COUNTRY ROADS: Brew pubs strive to give county new life
Editor's note: This story appears in the Spring 2016 edition of Country Roads magazine.
As you enter through the door of Hoppy Trout Brewing, your nostrils detect the mouthwatering aromas of pepperoni, cheese, and baking dough. Sounds of laughter from the booths; dishes clinging and toppings sizzling from inside the kitchen bounce off the green painted walls of the new brewpub and pizzeria in Andrews. A pleasant draft of warmth from the restaurant’s specially crafted brick oven gently brushes your face as you approach the bar.
Your eyes catch sight of the variety of craft beers on tap listed on a colorful, wall-mounted blackboard. The bartender slides over a freshly poured pint of one of their signature in-house brewskies. It is in that moment you feel that you’ve arrived at your destination.
Just another lively weekday night on Main Street in downtown Andrews – a pleasant surprise for Hoppy Trout’s co-founders Tommy and Kristin Rodeck since their brew pub’s grand opening in January. For opening in the dead of winter, the traffic has been a sight to see.
“We look out here on a Wednesday night, and you see cars actually parked out on Main Street,” Hoppy Trout brewmaster Tommy Rodeck said. “It’s a good feeling, because when I grew up here that never happened.”
Take a trip west to Tennessee Street in downtown Murphy, and you will find Valley River Brewery & Eatery, which is owned and operated by Gary and Sharon Wasik, and Mike and Dawn Marsden. Locals and outsiders alike can dive into a full menu ranging from soups and salads to signature sandwiches, to handmade wood-fired brick oven pizzas. A full gambit of craft brew styles is a nice bonus, of course.
The brew pub’s simple but cozy setting brings a sense of community – much like the popular show Cheers, as Greg Wasik says – for all to just kick back and savor one of their eight beers available on tap daily. Wasik wants people to experience the true meaning of a “pub-lic house.”
“Growing up in the big cities, there was a pub on every corner and every block,” Wasik said. “That was the family, that local block of pubs ... we’re looking at bringing back the local pub atmosphere, which is, you know, communicating with each other while they’re in here. That’s why we don’t have six or seven TVs, loud music and things like that. Our intention was the bring community together in here.”
People appear to like what they’ve done with the place. They have brought in hundreds of folks from as far as Chattanooga, Tenn., according to Wasik, and have been well received in Cherokee County since opening Feb. 4.
Given the fast start of these newest pizza/craft beer joints, does that mean that Cherokee County is headed for a growth spurt?
“Every night we have waits out the door, so it’s been great,” Wasik added. “We’ve been received very, very well ... and we’ve had repeat business from people who live here locally, which was proof that it was the right thing to do. They like it, and we like it.”
Phylis Blackmon, executive director of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, agrees that the presence of the three breweries in the county, in addition to the Bearding Bottle Shop in downtown Murphy, will give visitors another reason to stay a bit longer.
“As we talk about the things to do, the options that we have, it gets a lot of interest. … And we have had an incredible response for that particular business (Valley River),” Blackmon said.
“I think this is one of the things many of our tourists are looking for – all our visitors are looking for. ...
“Our scenic beauty has always been top notch, has always been a top draw. But now we’re adding some of the other amenities that people appreciate.”
Rodeck has been tracking their progress through Hoppy Trout’s POS system, which indicates that 30-50 percent of its documented credit card transactions have come from repeat customers.
In addition to bringing back many of the locals, Rodeck has seen many new faces pile in from Murphy, some even as far as Knoxville, Tenn.; Blairsville, Ga.; and Blue Ridge, Ga. His Facebook page already has surpassed 1,100 likes, while their Hoppy Trout beer club is at 32 members – and counting.
“It’s like that movie [Field of Dreams], if you build it, people will come,” said Colton Stewart of Andrews, a big supporter of local business and craft beer in Cherokee County. Rodeck is the person who inspired Stewart to venture into the home-brewing realm.
