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Pisgah Brewing Company Finds Big Success in Thinking Small


What a great concept. Nurture a big idea for a small business that revolves around a line of organic beers that deftly walks the fine line between art and science. Set up shop in one of the greatest small cities in America, Asheville, NC. Cater to the tastes of a very hip, microbrewery-loving local market that knows its hops from its grains and appreciates the nuances of specialty brews and their talented brewers. Settle that small business into a sizeable – if not fancy – commercial space in Black Mountain, and enjoy the big success that has come to define the Pisgah Brewing Company’s notion of thinking small, organic – and local.

Pisgah Brewing Company is the brainchild of founders David Quinn and Jason Caughman, pictured below, friends from their days in Charleston, SC. The two met at a potluck dinner hosted by a mutual friend. In what might now be seen as a hint of good things to come, Quinn, a homebrewing enthusiast since his student days at the College of Charleston, contributed a five-gallon keg of his pale ale to the evening’s festivities. The beer was a big hit. Quinn and Caughman hit it off and became good friends. Over time, they came to believe that between Quinn’s expertise as a homebrewer, Caughman’s Graphic Arts degree from Clemson, and a lot of motivation to build their own business, they might have fallen upon the perfect recipe for success as commercial brewers.

As they took the time to develop their business model, Dave Quinn continued to work and expand on his craft and entered homebrewing competitions along the way, walking away with the 2003 Gold Medal for his pale ale in the American Homebrewers Association competition.

Starting a new business is not for the faint-hearted, and the first year at Pisgah Brewing predictably involved lots of long hours and hard work. Quinn put to use his expertise of the brewer’s craft to create a line of marketable beers while Caughman applied his Graphic Arts degree from Clemson to create all the company’s signage and label layouts, all the while continuing to increase his own knowledge of making a really good beer. Since delivery trucks and employees were still a long way in the future, Caughman also shouldered the task of delivering every single keg the fledgling company made in the back of his 1996 Pathfinder – a terrific car, but not a great delivery truck.

But time has marched on, and Pisgah’s star has persistently been on the rise. The brewery’s customer list is now a long one, with many of Asheville, Black Mountain, and Hendersonville’s most popular bars, pubs, restaurants, and grocers carrying at least one of their beers, either on tap or in a large, glass 64-ounce “growler” (which can be recycled to the brewery or refilled at the brewery). They even have employees … and delivery trucks.

Pisgah’s brews are all certified organic, and Quinn and Caughman’s commitment to “buying local” is evident in every step of the business process, with the brewery purchasing as many of their supplies and ingredients as close to home as possible.

Pisgah now features five beers that are produced year-round – their top-selling Pale Ale, crisp, clean, and organic; Endless Summer, initially brewed as a light, seasonal, summer blonde ale that proved to be so popular that it is now brewed throughout the year; Solstice, a pale gold Belgian-style tripel ale, with 9% alcohol and a champagne-like fizz; Porter, the darkest of all Pisgah beers, balanced, rich and smooth; and Nitro Stout, a creamy beer made with roasted barley and caramel malt, very similar in style to Dublin’s world-famous Guinness beer. (Pisgah brewer, Richard Kilcullen, pictured below.)

As part of their initiative to keep the fun in brewing and to offer new tastes to their customers, Pisgah also offers seasonal beers at various times throughout the year. Saison (French for “season”) is almost ready for market. Lighter in style, Saison has to age three to four weeks and should be available in early August. In about mid-August, Pisgah’s Extra Pale Ale will be ready for release; given the challenge of using all different ingredients from those found in their popular Pale Ale, the brewers have produced a light, hoppy beer with an excellent aroma. A third seasonal beer, with the working name “Dancing Hobo,” is a Belgian-style beer with a subtle raspberry flavor, and is Pisgah’s lighthearted salute to some of Asheville’s more popular and crowd-pleasing downtown characters. Dancing Hobo does not have a release date as yet, but it is promised soon.

Pisgah’s award-winning ways have also continued, with the brewery winning the People’s Choice Award at the 2007 Brewgrass Festival in Asheville and four medals (Solstice Tripel – Gold Medal and second Best in Show; Porter – Silver Medal; Barleywine – Silver; Equinox – Bronze Medal) in the 2006 Carolina Beer Championship. It was also featured in a front-page article in the Money section of USA Today in March 2008 as a shining example of a successful small business in a community that is continuing to thrive in spite of a national economy that has fallen on hard times.

Pisgah Brewing Company has now opened its doors to the beer-loving public on Thursday and Friday evenings in its new tasting room (beginning at about 6:30 PM). The evenings feature live music, plenty of room to navigate with both indoor and outdoor space, and Pisgah’s ever-expanding line of beers on tap. Either Dave or Jason is always there, either behind the bar or onstage with the band, so an in-depth conversation on beers is always close at hand. They also feature a Package Store, which is open every Thursday from 4 – 9 PM.

But it’s not all about beer and business. Quinn and Caughman are certainly conscious of their good fortune and want to be good citizens of their local community as well as the planet by donating some of their time and money to causes that are important to them. Toward that end, Pisgah Brewing donates $1 per bottle sold of their Hellbender Barleywine to Wild South, a non-profit, grassroots organization who mission is to inspire and empower people to protect and the native ecosystems of the Southeast. Hellbender, an English-style barleywine with a smooth finish and a hefty 9.8 alcohol content, is named in honor of the Hellbender salamander, the largest salamander in North America. Further, remembering how important music was in their own early years in elementary school, the company participates in a community program headed up by the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) to keep music in the schools.

Pisgah Brewing Company is located in the Eastside Business Park on Old US 70 in Black Mountain, NC. For more information, please visit their website, www.pisgahbrewing.com.

(Image provided by Pisgah Brewing Company.)



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