FYI: April is North Carolina Beer Month – and no better time than to offer you some ideas on touring and tasting Asheville’s breweries. Remember too that there are even MORE breweries just outside of Asheville Metro. The best place to get an overview into Western North Carolina brewers is to hit up the NC Brewers Guild website where you will find more info on Beer Month and can access this printable map of North Carolina Brewers. Click on the brewery names to hit their website for more details on evenets, food trucks and more.
By Tim Rutherford
As a transplanted food and beverage writer I still field lots of questions about destinations in Savannah and along the Georgia coast.
More and more folks are finding out that I live in Asheville, NC, now and are writing to help plan a trip to Western North Carolina. Many of these travelers are craft beer fans – and their question is innocent enough:
“Hey, I’m gonna be in Asheville for three days. Which breweries should I visit?”
The answer isn’t so straight forward. The Asheville metro area has more than two dozen breweries. Cross the county line in any direction and another nearly 30 breweries are waiting for you to pull up to the bar.
With only three days you’re gonna need to pare down your expectations. I’ve hit ‘em all – and am here to help. The colorful foliage that attracted you in October is turning green again, the air is crisp and clean – and the beer is cold. Buckle up, arm-twist someone to be your designated driver – and let’s go!
Top Five craft breweries not to miss
These brewers are the pioneers, the innovators and the stalwart destinations. For a first timer this is a good starting itinerary.
Highland Brewing Co.: Speaking of pioneers, this mountaintop brewery was Asheville’s first legal brewery since Prohibition. Highland paved the way for other area breweries and emerged as one of the Southeast’s most dependable brewers. Recent years have seen the brewery’s experimental program grow, new labels added and the entire facility upgraded as a beer-fan destination. From its expansive meadow – perfect for outdoor events and concerts -- to a huge taproom with live music , a special event venue and a rooftop biergarten featuring panoramic views of the mountains, Highland Is living up to its slogan: ”Just a wee bit different.” 12 Old Charlotte Hwy.
Hungrymansguide pick: Highland has a solid stable of great beers and has gown more aggressive with seasonal and special releases beginning in 2016. One of those beers, Mandarina IPA, has emerged as my go-to Highland offering. Brewed with nuanced German Mandarina Bavaria and Hull Melon hops and bold, juicy American oranges, expect intense orange and tropical notes and a crisp, bright finish. 5 ABV.
Wicked Weed Brewing: Since its founding in 2011, Wicked Weed has focused on crafting fan-pleasing interpretations of American Ales and Belgian-styled beers. Its robust Pernicious American IPA brought home silver from the 2015 GABF – but is a gold medalist to devout followers. A second location – Funkatorium – is the backdrop for Wicked Weed’s barrel-aged and sour programs. Both locations are cool chill spaces, serve awesome food and a line-up of beers that is both mind-blowing and truly delicious. 91 Biltmore Ave. Funkatorium: 147 Coxe Ave. NOTE: Since this story was written, Wicked Weed Brewing announced its acquisition by InBev -- the EU-based parent company of Anheuser-Busch. Read more about the acquisition by following this link.
Hungrymansguide pick: I'm going with Freak of Nature, a double IPA that's a solid homage to West Coast style IPA. Ridiculously robust but still well-balanced, it'll sneak up on you with 8.5 ABV.
Catawba Brewing: This is another pioneering story. Forged from equipment out of a defunct Colorado brewery and housed in a near dilapidated warehouse in Glen Alpine, NC, Catawba is one of those craft brewer stories that began as a hobby – and turned into a passion-fueled business. Since its founding in 1999, Catawba experienced steady growth and today a 30-barrel brew house in Morganton, NC, produces nine flagship beers. A taproom on Asheville’s popular South Slope brews small batches and is home to the barrel-aging program. Another taproom in Biltmore Village makes getting a taste of Catawba convenient. South Slope: 32 Banks Ave. Biltmore Village: 63 Brook St. Morganton: 212 S. Green St.
Hungrymansguide pick: Brown Bear Brown Ale. Hints of cacao, toffee and toasted notes. Silky smooth malt character. 5.2 ABV.
For more info on the dynamic Asheville brewing scene, visit the resources on the Asheville Brewers Alliance website.
