The beer lover’s getaway with mountains for backdrop
With more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city, Asheville is the place for a beer lover’s weekend. The city is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and next to the banks of the French Broad River, provides a perfect home base for hiking, paddling, eating and drinking, with natural beauty as a constant backdrop.
A trip to Asheville could center around a visit to Biltmore, the largest residence in the U.S. with more than 250 rooms, a winery and pristine gardens to explore. The Asheville skyline looks strikingly similar to its booming heyday of the 1920s when it sprang up. A walking trip of downtown is an architectural delight of Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Gothic styles. While history, architecture and food are draws, beer trumps them all.
Asheville’s first legal brewery since Prohibition opened in 1994 on the east side of town. Highland Brewing was named as an homage to the Scottish immigrants who settled here in the 18th century. Family-owned, its expansive roof is half covered by the sixth largest solar array of any brewery in the country. Highland is family friendly, with a giant meadow perfect for listening to live music or watching the sun set over the mountains. Sip on: Gaelic Ale, the signature amber ale, rich and malty with full hop flavor.
The South Slope area has a cluster of breweries that can be visited for free. Don’t miss Burial Beer. What began as a nano-brewery (using one barrel to make beers) grew into a 10-barrel system. The place is laid back, with an indoor/outdoor area and an agrarian vibe. Tap handles are made from old farm implements. They recently opened Forestry Camp restaurant, just 2.3 miles away, in partnership with chef and Cucina 24 owner Brian Canipelli. The space is the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp where workers who helped construct the Blue Ridge Parkway lived. Sip on: The Prayer, a Belgian-style pale ale is tart with a hint of apricot.
Continue in the South Slope neighborhood to Wicked Weed Brewing Funkatorium. This is the east coast’s first brewery dedicated to funky and sour beers. Live music is often playing in the outdoor area while tours and tastings happen indoors. Adjacent is Cultura, a restaurant partnership with Table chef/owner Jacob Sessoms that serves “new agrarian cuisine.” The airy space is a great way to experience the beers along with a menu of small plates and curated feasts that are fun to explore while dining inside one of the two foeders (giant French oak barrels) turned into private booths. Sip on: Pernicious IPA, a brew that’s bright, tropical and super hoppy.
Two larger breweries from the west selected Asheville for their East Coast headquarters. New Belgium Brewing Co. is an employee-owned operation with a tap room perched above the French Broad River. You can paddle right up after renting kayaks from French Broad Outfitters. The 18-acre facility has a massive green space and a state-of-the-art bottling area in full view during free tours. Sip on: La Folie, a Flanders-style sour brown ale with deep cherry tartness.
Sierra Nevada is a short drive from downtown in Mills River. This is a beer and nature lover’s playground. Situated on 183 acres, the brewery is LEED Certified Platinum. Visit copper kettles fermenting, assembly lines, rooms full of types of hops, and of course, the tasting room with 23 beers on tap. The restaurant is best experienced from the outdoor terrace. Sip on: 40th Anniversary Ale, a brew with balanced bitterness with piney and citrusy hops of a West Coast IPA.
STAY: Chestnut Street Inn
This eight guestroom bed and breakfast is a 10-minute walk to downtown. It’s run by two former New York City sommeliers who create custom itineraries for guests (including a self-guided walking beer tour). With something for everybody, they also host natural wine tastings, caviar service and margarita classes. Guests will find a range of rooms from quintessential little spaces to an Asian-themed Zen retreat, complete with sitting areas and a personal steam shower. Whatever sort of experience you want from an Asheville getaway, the innkeepers here can guide you.
New Belgium Brewing Co.
Wicked Weed Funkatorium/Cultura
French Broad Outfitters
Drinks columnist at Simply Buckhead. Food, spirits, and culture writer.