The biggest draw of this year’s Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference for me was Asheville. Although I live in North Carolina, Asheville is a good 4 and a half to 5 hours from my home in Raleigh. And any time I found myself there, it was a quick work trip with no time for fun.
So explore “Beer City USA’s” beer scene? Meet with other beer bloggers? Get a personal tour of Sierra Nevada with founder/owner Ken Grossman? Sign me up!
The conference was great, and you can read more about that in other blog posts. In this post, I share some highlights of Asheville’s beer scene and other fun things to do there.
Now downtown Asheville’s South Slope is chockfull of breweries, but the first craft brewery is actually a short drive away from town.
Highland Brewing Co. is famous for its Gaelic Ale, an amber ale that will always satisfy. But here’s where we learned our first lesson of visiting Asheville breweries– pay attention to the brewery hours. In Raleigh, most taprooms are open daily and open late. But don’t count on that in Asheville. We arrived at Highland on a Thursday night at 8:15 p.m., and the taproom had just closed. Sorry to miss that one – it looked like a nice place.
Quick – open the beer map and find another one that’s still open! We checked our brewery guide and found that the South Slope’s Green Man Brewery was closing at 9 p.m., but nearby Burial Beer Co. was open later.
Burial is an interesting brewery, with beers named for farm implements (Thresher, Winnower) and religious artifacts (Rosary, Shroud and Crucifix). The brewery has a small indoor taproom and lots of outdoor seating. (It’s just as hot in Asheville as it is in Raleigh, but somehow folks there have convinced themselves it’s cool enough to eat and drink outside). Burial’s Thresher Coffee Saison was surprisingly refreshing for a summer coffee beer selection
The nice thing about South Slope is that you can easily walk (stagger?) between breweries, no problem. I hate to reveal this fact because it might cut into the business of some local beer tour companies that rely on vans, but it’s a fact.
And there are breweries where you can get a really good meal. The first one we ate at was another iconic brewery, Wicked Weed. Though Wicked Weed opened just two years ago, it has made quite a name for itself for its beers and the sours brewed at its nearby Funkatorium.
For dinner at Wicked Weed, we split an entrée of buffalo meatloaf, fingerling potatoes and wilted greens, with the brewery’s Gose. Lots of open and outdoor seating here as well – on a night that was well in the 90s, we opted for indoor seating.
Fun fact: Wicked Weed owes its name to a quote from King Henry VIII, “Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed.” Ain’t it the truth?
Asheville Brewing and Pizza, as the name suggests, serves pizza with its beer. Again, large outdoor patio was very popular, even on another 90-degree evening. (Do these people think it’s cool just because they’re in the mountains, or what?) Thumbs up for the Rocket Girl Lager – pairs well with Italian sausage and mushroom.
Can’t decide on just one brewery? Head for Pack’s Tavern off Asheville’s Pack Square, where you can sample beers from any number of local breweries, even New Belgium, which isn’t even open yet. Good food, indoor and outdoor seating as well.
But Asheville isn’t just about beer. On a rainy day, we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to stop at the Folk Art Center, which showcases – and sells – quality mountain crafts from local artisans. On a sunny, warm day, we ventured higher up the parkway to the south, to climb Mt. Pisgah at 5,700 feet elevation. Amazing views from up there, but the high is like climbing a mile-and-a-half staircase.
We had lunch one day at the famous 12 Bones in Asheville’s River Arts District, where you can stroll through galleries after eating a lunch of ribs and brisket. (Don’t come to 12 Bones for dinner or on the weekends – they are open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and it doesn’t seem to hurt business.)
Asheville’s greenway system is still developing, but you can get a sample of it by starting at the Mellowdrome, a retired NASCAR race track converted to a cycling track for cyclists of all ages and abilities. When you tire of going round and round, you can access the nearby French Broad River greenway and ride for about 3.6 miles along the river; the trail runs through a nearby RV park.
If you want a real river experience, book a whitewater trip on the French Broad River. You’ll drive about 30 minutes north of Asheville to meet up with outfitters between Hot Springs and Marshall. Maybe you’ll be lucky like we were and plan your trip for the day after a heavy rain that greatly enhanced the river flow – we had a great ride with Blue Heron Whitewater.
Seeking a little urban shade, we visited Asheville’s Botanical Garden one morning. Paths meander through the woods in this urban garden adjacent to UNC-Asheville and beside a shady creek where native trees and plants are identified. Spring is the high season for wildflowers, but we found color there even in July.
We camped at the Bear Creek RV Park, really more of a parking lot than a campground. But the park is clean and convenient to all of Asheville – rarely more than 10 minutes from anywhere we wanted to go.
Asheville is a fun city, with way more to do than you can get to in a week, but it’s certainly worth a try. Learn more: www.exploreasheville.com