There may be something in the water in North Carolina that’s driving its residents to beer.
Travel (walk, don’t drive) across the state and you’ll bump into one of its 257 microbreweries. Of course, before long, your route won’t be straight at all; things tend to get a bit wobbly after that many IPA samplers.
The state now ranks eighth nationally for the number of microbreweries, and fifth in year-to-year growth — topping $2 billion in revenue a few years ago.
Think of it: The state’s hops-brewing enterprises now produce more than 1.3 million barrels of beer annually; that’s five gallons of beer for every person over the age of 21. According to the Brewer’s Association, microbrewing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy today.
And, one of the fastest-growing microbrew enterprises in North Carolina is Triskelion Brewing (sounds like “triss-kill-ee-on”) in Hendersonville, 75 miles west of Charlotte.
A triskele, or triskelion, is an ancient Celtic symbol that includes three symmetrically-joined spirals. The brewery’s logo shows the triple-spiral design, now representing the three crucial beer ingredients: water, barley and hops.
Young entrepreneurs and co-owners/brewers Jonathan and Becky Ayers have plenty to be excited about. They’re as passionate about the new facility as they are about new blends, and naming them. Their customer base is growing, and they’ve developed a great social media following, too.
And, of course, they’re kicking it as brewers.
“Every detail about our facility has been planned from the beginning,” Jonathan Ayers says. “A few years ago, we started with a blank slate, creating a dream with no constraints. Today, I’m pinching myself; I can’t be sure I’m not still dreaming.
“We just completed the construction of two new structures — the brewhouse and the taproom — so we wanted to be sure to get everything as close to perfect on paper before spending real money,” he adds.
“The brewhouse is about as automated as you can get without being a large brewery,” Jonathan Ayers says. “The computer automation saves me countless hours of guesswork. It gives me the time to develop and refine [beer] recipes. Even our water and drainage systems are state-of-the-art.”
In the 2,400 square foot brewhouse, there are seven barrel fermenters producing up to 14 barrels of beer each day. The system also allows for major expansions down the road.
“As we got close to construction time in early 2017, we changed our plan of having one combined building for the both brewhouse and taproom,” Jonathan Ayers says. “Ultimately, we decided to make sure the brewhouse was completed first, with a tasting room right inside the brewhouse.”
The experiment worked. Appreciative customers came and drank, and enjoyed their experiences so well that Jonathan and Becky couldn’t help wondering: Should we have built bigger?
Oasis, with beer
The tasting room had 12 taps, all of which were moved into the new taproom facility. Outside is the biergarten; it’s a beer lover’s oasis.
Becky Ayers explains that the biergarten has a contemporary look and design.
“We want customers to feel like they’re on a rooftop bar — a lofty experience with loads of fresh air and plenty of great beer,” she says.
The taproom offers 2,500 square feet on the lower level and an additional 1,800 square feet upstairs. Each level has more than 30 taps. The main taproom space is located downstairs and includes a small stage; the upstairs offers a separate bar and space for overflow.
Long before Triskelion was conceptualized, Jonathan and Becky were home-brewers for a decade. Jonathan worked more than 20 years in construction — something that added tremendously to the couples’ ability to bring the (then) wannabe brewer’s dream into reality.
The brewery began with very deliberate planning, sketches and research. In those early years, Jonathan also attended college, and aced classes while earning a General Brewing Certificate, Cicerone Certification Certified Beer Server and Beer Steward certification, among many others.
When they finally saw the opportunity to buy a property, well-suited to the location of a microbrewery, they jumped.
“We were so fortunate,” Jonathan Ayers recalls. The empty lot sat in the middle of the town’s then-struggling historic district, offering a unique opportunity for the development of the new, modern gem that Triskelion has become. It helps immensely that the area is experiencing a Renaissance — now unshackling its old stigma as a once-dangerous, depressed neighborhood.
The area has evolved into a thriving business center with two breweries and multiple places to eat. The other brewery in the area is Southern Appalachian Brewery.
“The more [breweries], the merrier,” Becky Ayers quips. “Fortunately, folks who enjoy craft beer enjoy variety. And, typically, they move around among friends — like friendship on the roam. And, it also helps a lot that we’re on friendly terms with the owners and managers of the other brewery.”
She adds that it’s sort of a “family” thing between brewers and microbrewery customers. So, in a small town like theirs, that goodness goes a long way.
It's all in the details
“Some of the most important decisions gave us a foundation for our future here,” Jonathan Ayers says. “Few would guess that those most-important decisions had to do with building infrastructure, drainage and water conservation — issues today that are the focus of new state and federal regulations, very difficult and expensive to implement as a retrofit, yet easy on the front-end.”
Jonathan refers to it as “spending money on the backbone.”
By that he means the equipment, products and technology around which all facets of their operation are built — such as the systems that prevent water loss, or improve water quality.
“As we planned, we spoke with a lot of microbrew owners,” Jonathan Ayers continues. “The name ‘Watts’ kept coming up, so we looked further. Among other things, we learned they had drain systems that fully resisted the challenge of acidic, ingredient and residue-rich or super-hot drainage. For instance, some of our new drains have collection baskets, easily removed after draining loads of hops effluent.
