Asheville, North Carolina combines stunning scenery with a great local beer scene. Cheers! (Photo: Shannon K/TripAdvisor)
You see them all over town, intricate wooden tap handles carved with quirky names like Ninja Porter or Little Hump Pale Ale. No matter where I went to eat and drink in Asheville, North Carolina, I found an astounding selection of cleverly-named and diversely styled local beer. With more breweries per capita than any other city in the U.S., the town once dubbed “The Land of the Sky” because of its location between the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky mountains is these days being revered by beer lovers as the unofficial capital of an American brewing renaissance.
Back in 2009 — long before craft beer became ubiquitous across the country — Asheville was named Beer City U.S.A. It has maintained the crown nearly every year since, and with 27 breweries in the area, it now boasts the intoxicating ratio of one brewery per every 8,000 people.
The Amazing Pubcycle tour is a truly amazing and unique way to explore the local beer scene in Asheville. (Photo: Randy Duchaine / Alamy Stock Photo)
There are a number of beer tour operators in town, including pedal-powered Amazing Pubcycle and the less strenuous bus tour, Brews Cruise; however, with more than a 100 local beers on tap, there’s no need to plan a special excursion.
Smoky Park Supper Club boasts an impressive selection of local brews. (Photo: Keli Keach)
Most restaurants have extensive regional selections including the Smoky Park Supper Club, a riverfront eatery and hangout built from recycled shipping containers. The space is both pleasantly modern and, with rust and bronze colors along the bar area, pleasantly rustic. On tap during my recent visit was a crisp Noble Cider, brewed just a few miles away, which brilliantly complemented a hot chorizo and cheese curd dip with roasted poblano peppers.
Three-time James Beard Award-Semifinalist, chef John Fleer, keeps an assortment of Asheville brews like Catawba ‘Red-iculous’ IPA and Highland Gaelic Ale on hand at his downtown regional spot, Rhubarb.
Enjoy great beers, food, a brewery tour, and lovely scenery at the Sierra Nevada brewery. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
The actual breweries are a terrific way to sample the suds. The newest addition is the most spectacular. Earlier this year, Sierra Nevada opened the doors to its east coast facility, just south of Asheville in Fletcher. Like a Disney World for hops-loving grown-ups, the property features brewery tours, a taproom, a farm-to-table restaurant and a 600-seat amphitheater in one of the several outdoor spaces — no roller coasters in the works yet. Another brewery, New Belgium, is slated to start production in early 2016 at a complex closer to the city. The tasting room there will be open to guests soon after it gets rolling, most likely in March.
Feeling parched? Head to the Thirsty Monk! (Photo: Thirsty Monk)
My visit to what is frequently hailed as one of the top beer bars in the country, Thirsty Monk encapsulated the chill Asheville vibe. The excellent Belgian-style house brews are hidden toward the back of the flagship location on Patton Avenue, down a set of stairs leading to the basement. The cavern-like space is filled with stone walls, rustic wood and leather couches, recreating feel of an ancient monastery. That’s where the gems are found. Ever-changing options developed by award-winning brewmaster Norm Penn are reserved for serious enthusiasts such as Thirsty Monk’s Abby Blonde, Weedeater Wit, and Small Batch Pokhara Nepali Spice.
Since opening the original Downtown Asheville location in 2008, Thirsty Monk has expanded with two additional locales in the south and north sides of the city. Still, the original is where it’s at. On the main floor, a bright, high-ceilinged space offers 20 constantly rotating taps of every style and taste from the top breweries in the country. This outpost is also home to Top of the Monk — literally on top of the brewpub — the city’s best speakeasy-inspired craft cocktail bar. Among those headed upstairs as I sipped a beer on the front porch of the main space was a group of beer aficionados in town at the invitation of Sierra Nevada for a tour of the town and the new brewery.
Wedge is the perfect spot for enjoying a pint and people-watching. (Photo: Wedge Brewery/Facebook)
Down in the hip River Arts District, the Wedge combines creative beer with actual artisans. The brewery is located at the base of a warehouse occupied by art studios, garnering a diverse crowd. Bearded art students share communal picnic tables with Ugg-wearing blondes holding onto French bulldogs. Parents chase kids around bean bag toss sets while dog-lovers sip brews next to their best friends. Traditional styles are highlighted here, including superb Iron Rail IPA, Julian Price Pilsner and Super Saison Belgian Farmhouse Ale.
As I sipped a “Sticke” Altbier and snacked on a pumpkin pizza from a food truck run by Tin Can Pizzeria parked in the Wedge’s front yard, I could not help but think to myself, “Ah, Asheville,” and to raise a frothy glass.
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