White Labs of Asheville Rises to Great Pizza

A lab with adjoining restaurant uses homemade yeast in pizza and beer

Beautiful curled coin-like pepperonis on this spectacular pie

White Labs Pure Yeast & Fermentation

White Labs Kitchen & Tap

172 S. Charlotte St.

Asheville, NC 28801

Don’t let the lab fool you: this is the greatest pizza in Asheville, scampi pie and pepperoni pie to be ordered and devoured immediately.

Begun in 1995 in San Diego by Chris White to supply home brewers at first, White Labs is an actual lab that now has locations in Boulder, Copenhagen and Asheville. And according to General Manager, Chris Genua, within the next two years Asheville may even surpass San Diego in production, given the rise in craft brewers in the western North Carolina city.

Yeast Central at White Labs Asheville

Mark Damon Puckett

Neon yeast sign at Asheville's White Labs actual yeast labs

White Labs’ 30,000 square-foot brick facility was once an old tobacco warehouse. Then the city’s water department occupied it, later being used to store vehicles. Projection Implementation Specialist, Aaron Gonzalez added, “The building was also used as stables for the horse-drawn carriages of the old fire department.”

On the left side of the brick building complex with the white microscope advertised, there are the labs where the yeast flex cells are made and sectioned, a patented process. On the right is the chic and innovative restaurant/tap room.

I took a tour with Genua on a January winter afternoon, snow and ice not daunting my yeast education. Upstairs, there is even a room you might see in a college chemistry lab. For classes, eventually. Downstairs, I watched production assistants working on the flex cells and upstairs saw the patented sectioning process, touring the cryogenic freezers. The propagation process for the yeast takes 17 days.

The restaurant uses brewer’s yeast from its labs. “We ferment the dough for three days,” Genua told me, as his chefs brought out a salad with watermelon radishes, followed by the scampi pizza.  “I worked very hard on these crusts,” he noted, wistfully.

This led to a talk about Naples where Genua (yes, variation of Genoa) has some Italian roots. We pined  about our respective visits to Naples, city of pizza’s origin, where he still visits regularly. It shows in the miracle dough.

Letting the pizza dough ferment a little longer makes it more digestible with a better flavor. The gluten is also broken down more. The real hero of my tastings was the pepperoni pizza. After the salad that had some delicious crisped cauliflower, I tried the scampi pizza and loved its lemon supremes, tiny triangles of lemon with citrus squirts that balanced the ample seafood chunkules on the pie.

I noshed a little on the massive and memorable chili hot dog that appeared. I couldn’t stop staring at it, slathered with a blanket of orange American cheese and flavored like an artisanal sausage with sharp and sweet bites hitting my mouth at the same time. “Do people eat this whole thing?” I asked, in slight awe. Oh yes, was the answer.

Then they came: the pizzas.

What is the difference between good and great pizza, I wondered?

Maybe it is the chemistry.

It certainly comes together on White Labs’ beautiful pepperoni pie dotted with countless small and curved pepperonis the size of a quarter, each of which is crisped around the rim. This pizza is about a foot wide and made in the wood-fired oven like the others.

With six slices you can imagine that seven or eight pepperonis per slice adds up to about forty or fifty. It’s a handsome pizza to see has a soft, tender base and just the right crispness of crust.

As the restaurant adds an outdoor patio, I can see myself there when the winter weather turns to spring, perhaps taking a class upstairs, if they’ll let me. Downtown Asheville is just a couple of minutes around the corner.

Well, it’s about eight hours after my tasting and I have half a pepperoni pie in my fridge to finish. Finally, great pizza comes to the South.

Yes, White Labs caught the rising yeast wave, distributing its iconic product for over two decades around the world now, using different lab yeasts in their multiple unique taps as well.

And Asheville’s pretty lucky to rise with them.

Disclaimer:  “The meal(s) [or product sample(s) or wines, etc.] that is/are the subject of this review was/were provided at no cost to the contributor.