by Molly Smithson '15 and Aaron Dahlstrom '09
Evan Crutchfield ’06 manages sales for Asheville brewery Wicked Weed, but that doesn’t mean he’s completed his job once he secures a customer. Not only does Crutchfield check in with clients, he also runs outside events, helps with merchandising and even delivers some of the beer himself.
“At small breweries it takes everybody doing lots of different things to make it all work.”
Wicked Weed self-distributes its beer, which cuts costs and allows closer relations with customers. Crutchfield is especially useful to the relatively new brewery in that he’s worked in the craft beer industry as both a salesman and brewer himself for 11 years.
“Not a lot of the guys in sales and distribution have brewing experience, so that’s why I’m part of the team, to kind of bridge the gap between the brewing world and the sales and distribution world,” he says.
Crutchfield’s biology degree from UNC Asheville came in handy when he completed the Master Brewing program at University of California Davis, helping him bypass classes in biology, chemistry and physics. He also earned a professional brewers certificate.
“I learned so much and I did so many things at UNC Asheville,” he says. “The more you know, the more you can relate and understand a lot of things. A lot of my job is talking to people about beer and brewing, but most of the time when you’re drinking beer, you’re being social, so those go hand in hand.”
Asheville wasn’t always Beer City, USA. Now home to more than 20 breweries, the region has become a destination for craft beer lovers worldwide. And John Lyda ’89 helped put it on the map.
As the brewmaster of Highland Brewing, Asheville’s first craft brewery, Lyda oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, making sure every drop of beer measures up to its standards. That focus on quality has been with the company since the beginning.
“[In our early days] we dumped about 6,000 gallons of beer that was drinkable but wasn’t what we were looking for,” he says. “We don’t want to release anything that isn’t up to our standards.”
Lyda has been with Highland since its inception in 1994, but his interest in brewing actually began much earlier. The person who got him started? His mother.
“I’ve always liked good beer,” he says. “Even in college I didn’t drink the cheap stuff. My mom found a home-brewing kit in the church rummage sale and said, ‘Here, just make your own instead of buying that expensive beer you like.’”
Lyda is still coming up with new recipes, as well as welding together parts of the assembly line. In fact, Highland’s brewing system was partially inspired by the industrial engineering courses taught by Professor Bob Yearout.
“It was a well-rounded education. I graduated from UNC Asheville with a business degree after thinking I couldn’t do chemistry,” says the management major who avoided science labs in favor of
“Turns out I could.”
By some characterizations, the craft beer world is an industry of self-taught rebels never content on following the leader. That’s why when it comes to legal matters, it’s good to have an attorney like Derek Allen ’93 on your side.
“They want to do things their own way,” Allen says. “That’s what makes them great brewers. Those same things, from a business perspective, can get you in trouble.”
The political science major earned his law degree from UNC Chapel Hill in 1997. Now an attorney at Ward and Smith P.A., in Asheville, Allen has made a name for himself, and his firm, specializing in the city’s favorite frothy beverage. His firm represents some of the biggest players in the craft beer scene, including New Belgium, Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada.
“Their job is to brew and sell beer. Our job is to make sure there are no issues that prohibit them from doing that,” he says.
Allen never imagined his legal career would focus on alcoholic beverage law. Rather, the business found him, after the owner of Oskar Blues contacted his office to help them handle some legal matters when they were opening their Western North Carolina location.
“Beer may be the end result, but behind the scenes, a whole host of legal matters could be fermenting. Manufacturing laws, trademarks, zoning and other legal issues can financially cripple a brewery if they are not careful.”
Making good beer may be the easiest part of it.
For Ashleigh Carter ’07 making beer is all about balance. It’s about bringing malt and hops together in harmony, but it’s also about combining intellectual and physical work together for one purpose.
“I needed to tie mental work with physical work. Brewing does both of those things: combining physical activity and labor with thinking.”
Carter is the co-owner and head brewer at Bierstadt Lagerhaus, a microbrewery in Denver, Colo., that will specialize in lagers when it opens it taps this summer. Last year, she traveled to Germany to purchase a copper brewing system dating back before World War II.
Pairing smarts and strength is something that Carter learned well at UNC Asheville. As a member of the women’s soccer team, she was expected to be at the top of her game both in the classroom and on the field. After a sports injury sidelined her graduate school plans, Carter decided to investigate the brewing industry, apprenticing and volunteering to get her foot in the door. She credits soccer coach Michelle Cornish with teaching her how to improve upon her weaknesses and excel at her strengths.
Carter has balanced that determination with a calculated approach, applying her mathematics degree to the details of a business plan and carefully measured recipes for her signature beers.
When Chris Ivesdal ’02 moved to Asheville in 1996, he only knew of one or two breweries in the area. Now, the UNC Asheville management graduate believes we’re on the path to universal craft beer domination.
“This area will become a world brewing center. I’m already seeing tourists from all over the world coming to experience beer.”
Ivesdal is in the perfect position to see that transition as a tour guide at Sierra Nevada, which gave Asheville a stamp of approval when they selected the area as their East Coast location. He finds his liberal arts education especially useful when telling visitors about the wonderful world of beer.
“All those presentations that I gave while in the management department really paid off,” Ivesdal says.
“I think to humanities when I’m discussing the evolution of beer styles. Any work with chemistry or biology is helpful when discussing the process of making beer.”
Plus, he needs to constantly adapt on his job, as Sierra Nevada continues to roll out various features on its 190-acre property in Mills River, which opened to the public in late 2014.
“We are very lucky to have such a thriving craft beer community in Western North Carolina, which affords a need for not just brewers but people with all kinds of backgrounds and experience to work within this industry.”
John and Michelle Savard ’11 have carried their love of craft brewing from the mountains all the way to the East Coast.
John began home brewing with a friend from UNC Asheville. He worked at Asheville Brewers Supply and Craggie Brewing Company, until a move across the state took the couple away from the mountains and their favorite craft beers.
“When we moved back home to Wilmington, we realized there was no homebrew shop and only one brewery,” Michelle says. “Having our little piece of the beer industry here in Wilmington really feels like we’ve brought a piece of Asheville with us.”
John and Michelle opened Wilmington Homebrew Supply in 2012. They expanded their store in 2014 with the Wilmington Brewing Company. Now they’re serving up some of their own creations, which draw inspiration from throughout the country.
“Our West Coast-style IPAs are our favorites and a favorite of our taproom,” Michelle says.
Both credit UNC Asheville with providing tools and knowledge about running a small business. Michelle’s mass communication degree put her in charge of getting the word out to the community, while John applied management principles to their start-up.
“No degree can ever give you all the information you’ll ever need for whatever job you do, but my management degree gave me the fundamentals that I built on to meet the needs of our business,” John says.