Where are you going?
Oh Nashville! That’s a cool city!
No, Asheville. North Carolina.
Good beer city.
Oh. So not Nashville then?
Invest in a map.
One day people will stop questioning why I travel to good beer cities, right? Here’s the thing, many beer conferences are headed to North Carolina, including the one I attended in April. I investigated the beer scene before committing to the conference, as a responsible beer-drinking person does, and found that in Asheville, there are currently 30+ breweries. Per capita, they have more breweries than any other U.S. city. Hey Asheville, we’re going to get along justttt fine. Across the state, there are 200+ breweries and brewpubs with Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh boasting the largest percentage with a few outliers further east and south. And damn, son, they make some fine beers in the south.
If you’re planning a trip, three to four days in Asheville should be sufficient to explore the beer and impressive food scene. We managed to visit more than half of the breweries, three great craft beer bars and eat our weight in fried green tomatoes, house-made jams, fried chicken, biscuits, country ham, cheesy grits, and Andouille sausage – all so good that I’ll forgive them for not having tater tots anywhere.
Then there’s the city and its people. We likened the town centre as what Hollywood shows as quaint, small-town USA. Independent shops and restaurants with genuinely friendly people on tree-lined, clean streets. It was lovely.
Now, back to the beer.
Per usual, I made up a map. Here you will find breweries, craft bars, bottle shops, coffee shops and restaurants.
Behemoth craft breweries New Belgium and Sierra Nevada set up their second breweries in Asheville amongst the growing populous of craft breweries.
Gorgeous facility, huge tasting room and patio. Open in the spring of 2016, they quickly became a local favourite with a spacious tasting room and patio on this 17.5 acre land that hosts their 200 bbl brewery. Went to sign the bill but there was no place to tip. The bartender sees my puzzled look and offers up “we’re an employee-owned brewery and we make a living wage. Any tips you want to give, in cash, goes to charity.” Love it. Our tip want to Rainbow Community School. Standouts were the Voodoo series (all four), the Blackberry Barley Wine and the de Koninck. Only downside is that it closes at 8 pm.
Then there’s Sierra Nevada, which is technically in Mills River, NC near the airport. One of the criteria for picking Asheville and this particular land was that they wanted to be at least 50 miles away from the smaller craft breweries. I respect that they didn’t want to come in with their 200+ acre brewery plan and overshadow the existing breweries. Kudos.
In addition to the brewhouse, the land hosts a massive 400-seat tap room/restaurant where you can drink beers brewed on their pilot system and eat some amazing southern farm-to-table cooking. They have set a high bar for a tap room restaurant – we had lamb tartar w/quail egg, thrice-cooked duck fat fries w/duck confit, and an IPA braised pig cheek pizza. Hooah. Once sufficiently entranced in a food coma, you can take a self-guided tour of the copper-clad brewhouse and watch the open-fermented beer bubble away. Don’t forget to bring your beer for the sojourn. Take a left at the top of the stairs to browse the brewhouse, a right to go to another bar area, High Gravity, where you can play corn hole (inside), step out onto the deck and plunk yourself into a rocking chair with a beer, or head down the stairs to the impressive garden and sitting area. Everything was done so well at Sierra Nevada and is a must-visit if you’re in the area.
As for the smaller breweries, there are a good collection of them all within a short walking distance namely, Hi-Wire, Asheville Brewing, Bhramari, Wicked Weed, Twin Leaf, The Funkatorium, Catawba, Green Man and Burial. Most had well-made beers, unique tasting rooms and are a place I would gladly visit repeatedly. In fact, I did visit a couple of them twice during the week. Here’s the low-down on where we went.
We visited before the world came to an end and they sold to AB InBev. I respect that some people won’t go to a brewery that isn’t independently owned (you’re also not standing in line for Bourbon County, right?) but if you haven’t drawn that hard line in the sand, go – unless you don’t like delicious beer.
Funk yes. Barrel-aged sours with a variety of hosts – bourbon, red wine, gin, and the granddaddy foeder. Wicked Weed takes the funk up a notch devoting this location to the barrel. So many delicious ones to have, and Kelly and I knocked off a good chunk of the list with my favourite being the Bourbon Barrel Oblivion. The have decent food choices with small bites and flatbreads, and a large bottle and retail shop. We happened to be there during a cellar sale and managed to snag a few bottles to take home.
If I lived in Asheville, I’d be hanging out in Twin Leaf often, me thinks. Tap list included a saison, gose, Belgian tripel, IPAs and more. My kind of list. Then there’s the giant Jenga crashing in the background, fooseball, and a big patio out back. Check this one out.
