“It’s been nuts,” Rowland said from the road, somewhere between Colorado and Western North Carolina. “It’s been the great American road trip that we all dream of. I’m surrounded by some of the best brewers in the country, and there’s no shortage of beer. It’s been a nonstop adventure among friends and we’ve all enjoyed sharing tall tales, experiencing each other’s beers and getting to know each other better.”
Owner/brewer at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City, Rowland is currently on the road for Beer Camp Across America, a cross-country trek hosted by craft beer pioneer and industry giant Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. With Sierra Nevada recently opening their East Coast headquarters in Mills River (south of Asheville), the California-based company decided to hold the celebratory trek, inviting brewers from around Western North Carolina and beyond to see the open road.
The trip consists of trying beers from every corner of the country, holding seminars and presentations at travel stops, and simply being the catalyst for innovation and collaboration as the brewers sit, talk, and genuinely learn from one another.
“Ken [Grossman (owner/founder of Sierra Nevada)] and his son, Brian, are great guys who have helped dream up the biggest craft beer celebration ever. They’re just normal guys who love hanging out, talking shop and enjoy great craft beer,” Rowland said. “We’ve had a lot of well-known brewers on the bus — it’s been an amazing opportunity for all of us. I believe that this whole trip has strengthened our industry through these amazing experiences and fellowships.”
Kicking off in Sierra Nevada’s Chico, Calif. headquarters, the celebratory tour consists of seven craft beer festivals, with stops in San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Portland, Maine and Philadelphia. The tour makes its final stop on Aug. 3 in Mills River, an event including 99 regional brewers.
New sheriff in town
For Rowland, there is another reason to celebrate. Recently, he was elected president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance. Created in 2009, the group consists of 27 breweries in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Started as an organization to encourage not only progression in the local craft beer scene, but also to perpetuate the unique camaraderie and brotherhood that exists between the businesses.
Rowland is the first member to be elected whose brewery resides outside of the city of Asheville.
“I believe it reflects that our organization has grown to represent all of the brewers in the mountains of Western North Carolina,” he said. “I’ve been participating as [an ABA] board member for over three years, and have made it my goal to include the concerns of our members outside of Asheville. I feel honored that my peers felt I have the skills and dedication to help the organization continue to grow.”
And as the craft brewing industry continues to explode across the country and around the globe, the idea of a “craft beer bubble burst” doesn’t sit well with Rowland.
“I hear it from folks who don’t understand how our industry works. We’re making an alternative to mainstream products, much like the craft food industry has done,” he said. “[Craft beer] represents a fundamental change in our culture that will have a long term impact on our industry.”
Rowland points out there are still many niches and areas not yet filled in the craft beer industry. And, at the end of the day, the tastes of humanity are shifting back to quality, not quantity, especially when it comes to beer demands, where a well-crafted product will always rise to the top.
“The national craft beer scene is still growing despite the national decrease in the overall sales of beer in the US. As of this year, the craft beer market is approaching a 10 percent market share, up from 7 percent last year. I think that trend will continue,” he said. “Like the local, farm-to-table movement, our industry tends to grow organically and is a true grassroots effort. [It will be] sustainable as long as we continue to make great quality products and we continue to focus on increasing quality across the industry.”