Imagine a classic farmhouse brewery scene: a quaint, crimson abode filled with fermentation tanks and surrounded by trees and hops vines; rustic wooden barrels stacked up ready to be filled; rolling blue mountains in the background. Now imagine that standing in front of that farmhouse is a handsomely aged Tom Selleck with his arm around Sloth from The Goonies.
At Burial Beer Co. in Asheville, North Carolina, you don’t have to imagine that scene because it’s painted as a huge mural on the side of the building (above) on Collier Avenue. “We have this thing with Tom Selleck,” says Co-owner and Head Brewer Tim Gormley. This thing started with a velvet painting of Mr. Selleck that used to hang in the now-defunct Craggie Brewery around the corner. The Craggie owner entrusted one of Burial’s long-time employees with the painting for safekeeping, and it eventually made its way onto the wall at Burial, which was opened in Asheville by Gormley, Doug Reiser, and Jess Reiser in 2013.
“He has this very sexy look to him, obviously, because he’s Tom Selleck,” Gormley says of the painting. “Endless people found it entertaining, and the selfies spread all over social media. It became an iconic part of our bar.”
Another iconic element of Burial’s bar is a poster of Sloth from The Goonies. Sloth and Tom Selleck came up when it came time to decide on the subject of a mural for a blank wall out back. “Drinks were pouring,” remembers Gormley. “We were like ‘what happens if the owner wants to take this back? We should memorialize this, make it permanent, so Tom will never leave us.’”
So that’s just what they did—they hired local graffiti artist Gus Cutty to glorify Tom Selleck and Sloth. “It’s become a quintessential part of Asheville,” Gormley says. Much like their adored mural, Burial Beer Co. has also become a quintessential part of Asheville in its few short years in business. Its owners chose this North Carolina mountain town as home because of its highly educated drinking public. “We thought it was a supportive community with an established scene, which we needed for the beer styles we wanted to make,” Gormley says.
One such style was saison, Gormley’s favorite beer style because “it’s an open canvas for experimentation and application of all sorts of techniques, spicing, [and] fruiting.” (For one such experiment, check out the recipe for Thresher Coffee Saison, where the goal was to prove that a coffee beer doesn’t have to be black.)
At Burial, where there are no flagship beers, the saison selection is always evolving. On the menu could be anything from the peppery Blade & Sheath, with notes of apricot and melon, to the dry-hopped Magpie on the Gallows that fermented on cranberry puree, orange peel, cloves, and juniper berries. “We’re always doing sensory [tests] with our beers and deconstructing them,” Gormley says. “We’ll try a different yeast strain or a slightly different fermentation temperature; we’ll add peppercorns to beef up the phenol part of the profile.…We have a philosophy that none of our beers is perfect.”
That same philosophy applies to Burial’s IPAs. “We’re in this ever-going quest to create the ideal IPA for each customer,” Gormley says. “In some IPAs, we’re going for dank flavors, some are going for fruity, juicy, or tropical. We’re trying to have a diverse selection so someone can come into the bar and find [his/her] perfect IPA … and we know perfect is in the eye of the beholder.”
Guests at Burial get even more IPA varieties through the Ceremonial Session IPA that features different hops each time it is brewed. Ceremonial, which is available in cans, has used Nelson Sauvin, Eureka, and Amarillo hops, to name a few. Next up is a batch brewed with fruit-forward and earthy Vic Secret hops. “Ceremonial is the future of IPA,” says Gormley. “Some hops are becoming more and more rare, and some of the sexiest hops are getting harder to find. Rotating hops varieties allows us to stay flexible and relevant.”
From dynamic IPAs and shifting saisons to the year-round dark beer (often a stout, occasionally a brown ale) to the mixed- fermentation sour beers that Gormley has been experimenting with recently, the variety of beer styles available at Burial is vast and ever changing. This diversity reflects the company’s farmhouse-style approach to their beers—brewing with what’s available, when available, and rarely making the same beer twice.
“We are willing to take a crack at anything,” says Gormley, whose favorite part of the brewing process is the research stage. “I love discovering a historic beer style, reading everything I possibly can about it, and bringing it back in some way.”
One such style is gruit, a beer style that is not hopped but instead is infused with herbs and spices as the bittering and preserving agents. Burial has developed many gruits, including The Discovery of Honey, fermented with wildflower honey, and the Beacon Heather gruit that’s “hopped” with heather flowers instead of actual hops.
“It’s important for us to reinvigorate old and under-appreciated styles,” Gormley says, nodding to the brewery’s name. “It comes from the idea of the jazz funeral in New Orleans, where Doug and Jess went to grad school,” he explains. “A big part of the culture down there is celebrating life. Funeral processions become this big parade with instruments playing and singing and dancing. Everybody stops and joins in, even if they don’t know the person. We like to think of ourselves as celebrating beer, the cyclical nature of life, and the cyclical nature of beer and brewing. We have a deep desire to memorialize certain beer styles and techniques from the Old World.”
The owners at Burial memorialize each unique beer that they brew—the batch is enjoyed, celebrated, and then put to bed to make room on the draft lines for the next distinctive batch. As they grow, they also plan to memorialize a piece of Asheville’s history with the resurrection of the Forestry Camp building.
Asheville is home to the historic Biltmore Estate and surrounding neighborhood where in the 1920s the Forestry Camp property was built as a part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The buildings on the property served as barracks for young men who were working on the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway that runs through town. Soon those buildings will house Burial’s production facility, offices, storage, a new restaurant, and a craft-beer bar named Forestry Camp.
“This property represents old construction—huge wood beams and trusswork that you just don’t see anymore,” says Gormley. “It’s really well crafted with so much wood, like a log cabin but much bigger. We’re trying to maintain as much of the integrity of the building as we can. We want to make it beautiful and cozy and rustic.”
With deep roots in the town’s history, a diverse lineup of inspired beers, and major expansion in its future, Burial has established itself as a fundamental planet in Asheville’s craft-beer-soaked universe. And it might be the only destination on the planet where you’re guaranteed a selfie with a larger-than-life Tom Selleck.
PHOTO AT TOP: EVAN FRIEDMAN