Asheville brewery taps into the distillery business


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A WNC brewery is tapping into the spirited industry of distilling.

In 2016, UpCountry Brewing Company opened in West Asheville, and a Brevard taproom opened two years later. This year, a collaboration motivated reintroduction as not only a craft brewery but as a craft distillery.

UpCountry Brewing Company has rolled out a line of agave spirit, gin, rum, vodka and whiskey, created by distiller Mark Harris.

What makes these spirits stand out is Harris’s careful selection of quality ingredients and technique that only permits the best parts of the fermented product that go into each batch.


"It’s the attention to detail that Mark puts into them," John Cochran, owner of UpCountry, said.

Cochran is the co-founder and former co-owner of Terrapin Brewing Co., launched in Athens Georgia, where he worked with Harris.

In 2009, conversations about brewing and distilling inspired Harris to take his beermaking knowledge and apply it to making liquor.

While UpCountry Brewing Company already rolled out various types of liquor, it also plans to release 30 more rum varieties in the next few years.  (Fox News)

"We were making all this great beer, and I wanted to know what whiskey would taste like made from these beers," Harris said. "I began taking batches of beer, taking the wort sugar and fermenting them separately and making whiskeys from them to see what they would be like compared to what other whiskeys were on the market. I had a great time doing that."

Whiskey was only the beginning. The more he dabbled in his newfound interest the more he discovered he had a knack for the craft.


He thought of what else he could make from the ingredients.

The bakery that supplied the brewery with spent grain became a source for the molasses Harris would use to make rum.

"I immediately fell in love with rum production on the first couple of batches we did," Harris said. "Using the finest ingredients across the board really set apart what we were making (from what) a lot of the distilleries — especially commercial distilleries — were doing."

Vodka and agave spirits came next, and the collection has continued to grow and mature.

In 2016, UpCountry Brewing Company opened in West Asheville, and a Brevard taproom opened two years later. This year, a collaboration motivated reintroduction as not only a craft brewery but as a craft distillery.

Now, there are different varieties of molasses and cane sugar-based rum.

UpCountry is offering a five-year-old barrel aged whiskey barrel-aged rum and four-year-old wine barrel aged rum with various wine finishes, too.

Many more ideas are stirring for the future. Harris plans to release nearly 30 more rum varieties in the next few years, he said. A barrel-aged program for the agave spirit is in development.

"We’ll have some unique stuff that no one’s ever dreamt up before," Harris said.


A benefit of distilling on a smaller scale is that Harris has more control over cutting out the beginning and end of fermentation, leaving the best components that come from the middle of a run. It makes a "nice, clean craft spirit," he said.

"Big commercial spirits are pretty much everything that comes out of the fermentation," Harris said. "Their fermentation is really just focused on getting it done as quick as possible, so they produce a lot of off flavors."

UpCountry’s distilled spirits serve as an opportunity for Harris to change the idea of what alcohol is and can be when made with care.

"As people always said, alcohol is an acquired taste," Harris said. "A lot of times it’s an acquired taste because it’s not very good. It can be done so much better than what we have grown to know out there in the world if you really put your mind to it. That’s what my passion has been, just trying to make the best spirits possible."

UpCountry spirits are offered in 750mL bottles. Prices vary depending on the spirit and age, but average $55/bottle, Cochran said. The spirits are available for purchase to go at the taprooms. Guests may order shots or any of the signature cocktails, which differ at each taproom.

UpCountry’s craft beers are available in retail stores across the Carolinas, and this summer distribution extended into north Georgia. The flagship Scamper IPA and Blackcurrant gose are two of the brand’s most popular brews. New and seasonal brews are in rotation weekly.

The Asheville taproom operates as a taproom, bar and restaurant with a menu from Grata Pizzeria. Live music performances and events, such as trivia, add to it being a neighborhood hangout.

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