One of the goals for our Asheville trip was to visit as many of the microbreweries as possible. In case you hadn’t noticed, Ryan and I get pretty into well-crafted beer. And good wine. And recently, well-made cocktails (hey, we like to drink a bit ). So we bypassed the Biltmore (and unfortunately, the hiking due to the weather – next time!) and instead spent our time filling our bellies with delicious carbonated carb-y goodness.
I did a ton of research, using Yelp!, the breweries’ Web sites, the reviews from Cbus blogger Itinerant Foodies, and just Googling around to decide which ones to go to and which to skip this time around, plus figure out the best route. Ya gotta go the furthest away and work your way into town/closer to home, ya know, while also taking into account the different opening hours and when there’d be live music you want to hear. No, I do not research, plan, and organize trips (or my entire life) into the ground or anything, hah. I like to be prepared, and make sure I am not missing anything great while hitting up something mediocre. But I’d like to point out I am also quite flexible – I like to be PREPARED, but am willing to change things up if we are in the mood to do something different or nothing at all.
Anyway, we hit up 7 places over the 2 days, and here’s our take on them for anyone else who heads that way.
Please forgive the lower-res shots – I tend to just pull out the iPhone while traveling instead of messing with the DSLR. I’d rather enjoy the trip than be lugging around a big camera and spending the extra time getting the settings right, not to mention interrupting those around us, especially in restaurants. Also, credit for half these photos goes to Ryan.
Pisgah Brewing. This guy is about 15 min outside of town, so I definitely recommend going here first, which is easy since it opens at 2, earlier than many of the others. It is in an industrial park that had us going “um, are you sure this is the right place?”, but once we found the tiny sign on their door, we were glad we kept looking. A bar and some taps thrown up next to a stage in the open warehouse room seemed kind of random, but the all-0rganic beers here were great. GREAT. We tried 9 different beers, and there wasn’t a single one we didn’t like. And I don’t even LIKE certain beer styles – sometimes porters and stouts and NEVER IPAs. My favorite’s were a seasonal bacon stout (I promise it wasn’t bacony – just smokey and actually a little chocolate-y) and the red devil, their Belgian triple brewed with the addition of raspberries.
Craggie Brewing Co. Craggie, one of the most recent additions to the Asheville beer scene, is in town, just around the corner from Asheville Brewing Co., so hit both of these up together. It was by far the most casual setting, and Ryan’s favorite. We drank our pints while sitting on camp chairs, on cracked concrete, next to the brew kettles, while a group of (I think) the owners’ friends home-brewed a small batch next to us. Another plus to Craggie’s is they support a lot of charities, even encouraging patrons to bring in canned goods for a discount. This was another place with free live music during happy hour (Lionz of Zion), with a set of bands scheduled for later in the night too. I don’t think it was heated in the brewery, as a gauge on the wall showed it to be a chilly 62 in there. Take a sweater or jacket if you, like me, get chilled easily. Favorites here were the choconut winter brown, the bourbon chipotle porter, and dubbelicious Belgian-style double.
French Broad Brewery. This was also another top stop for us, for both the atmosphere and the beers. It’s small and cozy, with the tasting room set at the edge of the brewing area, also with a stage crammed in there. We were there for happy hour live music, a bluegrass-y band, Johnson’s Crossroad, that we really enjoyed. Favorites here were the Wee-Heavier Scotch Ale and the 13 Rebels ESB. It is on the outskirts of town, so we stopped here after Pisgah and Highlands before heading downtown for dinner.
Those three were definitely our favorites, for the beer, the atmosphere, the experience (especially our interactions with the pourers!), and the music. Here are the other places we visited, only one of which had beers that left us going “meh”, so all are worth a stop.
Asheville Brewing Company. Asheville is a brewpub – more a restaurant that happens to make their own beer, and it’s been around for quite awhile (I think it was the first in the area?). The beers here were pretty decent, but again, it got a little crowded and wasn’t as fun/”cool” as some of the others. I hear the pizza is good, and we enjoyed a huge pile o’ tater tots for an afternoon snack, so perhaps make this a meal outing with beer on the side. I really enjoyed the Roland ESB.
Highlands Brewing Co. This guy was outside town, not too far from our cabin actually, and in another industrial park next to a local distillery. It was larger, and more commercial than many of the other places, probably to be expected since it was also one of the first in the area. There was even someone directing traffic in the parking lot! We walked in, and the place was just crawling with screaming and crying kiddos running around. I was very confused. But then the music started, and all the kids started dancing and generally being adorable, and I decided it was OK. It definitely wasn’t the ONLY brewery we saw kids at, and I guess if I was a parent and still wanted to go enjoy live music and good beer, it would be awesome to have it be acceptable to brings children with. But still, be warned. Another good band here – Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work, who played blues-y/folk/Americana. The bar was quite crowded, and they don’t do flights – you can ask for a taste of a couple before picking your pint, but that’s it. The Gaelic Ale was quite delicious, but the others we tried were just OK for us.
Wedge Brewing Co. Located in the gentrifying River Arts District, Wedge was definitely full of indie hipster types. And it was FULL. I almost feel like I can’t give a fair review here, because it was the end of the night and after a late dinner so I was tired and full and the crowds definitely turned me off. I believe it is a more recent addition to the local beer scene. I honestly don’t remember any of the beers here, other than the Golem, a strong Belgian ale. Guess we will have to give it another try!
Lexington Avenue Brewery. This brewpub is right downtown, among plenty of eateries, bars, and shops, and about a 10 min walk from Asheville and Craggie, so there’s another trio of visits for ya. We’d heard the food here was good, so decided to make it a dinner stop. This place is first-come, first-serve, but luckily a couple was hopping up from the bar as we walked by. We had pretty good food (I’d call it upscale, creative pub fare; more on that in the next post), but the beer was pretty disappointing. A lot of light-lager-like tasting beers, or stouts and pale ales that are more like the ones I’m used to and don’t like. If you like your beer on the lighter or hoppier side, you’ll be fine, but for us, this was really a miss. I do recommend the food, though!
Lastly, I’d be remiss to talk about Asheville’s beer scene and not mention the following two places we also visited:
Thirsty Monk. Located in the heart of downtown, Thirsty Monk is two levels of intriguing beer choices. The lower level bar is all Belgians (or Belgian-style), and the upper level all Americans. I personally loved that you could get a half-pour of anything – as the driver and someone who loves having a variety of tastes, not to mention someone who gets full easily on too much heavy beer, it was awesome. Want to know what I mean by intriguing and interesting? I had Catawba’s Pain Pour Nicole downstairs, a beer brewed with rye, molasses, and caraway seeds that tasted almost like a winter warmer. Back upstairs, I tried the Stone/Elysian/Bruery collaboration La Citrueille Celeste de Citracado, an amber brewed with Stone-grown pumpkins, toasted fenugreek, birch bark, and lemon verbena. Both were explosions of flavor – love!
Bruisin’ Ales. As Ryan uttered as we walked in, it’s like a craft beer lover’s mecca. A small, but full shop packed with all sorts of local and national craft beers, including a lot of limited editions, and import brew. Worth a stop, for sure, especially to take back to the cabin for a night in (or night cap, as the case may be …).
So that was our (overly wordy) Asheville beer experience. We’ve already broken into our stash of growlers and 22 oz bottles brought back, to share with other beer-loving friends. One more post headed your way, on the food, and then I’ll just have to figure out when we can get back there for more.