Creativity, craftsmanship on tap at Howard Brewing

Dec. 01, 2013 @ 09:37 AM

Jason Howard is a brewer. He handcrafted his own recipes, continuously honing them in his home for more than a decade before making it a career – and making those beers the backbone of a thriving Lenoir brewery.

He started construction of Howard Brewing in April 2012 and finished in four months, transforming the lower level of the downtown Lenoir building that once housed Kimbrell’s Furniture, Rose’s department store and O.P. Lutz Hardware.

From the very beginning Howard was planning for expansion, building enough to house three times his current operation, space he may soon need. The building, at 25,000 square feet, is shared between Howard Brewing and Carolina Distillery, both of which use about 5,000 square feet, Howard said.

Howard, currently employing five people, plans to bring in bigger tanks and expand his operation sometime in 2014, taking things “slow and steady” and making sure the company satisfies its current customer base first, Howard said.

Right now, the brewery is considered a 15-barrel brewery because each of its four tanks produce 15 barrels per batch. One barrel of beer is the equivalent of 31 gallons, meaning each tank produces 465 gallons, and all four together produce 60 barrels, or 1,860 gallons. In a month, Howard Brewing can make five batches, equal to about 2,300 gallons.

Howard wanted to take a fresh approach to the craft brewery, creating Howard Brewing’s branding image and beer to set it apart from other small breweries in the area.

Currently, Howard brews four staple beers year-round: Action Man, an amber lager; Trail Maker, an American pale ale; The Weekender, a classic American pilsner; and Lake Fever, a black India pale ale.

The seasonal releases at Howard are anything but ordinary: General Lenoir’s Old Ale, based on a handwritten recipe discovered at William Lenoir's Fort Defiance home in Happy Valley, which releases each April, and Mistletoe, a raspberry porter aged in apple brandy barrels from Carriage House, which will release Dec. 12.

Only 1,500 22-ounce bottles of each seasonal batch are released, and Howard said new seasonal beers for the summer and fall are in the works: a smoked jalapeno variation of the Action Man, and a watermelon version of the Weekender.

The company exceeded Howard's expectations of how much beer the company would make and how far its product would spread, Howard said.

Today, Howard Brewing’s beers can be found in about 24 counties in North Carolina, including Watauga, Caldwell and Catawba counties as well as counties in the Charlotte, Triangle and Greensboro areas.

A branch of the company that is outperforming expectations is canned beer, becoming a driving force behind the company’s expansion. Most craft beers and small breweries only bottled beer, but recently cans have started to gain real traction in the market, Howard said.

"What’s surprising to me is the growth potential in cans is far greater than I thought,” he said.

Canned craft beer long had been sort of a novelty, Howard explained, but it’s an exploding segment of the market, appealing especially to local consumers who want to take their beer to places people don't want to take glass bottles, such as hiking, to the pool or to play golf.

Howard Brewing isn’t just a production facility, though. He had not originally planned to open a taproom on-site, but people kept coming in the brewery asking when he was open and where they could get his beer, so he succumbed and opened the taproom in February.

That’s the thing about Howard Brewing, it’s always changing. And trying new things is the norm, Howard said.

It’s fun, satisfying work, Howard said. Every once in a while, I’ll have to stop and say, "Hey, we’re making beer."