Green Man Brewery: With a history that reaches back to the early days of Asheville craft beer (1997), Green Man has evolved from a brew pub to a full production brewery. In 2016, the 3-story landmark “Greenmansion” rose on Banks Avenue to house a 20,000-sf brewhouse and packaging facility, merchandise store and an indoor/outdoor taproom that offers a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was one of the first craft brew pubs visited by Hungrymansguide – way back in 2001. Green Man has continued on an evolving and innovative path. Its original brewhouse – now dubbed “Dirty Jack’s" – is home to the specialty brewery and has its own tasting room. Greenmansion: 27 Buxton Ave. Dirty Jack's is just up the street.
Hungrymansguide pick: Green Man ESB. British malts and hops pay homage to this Old World style amber ale. Roasty notes, caramel flavors. 5.5 ABV.
Burial Beer Co.: From a humble start with a one-barrel brewhouse cranking out specialty brews in 2013, Burial has grown steadily to add a 20-barrel facility at its original location. Later this year, Burial’s Forestry Camp will open south of Asheville with a 6,000-sf production facility and taproom. What is not expected to change is a lineup of regular, seasonal and specialty brews that epitomizes Burial's hands-on attention to detail. 40 Collier Ave. Forestry Camp near Biltmore Village: 16 Shady Oak Dr.
Hungrymansguide Pick: Choosing a fav here is like naming your favorite child. I’ve not had a dog in the bunch and have been blown away by the quality and imagination of the specialty brews. Still want a go-to? I’m a fan of Ceremonial Session IPA, a beautifully balanced beer with plenty of citrusy hops character. It’s also available frequently in 16 0z. 4-packs. 4 ABV.
This group of breweries includes some small producers and some brewers that masterfully experiment with style. This tour is definitely for the experienced palate.
Bhramari Brewing Co.: For me, this easy to access downtown brew pub is my retreat when I want a great burger and a flight of truly remarkable experimental beers. Here, conventional brew fans will find beers styles laced with other great flavors – ranging from fiery chili peppers to a veritable spice market of adjunct flavors. The list changes frequently. 101 S Lexington Ave.
Hungrymansguide pick: I like to catch the seasonal “Rise of the Spruce” Imperial IPA. Take a robust IPA and add locally sourced spruce and honey – wow, what a mouthful of flavor! 9.4 ABV.
One World Brewing: Tucked in at the end of an alley just steps away from the heart of Asheville is One World Brewery. Its massive metal entry way seems like a portal into a post-apocalyptic dungeon. Guests descend into a dark and inviting basement level ale house. Here 20 fermenters are constantly at work with recipes pushed through the 1 ½ barrel brewhouse. This feeds 10 taps dispensing the hand-crafted ales that are distinctively recognized as One World’s interpretations of American and global beer styles. The husband and wife venture has a real family feel. Live music later in the evening is more akin to a house concert than a bar band. 10 Patton Ave #002.
Hungrymansguide pick: Yeah, I’m a pale ale and IPA kinda guy – so I’m reaching for an Ashevegas Pale Ale, an American style PA that’s crisp and clean with a mild herbaceous spice. 6 ABV. (Tip: This is the perfect place to experience a flight – cheerful bartenders will help you choose.
Asheville Brewing Co.: These guys have been the family-fun craft beer destination since 1998. Its three locations all tout great pub grub and an endless supply of fun ABC labels like Rocket Girl Lager, Shiva IPA and Ninja Porter. The northside location showcases the latest flicks played on its in-house cinema and has a game room for kids of all ages. Downtown, find a great, covered outdoor space with food and drink and, if you’re venture the south Asheville, find the same great beers and food there too. ABC has great distribution in local grocers – take some home! North: 675 Merrimon Ave. Downtown: 77 Coxe Ave. South: 1850 Hendersonville Road.
Hungrymansguide pick: A staple in my beer fridge is the easy drinking Rocket Girl Lager. Kolsch yeast makes this a smooth and crisp brew – a session favorite. 4.2 ABV.
Hi-Wire Brewing: One of a cluster of breweries within an easy walk of one another, Hi-Wire – by its own admission – doesn’t take itself too seriously. Still, like those daring performers of the big top high wire, these folks bring remarkable balance and drinkability to every beer they brew. The downtown location serves now as the experimental brewhouse and taproom; a Biltmore Village are “Big Top” stages the taproom and event venue around the heart of Hi-Wire’s major production facility. 197 Hilliard Ave. Big Top in Biltmore Village: 2 Huntsman Place.
