Co-owner/manager of Boojum Brewing Company in Waynesville, Baker and her family have quickly established themselves as one of the “must try” craft beer destinations in Western North Carolina. Amid a highly competitive industry — locally, regionally and nationally — where your reputation resides in every beverage poured, Boojum (who celebrated its one year anniversary last month) has risen to the upper echelon of flavor, style and selection. Between its off-site brewery and downtown taproom, the business is a social and economic beacon within the community.
“The best thing is when someone tells us that we make their favorite beer. With all the amazing craft beer around Western North Carolina, that really means something,” Kelsie said.
Though from Florida, the Bakers always had a cabin in Maggie Valley. Their longtime relationship with Haywood County, one filled with passion and love, is what made the decision easy when they were looking around as to where to place the brewery.
“We love it here. When you start a business like this one, you have to be sure about the place you’re opening it in,” Kelsie said. “As time goes on and we get to meet more and more great people, see other new and exciting businesses pop up, and get to experience more of the incredible outdoor life here, it just reinforces that we made the right decision. We definitely count ourselves lucky that the place we wanted to live for some many reasons also just happens to have one of the best craft beer scenes in the country.”
And though their beers are beloved by locals and tourists alike, the biggest smile on Kelsie’s face these days is due to Boojum signing what is, quite possibly, one of the largest regional distribution contracts in recent memory. Teaming up with Budweiser of Asheville (an independent, family-owned company who sells Anheuser-Busch products, and is not owned by them), Boojum will now be sold around 12 Western North Carolina counties, as well as in Ingles grocery stores.
“It was the right time for us, and we’re very happy with the decision,” Kelsie said. “It means that people will start seeing our beer on tap a lot more often, and starting this month they’ll be seeing it in stores.”
The distribution deal came about with Boojum’s brewery expansion. In order to justify the new equipment purchases and increasing demand, a partner was needed to make sure the distribution and sale of their products not only went smoothly, but also was monetarily beneficial for the brewery once the investment was made.
“With our new fermenters coming online in October, we had to decide whether we were going to invest in self-distribution — people, trucks, time — or find a partner to help us do this,” Kelsie said. “In the end, we decided that we wanted to focus all of our efforts on making our brewery and taproom great rather than on distribution.”
With her brother, brewmaster Ben Baker, at the production helm concocting hop-heavy brews and delicious seasonals, Boojum will increase its numbers from 800 barrels this year to a projected 2,500 or more for 2016. The brewery currently runs on a 15-barrel system (465 gallons per batch), with five 15-barrel fermenters and two 30-barrel fermenters. They also have three bright tanks and recently purchased six bourbon barrels for aging certain styles.
“Demand dictates a lot of what we do, and we aren’t sure of what the demand for different styles will be quite yet,” Kelsie said. “We did a bit of distribution this year, but our capacity was much lower, so only a few styles were available at the time. This coming year will be another huge learning experience for us as we figure out what people want.”
But, even with all the preparation, encouragement and hard work, even with all the beers poured and signing an extensive distribution deal, what remains at the foundation of Boojum is the more important ingredient — consistently making quality craft beer.
“From day one, we’ve always said that we want to keep it fresh and exciting, to never cut corners,” Kelsie said. “We’re really passionate about what we do — always experimenting, reading, learning new techniques and ideas. We use high quality, difficult to get hops, yeasts and flavorings (i.e. real raspberries and peanut butter), and these things are expensive and generally more difficult to work with, but the result is a much better product.”
When asked about the challenges that were either overcome or unexpected throughout the last year, Kelsie spoke about how her family, and everyone involved with the brewery, has literally taken on every role possible (from brewer to marketer, bartender to accountant, janitor to line cook), all in hopes of ensuring the current success and future potential of Boojum.
“One thing this past year has taught us is that if you want to start a craft brewery and feel ownership for it, you have to be willing and able to pretty much do anything that is needed,” she said. “With the people here in Western North Carolina and in the craft beer industry, it’s an amazing feeling to have all these people supporting you and being excited about what you’re doing.”