a means of educating brewers and other visitors about their characteristics.
The biggest difference at the new facility will be the opening of a corresponding restaurant. White has enlisted the help of "homebrew chef" Sean Paxton to develop a menu. Paxton is chiefly known as an expert in cooking with beer and pairing beer with food, and the plan is to also incorporate various White Labs yeasts in preparing fermented ingredients for a number of dishes.
White Labs previously opened a production facility in Copenhagen, Denmark, and an experimental lab in Davis, California; plus distribution sites in Boulder, Colorado and Hong Kong.
White says a number of east coast cities were in contention as White Labs planned to move east, particularly Charleston, South Carolina. However, North Carolina's distribution laws were more advantageous.
He also cites Asheville's position as an east coast craft beer mecca. The small city refers to itself as Beer City USA, boasting the country's highest number of breweries per capita. More than two dozen breweries are active in its vicinity, including east coast expansions of craft beer mainstays Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues.
From local brewers' perspective, at least, the presence of this San Diego company will be welcome — the first time they will enjoy the benefits of going directly to the yeast source. Speaking from Asheville, White says, "Breweries here are super excited, because they'll just be able to pick up will call, like they do in San Diego."