“After speaking with Daniel [Daniel Clyburn, with Charlotte, North Carolina-based manufacturer’s rep firm, Smith & Stevenson] and Watts Sales Manager, Jimmy Hunt, we decided their ‘OneWatts,’ single-source provider program made great sense to us, so we purchased every technology we could,” he added. “The idea also sounded good to Scott and Phillip Duncan, owners of [Rutherfordton, North Carolina-based] Duncan Plumbing, who we chose to do all the plumbing work here.”
According to Phillip Duncan, Watts’ technology installed at Triskelion includes solutions for the brewhouse, fermentation and packaging rooms, the taproom and outside bar. The solutions include:
Process wastewater systems. Three separate HygienicPro trench drains: A total of 75 feet. One is in the brewhouse and the others have roles in the fermentation and packaging areas. These feed into 80 feet of push-fit stainless steel BLÜCHER pipe under the brewhouse because of the need to dump high-temperature (180° F) slurry into it. The slurry is way too acidic for iron and too hot for composite.
Process water supply. Carbon water filtration cartridges were installed on the city water line feeding the brewhouse and the water supply for the new taphouse. Each cartridge lasts three to four months, costs $8 to replace and can be bypassed for washing.
Gas supply. A Dormont stainless steel gas connector is attached to the brewery’s tankless (domestic) water heater.
- Sanitary drains. Twenty-five feet of DeadLevel composite trench drain was installed behind the main taproom bar. The trench drain features stainless steel grate for easy cleaning. There’s also a BLÜCHER WaterLine channel, mini-trench drain for the outside bar.
Jonathan Ayers admits he’s a lager fan. But that doesn’t get in the way of putting those 30-plus taps to good use, with loads of variety to meet their customers’ wildly differing interests and tastes.
In addition to the lagers, Triskelion now offers more than a few IPAs, an ESB, a Scotch Ale, pale ales and then some.
“I really like digging into brewing history, and lean toward some of the old styles, combining them with newer styles, techniques and ingredients to create entirely new beers,” Jonathan Ayers says.
For example, they have one beer that’s a fusion of an old Norwegian-style beer with a modern-day IPA.
The colors of success
At Triskelion, inspiration in the craft brewing trade also has an artistic side. Outside-of-the-box thinkers that they are, the Ayers decided to colorize their craft when they painted the facilities with a little-known “beer hue standards” theme (the Standard Reference Method, abbreviated as SRM, is the color system used by brewers to specify finished beer and malt color.)
It’s an esoteric that only brewers are typically familiar with but the Ayers thought why not incorporate some of the colors into their painting scheme?
“All exterior colors line up with known SRMs for Imperial Porter brown, IPA orange, pale ale yellow, and foamy white,” Jonathan Ayers says. Inside, they’ve got three greens for hops colors: hops cone, leaf and vine stem.
The colors also make sense in that finished beer colors were used to decorate the outside, while beer ingredient colors were used inside.
Jonathan and Becky are developing a brewing study scholarship fund to help students at nearby Blue Ridge Community College.
“It’s an exploding field of study, and BRCC’s courses are excellent and expanding,” Jonathan Ayers says. “They’re helping to train the next generation of brewers.”
For students — including a growing number of women in the industry — Triskelion’s pros will help train them. Those who excel at the craft could win scholarship funds and internship opportunities. At the school, students are currently learning what it takes to be a brewery sellerman (aka “yeast wrangler”), packaging or quality control experts, brewer’s assistant, shift brewers, assistant brewers and head brewers.
Who’d have thought so much can go into that malty beverage so many American’s simply take for granted?
Well, Cheers! Here’s to one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, and to the good folks at Triskelion Brewing.
John Vastyan is the owner of Common Ground, a Manheim, Pennsylvania-based trade communications firm.
Rutherfordton, North Carolina-based Duncan Plumbing is a third generation plumbing company started by the Ray Duncan, grandfather of Scott and Phillip Duncan, in 1960.
“We have 15 employees,” Phillip Duncan says. “Some of our lead plumbers have more than 20 years of industry knowledge and experience. Our primary area of focus is commercial and industrial plumbing work in larger cities, while also serving smaller towns closer to our home office. Our plumbing projects range in size from $20,000 to $750,000 with a territory of operations within an hour and half from the home office.”
In the words of current owner, Scott Duncan, “The Triskelion Brewing project was both exciting and challenging. We were happy to have been involved.”
“It was truly satisfying, after establishing and maintaining a relationship with the owners of Triskelion, Jonathan and Becky, to complete this job for them,” Phillip Duncan says. “The job began a full two years ago, if we consider the early phone calls, emails and meetings, and culminated with a last visit there, and a freshly-brewed beer. It’s hard to beat that!”
Duncan Plumbing’s advice to other small business owners and operators: “If you think it is within the realm of what you’re driven to do, then don’t sell yourself short with mediocre efforts.”