We checked out the downtown location (brewpub in the front/production brewery in the back). Can’t say we noticed that it was a pizza place while sitting at the bar. They have 15 rotating taps with some decent beer. Not sure what the deal is with the patrons, though, as more people were ordering tequila shots than beer.
With two locations, we hit up the South Slope downtown brewery. Hi-Wire has two specialty programs – lagers and sours – and the South Slope location now only brews sours and wild ales. Can’t recall what was on tap that night but the RIS, Double IPA were the two that hit my glass and were tasty.
This brewpub was spacious – an old building with exposed brick, benches look like old church pews (so you can pray to the hop gods), and a bar that was so wide at the end, the bartender would push the beers to you with a stick. Bet that took a few tries to get the right pressure on it so the customer didn’t wear the beer. The menu explains ABV, IBU, SRM (nice touch), and the food menu looks good – when you have a cup of bacon on it, aces in my books. The dubbel and tripel really well executed as was the experimental IPA with Mosaic, Citra, and Columbus. Check it out.
We heard after visiting, and being less than impressed with their infected beers, that they’re the new kid on the block. I’d apply the standard 6-month rule of letting a brewery get their feet under them (and their shit together on producing beers without infection), then try them again. The venue was cool – it’s under Farm Burger so there’s the squeak squeak squeak of the wood floors, reminiscent of grandma’s place. Not a fan of their shot glass-sized mug taster glasses but it’s unique I suppose. They have a tiny 1.5bbl system with 20 fermenters and nine beers on tap. That’s a pretty aggressive brewing cycle which could be white we detected diacetyl in one IPA and metallic in another. The rest of the beers weren’t flawed but weren’t particularly flavourful or interesting.
They have some good core beers but I wasn’t as wow’d as I was with their barrel-aged beers and sours. They have a large bar and restaurant area, including space on the patio, in this relaxed environment.
I adore their logo – a bee on top of a hop. Loved it. Good beers here and snacks – try the spent grain pretzel.
These guys are one of the granddaddies of beer in Asheville hitting their 20th anniversary in 2017. The original brewhouse and tasting room is still there in all its glory – it kind of looks like a dive bar decorated in everything they could find that was green. The locals still frequent this location amongst the masks, Yoda, comfy high-back padded stools (see, every brewery everywhere else, you don’t have to buy the butt-numbing metal stools). The Demon Dweller RIS (bottle only) is amazing and we took two bottles home. The new expansion has two other tasting room areas and an upper deck, which are super modern, host more tanks and a bottling line. Both locations (on the same block) will please beer drinkers.
Walk up a gravel driveway and enter what kind of looks like a shack. It’s a small tasting room with additional patio seating and 12 beers on tap. Good beer, nice bartenders.
Walked in here on a Monday night and the live music drew us in quickly. Fox and Bones from Portland, OR were playing and damn, their harmonization is on point. Three bands played while we were there and all were fantastic – I’d pay to see any of them. Beer wise, the barrel aged were the favourites (ooooh shocker, I know). Definitely a lively atmosphere and fun brewery to visit.
Cool location in the River Arts District by, you guessed it, the river. The have a second equally funky-looking location on Foundy Street. Wedge do not distribute so you’re going to have to make a visit if you want to try their beer. The saison was my favourite and all of the beers were solid. Try not to get freaked out by the doll head planters. I’m sure no dolls were hurt in the beheading process.
If you make the trek over to West Asheville (it’s less than 10 minutes from downtown), check out Oyster House. For starters, if you like these sea creatures, they have happy hour specials with an extensive list of choices. Good beers brewed here with a few guest taps.
Hang on. You’re a brewpub but you don’t brew beer? So you’re a bar/pub with a tap list. How the hell is this called a brewpub? Their tap list was decent but come on, not a brewpub. We didn’t stay for more sad lies.
We hit up one cidery in West Asheville and squeezed in a taster of each before they closed for the night. The ciders were good but were overshadowed by the 12-day old puppy that showed up and I snuggled. I’m still gushing.
Pretty sure 60% of the places we visit have a “something” monk bar. Asheville’s version brews their own Belgian styles (appropriate, given the name of the place) and have a number of great guest taps plus an extensive bottle list (even more appropriate because I like a bottle list). When we wandered in, there were a bunch of sours on tap from an event the day before. I gladly helped them deplete their kegs. Different tap lists on upstairs and in the dungeon, errrr, basement.
