Throughout his career, Wayne Wambles has often been asked if he was interested in owning or operating his own brewery.

“It was something that I’ve always wanted to do,” says Wambles, who spent 16 years as brewmaster for Cigar City Brewing before being laid off earlier this year by the brand’s current parent company Monster Beverage. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, probably since the mid to late ‘90s. But the opportunity never presented itself.”

As of today, Wambles is now the owner of his own brewery. He just signed the paperwork to purchase UpCountry Brewing in Brevard, North Carolina. Previous owner and UpCountry Brewing founder John Cochran put the brewery up for sale earlier this year and reached out to Wambles a few months ago. Cochran sold an Asheville-based UpCountry location in 2023. Conversations on the Brevard location between Wambles and Cochran quickly progressed and the agreement was finalized this weekend.

A Familiar Brewing Town

Brevard is home to an Oskar Blues production brewery that is also part of Monster Beverage’s portfolio. Wambles, who moved to North Carolina several years ago, said he spent some time at that brewery but had not visited UpCountry Brewing until he began to consider purchasing the four-barrel brewhouse.

Wayne Wambles’ Griffon & Sphynx is based at UpCountry Brewing in Brevard, North Carolina.

Wambles plans to keep the UpCountry name and several of its beers on offer. Wambles will also use the brewery to brew and self-distribute a new brand called Griffon & Sphynx, named after his two dogs – Brussels Griffons – and a cat – a Sphynx.

“It’s a smaller brewery but it’s a better entry point as far as the volume,” says Wambles, who will be handing all of the brewing and distribution personally. “I don’t think I’d feel comfortable coming in at a bigger place with higher volume without being in a situation where my brand is more established.”

Over the last few weeks, leading up to the signing of the paperwork, Wambles brewed three beers at UpCountry. Those are currently in the UpCountry fermenters and will be packaged soon. While he is known for India pale ales and strong barrel-aged stouts, the Griffon & Sphynx beers are more in line with his own personal beer preferences – namely classic styles and lower ABV offerings.

But, hop lovers need not worry.

“I’ve always loved hops and that’s going to be a big part of this as well,” he says. “IPAs, pale ales, different hop-forward beers. I’ve done a lot of research on hops. I know a lot of farmers and have been to a lot of farms, not just in this country in different parts of the world. The way that I utilize those hops and the hops that I choose could be different. I see it as a unique approach.”

Listen to the Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast for more from Wayne Wambles.

The First Beers and a Collaboration

To that end, on the day before closing on UpCountry, Wambles was in Atlanta brewing the first Griffon & Sphynx collaboration beer with his friend Mitch Steele of New Realm Brewing Co. The beer, a double cold IPA hopped with HBC-1019, Talus and Motueka that was then aged on honeysuckle – will be packaged in a few weeks.

“I’m very excited to see Wayne being able to get back to doing what he loves,” said Steele following the brew day. “Being one of the most innovative, creative brewmasters in the business. I can’t wait to try his new beer!”

In the immediate future, Wambles says not too much will change with UpCountry’s location, and that he eventually hopes to open a satellite taproom dedicated to Griffon & Sphynx closer to his home, about 90 minutes from the brewery

Wambles, who has never shied away from a challenge, says he is looking forward to this new chapter of his brewing career.

“One of the best things is not having to answer to anybody and actually being able to push forward the innovation that I want to without any restrictions or having to run it through someone,” he says. “That’s been my life for, my God, years and years and years. So finally, I’ll be in a position where I can create things that I feel strongly about and not have anyone roadblock it.”

Update on May 25, 2025

When asked about his future plans, John Cochran, UpCountry founder, replied, “One word – retired. In all seriousness, I am very excited for the future of this brand. Last year when Michaela Lemmon, a long time employee and manager, purchased the UpCountry taproom, I promised I would continue to brew UpCountry beers for her until we found a better solution. And did we ever! Having Wayne Wambles brew UpCountry beers for Michaela while also showcasing Griffon and Sphynx in the UpCountry taproom is going to be a real treat for Brevard and all of Western NC.”

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