SAN DIEGO—The past two years have seen unprecedented growth in the American beer industry. That rapid escalation is not exclusive to brewing companies. The interests supplying breweries with ingredients, equipment and other essentials are also growing at a swift pace in order to meet increased demand, to the point where they must expand their operations. Case in point, San Diego-based yeast production company, White Labs, which today announced it is opening a new facility in Asheville, NC.
Scheduled to open in late 2015, the facility, which will include yeast production and analytical laboratories as well as a brewery, distribution warehouse, administrative offices and tasting room, will be installed in a 25,000-square-foot building that previously housed a horse stable and tobacco warehouse. Located at 172 South Charlotte Street in the city’s East End community, it will be the East Coast’s first large-scale yeast production facility servicing professional and amateur beer, wine and spirits manufacturers. Upon completion, the two-story building’s footprint will span 32,000 square feet.
White Labs is the leading company of its ilk in the country, with contemporaries including Oregon-based Wyeast Laboratories; The Brewing Science Institute in Woodland Park, CO.; Omega Yeast Labs in Chicago; and GigaYeast, Inc. in Belmont, CA. What sets White Labs apart is that, in addition to yeast development and propagation, the company focuses on technological advances in fermentation and provision of consulting services to its patrons. Also, it is the only yeast producer with multiple locations. This will be White Labs’ fourth facility, and it will operate in conjunction with the San Diego headquarters, a production and analytical facility in Davis, CA, and customer service office in Boulder, CO.
White Labs’ move falls in line with the latest chapter of the beer industry story, which has seen a number of larger brewing companies opening second and third locations in states located far from their bases of operations. Thus far, a significant number of those high-profile expansions have taken place in or near Asheville. This trend fueled White Labs founder and CEO Chris White to select the city as his company’s East Coast operations center.
“Like San Diego and Boulder, Asheville serves as an innovation center for emerging breweries and we couldn’t be more excited to join the Asheville brewing community,” says White. “Forty percent of our customers are on the East Coast. Being local will enable us to best serve them and lower our corporate carbon footprint.”
In 2010 and 2011, Asheville was dubbed “BeerCity USA” via an Examiner.com poll (it tied for the top spot in 2009 and 2012) behind a high concentration of breweries and burgeoning beer culture. Today, the city is home to more than 20 breweries and brewpubs, including a second location for New Belgium Brewing Co., currently under construction. Other breweries of note in the greater Asheville area include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Mills River and Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard.
Cost control, efficient delivery channels and consumer demand for products meeting the same quality standards provided to West Coast and Midwest customers were key reasons for establishment of the Asheville facility, which is the first in a number of next steps for the company. “The expansion to the East Coast is a direct response to customer feedback for quicker shipping turnaround times, lower costs and less overhead,” says White. “Asheville is the first step in our global expansion plan that is strategically being rolled out in waves over the next few years.”
The Asheville facility will mirror its San Diego counterpart. This extends to the tasting room, which provides a deep dive into the importance of yeast strain selection where brewing is concerned. White Labs’ on-site brewery produces beers spanning many different styles. Wort from each batch is divided into separate fermentation vessels, into which different strains of yeasts are pitched. The resulting beers are put on tap together and offered in sampler flights so that patrons can see, smell and taste the dramatic differences brought on by each individual strain. White Labs is the only company in the world providing such an experience and it will be a prime amenity for non-industry visitors to the Asheville location.
“North Carolina boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the South, with more than 100 breweries and brewpubs. It says a lot about the growth of the industry here that White Labs chose this part of North Carolina for its first East Coast operations,” says North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Allred Decker.
Brandon Hernández is an award-winning San Diego-based beer and food journalist who regularly contributes to national and regional publications. He is a columnist for Celebrator Beer News, Pacific San Diego, Ranch & Coast, SIP California, The San Diego Reader and West Coaster, author of the Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries, founder of the “Beer to the Rescue” campaign benefitting the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, Senior Communications Specialist for Stone Brewing Co., and a former consultant to Food Network and Zagat. Follow him on Twitter via @sdbeernews and @offdutyfoodie.