Pub-style food in what was likely a pretty smokey pub once upon a time. Their draught list is mostly North Carolina beer and has a good selection if you’re looking to try the local beer.
Pretty sure we’ve been to a dozen or so bier gardens in various cities as well. This one has 32 taps mixed with local and other craft beer as well as an extensive bottle list. The bartender must be used to seeing people count the beers on the menu as I barely got to adding on my left hand when he interrupted and shouted out 32 from across the bar. Thanks, dude. Had a great burger here, which might be the standard in Asheville since all of the food was delicious.
Checked out this neighbourhood bar in West Asheville with 10 taps of craft and, finally, tater tots!
Nine taps, growler fills and a good selection of NC beers and beyond. Found a few J.W. Lees barley wines that I haven’t seen around – including a 2008 Calvados, which is now in our beer fridge.
Knowledgeable staff who are happy to give recommendations on NC beers we weren’t familiar with. Great selection – if you only have time to go to one store, hit them up.
Since Asheville has an impressive food scene, do some research and work a couple of nice meals into your agenda. Tupelo Honey and Biscuit Head should be on your list and when you’re looking for a fast burger, Farm Burger will hit the spot. Cúrate was recommended to us by multiple people but were closed for renovations during our visit.
All menus have pimento cheese on everything and when we saw this, we let out an ewwwwww and scrunched up our noses in a very attractive way. This was not based on trying said pimento cheese until further into our trip as we equated pimento to the disgusting chunks of mystery in sandwich meat (thanks, Mom). Turns out, pimento cheese is tasty and Mom didn’t ruin us by feeding us that crap as kids.
Ingredients locally sourced, grass-fed moos, tons of topping choices including bone marrow. That was a tasty, tasty fast food burger.
With a slogan like “put some south in your mouth”, how can one not try it out. One word – delicious. You can’t go wrong just ordering a biscuit and heading to the jam bar to try their vast assortment of house-made jams however, you can top your biscuit with fried chicken, country ham, fried green tomatoes, Andouille sausage, and a billion types of gravy.
First, props for spelling doughnut the correct way. Second, good doughnuts.
Good selection of NC beers on their tap list with New York-style pizza to fill your belly. A live band, the Resonant Rogues, were playing. Grab your accordion, violin, stand-up base. They’re a folk-y band and definitely a toe-tapper. Nuckie Thompson would be all over this band.
Good BBQ – we had the pulled pork and ribs (left a nice burn). The coleslaw and the bun that came with the ribs were the best sides. Potato salad, corn bread, beans and macaroni salad were decent.
We should have gone three times to try breakfast, lunch and dinner. They make delicious southern cuisine and serve it with lovely hospitality. Craft beer is on tap and bottle. We had to try the fried green tomatoes which were served with basil, goat cheese grits and roasted red pepper coulis. I opted for breakfast for lunch with the Appalachian Breakfast – sausage, cider pork black-eyed peas, roasted onion, potato cracklins, fried eggs. I made a good choice. Yay me. The burgers looked fantastic – someone try one and get back to me, k?
The Burger Bar [you’re not getting a link to this one]
Walking to New Belgium, we come across The Burger Bar down the street. Perfect, we’ll go have some beer and then a burger for dinner. This is where the plan went wrong.
[Bartender looking at us skeptically when we walked in.]
“Is this your first time here?”
Yes. [looks around the bar, all 4 people in this tiny room are staring at us]
“Are you here for food or beverages.”
“Oh. We stopped serving food in 1978.”
The hell? Change your name to The Former Burger Bar ya jerks.
After the Burger Bar fail, a patron suggested we go here. Skip this one. Ever had watery mac n cheese, and I mean pour yourself a glass of cheesy-water watery? Don’t. Gross. Blah. The burger was cooked medium but was tasteless. Disappointing.
All of these were great coffee places.
Odd’s Cafe in West Asheville
Other Observations and Stuff
- Did you know that North Carolina has a State toast? Me neither and they’re the only state that has one. Read up and toast.
- Our Lyft driver described West Asheville as “where the hippies all live”
- Everyone was so friendly and accommodating of my dog patting requests
- The have a Pinball museum – $15 for an all-day unlimited pass. Lots of video games like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Joust. The pinball machines date back from the 60’s to current and include the world’s largest pinball machine 7′ tall Hercules (only 300 were made of this giant)
- Each food/beverage establishment posts their sanitation rating
- What’s with the clothes stapled to telephone poles, west Asheville?
Make sure you have Asheville on your list of beer places to visit. It’s a great city, they have lovely people and damn, you’ll love the food and beer.