You know you’re in a beer town when the gas station has a beer bar. A legitimate, eight rotating taps, corn hole in the backyard, beer bar. At the gas station. Yeah, Asheville is that kind of town. The small Southern town has crept into the national conversation about world-class beer destinations, rubbing elbows with cities twice, three times its size thanks, in part to the sheer volume of breweries operating in and around downtown. Last count, Asheville had 14 breweries, though that number will likely rise by the time you read this. And we’re not just talking one-barrel mom and pops. When craft beer pillars New Belgium and Sierra Nevada decided to expand east of the Mississippi, they looked directly to Asheville. Sierra Nevada will open their tasting room at their brewery 20 minutes east of downtown this summer. New Belgium is on track to open up in the hip River Arts District in 2015.
Beyond beer, you have a funky, progressive Southern town that’s been dubbed by some politicians as North Carolina’s own “cesspool of sin.” Performance art is ubiquitous and impressive (try to find the guy in drag who juggles swords in four-inch high heels while standing on a balance board), drum circles are a regular fixture of downtown, and there’s an embarrassing number of James Beard nominated chefs working in our kitchens. Dive into this Southern gem with Paste’s Craft Beer Guide To Asheville.
You could spend an entire week visiting Asheville’s growing portfolio of breweries. Start with these five and branch out from there.
Highland Brewing Company
Asheville’s first brewery turns 20 this year, and they’re celebrating by creating 20 new beers throughout the year. Show up to their brewery on weekends and you’ll find locals lounging in the sun and listening to live music. You can’t go wrong with Highland’s Gaelic Ale, a consistent, malty amber, but come back in the winter to witness the mass hysteria that surrounds the release of the seasonal Cold Mountain Winter Ale.
Part art studio, part brewery, the Wedge embodies Asheville’s hipster spirit. The building is adorned with iron work and paintings from artists that surround the brewery in the River Arts District, and the Wedge makes the most of their massive gravel parking lot in front of the brewery, with food trucks galore (look for the Mexican/Korean fusion of El Kimchi) and weekly cult movie nights during warm weather. Hop heads should order the 3rd Rail, an aggressively hoppy (100 IBUs!) Imperial IPA that will knock you on your ass at 11.6% ABV.
This relative newcomer (they opened in 2012) took Asheville by storm with their Belgians and West Coast-style IPA’s. The patio kicks ass too. More recently, their barrel program has come into its own, and one of their sours, Serenity, won gold at the 2013 GABF for American Style Brett. Serenity is the first beer Wicked Weed is putting in the bottle—grab one if you can.
Burial Beer Company
Burial opened in 2013 in Asheville’s burgeoning South Slope neighborhood on the edge of downtown. You won’t find any signage outside—just a non-descript white door—but step inside for some of the most promising beer in town. The one-barrel pilot system produces double IPA’s, farmhouse ales, saisons, and an amber made with local maple syrup. You’ll find agrarian tools on the wall and a picture of Sloth, from Goonies. So you have that to look forward to.
Green Man Brewery
Green Man pioneered the industrial-chic brewery scene that has become ubiquitous in Asheville. The garage doors are open on warm days, there’s always soccer on the TV, and you can usually find pretzels and local Lusty Monk Mustard on the bar. The IPA is solid (and now found in bottles around town), but the ESB is a malty, caramel winner.