USA, NC: Big Pillow Brewing now open for business in Hot Springs
While Asheville is known as Beer City and seemingly has a brewery around every corner, Madison County does not have as many places to sit down and sip a brew. Now though, residents have another spot where they can grab a beer, as Big Pillow Brewing is open for business in Hot Springs, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported on April 13.
Owners Amy Rubin and Chris Donochod named the brewery after a rapid on the French Broad River.
Donochod, who worked as a raft guide on the river in the 1990s, said the couple have longstanding connections to Hot Springs.
"As the river is what brought us to Hot Springs, we wanted the name to reflect our passion for whitewater and the French Broad river," he said. "I've always been a fan of Hot Springs. I continued to come back. I'm one of the co-founders of the French Broad River Festival. We started that in 1998, and that always kept me coming back to town every year."
According to Donochod, Madison residents and tourists alike have taken notice of the new downtown business, which features a large outdoor beer garden space.
"We get a lot of kayakers and rafters, a lot of mountain bikers, and a whole lot of hikers, especially right now," Donochod said. "(Hikers) are coming through right now, and it's just going to keep on going this month and probably into May."
Rubin and Donochod said they bought the space, located at 27 N. Andrews Ave., in fall 2018.
The buildings' restoration process took roughly one year, with work beginning in January 2020. The brewery held its soft opening on Christmas Day 2020.
"We didn't really know until the day of, if we were going to be able to pull it off," Rubin said. "We sent text messages to the locals that we knew. It spread like wildfire. It was like having a family Christmas but with a lot of people. There was probably 7-plus inches already on the ground. It was so cozy and warm. It was beautiful."
Rubin and Donochod now live in Asheville. Donochod has been working in real estate in Asheville for the past 25 years. Rubin, a Hendersonville native, worked as a local sales representative for Oskar Blues Brewery.
While at Oskar Blues, Rubin met Carl Herman, who now serves as Big Pillow's brewer.
"We just have said for years, 'Someone should do a brewery here,'" Rubin said. "We're continuing to make different styles, and figure out what our lineup is going to be, and continue to make one-offs and things like that, too."
Rubin said one of the brewery's top-selling selections is its Roof Dog IPA, named after a local resident's popular pet.
"There's a guy in town who has a part-shepherd, part-husky, and her name is Artemis," Rubin said. "The first time I ever saw her, I couldn't figure out where this barking was coming from. I was walking my dog down the street that they live on, and I finally realized this big dog is up on the roof. She sits up on the roof and hangs out. She's adorable."
Big Pillow also offers a gluten-free cider from Flat Rock Ciderworks, as well as a hard kombucha, mimosas, sparkling rose and wine. The beer selections include four IPAs, a porter, a lager, a pilsner, a kettle sour and more. Donochod said while the brewery does not currently bottle beers, it will soon offer 32-ounce growlers.
"We have a very small canning line," Donochod said. "We'll be able to put together six-packs, also. We're not going to bottle. Everything we'll do will be in cans. We're not looking to sell in grocery stores or that kind of thing. We're just going to sell here."
Donochod said Big Pillow is offered at a few establishments in Asheville, including The Grey Eagle.
The facility has an outdoor performing stage that was donated by the former Hot Springs Community Learning Center, now Woodson Branch Nature School. The stage, along with some of the brewing equipment, was crane-lifted onto the grounds.
In addition to the indoor bar, brewery and outdoor beer garden, Big Pillow also has a space for private events such as birthday parties, corporate meetings and rehearsal dinners.
Grey Eagle Taqueria serves food on site as well.
Rubin and Donochod consciously worked to incorporate both Hot Springs' local flair and their friends and family ties in their business, which has made its opening that much more special, according to Rubin.
"We just have all these little things (throughout the brewery) that are so meaningful," Rubin said. "Like the bingo machine that we use for bingo night, is from my grandparents' hotel (in Florida.) Even the cards that we use, it's the same ones they used when I was a little girl. That bingo machine is the same one we used when I was a kid and my uncle ran the hotel. So it's been around a while."
Big Pillow's bar was also handed down to Rubin and Donochod.
"Friends of ours in Asheville ripped out this wood out of their old house and they were going to throw it away," she said. "We just hammered it up there, and that's our bar. Those are some of our best friends that remodeled their house, so it's really special decor."
Donochod said he and Rubin are mindful of using sustainable resources wherever possible.
"We have solar panels on the roof," he said. "We've got reclaimed barnwood flooring from a barn in Madison County, and reclaimed pallet wood from Brazil."
For Donochod, Hot Springs is the ideal location for their brewery, serving as a destination for outdoorspeople returning from their fun in the sun.
"We're set up in Hot Springs because it's kind of the perfect fit," Donochod said. "After you finish hiking or boating or biking, it's a perfect 'after-the-outdoor-activity' stop to come and have some cold beers and some good food. That's sort of our target crowd: people who like good beer, good food, and the outdoors. That's kind of why we're here."