Asheville, NC - It Really is Beer Heaven
This article could also be titled "Because really...you don't need another reason to visit Asheville".
You absolutely have to love a town that's not really famous for anything too specific. I certainly do. I love a place that's not notable for a particular industry, pastime, event, celebrity, or anything else of consequence. Asheville has none of these things going for it. I'm pretty sure that there was a character from the West Wing that was said to be from Asheville, but besides that...
What Asheville IS famous for is...everything else, and this is a great thing. It's a town of political progress, sustainability, localism, music, culture, and that wonderful combination of summer sun and mountain air. It's full of fun people, bike paths, and delicious smells. It's still definitely in the south, and that lends a certain je ne sais quoi to the atmosphere and the people, as if southern charm was sprinkled lightly on all the parking meters and coffee shops. Asheville is covered in trees and parks and sits nestled in the comforting arms of the Blue Ridge mountains, offering extremely accessible day hikes and beautiful, meandering roads leading to some of the greenest country around.
This is not a sponsored post by the tourism board of Asheville, but it sounds like it so far, so to those guys...you're welcome. What I really want to talk about are the whispers of great beer that come from the area, and confirm that you're indeed entering beer heaven when you show up in Asheville.
The best part about the craft beer culture in Asheville is that it's never trying too hard. You get the feeling that these breweries belong there, as if they slowly grew from the earth like a tree, and it makes the beer that much tastier. Locals have been embracing great beer long before it was ever called "craft", and in that sense it reminded us of our recent trip to Vermont, which vibes the exact same way. Because The Brew Enthusiast is mission-focused on educating the craft consumer about their local brewery, I appreciate the Asheville consumer that much more. They know their brewpub owners and small business history, and they know what kind of beer they like. They appreciate a subtle hop note, and a creamy mouthfeel, and the tangy use of unmalted rye, and they are an absolute joy to converse with. They should all move to New York City and talk to me all the time.
From our count, you can find over 40 breweries/brewpubs in just the Asheville area, making it the most breweries per capita in a metro area in the country. There's a reason they call it Beer City, USA. All Hail! Great beer started in Asheville in 1994 with Highland Brewing Company, which opened in the basement of a downtown pizzeria and is now distributed in 9 states. Since then, now classic watering holes like Asheville Brewing Company, Green Man Brewing, and The Thirsty Monk have lead the way for the newer crowd of award winning breweries, including Wicked Weed, Burial Beer Company, Altamont Brewing...to name a few. We could go on all day, but you get the point. There's really great beer everywhere. There's also a natural implication that these breweries give a shit about their local ecosystem and their impact on Asheville's environmental footprint. You'll find beers made of strictly local ingredients quite often, and almost every brewery does it. It's a small effort, but if only every brewery could afford to do that...
If you're up on the news, you know that Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues have set up shop in and around the Asheville area. These are some of our fair nation's largest breweries (numbers 3, 4, and 24 respectively in terms of barrels produced). Sierra's new facility is quite beautiful, and they've continued their trend of environmental awareness by making their new facility as green as they can, harnessing sun power and local materials. New Belgium will be up and running within a year and their facility will be equally in tune with their company's high environmental standards. From all the press I've read so far, it seems like Asheville has been really welcoming to the new breweries opening their second locations in the area, and that warms my heart. A rising tide floats all ships and all.
It all amounts to a genuinely fascinating place to be. Don't just show up and expect to be showered with great beer though. Have a conversation with the brewery owners, try their beer, and start a dialogue about their community impact where that wasn't one before. This is what makes beer culture so important, and all the more relevant in a beer mecca like Asheville. Look for some upcoming features on Asheville breweries on The Brew Enthusiast, and sign up for our email list to stay updated on what we're doing out there. And oh yeah...it just so happens to be the location of this year's Beer Blogger's Conference starting July 17th.