“I’ve been up since 6 a.m. I couldn’t sleep at all, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning,” the 26-year-old smiled.
Co-owner/manager of Boojum Brewing Company in Waynesville, Baker and her brother Ben (head brewer), 27, and childhood friend Keller Fitzpatrick (assistant brewer), 25, are the newest members of Western North Carolina’s extensive craft beer family. With around 30 breweries in the region alone, Boojum will be the fourth in Waynesville. On Nov. 15, the trio fired up their equipment to start their first day of production.
“It’s been a lot of hard work over the last year to get to this point, and to be brewing our first batch today is amazing to us,” Kelsie said. “We’re just so happy to come in here and see all of this going on.”
Located on Dayton Drive in the Dellwood area of Waynesville, Boojum is hitting the ground running. In a highly competitive craft beer market such as Asheville, the brewery wants to shock and awe right off the bat with hearty flavors and selections that are more of a liquid meal than just a beverage to sip on. For the company, day one is just the beginning of a long-held dream now coming to fruition with each batch of handmade beer coming to life.
Smoky Mountain News: So, what are we looking at here in your new facility?
Kelsie Baker: We have 15-barrel system and three 15-barrel fermenters, which will turn over every three weeks depending on the beer. With the three fermenters we could do a little over 2,000 barrels in a year. But, we’ll see. We’ve got it set up right now to add more fermenters quickly if we need to and the demand is there. Our cooler is full of kegs we’ve stored from our original small system. We’re going to start with that right now to get out to bars and restaurants, to really get the name out there. We might do some 750-milliliter and 22-ounce bottles, and of course we have growlers. If it’s selling well, then we want to start bottling as soon as possible.
SMN: I heard through the grapevine that you graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)?
KB: Yes, I graduated from there with a degree in environmental engineering. It surprisingly fits really well because brewing requires a lot of mechanical skills and also environmental skills with the yeast production, converting sugars and starches. So, it plays well into environmental engineering because with it you need to know mechanical skills and fluid dynamics, chemistry and microbiology. It gives me a little bit of knowledge in each aspect of the brewery.
SMN: Where are y’all from? How did you find yourself in Haywood County?
KB: We’re from Key Largo, Florida, but we’ve actually been coming to Maggie Valley for a long time, since we were kids. My parent’s have had a cabin up here and every chance we got — spring break, Christmas, vacation — we always went to the cabin. We now have family here, aunts and uncles, and our parents live up here for the most part — we just love this area.
SMN: Where does the name “Boojum” come from?
KB: It’s supposedly this half-Bigfoot, half-mountain man character that lives up in the Balsam Mountains. It was a popular thing in the 19th century, especially with the Eagle’s Nest Hotel. They were really perpetuating the story a lot, taking guests out on tours to look for the Boojum. Apparently, he drank a lot of moonshine and would steal gems from the local miners. He would then hide the gems in these moonshine jugs and place them around the mountains for people to find.
SMN: The craft beer scene is pretty chaotic in Western North Carolina. How will Boojum stand out with so many other breweries in this area?
KB: Ben is a gifted brewer and he makes a great product. Besides that, we want to make a lot bold flavors and go all the way with each type of beer. Our IPA has a ridiculous amount of hops — Ben just keeps adding them. [Laughs].
SMN: So now you’re at day one of brewing. What’s the timeline moving forward?
KB: Today we’re brewing our Balsam Brown Ale. That’ll be ready in about 14 days because we don’t need to do any dry hopping. With the original small system, we have enough stored beer to have tours and tastings here in two to three weeks, with a taproom in downtown Waynesville hopefully being opened in about a month.
1 The Hometown Holiday Jam & Food Drive with Soldier’s Heart (Americana/rock) will be held at 9 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Water’n Hole Bar & Grille in Waynesville.
2 The Smoky Mountain Christmas Choir will perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
3 The Appalachian Toymaker & Storyteller will be demonstrating his craft at 2 p.m. Nov. 21-26 and 28-30 at The Storytelling Center in Bryson City.
4 Mike Pilgrim & Friends (gypsy jazz) will perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 at The Classic Wine Seller in Waynesville.
5 A Sip and Stroke art class will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at The Bascom in Highlands.