Canton’s first brewery is less than a month away from opening its doors to the public, but some lucky people got a sneak peak Thursday night, as BearWaters hosted a small celebration to toast its loan from the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF).

NCIF, the green business lending arm of the Conservation Fund, provides loans to small businesses, many of which are in Western North Carolina, to help them develop innovative, environmentally friendly solutions.

“We have given about $12 million in loans in North Carolina, many in Western North Carolina,” Rick Larson, senior vice president director of strategic initiatives for NCIF said. “Western NC has been a hotbed of activity for us.”

The $379,000 loan enabled the brewery to install all LED lights, new electrical systems, a steam heating system, a 1,000-gallon rain barrel used to water the outdoor landscape and a system which provides 100 percent recapture of all water used in the brewing process.

“Through this project, we have rehabilitated this building, and now it’s probably better than it ever was,” BearWaters owner Kevin Sandefur said prior to the event.

Those who attended the event, which featured plenty of free beer and food, heard speeches from a plethora of people. Larson, in his short speech, said he was pleased at how good the building — and the beer — turned out.

“I don’t even drink beer, and I have a beer,” he said through some laughter. “That’s how great it is.”

“We have been so impressed with your creativity, your tenacity, your use of materials, your commitment to conservation and to make a really good beer,” NCIF Western North Carolina Business Lender Erika McGilley said. “For all those things, thank you so much for sticking this out.”

Sandefur noted that BearWaters just recently shifted production from its old Waynesville location to the more up-to-date facility in Canton. Along with enjoying a more state-of-the-art brewing system in Canton, the brewery will have the added benefit of using water from the Pigeon River, which is some of the best around.

“That water is some of the purest water you can find in the world,” BearWaters’ Director of Sales Art O’Neil said. “We sent this water off to be tested, it’s nearly like distilled water.”

Sandefur said he hoped the event would give people an opportunity to see that the new location was worth the wait.

“We were really excited to do a little sneak peak of what’s coming and we’re very pleased with the reception we’ve had from the town,” he said.

Sandefur also said many of the renovations the 80-year-old building received featured reclaimed items, including World War II era trusses and wood that was literally pulled form a burn pile.

The atmosphere Sandefur and O’Neil are trying to cultivate relies heavily on both the natural light provided by the large windows and the river, which runs just outside their door.

“I hope you’re getting the feeling that we’re trying to bring the river inside,” O’Neil told the audience. “That’s the feel we want.”

O’Neil spent some time recognizing others who have helped get the new building open, including

“You’re never alone,” he said. “You’re always standing on someone’s shoulders, and we’re standing on a lot of people’s shoulders. The town of Canton bent over backwards to get us here.”

BearWaters’ official grand opening is scheduled for June 16.

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