Asheville, North Carolina has been coined “Beer City USA” by leaders in the craft brew industry, and true Beer Geeks already know that Asheville has a vibrant beer culture. On my recent visit I concluded that “beer culture” is simply “culture” in Asheville. Everywhere I visited I observed that beer was interwoven into daily life, not something separate.
Asheville has nine breweries in a metro area with fewer than 410,000 people and North Carolina has more than 60 breweries. Louisville has fewer than five breweries with a metro population of around 1,300,000. Ashevillians are flush with fresh, local, craft beer!
Although there are many great beer bars and breweries in Asheville one does not have to visit a bar in order to obtain great craft beer. Every restaurant, bar, and dessert shop I visited had local draft offerings – and no mass marketed beer. I did not see Budweiser, Coors, or Miller products offered anywhere! Appetizers, entrees, and desserts were often infused with beer; beer is not something separate from sustenance but fully integrated.
However, I did get an opportunity to get into full “Beer Nerd” mode at several great beer bars in downtown. Barley’s Taproom has an extensive beer list along with great pizza in a spacious, comfortable environment decorated with vintage beer signs. Another must visit spot is the Thirsty Monk which is actually two bars in one. The brighter upstairs bar offers a wide selection of US and local beer. The downstairs bar is darker with a lot of rich wood and subdued lighting. This is the place to get Belgian drafts and bottles. No TVs or loud music distracted you from conversation and enjoying your beer.
One of my favorite local beers was the Pisgah Pale Ale, which was herbal, fresh, balanced and very drinkable. Another was Green Man IPA that exuded grapefruit pith and fall leaves with a long grassy aftertaste. Foothills Total Eclipse Stout tasted of roasty, rich malts with a lot of coffee notes. This stout was perfect for the cool, breezy mountain afternoon.
In order to bring back a bit of Asheville I stopped at two bottle shops – Appalachian Vintner and Bruisin’ Ales. Both had great bottle selections but Appalachian Vintner was larger with a broader inventory and additionally they had draft offerings to drink while you shop or simply lounge. There was a small group of Beer Advocate members meeting there the night I visited.
If the active beer scene wasn’t large enough already “Beer City USA” has some new citizens coming. Two giants in the craft brewery world have recently announced they are opening additional breweries in Asheville. Sierra Nevada Brewing and New Belgium Brewing are both opening operations in the near future.
It will be interesting to see how these craft beer giants will be received. I wonder if the “indie spirit” of Asheville residents will bristle at the big craft breweries or will they embrace the benefits for Asheville and for the larger craft beer scene in the US. I surely appreciated my visit and I cannot wait to return.