Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Asheville ... aka "Beerville"

Doug here ... Chris has decided that it is my turn to write a blog post on a subject that is near and dear to my heart. That subject being beer ... more precisely ... craft breweries ... and the delightfully hoppy IPAs that they produce.

My son sent me this on Facebook awhile back:

To which I responded:

I make it a point to visit local breweries, try out their brews, and collect their coasters or stickers as we travel around the country. When I checked out our recent "home" of Asheville, North Carolina, I learned that they have an extreme amount of microbreweries in the city ... so many, that they need their own Asheville Breweries Field Guide.

According to the guide, the current count is 59 breweries in the city and surrounding area. Asheville has also recently welcomed two major leaders in the craft beer industry, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, who built large production facilities to serve the East Coast. These numbers allow Asheville to claim the crown for the most breweries per capita in the United States. I'm thinking that there's something about all the water that flows out of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains that makes for really good beer.

Both New Belgium and Sierra Nevada Breweries offer free tours along with free tastings of their beer. Space is limited, so it is recommended that you book a tour in advance on their respective websites. We did that immediately upon getting to Asheville.

So in between rain events, hiking and exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, we managed to hit up a few of these breweries. And with a true "if you can't beat him, join him" attitude, Chris was at my side as we attempted to scratch the surface of the Asheville Microbrewery scene. 

Can you guess which one is Chris?

Without further ado ... here are my reviews of a few of Asheville's many microbreweries.

Sierra Nevada Brewery

On our first day in town in between rain showers, we toured Sierra Nevada Brewing. The location was impressive ... a Disney World for beer lovers! The 45 minute tour was fast moving and very entertaining as tour guide's presentation was interspersed with beer humor. She knew her stuff and was passionate about her Sierra Nevada Beer. At the end, we sampled four different beers and were also given a free souvenir keychain bottle opener.

In front of Sierra Nevada brewery - impressive location.
A bale of dried hops.
The fragrance of the hop room was an
olfactory delight for this IPA lover.

A cone of hops that we were able to rub and smell
is what makes their IPAs so outstanding. 

The tour group with the guide.

Standing underneath
one of the huge fermentation tanks
that can be seen from outside the building.

The bottling line is able to fill
900 bottles or 600 cans of beer per minute!

The tour group in the tasting room.
A free souvenir of the tour.
Everyone needs a beer bottle opener alongside
their car keys ... right??!!
After the tour, Chris and I went over to the taproom restaurant. They had a good selection of small batch barrel-aged beers as well as some creative and tasty food. The duck fat fries were delicious! At their "souvenir"  store, I was able to find a six-pack of one of my favorites from Sierra Nevada.

A super deal for such a great beer.
Do you think Chris would mind me filling our
already-too-small RV frig with this??!!

Blue Ghost Brewing Company

After we were done at Sierra Nevada, we decided to check out one of the local places which was fairly close by. Blue Ghost Brewing Company is named after the Blue Ghost Firefly which is native to the southern Appalachian mountains. Blue Ghost receives high marks on Google Maps (4.8 out of a possible 5 stars), but I was somewhat surprised and wouldn't have rated them as high. There was no food available, and the location was not particularly appealing. The beer was decent but not over-the-top good. There was a stage for entertainment which probably happens on the weekend.

Fairly busy for a rainy Monday evening.

A very good mango IPA and a cool sticker.
Unfortunately, no coaster.

A fairly non-descript location hidden in
an industrial part of town.

Green Man Brewery

On another day after getting skunked trying to get to the top of Mt. Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi) due to low cloud cover and rain, we stopped into a couple of breweries in the Asheville city proper. The first was Green Man Brewery. We were pretty impressed with the size of this brewery and the quality and creativity of the beer. They had a few good barrel-aged beers, so we decided to try a flight with those three plus an IPA. They were all good, but the Holly King barrel-aged belgian quad was outstanding. 

They had a number that we wanted to try ...
so we ordered a flight.

