“Asheville” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
We had visited North Carolina on two previous occasions, but beer travel was never the focus. With its growing beer scene, Asheville was the logical location for our first serious beer foray into the Tar Heel state. For our beer adventure in Western North Carolina, we were joined by our good friends and fellow beer travelers Matt and Michelle.
So enjoy our beer adventures in North Carolina…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
After averaging around 75 new breweries a year for the past four years, I predicted at the beginning of 2011 that the upcoming year would be a bit slower for us. Looking at our travel schedule, I guessed that Merideth and I would add 50 to 60 breweries to “The List” in 2011. Well, I was wrong. We visited 74 new breweries in the year just completed, leaving us poised to reach the 700 milestone next month in Australia.
With the year just past fresh in my mind, here are my highlight breweries for 2011.
Alchemist Pub and Brewery – Waterbury, VT
Boneyard Beer – Bend, OR
Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen – Bellingham, WA
Craggie Brewing Company – Asheville, NC
Denali Brewing Company – Talkeetna, AK
Hill Farmstead Brewery – Greensboro Bend, VT
Redwood Curtain Brewing – Arcata, CA
Sound Brewery – Poulsbo, WA
Southern Appalachian Brewery – Hendersonville, NC
And I’ll go out in a limb and predict that Merideth and I will visit 75 new breweries in 2012.
In three days on our short North Carolina visit, we visited almost a dozen breweries. But we still had a few more to go to complete our journey. On our last day with our fellow beer travelers, Matt and Michelle, we tackled the last remaining targets in Asheville and just beyond.
Since none of the breweries opened until the afternoon, we had a relaxing start to the day in downtown Asheville. After a leisurely lunch, we were ready to finish our important work.
French Broad Brewing was located across the street and around a corner from the Asheville’s famous tourist landmark, the Biltmore Estate. It seemed like a nice day to sit outside in their beer garden but the blazing sun forced us to retreat into the tiny but cool tasting room. To the sounds of Appalachian music, we went through the French Broad lineup.
There were six beers in the French Broad sampler including another excellent IPA. But instead of talking about another West Coast-style hop bomb that I really liked, I’ll mention two of their other brews.
Much to Merideth’s pleasure (and mine as well) French Broad had a Kölsch-style beer. Gateway Kölsch was an excellent American example of the style, light-bodied and refreshing.
French Broad Zepptemberfest was a Zeppelin-style Märzen brewed with a Kölsch yeast. Merideth and I argued about whether or not “Zeppelin” was a style of beer. I kept insisting there wasn’t, but apparently I was wrong. Zeppelin-style, from what I can gather is another way of saying Kellerbier. Despite the confusion, Zepptemberfest was a nice brew with the caramel maltiness that I enjoy in the style.
Merideth and I don’t have the opportunity for too many “firsts” these days in our beer travels. But our next stop, Southern Appalachian Brewery in quiet Hendersonville thirty minutes south of Asheville, was a first for us. Due to a local ordinance, one had to be a member to drink the beer. We have never encountered this before, especially since we haven’t beer traveled in Utah.
Actually, only one of us needed to fill out the application form – the other one could be their guest. Since I’m a liberated guy, I had Merideth fill out the membership form and pay the $1 fee. Luckily, I was approved as her guest. We found this quirk to be quite entertaining and great fodder for video. In chatting with owner/brewer Andy Cubbin, the membership requirement, unfortunately, has also been a hindrance to business. They’re working on it and hopefully, the law will get changed.
Membership and guest issues taken care of, we settled in to try the beer at what was my favorite brewery of the trip. Served in a really cute, had-to-be hand-made wooden tray, the four beer sampler was comprised of an Amber, IPA, Stout and Belgian-style Blonde Ale.
I loved the beers, especially the Belgian-style Blonde Ale and the IPA, both 6.5% ABV. The IPA, a 95 IBU hop bomb. was triple hopped in the kettle and dry-hopped with five varieties. My kind of beer!
Southern Applachachian appeared to be a really locals hangout. While we enjoyed our beers, a group of parents were having a few beers before the Friday night football game (at least that was the story I created in my head). Meanwhile, an older gentleman, who I gathered was the local sand bag toss champion, drank a beer and practiced his sport, waiting for someone to challenge him to a game. Great atmosphere, great beer and nice people, Southern Appalachian had the winning formula.
The last brewery stop of the day and trip, Highland Brewing was only a few minutes from French Broad, but seemed worlds away. Nestled in the woods, the brewery’s tasting room was already bustling when we arrived in the early evening. It was quite an eclectic crowd ranging from the young hipsters that we had seen all over town to parents with their kids. While Mom and Dad had a beer or two, the kids used the large outdoor seating area as a giant playground.
The massive scale of the tasting room was something I hadn’t expected. Not only was there was the huge deck, but the interior was equally massive, looking like the live music venue that it was. Slowly spinning on the ceiling was the largest fan I think I have ever seen. Quite the contrast,the bar was tucked along the side wall, dwarfed by it’s surroundings.
It was too crazy to order a taster set so I ordered pints for Merideth and myself. While Merideth started off with their Gaelic Ale, I began with the 60 IBU Kashmir IPA. Both beers were well-made, but lacked the “Wow” factor that we got from beer at some of the other North Carolina breweries.
