From the biggest to smaller breweries, the beer is always good.
Visiting Asheville to sample beer is a little like going to a grocery store to look for food. You’re going to have more choices than you can cover in a week or even a month. So you have to be selective in where you choose to go and plan ahead.
Two things to know about Asheville and breweries: As of November, the city is still under an indoor mask mandate, which will come as a relief to some and an annoyance to others (put me in the relief category.) But most Asheville breweries, even pre-COVID, have lots of outdoor seating, and in good weather, even many indoor areas are open to fresh air.
Secondly, the brewery scene in Asheville isn’t like a typical bar scene, open every day until midnight or later. Someone in the industry explained that because most breweries are also production facilities, they seek to reduce liability for potential bad behavior by opening later and closing earlier. Makes sense.
And like most hospitality businesses, breweries are having trouble finding staff to stay open every day, so you’ll probably find that some will be closed a day or two each week.
That said, with a little planning, you can visit and enjoy Asheville breweries.
I had visited one of Asheville’s craft beer beer giants, Sierra Nevada, in 2015. But I had talked about it so much that my husband wanted to see the brewery for himself.
Like most breweries, Sierra Nevada in Mills River (outside of Asheville) isn’t open for tours yet, but the Taproom remains open for dining reservations, and if you show up without one, you can still enjoy a beer on the Back Porch area. Sunday afternoons, they offer live music.
The taproom is vast, and every other table is closed to ensure distancing. The food menu is diverse (even vegetarian selections) and a little different from your typical pub fare. So in addition to sandwiches and wings, you can choose from seasonal salads and soup. Pork belly and steak are also on the menu for those looking for a bigger meal.
Of course, you’ll want to start with a beer. Sierra Nevada is known for its vast selection of IPAs, but I chose a sour — Wild Little Thing, which was deep pink in color. My husband opted for the Celebration Fresh Hop IPA, which he described as a smoother IPA. I finished with a half pint of the Blonde Ale made with hops produced at NC State University’s nearby Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center. Unfortunately, we were a little late for the Oktoberfest.
After lunch of the Audition Greens (with roasted winter squash, dried figs, goat cheese and pistachios, with a vinaigrette) and the turkey reuben, with a side of roasted cauliflower and broccoli, we went to the Back Porch to enjoy the sunshine and beer.
It was a little warm outside for the firepits, but that didn’t stop guests from pulling up chairs while they drank their beer. And near the Back Porch, they have an impressive garden complete with herbs, seasonal vegetables (collards!) and flowers.
Because of staffing challenges, they didn’t have access to the French Broad River open, but overall, Sierra Nevada is trying to get back to normal operations, with the Taproom, gift shop and Back Porch areas open to guests, along with some live music. Maybe next time we visit, the tours will have resumed.
On the smaller brewery end of the spectrum, we met Kyle’s cousin Brent and his family at Hillman Beer in south Asheville, near Biltmore Village. Brent, who works in the brewing industry, recommended Hillman because of our preference for malted beers.
Hillman serves food and has a lot of outdoor seating in the form of wooden picnic tables. Some are covered, more for shade than for rain protection. Though the brewery is really close to the main road, there’s a fence for added protection for dogs and small children. Parking is a little bit tight, but there’s a pay lot across the street if you can’t find a space at Hillman.
The evening we visited, it was warm, and the door to the taproom was open as well, providing lots of breathing room to enjoy a beer. Food and beer can be ordered at the bar, and your food will be brought out to your table.
I had a Mommabeer Brown and Kyle had something darker. The dark beers were really pretty and the food was also good — a reuben and a Cuban sandwich.
We had our eye on visiting a few more breweries, but our schedules didn’t match up. Too bad Highland Brewing wasn’t releasing their Cold Mountain Spiced Winter Ale last week — we could have enjoyed a winter wonderland in the taproom. Maybe next year…