Braumeister goes from graduation to dream job

Article Published: Dec. 15, 2011 | Modified: Dec. 16, 2011
Braumeister goes from graduation to dream job

From left, Nathan Kelischek, Sean Spiegelman and Bill Dixon attend Monday’s Boone Area Planning Commission meeting, concerning a conditional use permit for the Appalachian Mountain Brewery. The Boone Town Council unanimously approved the permit Tuesday.

Photo by Jerry Sena

Newly minted Appalachian State University graduate Nathan Kelischek has had quite a year. The 22-year-old Asheville native not only completed the final semester of course work for his environmental science degree this December, his introduction to the real world will come in the form of his dream job as co-owner and master brewer of Boone’s only microbrewery.

A unanimous vote by the Boone Town Council last Tuesday night all but assured that. The council voted 5-0 to approve a conditional use permit for Kelischek’s and business partner Sean Spiegelman’s proposed Appalachian Mountain Brewery.

“If all goes well,” an ebullient Spiegelman said after the council’s approval, “we’ll begin construction on the building in February.”

The 2,500-square-foot building, which most recently served as a welding and metal fabrication shop, is located on Boone Creek Drive, a stone’s throw from the Boone Mall. Its chilly interior and bleak, weed and gravel strewn yard are miles from Spiegelman’s and Kelischek’s vision for its immediate future, which includes a warm, inviting tasting room, gleaming, state-of-the-art brewing facility and organic gardens.

Standing at the center of that $300,000 brewing marvel will be young Kelischek. He’ll be the one with the ear-to-ear grin, and, perhaps, just a grain or two of doubt that any of what he sees around him could possibly be real.

And who could blame him? He’s about to spin a lifelong love of craft brewing into a living as a professional brew master – at 22 – in a field populated almost entirely by grizzled veterans of the brewing trade. Plus, he’ll be living that dream in his adopted home town – a turn of events that seemed all but impossible before the town council’s 5-0 vote Tuesday night.

Five to nothing may sound easy, but the journey to get there was anything but. Others had tried and fallen short. Just ask the people at Boone Brewing Company. Todd Rice, Jeff Walker and John Hastings had been trying for five years to convince the town council to add microbreweries to the table of permissible uses in its Unified Development Ordinance. The UDO is Boone’s master development plan and provides guidelines for land use within the town’s jurisdiction.

With their efforts to build and brew locally thwarted, the BBC three chose to contract with a Pennsylvania brewery to produce their line of Blowing Rock ales.

The trio was on hand Tuesday night to offer support for competing Appalachian Mountain Brewery.

And though they must have been touched by a sense of the bittersweet following the council’s unanimous approval, Rice, Walker and Hastings appeared nearly as satisfied with the result as the jubilant Appalachian Mountain Brewery group, as they stood in the parking lot outside the Boone Town Council Chambers discussing the suddenly shining outlook for Boone’s craft brewing future.
“This is good,” Walker said. “This is very good.”

All three Boone Brewing Co. owners were admiring of Spiegelman’s and Kelischek’s bold approach with the town council, but acknowledged they would probably wait for officials to adopt language into the UDO allowing microbreweries within the town.

They left the meeting with renewed hope that a revised UDO might be completed by the end of February. Meanwhile, while Boone officials delayed, the BBC boys have spent the past six years building a distribution network that includes much of North and South Carolina, a feat the folks at Appalachian Mountain Brewery have yet to tackle.

Kelischek and Spiegelman hatched their plot to bring brewing to Boone almost by accident during a fateful hike in the hills.

“Instead of going to the first day of class, I decided to go on a hike with Sean and his wife (Stephanie),” Kelischek recalled. “I was like, ‘I don’t know who this guy is, but why not?’”

The partners met initially at Boone’s Mellow Mushroom, where Kelischek tended bar for a time. Spiegelman was intrigued with Kelischek’s association with the ASU craft brewery known as Ivory Tower.

A self-described real estate developer with a passion for sustainable business practices, Spiegelman was also drawn in by Kelischek’s knowledge of renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind, due to his involvement with the university’s award-winning Solar Decathlon team.

Aside from his brewing prowess, Kelischek will oversee installation of the brewery’s energy and water recycling systems. “I have a lot of experience with solar (photovoltaic) panels, solar thermal systems and alternative technology,” he said.

Solar photovoltaics – which convert the sun’s energy into useable electrical power – and solar thermal collectors – which use the sun’s energy to heat water – will each be employed at the new AMB facility. Spiegelman and Kelischek assured the council their brewery will also feature a rainwater collection system to provide water for an organic garden whose harvests will go to local charities.

Their business plan is fat with such community-based altruism. They plan to use locally grown hops and grains when they become available. They’ve promised to establish a seed capital fund for ASU grads with ambitions of beginning their own businesses in Boone. The grain left over from the brewing process will be donated to local farmers as livestock feed. All they’ll ask in return is that a portion of the meat be made available to local groups like the Hunger Coalition.

Kelischek’s love of craft brewing took root at his childhood home in Asheville, where his family made a tradition of turning out seasonal beers for the holidays.

He said AMB’s base recipes will be gleaned mostly from those years of experience with home brewing. They expect to keep something like five styles on tap at the brewery’s tasting room, including a blonde, a hoppy amber and an IPA (India Pale Ale). They’ll augment the regulars with a couple of what Kelischek calls “rotationals,” such as porters or stouts, and “seasonals,” which will probably include a brown ale.

Kelischek grew up in the middle of Asheville’s craft brewing revolution of the past decade and a half. His experiences there have deeply colored his vision for Boone, which both he and Spiegelman hope will become an extension of that city’s still growing success story.

The young braumeister will return to those roots for the next few months, where he’ll spend time observing and learning at Nantahala Brewing Company, an Ashville-area brewer owned by family friends.

Then it will be back to Boone where his very own, shiny new 15-barrel system awaits.

Maybe then he’ll be able to believe fully that his dream job is his real job. Maybe.

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