Wasik and Rodeck plan to expand their venues down the road. The abundance of questions asked about his beer has given Wasik a reason to open the back of the restaurant for tours and give folks a behind-the-scenes look at their operation. Rodeck also will be opening their back patio in the summer months, as well as hold various fun promotional events, including a possible a home-brew competition to encourage all home brewers in the area to show off their craft. The winner of the competition will have their recipe added to Hoppy Trout’s beer rotation.
“They’re here, and if there’s stuff here for people to do, then – with the casino opening up, tourists coming in – I think it’ll be a good destination to just hang out, you know?” Stewart said.
Look who came to visit
Michael Bryant, a frequent vacationer of the Graham County area and president of Dunedin Brewing, knows a thing or two about craft beer.
Dunedin Brewing is the oldest surviving microbrewery and brew pub in Dunedin, Fla. Bryant caught sight of the Hoppy Trout Brewing billboard one week in February en route to Robbinsville and decided to pay it a little visit. He loved Rodeck’s grassroots system, a reminder of how he got started in the business. Bryant feels that Hoppy Trout has all the potential to attract more visitors to the area and benefit from the casino traffic.
The “inherently inefficient,” and labor intensive nature of craft brewing often translates into more jobs, Bryant added. It in turn creates a “ripple effect,” where surrounding businesses take advantage of the incoming traffic, and that type of customer. Rodeck has a full staff at Hoppy Trout.
“To the fact that he’s there, as small as it is – and it is unique and different to other people’s breweries, and his beer is going to be different,” Bryant said.
“People want to go to something unique. Those kind of things draw people that come to craft breweries. And if they come to craft breweries, then they’ll want to hang around.”
From personal experience, Bryant can tell you the economic benefits of craft breweries. In addition to running Dunedin Brewing, he often goes brewery hopping from city to city across the country from Asheville to Denver.
“You can go to these cities and see where craft breweries took hold and all those cities are doing great,” Bryant said. “The cash values go up, you have more people working, and then the tax base increases – you have more money to take care of things.
“I’ve seen the city a little bit as we drive back, and [Andrews] has one of the coolest rest areas out there. There’s some cool stuff going on in there.”
Beer from around here
Most of Wasik’s beers are tagged with a locally inspired name to give it a more touristy appeal, like Hiawassee Wheat and Ducktown Porter. Their most popular Colony’s IPA is brewed with citra and New Zealand hops to give it a grapefruit/citrus flavor. Wasik plans to have up to 15 different beers available on tap down the road, including a few seasonals.
Hoppy Trout Brewing already has four in-house beers on tap – a Juggling Molecules pale ale, Dr. S’more stout, Front Line Winner amber and more recently the high-gravity Impress the King imperial stout (8.4 ABV). The brewery offers a wide selection of craft beers from all around – including Andrews Brewing Co.’s Corner Coffee Stout.
Rodeck, a home brewer of two years before venturing into the restaurant biz, wanted Hoppy Trout to accentuate that same “home brew” type vibe. His small batch – single barrel (5 gallons) – system allows for creativity, which includes infusing different ingredients into their beers on Wednesday nights as part of their “WOD Wednesday” promo in association with a neighboring gym, The Compound.
That’s where bar manager and fusion “mad scientist” Tim Newton comes in. Newton brings his vast knowledge of craft beer from behind the counter as a former beer guru at Taco Mac in Charlotte, a city that as of July 2015 was declared by Forbes.com to be North Carolina’s next craft beer hub.
Newton takes pride in educating and converting the “domestics” who come through their door. So far, their weekly experiments have been well received.
“We have a lot of people wanting to know about the craft beer here,” Newton said as he infused a pint of their imperial stout with peanut butter by using a French coffee maker.
“Luckily we have an amber on tap to lure them from the lighter beers – a gateway. It’s just getting the locals to try something different. Craft beer around here is not a big as it could be, so having us and having Andrews (Brewing), having both craft breweries going, I think people will learn more about it, change their palates.”
“We wanted knowledge – knowledgeable people, staff,” Rodeck added.
“We wanted this to be a place where you could come drink beer and learn about beer.”
Follow both breweries on Facebook.com for details.