I grew up in North Carolina, and over the past several years, new breweries, bottle shops, bars, and beers have cropped up seemingly each week. While the whole of North Carolina features exciting new breweries and established favorites, one of the epicenters is Asheville.
Located in the mountains, Asheville is a beautiful town filled with craft shops, local restaurants, and live music. It’s home to the Biltmore, and a short drive to several state parks. It also features lots and lots of breweries. The last time I visited Asheville was in 2006, before Asheville gained popularity as a beer destination among its other appeals. My husband Will had never been. Thus, going to Asheville seemed like a perfect beercation destination. We paid Asheville a visit over Independence Day weekend, going on a family vacation with my parents; and we weren’t disappointed.
We mostly stuck with breweries in the immediate downtown area. Some, like Highland Brewing and Sierra Nevada’s East Coast location, involve getting on the highway. But if you’re looking to stay on foot, you can easily get your money’s worth downtown. We visited four breweries during our trip. Each had unique and tasty offerings, and all were within reasonable walking distance of each other – some were even neighbors! Thoughts and tastings continue below.
Wicked Weed Brewpub
I’m sure the minute many of you read “Asheville,” you knew this was coming. Wicked Weed is arguably the most nationally-known brewery in Asheville — it’s certainly one of the biggest. Their beers have won several awards and are very much sought-after. I can attest to its popularity, as the brewpub was packed when we went on Saturday afternoon. Fellow blogger Amanda W recommended checking out the downstairs bar to be seated more quickly, and this was a great tip — we quickly found a table to share, and a waitress took our bar order, saving us from the long line waiting to get a pint.
We discovered that on Saturdays, flights are not served; our waitress explained that this was due to the high volume of people and wanting to serve them as quickly as possible. They do, however, offer half-pints; so we went with that route. I had two samples, my favorite of which was the Hop Cocoa Brown. It was more a straight-up brown ale than a hoppy one, with the hops simply adding a delicate zip. I also enjoyed sips of my mother’s Coolcumber ale, brewed with cucumbers, basil, and juniper berries; and Will’s half-pint of Pernicious IPA, which I wished I had ordered as well (I made up for it by buying a bottle to take home).
Located about four blocks away, Burial Beer sits in a small wooden building, with a large outdoor patio and a small bar inside. I had two friends (including Amanda W) recommend this one to me — I had previously never heard of it. I’m very glad we went, though, because each of the beers I had were awesome.
Burial offers a flight of four beers, along with full pints. One of the favorites of our group was Thresher, a saison brewed with coffee. The coffee and saison flavors both came through beautifully. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Prayer, a Belgian golden ale brewed with apricots. All of us ordered Sifter, a stout brewed with chocolate malt and sea salt. I quite enjoyed this one as well.
Green Man Brewery
Green Man Brewery is distributed where my parents live, and I’m always drawn to their label when I go beer shopping in NC. I was eager to visit the brewery in person. They have two buildings: a small open-air pub, and a larger space called The Green Mansion. We chose the open-air pub, which is filled with amazing decor. In addition to various iterations of the Green Man, the bar featured stickers, Yoda, magnets, creative tap handles, posters … the list (and pictures) go on and on.
As much as I enjoyed taking in the decor, we were there for the beer. Like Wicked Weed, Green Man offered half-pints (fun note: when I bought a half-pint glass to take home, it was referred to as a Greenie on my receipt). I ordered two: a cask variant of their ESB with Lapsang Souchang tea (this was delightfully smoky and delicious, though the warm temperature may be off-putting to some, especially since it was made even warmer by the summer heat), and She’s My Cherry Pie, a Berliner Weisse brewed with cherries (this was crisp, tart, and refreshing – and a beautiful pink color to boot).
Wicked Weed: The Funkatorium
Wicked Weed recently opened The Funkatorium (located about three blocks from the main brewpub), a space dedicated solely to sour and wild ales. When you walk inside, you immediately sense this dedication, as a pleasant funk hits your nose. The menu is, as promised, mostly sours, wild ales, and farmhouse ales. However, they also have three or four of their less funky beers on draft for the less sour-inclined. Neither my parents nor Will like sours, and as such, only Mom went with me to keep me company. We noted for the future that a non-sour option was available for next time.
