Can Asheville sustain its brewery boom?
ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- When Deschutes Brewery announced it would build a brewery in Virginia instead of Buncombe County, the founder said the decision was, in part, because in Roanoke they could have a greater impact.
Buncombe County has more than 20 breweries, with more planned.
But before we get to the beer, we start with another brew. Audra Gaiziunas works out of coffee shops.
"I'm a hired gun. I like to say I'm a mercenary, but I don't kill anybody, I just slay numbers," Gaiziunas said as she laughed. She said she was meant to work in the beer industry.
"I'm an accountant, but I want to dye my hair pink and green and do all sorts of off-the-wall things that most of my peers don't really understand, and in beer it's OK. It's OK to be yourself," she explained.
Three years ago, Gaiziunas started her own company. She helps breweries launch and consults for others.
"Nobody was doing anything like that, that I was aware of, at that time in the country, and craft beer growing the way it has," Gaiziunas said.
The Brewer's Association says in 2015 overall beer sales were down two percent, but craft beer sales were up 13 percent. The Asheville Chamber says in the last six years brewing jobs have increased more than 300 percent.
That statistic doesn't include Asheville's newest brewery, Bhramari Brewhouse. The owners wanted to take advantage of the industry's growth. They've been open a few months.
RELATED | Bhramari Brewhouse Opens in Asheville
"We're here now. We're making beer," Gary Sernack, Bhramari co-owner, said. "We're in full swing, which is great. It was a great feeling."
It took the owners a couple of years of planning and a certain "something." "Confidence, stupidity, you know, call it what you will. The whole time it wasn't like, 'Yeah! This is gonna be great! We're gonna kill it.' We freaked out a lot. It's a big plunge," Co-Owner Josh Bailey said. "I don't know how many sleepless nights we all had."
Now, they feel good about their future.
"As far as a bubble bursting, I don't see that happening," Bailey said.
Brewers aren't necessarily businessmen. "That's why I'm here. I'm here to help that," Gaiziunas said. She also bet on beer for her future--and it's her past.
Her grandfather owned a brewery in Lithuania. During World War II, Soviet troops shipped her grandparents to a labor camp in Siberia.
"They saw his brewery as a threat, and they thought it was going to be something that was going to rile up the nationalistic pride," Gaiziunas said. "This was a time when the Soviets are trying to snuff out anything that is Lithuanian, everything about the culture."
Her mom didn't tell her this until she started her company.
"You could have told me this six years ago! So, by doing what I do, I actually feel like I'm passing on his legacy, and I hope I'm making him proud," Gaiziunas said.
She just had her busiest month yet. "It's unlimited potential because there's so much room for differentiation," Gaiziunas said of the craft beer industry.
The Asheville Chamber of Commerce projects the brewery industry to continue to grow, but not as quickly. The chamber projects 25 percent growth over the next five years.
When Bhramari's owners look into their crystal ball, they see beer.
"It looks beautiful," Bailey said, looking at one of their beers.