By Bob Townsend
Four years ago, when Jess Reiser, her husband Doug Reiser, and their good friend and brewing partner, Tim Gormley, first opened Burial Beer Co., it was the sort of decidedly small-scale operation that’s often referred to as a nano-brewery.
Today, the Burial Taproom is a fixture on Asheville’s booming, beery South Slope, offering such signatures as Skillet Donut Stout and Surf Wax IPA, along with explorations of ancient and historic styles, including gruit and hommel bier.
An even bigger and more exciting leap, through, is Burial’s expansion to a second, larger complex at the edge of Biltmore Village.
Dubbed the Forestry Camp, the grove-like project is designed to grow in phases. A new 20-barrel production brewery and canning line is already up and running there. And an urban farm, a barrel house, a bar and lounge specializing in beer and whiskey, and a restaurant run by a local chef are in the works.
The two-acre property is arrayed with six historic buildings that were built in the early 1900s and used in the 1930s as barracks for Civilian Conservation Corps crews who built the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Walking around the grounds, you catch the scent of old wood and earthy loam wafting in the mountain breeze. And there’s an inkling of a place out of time, maybe even haunted, but in an oddly peaceful way.
Whatever the case, it certainly seems like a fitting location for a beer company called Burial.
Trying to work out the connotations of the name — not to mention the gothic label designs by artist and illustrator David Paul Seymour, who’s worked with bands like Agnostic Front, Graveyard, Kadavar, and Lord Dying — you might picture the people behind it as metalhead misfits. But sitting and sipping with the Reisers at a table at the Porter Beer Bar in Atlanta one afternoon, the couple comes across as the smart, stylish owners of a mom-and-pop business, albeit one with something of a mystical bent.
Jess and Doug tell me they first met Gormley in Seattle, where he was brewing and they were discovering the possibilities of craft beer.
“We learned that the liquid inside the bottle was more than just flavor and experience, although that’s very much a part of it,” Jess says. “It was community, and it was history, and art and process and science, and all of these different elements.
“And at some point, the three of us decided that we would regret it for the rest of our lives if we did not open a brewery. So, a few years later, we ventured across the country from Seattle to Asheville to open Burial.”
As it turned out, the economic necessity of starting out struggling to brew beer on a tiny, one-barrel system and selling it at the taproom turned out to be a good way to get to know Asheville and build their brand.
“That’s where we were at for the first year-and-a-half,” Jess says. “But that beginning was so important to our growth and how we interacted with the community and created a culture.
“At the time, I was pregnant with my second son, and I was bartending. People that started coming to Burial from the beginning remembered me serving them beer, and four years later, there’s this little blond boy running around. That was a humanizing element, I think.”
Of course, all that still begs the question: Why Burial?
“It’s catchy, right?” Jess says, laughing and revealing a bit of her Brooklyn upbringing in the intonation. “But what does it mean? Burial being a theme brewery is not something that resonates with us as people. What is that? Vampires and zombies and death and destruction?
“Doug and I spent a few years in New Orleans before moving to Seattle. Among the things we were inspired by there were the jazz funerals that celebrate life as much as death. So, for us, burial is part of the cycle of life and death. The sickle, the imagery you often see with the Burial name, is a harvest tool that’s also associated with death. That’s the duality.”
Which brings us circling back to the subject of the Forestry Camp.
“We wanted to resurrect something that has history,” Doug says, finally. “It’s the cycle of life that we harness as part of our beer, and it’s the story we tell with Burial.
“Right now, we’re about two tanks away from what we consider max capacity at the brewery, which is about 10,000 barrels a year. And that’s it. That’s all we ever wanted to do. Jess and I would like to enjoy our life, and have a greater quality of life while we invest in the quality of our beer.”