Nobody drives the Blue Ridge Parkway just for the beer. Yet, that is. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed.
The 469-mile ribbon of scenic highway that threads its way through North Carolina and Virginia promises some of the most beautiful roadside viewing the US has to offer, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing. But this land has deep alcohol roots, too. If one has the imagination and the inclination, picturing a still over yonder in the holler isn’t out of reach, nor is an “outrunning the revenuers” fantasy if you can get your mind off those pretty leaves long enough.
Craft brewing thrives in this part of the country, the drive is beautiful, and where else can you open up your Smart Car replica of the General Lee? Let’s do this thing.
At the northernmost end of the Blue Ridge parkway sits Blue Mountain Brewery, producers of 2,500 barrels of the good stuff annually. They have a little restaurant on site, too, but here’s the coolest thing about Blue Mountain: They grow their own hops, and not only do they grow their own, but they store rain water to irrigate the hop farm. You have to love that.
About 90 miles down the road we hit the big city of Roanoke, home of the Randall Stout-designed Taubman Museum of Art. It’s a lovely facility, and required viewing for fans of Rockwell, Sargent, Eakins, and Homer. Are you sufficiently impressed by how cultured I am? Good, let’s get back to the beer then.
Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers are the folks to visit in Roanoke. The core of their business is a half-dozen brews, but they offer seasonals, too. Hungry? There should be a food truck along any minute; otherwise, just relax and enjoy the beer and the atmosphere. When in doubt go for the White Top White Ale, but why not order a flight and try them all?
Down the parkway we go another 100 miles to little Galax, population 7,000. That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to produce a Miss America (Kylene Barker, 1979) and one of the coolest beer stores you’ll ever visit. Creek Bottom Brews isn’t your typical big box beer outlet. They have a real brick pizza oven on the premises, and they host live music and beer tastings. Come on!
I grew up a couple hours from Boone, and the promise of its laid back Appalachian State University lifestyle was like a magnet for every kid in my school with a penchant for tie dye and hacky sack.
That was longer ago than I care to admit, but Boone remains one of the coolest towns in America. Some of that is due to the Blue Ridge beauty of its location, some due to being a college town, and some from the reflected glory of being the great Doc Watson’s hometown.
And then there’s the beer. Drop by Appalachian Mountain Brewery’s taproom and try their award winning Honey Badger blond ale, or if you’re feeling frisky go for the 9.0% Daniel’s Double IPA. Hell, just try them all. How many times are you going to be in Boone, after all?
Speaking of great American towns, Asheville makes the top of my list every time. The place is artist and musician friendly, the people are great, and it is to craft brewing what Milwaukee once was to big breweries; in fact, New Belgium recently broke ground on a $175 million brewery in the city. Asheville regularly makes the “best beer cities” lists of major news outlets.
It’s also the site of the Biltmore House, the Vanderbilt family’s monument to conspicuous consumption. The Blue Ridge Parkway cuts through the Biltmore grounds, so if you have a jones to see how the 1% used to live, here’s your shot. It’s an amazing place.
Picking a representative microbrewery in Asheville is no easy task. Brewpubs dot Asheville in a manner similar to Mega Coffee Franchise in most cities. What a nice problem to have. But listen, we’ve been on the road a long time. Let’s just pick a place and go for it.
The Lexington Avenue Brewery is a great choice. Not only are their beers amazing, but they have an extensive and creative food menu, too. One doesn’t expect to find beet gnocchi or salmon en papillote next to the flatbread pizza and cheese plate brewpub fare, but there they are. Belly up (literally—you can get pork belly here) and enjoy yourself. Need a drink recommendation? Go for the Eleanor’s Rye Red Ale if you like your beer malty.
And with that it’s time to put my General Lee Smart Car back in its parking space in my closet and start thinking about our next Best Damn Beer Road Trip. Have any recommendations? I’m all ears.