I know we’re not exactly in tourist season, but I recently returned from yet another trip to one of my favorite places on Earth and can’t help but recommend Asheville for your next vacation. And if you’re like me, you love to soak in the local beer culture of anywhere you travel. So feel free to take the pointers I’m about to give you and tuck them away until the next time you’re planning a vacation, be it with family, friends, or that special someone.
An easy six hour drive from Cincinnati, Asheville is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, just an hour or so from Gatlinburg. Asheville has been a tourist destination since the 19th century and today features thousands of miles of trails through the mountains, scenic drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a vibrant downtown with a plethora of shopping and countless high quality restaurants all competing for your money and your hearts. The focus of the food and shopping scene here is local, with endless artisans crafting usual and unusual souvenirs and chefs fully embracing the farm-to-table concept for a personal, high quality experience. The highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell, is a short drive from the city. The Biltmore Estate is located on the city’s southside and is today a major tourist destination, with golfing, restaurants, hotels and tours all on the grounds of America’s largest privately owned home, built in the early 20th century.
But you’re not here for the tourist broad strokes that you can find in any decent travel book, are you? You’re here for the skinny on the beer scene. Thankfully, I’m a seasoned veteran of Asheville and its many beer-tastic destinations? So where to begin in a city that boasts dozens of breweries and recently overtook Portland, OR as “Beer City USA?” Well, no Asheville beer-cation is complete without stopping in local watering hole The Thirsty Monk. This downtown bar is 3 stories: the recently added top floor features cocktails, the street level is dedicated to American craft, and the basement, with its low ceilings, dim lighting and exposed wood beams, serves up Belgian beer in an environment that oozes old world charm. This is where you’ll usually find me, nose deep in numerous glasses of hard to find Belgian and Belgian style beers all impeccably well curated by their knowledgeable bar staff. If you go here every night, you’ll have a new experience each time.
When you’re ready to dive into the local brewery scene, you’ll need to start at Burial, Hi-Wire, and Wicked Weed, all conveniently located in the small downtown area minutes from one another. While there are dozens of breweries in the city, including stalwarts like Highland, Asheville Brewing Co., and Lexington Ave Brewery, these three breweries have really seized their moment in the sun and captured the attention of drinkers across the nation. Find stellar stouts and IPAs at Burial, fruited sours and lagers at Hi-Wire, and a litany of funky, barrel aged sours at Wicked Weed.
For a slightly more in-depth brewery experience, I can’t recommend Sierra Nevada highly enough. Their eastern U.S. brewery is located a short drive south of Asheville in Mills River. I’ve never been more impressed by a brewery, period. The building is sprawling and features a massive full service restaurant that reliably serves up one of the very best meals I have each time I visit Asheville, which is really saying something given the quality of the restaurant selections in town. Plan to spend the evening here, exploring flights of beer, both widely available and unique to the brewery, dining on plates of shareable entrees, sitting on the back porch by a fire pit, and meandering the wooded walking trails behind the brewery. This is truly a destination; everything is lavishly appointed, no detail or expense was spared in creating a truly spectacular experience.
On your way out of town, don’t forget to stop by world renowned bottle shop Bruisin’ Ales, located on Broadway on the northern edge of downtown. While small and boasting nowhere near the breadth of selection here at the Jungle, they have a stellar selection of hard-to-find bottles from near and far. Plus, their beer guys are almost as friendly and willing to make recommendations as we are!
So there you have it, all the info you need to start dipping your toes in the immense waters of the Asheville beer scene. Feel free to explore beyond my humble suggestions and find what’s perfect for you. You really can’t go wrong drinking craft beer in the mountains.