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Hillman Beer - Old Fort open for business
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Hillman Beer - Old Fort open for business

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Almost a year after it was first announced, Old Fort’s first brewery is now ready to start serving craft beer and tasty food.

In August of last year, Hillman Beer announced it would expand its Asheville operations into Old Fort by opening a brewery and a restaurant in a section of the Parker Hosiery building and create new jobs. Hillman Beer is a small, family-owned business based on Sweeten Creek Road near Biltmore Village in Asheville. It is owned and operated by brothers Brad and Greig Hillman, and Greig’s wife Brandi Hillman.

“From the Village to the Fort, here we come!!” read the post on Facebook.

Now after months of extensive work and renovations, Hillman Beer — Old Fort is opening for business this week. Sunday evening, the new brewery and eatery held a “trial run” for invited guests. This special event was an opportunity for curious patrons to experience this new kind of business for the town and allow the employees to get some training.

Hillman Beer — Old Fort is a 10-barrel brewhouse with 20-barrel fermenters. The lineup includes such craft beers as Baltic Porter, Black Rye IPA, Munich Dunkel, kolsch, Belgian tripel, ginger beer and Hazy Half Back. There is also a beer specially crafted for the new location, a lager called Old Fort Original. Non-alcoholic drinks like Coca-Cola and ice tea are available too.

The food menu has soft pretzels, wings, house salad, kale salad, burgers, patty melts, reuben sandwiches, buffalo chicken wraps and other items.

The invited guests on Sunday evening enjoyed the different types of craft beer and food and checked out the changes that have been made to this section of the Parker Hosiery building. Along with the extensive renovations inside and out, the brewery has an outdoor seating area that faces along Mill Creek.

The entrance is in the rear of the Parker Hosiery building at 78 Catawba Ave., off Commerce Street. It shares a parking lot with its upstairs neighbor Kitsbow.

Currently, Hillman Beer — Old Fort has 22 new employees. Brad Muken, also known as J.B., is the manager.

Sunday evening, the servers were also making sure that proper procedures were being following in this era of COVID-19.

To keep the staff and the customers alike safe, the brewery has hand sanitizer pumps at the doors, spray bottles at tables, hand sanitizers between each table and foot pulls on the restroom doors. All the staff members wear face masks and there is an employee health check each day. No chairs or stools are at the main bar and the staff keeps a count of occupancy in the building. The brewery has one entrance and one-way directional paths with distancing marks on the floor.

“We are asking that customers enter and keep a mask on until they are seated,” said Brandi Hillman to The McDowell News.

With these procedures in place, Sunday’s event was a big success.

“I think it’s great,” said Boo Owensby of Marion. “I think it’s something Old Fort needed for the economics. It’s the gateway to the mountains and we need to benefit from this.”

He said this is a good example of capitalism and helping the town’s economy.

Cindy Kimmel of Fairview said this new business will draw more people to Old Fort.

“I think it is beautiful and I love another reason to come this way, the other direction from Asheville down the mountain,” Kimmel said.

She added she liked how Hillman combines both craft beer and good food.

“You don’t always have that combination,” Kimmel said. “It will definitely help people know about Old Fort a little more.”

Speaking on behalf of her husband and brother-in-law, Brandi Hillman said they are excited to have this new location in McDowell County.

“We are honored and proud of all the love we have received from the community and we look forward to building on that. Cheers!” she said to The McDowell News.

Hillman Beer — Old Fort was able to open thanks to a state law that took effect last year. Senate Bill 290 was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper. Part XXI states the owner of a brewery permit may “regardless of the results of any local malt beverage election, sell the malt beverages owned by the brewery at the brewery for on- or off-premise consumption…” The owner must obtain the appropriate permit from the state ABC Commission, which is based in Raleigh, according to the new state law.

For McDowell County, this meant the town of Old Fort or any other community outside of Marion can legally have a brewery where its products will be served and sold,. This applies to other communities across North Carolina, whether they were considered “dry” or not. The N.C. ABC Commission does not consider McDowell to be a dry county, according to its website.

Hillman’s Old Fort site is also a production facility to help support the Biltmore Village location as well the business’s increasing distribution to area restaurants, said Greig Hillman in a previous interview. In other words, some of the beer brewed in Old Fort will be served in Asheville and other western North Carolina businesses as well as being served locally.

Hillman Beer — Old Fort is not the first craft brewery in McDowell County. That title belongs to Mica Town Brewing in Marion. But it is the first one in the town of Old Fort.

However, there was a controversy over whether or not the town would prohibit the serving of beer on Sundays. The Old Fort Board of Aldermen had considered passing an ordinance doing just that. At the May and June meetings, crowds of people stood outside in the Town Hall’s parking lot holding signs supporting the serving of beer on Sundays as a way to help Old Fort’s economy. Several of them spoke to the Board of Aldermen about not passing such an ordinance and support new businesses such as this one.

At the June meeting, the aldermen agreed unanimously not to make changes for a 12-month period regarding the sale of beer on Sundays and let the matter fall back on the state and its “blue” laws.

Another craft brewery is also in the works for Old Fort. Whaley Farm Brewery plans to open next year at 178 Catawba Ave. and it will feature a show garden growing produce that will be incorporated in the beers. In addition, Taylor Bros. Brewing is being developed in the old Laughridge Furniture building on West Henderson Street in Marion.

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