Burial Beer Co. has become synonymous with Asheville NC’s vibrant beer scene, but this standout brewery’s roots are actually far to the West in Seattle.
In the last five years, Burial Beer Co. has gone from brewing on a one-barrel system in a rented art gallery to gaining national attention and making over 10,000 barrels of beer a year. That trajectory has tracked so closely with the explosive growth in the surrounding Asheville North Carolina beer scene that Burial is often considered the prototypical Asheville-born-and-bred brewery. When Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine called Burial a breakout brewery, they even cited its “deep roots in the town’s history.”
But the roots of Burial’s award-winning IPAs and Saisons aren’t in the foothills of Appalachia, but rather 3,000 miles to the west on the shores of Seattle’s Puget Sound. This is where the brewery’s three founders, including head brewer Tim Gormley, met and fell in love with craft beer.
“We got to meet a ton of brewery owners and bar owners and just got a glimpse of the camaraderie that existed there, and fell in love with it,” Gormley says. “We thought ‘we have got to start our own brewery at some point. If we don’t do this we will regret it forever.’”
It was in Seattle where Gormley transitioned out of a corporate job and started working for local breweries -- first Lazy Boy Brewing in Everett in 2009, then a local homebrew store, and then Sound Brewery in Poulsbo. In his free time, Gormley hung out with Burial’s other two founders, Jess and Doug Reiser, diving deeper into craft beer -- collaborating on a beer blog, designing beer recipes, and upgrading homebrew equipment -- until they eventually had a business plan for a brewery of their own.
The three thought Seattle, with both its large local beer scene and easy access to California and Oregon’s beer, would prove too difficult a market, so they looked for another city.
“I was thinking more from a business perspective that it would make sense to get out of Seattle,” Gormley says. “It felt like it was going to be hard to stand out in that market. Just having access to so much West Coast beer -- some of the most diverse selection of beer anywhere in the country.”
So Gormley and his co-founders went looking for a new place to call home and ended up landing in Asheville, North Carolina. But the crew’s plan to find a less-crowded beer scene didn’t pan out. Just as Burial’s founders moved to North Carolina, so did three massive craft breweries: Oskar Blues, New Belgium, and Sierra Nevada. And Asheville’s already established local beer scene expanded with new small breweries as well. Despite the competition, Burial has found a way to standout in North Carolina’s crowded scene with consistently well-crafted and thoughtful beer.
The same probably would have been true if Burial ended up launching in Seattle instead of Asheville. Their beer rarely makes it to Washington state, but it makes a splash whenever it lands. Burial sent kegs to the Emerald City during this year’s Seattle Beer Week and every one of their tap takeovers drew a crowd.
I caught some of their beers at the Slow Boat Tavern in Seattle’s Columbia City. I started with Billows, a hoppy Kolsch that had a nice lightly-toasted grain aroma with a some lemon and light grassy notes mixed in. I moved on to their The Savages of Ruminating Minds, a hazy IPA that was full of stone fruit aroma and flavor with a little bit of herbal mint flavor and a totally soft mouthfeel. Then to their Inverted Fields Ablaze, a Smoked Maibock made in collaboration with 3 Floyds Brewing and Sugar Creek Malt. It was full of smoke flavor with a round, almost sweet body but still a clean Lager finish. My favorite was The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a dank Pale Ale fermented entirely with Brettanomyces Yeast that tasted like a funky, ripe pineapple.
Burial is in the midst of a big expansion. The company bought an entire complex of buildings called the Forestry Camp, originally used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Burial built a production facility in one of the buildings, including two 60-barrel lagering tanks, and they’re getting ready to open a taproom in a separate building on the complex.
Gormley now spends most of his time brewing at Burial’s original location in Asheville’s South Slope location. With the new brewery at the Forestry Camp location meeting most of the production needs, Gormley can explore wild and barrel-aged special releases at his smaller pub brewery. That’s an impressive position for any craft brewer to be in, but especially when you consider Gormley was cleaning kegs at Lazy Boy Brewing in Washington less than a decade ago.
Written by Lester Black
Photos via Burial Beer's Facebook page