The interior of the tasting room.

The outside of the brewery ...
it is nice to see that many of the Asheville
microbreweries have taken over
and revitalized older industrial buildings.

Wicked Weed Brewing

After sampling the beers at Green Man, we decided to try one more that also had food available. So we walked over to Wicked Weed Brewing. The name is from a supposed quote by King Henry VIII which declares hops to be "a wicked and pernicious weed." The wall of the brewery is thus adorned. Their menu is somewhat limited, but we found the Wicked Burger to our liking. I tried one of their IPAs, and thought it was good but not top-tier. The location and atmosphere was pretty nice, and the service was really good. With no barrel-aged brews currently on tap, Chris found one to her liking in the gift shop. We both appreciate those kinds of souvenirs!

Chris found a bottle of her favorite
in the gift shop.

The menu

New Belgium Brewing

Like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium Brewing is another big name craft beer company that has established an east coast branch in Asheville. This brewery also offers tours that you can sign up for ahead of time, and I highly recommend going to this one.

This free tour was "Disney World on steroids" for craft beer lovers. The guide was knowledgeable, easy to listen to, funny, and knew his way around the place. There were several places along the tour where he would stop and pour one or two beer samples for us to try. The beer sampling starts right away at the beginning of the tour ... so pace yourself! In between sipping stations there were other opportunities for fun ... including the chance to ride one of their "fat tire" bikes. Not only was there information on the beer making process, but he also gave you insight into the history and culture of the company. The taproom had some additional beers, including a Trippel with honey and orange which was really good. They really don't do food there, but there is usually a food truck outside that you can get something from.

Gathering for the beginning of the tour
by the Fat Tire Arch.

Getting some samples at the start of the tour.
Fat Tire beer is one of their most popular brews.
Its sibling, the White Fat Tire, was tasty too.

Sliding down to the basement
is so much more fun than taking the stairs. 

They have a real biking vibe throughout their brewery.

Another sampling station was located in the basement.
A Belgium dubbel called Abbey was delightful,
but we will pass on the sour beer La Folie (bleah).

Employees get a cool New Belgium bike
after working there for a year.

The bottling line shooting out 450 bottles per minute.

The final sample location had the Hemperor, a hemp IPA.
No danger of me trying to fill our RV frig with this.

Oskar Blues Brewery

On another day, we took a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as on some of the side roads down to the towns in the adjoining valleys. Oskar Blues Brewery is another major brewery that has a branch located in the Asheville area (about 30 miles south in Brevard, NC). They had some tasty IPAs, but the dark malty beers weren't very prevalent. I hear that they don't focus on those in the summer ... and it is definitely starting to feel like summer after hiking in the NC sunshine. It was a nice to hang out and enjoy a beer in their outdoor area. They generally have a food truck if you are interested in getting some food.

The outdoor area, which also has a bar.
Beer drinkers beware: Not all the brews from the inside
were available outside so check out both before deciding.

The indoor tap area.

BearWaters Brewing

On the same day we explored Oskar Blues, we ended up on the other side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Canton, NC (about 20 miles west of Asheville). We were looking for a place with food, and this came up in an area that we wanted to check out. BearWaters Brewing turned out to be a rather unexpected small-town surprise ... and one of our favorite breweries in the Asheville area. The only bummer was that the town sported a paper mill whose odors took some getting used to. If you were willing to get acclimated to the industrial fragrance, you are rewarded with a brewery that has friendly service, great beers and some good basic burgers and more.  We actually did a beer flight of four because there were so many exceptional barrel-aged and IPAs on the menu. The food service and brewery seemed to be completely separate operations working together under one roof as we ordered our food at a separate window, and they delivered it to our table. The one thing that we really liked about BearWaters Brewing was a small town vibe. There were a lot of locals enjoying an evening out, and they were very welcoming.

The exterior entrance invites us in.

Small town atmosphere with friendly people.

A good evening for games on the patio.