We finished up our North Carolina brewery tour sharing a pint of Areola Ale, a beer that Merideth was too embarrassed to order. Made for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pinkish hue was achieved with beet juice.
We visited fifteen breweries, learned about a new beer style and joined our first beer club during our abbreviated trip to Asheville. We also took a hike on a Cherokee reservation, visited our 650th brewery and ate loads of hummus. Asheville was good to us and we had a great time. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to return someday.
People often ask me how I stay so slim drinking as much beer as I do. After LMAO at the idea of being considered “slim,” I generally answer something about not eating fast food, watching what I eat, and exercising. Admittedly, that last part is often a challenging routine to maintain, but we’ve developed something we like to call “Hike-n-Beer.” Basically, it’s a hike followed by a session of beer drinking. During the summer Chris and I hike with the dogs and drink beer afterwards almost every weekend, but it doesn’t really become Hike-n-Beer unless we’re joined by friends.
We try to maintain this routine even while on our trips and hiking is one of the easiest forms of exercise while traveling. Our Western North Carolina itinerary included a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with our friends and fellow beer trekkers, Matt and Michelle.
The morning after Wednesday’s Urban Beer Hike in Asheville, we were all moving a little slow. Even so, we managed to pile ourselves in the car and drive over an hour to the park. Driving in Western North Carolina is a beautiful sight–clean, fresh air, lots of green grass, and loads of trees lining the road. It was also an interesting experience to drive through Cherokee, a town at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Interspersed with vintage motels we passed shops that sold “1,000 styles of moccasins,” “authentic Indian crafts,” and “rat cheese.” We had no idea what that last thing was, but it just didn’t sound right to us.
We started our 6-mile hike at a trail head located in a campground. It started out slow and we meandered on a path along the river. Leaves frequently fell from the canopy of trees above, a sign that fall had arrived. Before we knew it, however, the terrain turned steep and the uphill climb seemed to go on forever. The tree cover was beautiful, but even at the top, we could only get slight glimpses of the mountains and valley below because the trees blocked the view. From what I could see, the mountains were covered in green with patches of rust here and there. Give it another few weeks and the mountain sides will be an amazing display of bright red fall foliage. The lack of full view was okay, though, because by the time we reached the top, we all had beer on the brain. It wasn’t lingering we had in mind, but rather getting to the beer part of Hike-n-Beer.
After two and a half hours, we were back at the car and a short time after that, we arrived at our first stop: Heinzelmännchen Brewery in Sylva, North Carolina.
Sylva is a small historic town of around 3,000 people; the perfect location for a quaint brewery with a gnome for a logo and “Your Gnometown Brewery” for a motto. Heinzelmännchen had several beers available to taste, including the Weise Gnome Hefeweizen (described as a “clear wheat ale”), Middleworld Brown Ale (a light-bodied malty brew), and the Black Forest Stout, which was a Schwarzbier.
We enjoyed our samples while wandering around the brewery (Chris especially liked the flag that read “Chillin’ with my gnomies”) and chatting with Deiter, the bräumeister. He even suggested a tasty little cafe for lunch where we could get the brewery’s Gnarly Gnome, a Black IPA not available at the brewery for tasting.
Heinzelmännchen Brewery bills itself as the “beer brewed for food” and they offer a cookbook of their favorite recipes for sale, as well as offer monthly food and beer pairing events. While the beers weren’t quite as authentically German as we were expecting (and I hoping), they were solid and tasted refreshing after our hike.
After lunch at the City Lights Cafe up the street, we were back on the road and headed to Bryson City and Nantahala Brewing. Located on across from the Great Smoky Mountain railroad stop, Nantahala is housed in a large quonset hut that is divided into several businesses, including the brewery, a bar, and a kayak rental company.
Inside, Nantahala was huge with the feel of an airplane hangar. With more than enough floor space, a long bar and a large projector television, the bartender assured us that during football games, the place is packed. The tourist season is almost over, however, and having been open only since March, the bartender wasn’t sure what business would look like in the slow season.
Nantahala had all three of their year-round brews available for tasting. Chris especially liked their flagship beer, Noon Day IPA, a 6% brew with a piney hop flavor. In addition to the Dirty Girl Blonde Ale and Summer Wheat seasonal offerings, they served a Belgian Extra Pale Ale, their App Trail Extra Pale ale fermented with Belgian yeast. This was a popular one with our group.
The beers at Nantahala were tasty and the atmosphere fun and playful, but we were losing steam fast. The hike, sun, and beer had all caught up with us. During the ride back to Asheville, I thought it might be time to add an a new part to our Hike-n-Beer: Hike-n-Beer-n-Sleep.
It was our first full day in Asheville and what better way to introduce ourselves to its beer scene than an Urban Beer Hike. With six breweries located in the downtown area, Asheville is perfect for a walking brew tour.
We began our hike just past noon in the heart of downtown Asheville at Lexington Avenue Brewery. We never like starting a beer hike with a glitch but glitches happen. LAB was debuting a new menu on this day and their opening was delayed to 1pm. Despite ruining my planned 6-mile loop route and causing a double back-track, we quickly reconfigured the hike and headed to our new first stop a short five minute walk away.
