By Jesse Wood
June 10, 2014. The High Country’s newest brewery celebrates its grand opening on Saturday, July 5. Held at Flat Top Brewing Company on Main Street in Banner Elk, the event will feature at least six beers on tap, live music, catered food and raffle giveaways.
The forthcoming opening is a long time coming and a welcome sight to owner Nathan Paris’ eyes.
In March 2013, the company was all set to move into the A.C. P.R.I.D.E. business incubator in the old Banner Elk Elementary School before a majority of the Avery County Board of Commissioners voted against a brewery operation in the county-owned facility. This was after the prior board (sitting in office before the 2012 election) gave its unanimous, informal approval of the Flat Top Brewing Company operating in the incubator.
Immediately following that decision, Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly and members of the Banner Elk Town Council expressed their support of what Paris was trying to accomplish.
“They all came up to me and said, ‘Nathan don’t give up on Banner Elk. We believe in what you are doing,’” Paris said. “…[The town’s officials] are progressive enough to embrace what we are doing, and they put their full support behind us. I am really appreciative of that. It’s been a really tough road to go, and I probably would have given up if the town hadn’t been so supportive.”
Paris soon found a home for his brewing operation next door to the Banner Elk Police Department. The facility includes separate space for a tasting room and the neighboring brewery operation. The tasting room features table seating, a bar setup and a tap capable of handling 12 different beers. A glass window looks out toward the brewing equipment next door.
“Long term, [the commissioners] did me a favor. I think I am in a better position, maybe not geographically, but in terms of serving the market, I am in a better position with more room to expand and a little bit more flexibility on what types of events we can do,” Paris said.
While renovating the facility and acquiring and piecing together the equipment for a full-scale operation, Flat Top Brewing Company utilized its pilot brewing system (see images below) to experiment with recipes and test out small batches of beer. It participated in the Sugar Brew festival atop Sugar Mountain and High Country Beer Festival in Boone.
Then, there was some turnover with the brewing personnel and Paris reached out to faculty within the Fermentation Sciences program at Appalachian State University, where he found two young brewers in Drew Gibson, 22, of Kernersville, and Paul Thompson, 24, of Raleigh. Gibson and Thompson, both recent App grads, came on in December with new recipes, expertize and creativity, and Paris said the two have crafted better beers than what Flat Top Brewing Company featured last fall.
“Drew and Paul opened my eyes more to the science behind [brewing beer] than just, OK you follow a recipe,” said Paris.
(Paris “started out like everyone else who gets into the industry” by brewing five-gallon batches of beer in plastic buckets at home. He was a stay-at-home dad for 12 years. After his kids were a little older, his wife Claire, who had been the household breadwinner, said it was time for him help provide. So, he decided to run a brewery.)
Speaking about Gibson and Thompson, Paris added, “Both homebrewed and distilled and work really well together, bouncing ideas off of each other. They create a fantastic energy around here and they are brewing fantastic brews.”
Both Thompson and Gibson, of course, were excited to be working such a cool job right out of college.
“It’s one thing to have a job straight out of college. It’s another to do what you have wanted to do for years. I am very grateful, and I really enjoy what I do. It’s not to bad to be 22 years old and get paid to brew beer,” Gibson said, adding that he enjoys the high-paced, hands-on nature of the job.
Thompson, who has a degree in chemistry, said the brewing process is an “equal balance of science and art.”
“Making good-tasting, quality beer is number one. I am never satisfied and can always improve. It doesn’t feel like work. Every time, I come in here, I do everything I can to make a better product,” Thompson said.
Paris said the four flagship Flat Top Brewing Company beers will be a Pale Ale, IPA, Black Rye IPA and probably a Kolsch. Flat Top will also brew four seasonals, an apple cider and four mini-seasonals of one-run quantities per year.
In addition to the alcoholic beverages, Flat Top Brewing Company will also make birch beer and root beer for nondrinkers and kids. After pointing this out, Paris, who has three kids of his own, mentioned that Flat Top Brewing Company wants to be kid friendly establishment.
“We don’t want to be the dive bar in town,” Paris said.
When the entire operation is up and running, Flat Top Brewing Company will sell pints, pitchers, growlers and kegs in the tasting room and will also distribute kegs and cans. Paris mentioned that he has received a tremendous response from establishments in the High Country that want to sell the brews of Flat Top Brewing Company. He’s even heard from places in Raleigh and Winston-Salem that have said, “We’ll come pick it up if you can’t get it distributed.”
Flat Top Brewing Company has been holding soft openings on Fridays for a short while now. Prospective hours are 4 to 10 p.m. on the weekdays with the tasting room opening a little earlier on Fridays and Saturdays.
For more information, click to http://flattopbrewing.com. Flat Top Brewing Company is located at 567 Main Street in Banner Elk.