Hungrymansguide pick: I love hangin’ downtown, where you can find me catching some rays and sipping Hi-Wire Lo-Pitch, a juicy IPA that citrusy refreshing, crisp and perfectly tuned. 4.9 ABV.
Twin Leaf Brewery: A stone’s throw from Hi-Wire, Twin Leaf not only focuses on great beer but has a solid reputation advocating Western North Carolina outdoors and environment – and is a mecca for cyclists, hikes and all manner of outdoorsy folks. Founder Tim Weber began home brewing in 2006 and by 2012 had Twin Leaf in production. The kid- and dog-friendly Coxe Avenue location features the freshest beers from Twin Leaf’s brewhouse – and you might even find yourself challenged to a game of giant Jenga! 144 Coxe Ave.
Hungrymansguide pick: I’m currently hooked on Uproot ESB. It’s pretty complex with great tones of bread, toast, and biscuits, along with delicious hints of caramel, chocolate, and fruit esters. 5.8 ABV.
The Destination is Part of the Fun
These are brewers with cool settings, great beer and legendary hang-outs. Anticipate a great range of styles – and usually a food truck on on-site food.
The Wedge: If I need a dose of good Karma, I’m going to be parked on a bench at The Wedge. Nothing but good things ever happen for me here - -and the beer is always, always, always spot on! The original location in River Arts District is my jam, but the new location, just a few hundred yards away, is cool in its own way – and allows the little brewery to up its game. Wedge Studios in River Arts District: 37 Payne's Way. Wedge at Foundtion: 37 Foundy Way.
Hungrymansguide pick: Payne’s Pale Ale is my go-to – it’s balanced, easy drinking and hoppy enough to bang around the taste buds. 5.1 ABV.
Lexington Avenue Brewing: This heart-of-downtown brewpub delivers a menu that’s a bit more aggressive than typical pub grub – and the beers are designed to match up beautifully. I love to get a window seat to watch the action and spend an afternoon sampling from a gret line-up of regular and seasonal brews. 39 N Lexington Ave.
Hungrymansguide pick: I keep going back for Amber Waves of Grain, a nutty amber ale with a touch of German hops for balance. The final product is a malty, crisp, easy-drinking beer. 5.5 ABV.
Oyster House Brewing Co.: This West Asheville joint is a real neighborhood destination – but also an off-the-radar destination for great oysters and house-brewed beers. Of course, you’ve gotta try an oyster stout and then move on to my fav Oyster House beer. 625 Haywood Road.
Hungrymansguide pick: Bob’s Yer Uncle ESB is pleasingly bitter, boldly crisp and always refreshing. 6.2 ABV.
Upcountry Brewing: While you’re in West Asheville, scoot north on Haywood Street for a print or two at this up and comer. Formerly Altamont Brewing, Terrapin Brewing co-founder John Cochran, bought the place, re-tooled the brewhosue and re-launched as Upcountry Brewing. The kitchen and menu got a huge facelift and the beer list just keeps getting stronger. Cool place to hang – and live music makes this a great destination away from throngs of downtown tourists. 1042 Haywood Road.
Hungrymansguide pick: This is my “neighborhood” brewery and I’m currently hooked on Hopped Red, a red IA, gets my attention here. An abundance of Falconer’s Flight hops stands up against the malt bill to deliver a juicy mouthful of tropical grapefruit and lemon flavors. 7.3 ABV.
Blue Mountain Pizza: Go for the three taps of finely crafted, house brewed beer – stay for the pizza! A regular Friday night date for me and Ms. T.J., Blue Mountain Pizza is just up the road in Weaverville. Its two-barrel system is dedicated to brewing only for the restaurant – every beer I’ve sampled has been a winner. Due to the rotating nature of the taps – there is no favorite here. At Blue Mountain, it’s best to go with the flow and sample any beer coming from their talented young brewers. 55 N. Main St., Weaverville.
Three of the nation’s best known craft brewers have facilities in or near Asheville. If you love the beers, want an amazing tour experience and all the trappings of super slick brewing facilities, then build a trip around these brands. If you love these beers, you don’t’ need my opinion – I’ll just point you toward resources. Each brewery features tours, tastings, a taprooom, food and live usic and special events. Tip: Tours book up weeks in advance -- plan ahead and make a reservation online.