Written by Tim Burnash
[From the Editor: This is a guest post from our friend, Tim Burnash about his latest Craft Beer Road Trip to Asheville, NC. Take it away, Tim!]
What’s a Beercation? Well, it starts with a group of friends who, besides friendship, have one thing in common, great beer and the ability to search it out. 3 such friends decided to make a trip to Asheville, North Carolina on January 24th 2013. The car was packed and everyone was ready to hit the road. The trip itself was 6 hours long but with all the chit-chat and laughter, it seemed to go much faster. We had an agenda of what breweries and bars we wanted to visit before Saturday (the big day) which was the 6th annual Winter Warmer Beer Festival.
Our first stop, once we got into North Carolina, was in Brevard to visit the brand new facility of Oskar Blues. With the help of our portable GPS systems (smartphones), we pulled into the parking lot in the back of this industrial area. We walked in and were greeted by huge bright tanks right in front of us and to the right was a mountain of cans. A stairwell to our left lead us up to the tasting room. In conversing with our bartender and tour guide, April Daniel, we found out that she is from Louisville, what a small world. The tour was short and informative and the beers were good. This facility is going to cover the eastern part of the U.S.
Being we are on our beercation, we left and headed back up towards Hendersonville, North Carolina for our second stop of the afternoon: Southern Appalachian Brewing. Hendersonville is a small community about 16 miles south of Asheville. As we walked in, the aroma of fresh grains and hops filled the air, and it was intoxicating. Southern Appalachian is a small brewery set in the town and you can immediately tell it’s a neighborhood bar. We got a sampler of the 6 beers they had on tap, my favorite was the Bohemian Pils. The bright tanks and fermentors were right there in front of you and they were getting ready for some live music. Decent place and I would recommend a visit.
We checked in the hotel and needed to grab something to eat, we decided on Jack of the Woods. Our ulterior motive was getting there for open mic night. A wide variety of musicians come and go throughout the evening to play together. Lots of local flavor, and the food and beer were pretty good. Once we had our fill of food and drink and music, our nightcap was found right across the street, The Thirsty Monk. Having been there in the past, we were treated like old friends. This bar is broken down into an upstairs where local beers and some hard to find beers are on tap. It gets even better for Thirstyfest, starting the end of August and going until the kegs are empty. The downstairs is a belgian-style bar with some amazing rare beers. This is another must see when you come to Asheville.
Friday started out a little wintry, we collected ourselves after breakfast and headed to a gem of a beer store, Appalachian Vintner. Two brothers, Geoff and Charles, have an amazing store along with 10 taps. This is a must see for beer, and locally made wines and meads. Two hours later, we decided to find our next spot. The newest addition to the Asheville beer scene is what we chose for lunch and more brews, The Wicked Weed. The large restaurant is on the main floor. They also have a downstairs bar for some of their own Belgian and wood series beers. The beer we had was very good, and no one complained about the calamari or burgers. As long as the beers remain true, this will be a hit in downtown Asheville. It was too early in the day to stop drinking now, so off to Pisgah Brewing we went. This is out in Black Mountain area, about 15 minutes out of town, and again in an industrial area with a very nice outdoor music venue. The one beer that really stood out, was their Benton’s Bacon Stout. If you like bacon, smoke and black beer, this one is for you. Not overpowering, but very bacon-ey. This would be a great beer to cook with: baked beans, burgers or beer biscuits come to mind. But folks, we weren’t done yet. Back towards town we went, on a mission from the beer gods to get to the Wedge. This place has a cool vibe with a small interior, but lots of room outside. You can only get their beers at the brewery, so if you are looking to find them anywhere else in town, stop in your tracks. The night’s not over yet because about fifteen of our fellow beer geeks have arrived from home and we converged back to the Thirsty Monk for another nightcap (or two).
Saturday is game day; the Winter Warmer Fest is close at hand. Hungover (only a little bit), we stopped at Lexington Avenue Brewery for lunch. I’ll go back for more next time I am down there. Then a quick stop at Bruisin Ales, where one of our fellow travelers found something he had been searching for, and purchased two of them. The owners are always helpful, and you can always pick up some hard-to-find beers.
Now on to the main event, The Winter Warmer. This event has sold out each of the six years they’ve held it. This year’s was no exception. I believe it was capped at 2000 people. At 3pm, the doors opened and the masses came in…thirsty. The guest brewers this year were Founders Brewing (Grand Rapids MI) and Cigar City (Tampa, FL). Many local and state-wide brewers were in attendance. No one was cheated on pours because they don’t know how to cheat. Live music and food were also included in the price of admission. For those true beer geeks out there, this is a festival well worth the time and money. No long lines to deal with, just lots of great beers and people. Friends were made from all over the area and lots of pictures were taken. I just can’t say enough about how well this festival was run and how successful it was. The only downside: There is no way you can sample everything here. But you can have one hell of time trying. The event ended at 7pm and everyone started heading for the doors. We finished our evening at Barley’s with pizza and beer. It was packed, but so was everywhere else. Plenty of local beers to choose from, plus the pizza was pretty darn good.
So, now you know the definition of a beercation, right? Well let me tell you, it’s a gathering of friends who love beer and are willing to go the distance and have a lot of fun in the process. Mind you it’s not for the weak of mind or heart. Now is the time to start preparing for next year’s event. Come if you dare, I guarantee you will leave a changed person.