This time, though, we ventured into funky territory. Mom ordered the newly-released Bombadile, a farmhouse ale fermented with strawberries. This brew wasn’t overly funky, and had a pleasant strawberry scent and taste to complement the farmhouse spices. I bought a bottle for myself to take home. As for tasting, I went with a flight. The Funkatorium offers a pre-set flight of four (you can also order pints or bottles). While I normally like to be in charge of my flight, I decided to trust their judgment and see what they had to offer. The flight had two whites and two reds. The reds were the most flavorful, while the whites were more straight-up tart than tart and fruity or tart and floral. My favorite was Recurrant, a sour ale brewed with currants and aged in cabernet barrels. It had a pleasant tartness, yet a rich berry flavor. It reminded me of a very good Cabernet Sauvignon, a testament to its aging vessel.
Twin Leaf Brewery.
Our final stop was Twin Leaf Brewery, located right across the street from The Funkatorium. Twin Leaf features a large indoor bar and a small picnic area (almost the inverse of Burial). Their draft list had several IPAs and other hoppy beers, with a few other styles on hand, including an ESB and an oatmeal stout. Flights are comprised of five samples.
My flight consisted mostly of lighter options, given that the day was quite hot and humid. On that note, if it’s very hot, I don’t recommend sitting outside, as the beers warm quickly and aren’t always served well by the warm temperatures. My flight included their signature IPA, 144 (aka Juicy Fruit). It was certainly juicy, and featured sweet fruit flavors. I was very impressed with their other IPA on draft, Leafer. It had a pleasant hop bite and clean finish. My favorite of the flight was the Dark Matter Oatmeal Stout, which had a nice roasty flavor reminiscent of rich black coffee.
Bruisin’ Ales Bottle Shop
In addition to the breweries, we paid a visit to Bruisin’ Ales. Located on Broadway St, the shop looks small and vaguely unassuming on the outside. Inside, though, is a vast array of beer, from local favorites to overseas rarities and everything in between. Bruisin’ features a whole section dedicated to Asheville (and nearby) breweries alone, which provided a great way for me to try some brews from places we didn’t get to visit. The shop has two draft lines for pints and growler fills, and allows you to purchase single bottles or cans from full packs.
As evidenced above, we had more than a fair amount of beer — and we didn’t even visit a fraction of what Asheville has to offer. Will and I definitely want to return, and I’ve made note of some of the breweries we saw in case I find their beers in other NC shops. I highly recommend visiting Asheville, both to explore their amazing beer scene and to visit a truly funky mountain town.
-One of the first things I found was a complimentary booklet detailing Asheville’s breweries, complete with street addresses and neighborhood names. I normally avoid such brochures because they end up being clutter, but I recommend this one. It really helped organize the vast number of breweries in Asheville, and provided helpful information that I didn’t have to keep looking up on my phone (saving battery power for pictures and Untappd check-ins). You’ll find the booklet in many of the breweries, as well as various bars and restaurants in the area
–Chimney Rock State Park is a 30 minute drive from downtown. It was where Last of the Mohicans was filmed, and the top of the rock features an amazing view. There is also a fun strip of shops and restaurants at the bottom of the rock, including Old Rock Cafe (try the fried green tomatoes) and Laura’s Restaurant (home to amazing inch-thick pancakes)
-Check out Nine Mile in the Montford neighborhood (just outside of downtown) for amazing Caribbean food. I enjoyed the One Foundation, which features jerk tofu and grilled pineapple over spinach fettuccini
-Also in the Montford neighborhood is Riverside Cemetery, which is the final resting place of authors Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry, among other famous figures
-One of my favorite places is The Laughing Seed, which serves all vegetarian and vegan food. A consistent favorite is the Harmony Bowl
-It is worth waiting in line for dessert at The Chocolate Lounge. I had a pot de creme that I can still taste in my dreams