Asheville reminded me a lot of Portland, OR and Asheville Brewing was the first indication of the similarity. It wasn’t only the hipster crowd, but the eclectic former industrial-looking building converted into a brewpub that had me thinking of the Rose City.The ample space was dominated by a huge covered outdoor seating area filled with a mish-mash of reclaimed chairs.
Armed with an eight beer sampler selection, our quartet grabbed one of the available tables outside. If I had to guess, I would say our chairs, which were tandem, came from the Greyhound bus depot that was by our hotel.
Rocket Girl, a Kölsch-style brew, was a perfect beer for a day that pushed 80 degrees. Escape Artist ESP was a middle of the road Pale Ale, especially in comparison to it’s brother Fire Escape Pale Ale. Finding out the hard way, I grabbed the Fire Escape and took a big gulp. I quickly realized the “fire” portion of the name was provided by a healthy dose of chili pepper. Asheville’s flagship brew, Shiva IPA, was probably my favorite beer in the lineup.
Finished at Asheville, it was now time to backtrack to Lexington Avenue Brewing. LAB was quite a different vibe from the hippie-ish first stop. A large and open space, the brewpub was very modern. The brew kit shined in the back of the room behind glass walls and a 92 foot curved bar dominated the room. Given the gorgeous weather, we sat in the bright front room that was open to the street.
Given that LAB messed up my brilliantly conceived Urban Beer Hike route with the new menu delay, I declared that the food better be darn good or I would be angry. Fortunately, the food was quite delicious. Merideth enjoyed the Flatbread pizza while I had the Hummus Quartet, a plate with four different flavors.
From the six beer sampler, three of our group had the GABF bronze medal winning Porter. Merideth, the odd person out, ordered their Oktoberfest.
Having a nice buzz going, I was able to ignore the fact that we passed by Asheville Brewing again on our way to our third stop. Craggie Brewing was in a smallish industrial space just around the corner from our first stop. Thanks to Zaq in the tasting room for letting us in a few minutes before opening so we could get out of the heat.
Six breweries into our North Carolina trip, Craggie Brewing was the first “WOW” stop. Three of the six beers really stood out. Toubab Brewe, a 4.2% ABV Bavarian-style Zwickelbier, was probably Merideth’s favorite beer of the trip. Cherry Belafonte, a Belgian-style brew with Sweet and sour cherries might have been the best fruit beer we tried all week and Yo La Mango IPA, a wonderfully hopped brew with a slight Mango taste, was one of my candidates for beer of trip.
Craggie was Merideth’s 650th brewery and one of the brewers honored the occasion by giving her an acorn squash. We liked Craggie so much that we returned two more times (and no, our repeat visits were not influenced by the hopes for more gifts of squash).
Just down the street and around the corner was our next stop, the soccer and dog-friendly Green Man Brewery. With a big rolling door for a main entrance, I was again cognizant of how much Asheville reminded me of Portlandia.
Walking into the tasting room which fronted the brewery, the first thing I noticed was the plethora of green men, the mythical deity (not the silly guys in the green suit), decorations on the wall. OK, maybe I noticed them after I saw there was soccer showing on both TVs.
The four beer samples, IPA, ESB, Porter and Stout were all well-made and very English in their makeup. The IPA was my favorite of the four but quite a departure from the previous hop bomb that I enjoyed at Craggie. Despite it being my favorite, the pint I ordered was the nutty ESB on cask.
From Green Man, we embarked on the longest leg of the day’s Urban Beer Hike. It was a little over a mile to the River Arts District and Wedge Brewing.
Our foursome had some trouble finding the brewery. After locating the street address, we could hear people but couldn’t figure out where to go. Turns out, Wedge was on the opposite side of the building down some stairs.
Given the district’s name, I was hoping for a river view, but instead we got a train track view. Of the 660 breweries I have visited, Wedge had one of the more unique settings. It’s bustling beer garden was quite spacious, basically being the dirt open space between the building and the tracks. The multitude of happy customers were spread far and wide, enjoying the Wedge brews and watching the trains pass by.
After grabbing some beers, we plopped ourselves around a table in front of a semi trailer painted with a stage on the side. Hillbilly Hawaiian music provided by a local band played in the background while we enjoyed the beers and played with dogs. Both Merideth’s beer, the Wit, and mine, the IPA, were very nice.
In the dimming light of the Asheville evening, we returned to the downtown area for our final stop. Oyster House Brewing is a half-barrel brewery, located in the Lobster Trap restaurant, the “Best Seafood Restaurant in Western North Carolina.”
We were there for only one beer, their Moonestone Stout, an Oyster Stout brewed with five pounds of the crustacean in each batch. This was the third Oyster Stout I have had and it was just as good as the others. Especially when paired with a dozen raw oysters.
Our feet a little sore, we took a taxi back to our hotel. Beautiful day, wonderful beer and good friends was a recipe for an amazing day and the Urban Beer Hike was a great way to acquaint ourselves with Asheville beer scene.