There are no strangers ... just friends that you haven't met yet!
We enjoyed hanging out with and getting to know Sharon and Woody
who were treating their 94 year young father, Harry to dinner.

Highland Brewing Company

Highland Brewing Company is the brewery that began the Asheville craft beer craze way back in 1994. The New Belgium tour guide gave a lot of credit to Highland Brewing for lobbying for law changes that helped expand the craft beer industry and allow New Belgium to locate its second brewery in Asheville.

So on a sunny Saturday, we decided to head to the highest point east of the Mississippi River ... Mount Mitchell at a lofty 6684 feet. We checked out Highland Brewing on the way back to the campground. We are really glad we stopped here ... some seriously good beer was served up, and there were a lot of fun people out enjoying a nice Saturday afternoon on the patio.

Picnic table seating on the outside patio
encourages people to get to know each other.
Beer tour buses filled with fun people made a stop here
as well as a bachelorette party or two.

This is where you go in and get the seriously good beer.

Sweeten Creek Brewing

After hanging out at Highland Brewery, we decided to stop at another brewery that offers food. Sweeten Creek Brewing, highly rated on Google Maps (4.8 stars), turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The beer was average at best ... even the basic IPA had a bit of an "off" flavor. The food choices were pretty limited to a few hot sandwiches, but I was happy with my choice of the "Grinder" sandwich. 

The building, located in an industrial part of town,
is pretty unexciting and really quiet for a Saturday night.

The list of beers was limited to some "basic" brews.
I missed the creativity that adds to the appeal of craft beer. 

Asheville Brewing Company

On our final day in Asheville, we headed downtown to the Asheville Pinball Museum. For $15 we enjoyed "all you can play" pinball on some modern machines as well as classic machines that I remember from my college days. All that fast flipper work builds up an appetite. So it was off to Asheville Brewing Company for some food and beer. Despite a fairly low rating on Google Maps (4.2 stars), I was really impressed. The beers were top-notch. Service was good, and they had some creative pizzas and burgers.

An appealing location not far from downtown.

The interior is welcoming and relaxing.
Their Double IPA and Triple IPA
were two of the best IPAs that I've ever had.

Catawba Brewing Co

The final one on the list was Catawba Brewing Co, which is not far down the street from Asheville Brewery. We actually stopped at Burial Beer Co first, but did not like the atmosphere nor the selection of beers that were on tap. Catawba, however, had a nice open feel with some excellent beers on tap (23 on tap the day we were there) ... including a barrel-aged imperial stout that made Chris happy. There was even a BBQ food truck there the day we went which may have been a nice option if we had not already eaten.

Nice location in another
"shaped-up" former warehouse building.

The crowd seemed to enjoy the good music
on this relaxing late Sunday afternoon.

The bar with 23 beers on tap ...
so many choices!


Sadly, I would have to stay in Asheville for a month or two in order to try out all of the breweries in and around Asheville ... and this blog entry is already way too long! Here is the ranking of my favorite breweries that we were able to visit.

1. New Belgium Brewery - super-fun tour and laid back atmosphere. Remember to book the tour ahead of time to enjoy lots of laughs along with decent free beer.
2. BearWaters Brewery - great small town brewery with some good eats.
3. Asheville Brewery - if you want some good beer and good eats within Asheville.
4. Sierra Nevada Brewery - book the tour ahead of time, and then stay and get some good small-batch beer and food in their onsite restaurant.
5. Highland Brewery - It's the happening place, and you will find some good beer.
6. Green Man Brewing and Catawba Brewing - Just plain excellent beer.
7. Wicked Weed Brewing - another place to eat with some pretty good beer in Asheville.

The microbrewery business in Asheville is huge! So many choices and so little time ...

And life is good when you can enjoy that perfect IPA or Barrel-aged brew ... or the water source that it originated from ... with the one you love! 

Until next time ... Have a "Hoppy" Day ... and enjoy all the adventures in your life!

PS ... Yes, Chris did have to add her touch of humor at the end!
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