How Outsider Took Education & Transparency to the Next Level

A self-proclaimed “beer evangelist,” Julian Arena has been preaching the good word of beer and brewing since college. But he admits the formula for most craft breweries after jumping from homebrewing — where the experience of sharing with friends and teaching — becomes a stripped-down version of what beer education in America should be.

So, he stepped away from being a production brewer to launch Outsider Brewing near Asheville, North Carolina a few years back armed with the need to educate through transparency in the brewing process.

Literally. Using a system he helped design and create himself, the one-barrel brewhouse located centrally inside the Outsider taproom is made from glass so that anyone who comes to the brewery can experience a brew day, from seeing the grain cracked to fermentation.

“The average consumer, they’re basically absorbing about 1% of what brewers are here for, you know? And the big question, I guess, was how do we build a culture that makes brewers proud to get up out of bed in the morning because they know that what they’re doing is being received by people who are consuming what they’re making,” he said.

Making a brewery where the first mission is to share that love of brewing and not make as much beer as possible or to get into as many distro positions as possible was the goal and Outsider launched in August of 2022.

“It’s literally how small and intimate can we make it,” Arena said. “We knew that making this system this way was the best way to do that.”

Being in the Asheville area means being in a town where the culture is very craft-centric, but in other things. Beer sometimes is not thought of as artisanal.

“You can go to a pottery studio, you can go to a glassblowing studio, you can go to a painting studio, all these other kinds of crafts,” he said about being able to watch the process of the art being created. “Beer is not considered one of them. I think people are both primed to expect craftiness, but they’re also trained in some ways by the (beer) market to see brewing as just this nebulous industrial process.

“It’s making that connection is a huge opportunity for us here, but it is not intuitive, I would say, which is surprising.”

Using a one-barrel system, with two-barrel horizontal fermenters, Outsider does what Arena calls stitching, where they connect them as modular units.

“So we can do two-barrel, three-barrel, four-barrel batches, all with the same culture,” he said. “It’s really nice and flexible. And the importance to me was having these vessels be separated for better workflow. I’m a firm believer in having specific vessels for specific functions. Then you’re able to show the process with the vessel.”

 The building was fortunately set up so that direct light doesn’t hit the fermenters and Outsider uses light amber lightbulbs to help eliminate any possible “light struck” problems.

“It’s kind of like being a big amber bottle,” he said. “That was something we had to consider. We did a lot of research on it.”

Starting a brew day when the taproom is open to the public at 2 p.m. means consumers get to experience a whole grain-to-glass experience throughout the afternoon. On things like mash rests, Arena and his brew team can get down and explain intricate levels of what’s happening, or relate to what fermentation really is.

“We’re shrinking it down and putting it right in front of them,” he said. “You got metabolism, you breathe out CO2. And if you didn’t eat, you’d get lighter and lighter and lighter until you wasted away. Well, guess what’s happening to the beer? It’s breathing. It’s metabolizing sugar, just like we do, and getting lighter and lighter, and lighter. And that makes sense. Do you see the bubbles? I say it’s just breathing, like everything else. And we’re not that different than those tiny yeasts.

“Just in that 30-second exchange, someone could have their minds completely blown by fermentation. This is a miracle that’s happening. You just never seen it, you’ve never thought about it, and you take it for granted. You don’t get a chance to consciously consume something that that you are excited about, because someone took the time to show you. And it’s so simple but it works so well.”

Arena also launched 4th Wave Craft, a company that will work with breweries to create similar glass systems to be used either as main brewhouses or pilot systems to help spread the brewing knowledge.

“There is a serious opportunity here for a brewery to come and do a collaboration in this space and capture a snapshot of brewing culture on a brew day,” Arena said. “It means a lot for us to do collaborations with breweries, that put the customer first and the craft first. So if there’s anyone that this resonates with, anywhere in the country or wherever, that feels as though a chance to brew up here with us, and share that love publicly, they’re absolutely welcome to reach out to us.”

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