April 1, 2018

Hidden Hops: A Local’s Guide to Brewery Hopping Through Asheville


Set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the limitless talents of local artisans like musicians, artists, and designers make Asheville, North Carolina one of the most vibrant and engaging cities in the country.  
If you’re looking for a place to relax while visiting this hilltop haven, try sampling the many local breweries that produce some of the finest product in the county. Offering more than 100 locally-made beers every day, this short guide will bring you up to speed on all this city offers for aficionados.

The Rise of Asheville’s Brewery Scene
Craft breweries started to grow after the consolidation of major American brewing companies in the late 1970s. At that time, the number of small breweries dwindled to 44, and beer enthusiasts worried that it would limit the variety and taste of available brews.
Asheville definitely took this concern to heart, and by 2017, the city had the most breweries per capita in the nation. With a population of only 89,000 residents, Asheville has earned the well-deserved title of “Beer City USA” four times.
The beer district is primarily located on the South Slope, the southern part of the city. Whether you’re looking for a traditional ale or a unique and original flavor, if you can dream it, Asheville has it on offer.

Things to Do
Before hitting the bar, visitors can take a comprehensive tour as an introduction to the Asheville brewery culture. The history of brewing actually dates back to the late 1700s when the townspeople determined that it was too difficult to transport beer to an elevation of 2,216 feet above sea level. The passion and independence for creating craft beer has continued for centuries, and Asheville residents are proud to share their deep and rich beer history over a local pint.


Asheville Brews Cruise
The Asheville Brews Cruise was the city’s first brewery tour and received recognition in both Southern Living and The New York Times. Depending on the day, visitors can tour four different breweries, spending about an hour at each location.

The breweries on the route include Pisgah, Altamont, Hi-Wire, French Broad, Catawba, Green Man, Twin Leaf, Highland, One World, and the Wicked Weed Funkatorium. The tour price includes 12 four-ounce brew samples along the route. Tickets cost $60 per person, with a 50% deduction for designated drivers.

Amazing Pubcycle
The Pubcycle puts a different spin on brewery touring, requiring the work of ten peddlers and the assistance of a small motor to help during ascensions. The 90-minute tour makes two stops along the way. The 15-minute stops rotate, but the most visited breweries include Ben’s Tune-Up and the Conundrum Speakeasy. 
Tickets are $25 per person. The tour does not provide alcohol, but passengers may bring their own or purchase house brews during their visit to the pub.

Sierra Nevada Tour
Although the Sierra Nevada brand originated in California, Ashville has embraced it for years. Tours of this esteemed brewery vary in theme, price, and duration. The shortest tour is the 30-minute Guided Education Tasting, which focuses on their signature beers.
For those who want in-depth information on the beer making process, they offer a three-hour Beer Geek Tour. The guides also take tourists on a Trip in the Woods, a mile-and-a-half hike and lesson on the nature of North Carolina and how Sierra Nevada conserves natural resources. All tours come with free samples.

Sipping Through the South Slope
After taking a tour, it’s time to hit the pub trail. Starting from the southern part of the South Slope and heading back towards downtown, these locally recommended breweries are ready to entertain and surprise with their original concoctions.

Burial Beer Company
40 Collier Avenue
Burial opened in 2013 and is one of Asheville’s most impressive breweries. The forward-thinking owners Doug and Jess Reiser expanded a one-barrel brewery to a 10-barrel brewhouse with the help of their brewer Tim Gormley. They lean toward Belgian traditions while incorporating local ingredients like wildflower honey into their crisp blonde ales.
The taproom prides itself on its weekly releases, with craft beers ranging from the Bolo Coconut Brown Ale to the Skillet Donut Stout. The brewery is opening a second location, the Forestry Camp Brewhouse, which originally housed workers during the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway during the Great Depression. 

Green Man Brewery
27 Buxton Avenue
Head north to meet the mysterious Green Man peering through leafy overgrowth on this brewery’s craft beer bottles. Founded in 1997, it is Asheville's second oldest brewery, and it’s one of its best for many reasons.
The Green Man Brewery is environmentally friendly, using high-efficiency equipment and repurposing used grains in cooperation with local farms. Although the Green Man Brewery has shifted its focus from traditional English style brews to American beers, some of the original lineup are still offered to appease their fans.
Popular selections include the Green Man Indian Pale Ale, with hints of fruit and mint, and the Green Man Extra Special Bitter (ESB) for those who prefer malt with a trace of caramel. Or try one of their new American beers like the Snozzberry Wild American Ale aged with fruit in oak barrels.  

Wicked Weed Funkatorium
145 Coxe Avenue
Wicked Weed has three locations: their pub, their brewery, and the Funkatorium. The Funkatorium offers just what the name promises: craft beers with a side of funk. It focuses on barrel-aged sours, which are aged in a wooden barrel to create that signature acidic tang.
Their Serenity won the Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2013, and their Silencio incorporates vanilla beans and local coffee aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Wicked Weed recently sold their brewery to Anheuser-Busch, but the founders assure the locals and visitors that the brewery will stay true to its mission to produce original and innovative brews.

Ben’s Tune-Up
195 Hilliard Avenue
Another great stop is a converted auto shop named Ben’s Tune-Up, Asheville’s only sake and beer brewery. Sake is a Japanese unpasteurized wine made from rice, served hot or cold. Ben’s offers intriguing options like Lemon Ginger and Pineapple Jalapeño that are refreshing on a hot day.
Ben’s also features an Asian fusion menu to complement their craft beverages. Sample one of their reputed beers and then cleanse your palette with some of their house-made sake. Ben’s Tune Up also has one of the best open-air beer gardens in Asheville and hosts free events featuring local musicians almost every day.

Asheville Brewing Company
77 Coxe Avenue
The Asheville Brewing Company dates back to 1998. This brewery has three locations: North Asheville, downtown, and South Asheville. The original northern location includes a dine-in movie theater, where movies cost $3 per person and feature classics like Jaws or Spaceballs.
Try the Fire Escape Ale made with jalapeños or the Rocket Girl Lager, which is popular with the locals. The brewery also offers a full menu with many delicious pub favorites.

Final Thoughts
Asheville offers a vast array of beer for any connoisseur, from hoppy IPAs to classic English dark stouts. Asheville was first named Beer City USA in 2009, but this town has kept the beer flowing like mountain water for many years before they cinched the coveted national title.

(Contributed by Harry Parsons). 



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