Asheville—a beer lover’s paradise. With more breweries per capita than any other US city, it’s no wonder this place has been dubbed “Beer City USA.” And being the beer lovers that we are, Christine and I just knew that we would someday HAVE to visit this place. That day finally came! We enjoyed six breweries in the area during our visit; here is the scoop on each one.
1. WICKED WEED
Lots of seating options. Choose from the front entry outdoor seating complete with gas fire pit, typical indoor seating, bar, or (our recommendation) once you enter the main entrance, turn left and head downstairs for a more casual vibe. (This spot is also accessed via the alley to the left of the building.) There is a patio and some indoor seating. Sit wherever and place your food and drink orders with the bartender. Water is also self-service and is available outside. Be sure to grab some of the free pretzels and mustard to hold you over until your food comes out.
The beer selection at Wicked Weed has something to satisfy every palate. IPAs, German ales and lagers, Belgian styles, sours, and seasonal brews are all available. About thirty options available. Half pours (for the fair price of about half off) are also available.
Parking around this location can be a bit sparse, but a loop or two around the block will likely yield a convenient on-street space or pre-paid lot. Expect to pay about $2/hr.
2. THE FUNKATORIUM
Sour and funky beer lovers, Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium is your place! No bar (that we’ve been to) comes close to offering the vast array that is available here. Choose from about thirty sours, fifteen or more of which are on draft. Choices range from light, clean and slightly acidic to dark, robust and funky. Whereas most beer menus list the ABV, IBUs, and/or color, this place goes one step above and provides the pH. (Remember that the pH scale is logarithmic. So although a 4.3 pH sour may not seem all that different from one at 3.5, the latter is actually almost TEN times as sour!)
If you’re lucky, grab a seat in the main bar area for a cozy experience. The dimly lit room themed as barrel aging cellar provides the perfect setting to pucker up and sip some of the best sours we have ever tasted. Actual barrels stacked to the ceiling are in the adjacent room. Live bluegrass performances on Wednesday evenings is not to be missed.
3. BURIAL BEER CO.
Burial. Makes. Great. Beer. This place has quietly flown under our radar and people need to know about this place. IPAs, stouts, and saisons galore! We were blown away by The Shattered Remains of Reality—an imperial stout loaded with over ten pounds of real coconut per barrel and clocks in at an unperceivable 9.3%. The place is quirky. Bizarre artwork and random collectibles decorate throughout the bar and indoor seating area. Images of Sloth from the Goonies are all over the place and there is even a fake vending machine selling the likes of a tape measure or creepy eyeless doll for $100. But without a doubt, our favorite has to be the painting of a mustached man signed, “I am not Tom Selleck. –Burt Reynolds.” Which we didn’t get until we looked up a side-by-side comparison of the two. You should too. They look almost exactly alike! We like your sense of humor Burial. We didn’t get the chance to sample any food, but there is a kitchen open late night. And the music selection there is on point!
4. NEW BELGIUM BREWING
In a city that has prided itself in its independent micro craft brewery roots, New Belgium—in the eyes of some—is like the bigger, stronger, older brother that cannot be stood up to. But we think those people have it all wrong. Not only does New Belgium make great beers, they are doing great things for this city. What was once an eyesore and health hazard, the brewery made use of a former junk yard and rail yard which, as you can imagine, was terribly contaminated. New Belgium reused what could be salvaged and properly disposed of any material that was non-recyclable. In fact, they were able to reuse over 90% of all material into the construction of the new facility. Situated along the French Broad River, New Belgium is also fortunate to have great views of the water and the River Arts District on the other bank which they decided to share with the community. Land bordering the river was donated to the City on which to construct an asphalt bike path. There are still miles to be paved, but we were told that the master plan is to eventually provide a bike link between New Belgium and Sierra Nevada. Interestingly enough, with what would seem to be a bountiful source of brewing water, New Belgium does not source any of its water from the French Broad River. Water is obtained from the municipal supply fed by a pristine mountain watershed to the north of the city which more closely resembles the water profile of the Colorado location and, in turn, makes for a more consistent beer.
Tours! If you’re lucky enough to snag an opening, go on the tour! They are free to attend and they even provide a few samples. We puckered up with La Folie, a barrel aged sour, which not everyone enjoyed, but (as you can imagine) Christine loved! So be sure to quickly raise your hand when there are extra pours available. Tours last approximately ninety minutes with plenty of opportunities for photos and questions. Afterwards (…or before), grab a pint in the tasting room and snag a seat on the porch.
5. SIERRA NEVADA
The Sierra Nevada brewery on the south end of town is a bit out of the way, but some space outside of the city is necessary when your facility is of amusement park proportions. As soon as we rolled past the grandiose entrance, we immediately understood why this place is referred to as “Malt Disney World.” The brewery façade looks like Hogwarts, a mini museum on the second floor runs the length of the building, and here windows offer a bird’s eye view of the bottling and canning operations as well. There is seating for easily over a thousand people and the size of the parking lot backs that up. Outside there are private hiking trails leading to other parts of the complex that are open on weekends, bocce ball, fire pit, rocking chairs, flower gardens, and yes, more seating.
The place itself is amazing, but Sierra Nevada beers for us have something left to be desired. They DO make great brews, but sometimes they’re just a little bit on the malty side for our taste.
6. WEDGE BREWING (at WEDGE STUDIOS)
By chance, we happened to save the best beer for last. We were fortunate to enjoy a beer that had only been tapped the previous day and was so rich in maple syrup flavor that it was hands down our favorite beer of the Asheville brew tour. This beer is Community Porter. Though there are many words I can use to describe all of its tasty qualities, simply saying “yum” about sums it all up. If you see it, definitely try it. We visited the Wedge Studios location which was a bit hard to find and was evident given the locals vibe. Peanuts on the right side of the bar are free for the taking; just be sure to put your shells in the buckets provided on the tables outside. Indoor seating here is at an extreme minimum with outdoor seating being the main place to relax. For more indoor space or during inclement weather, Wedge has another location within a fifteen minute walk south at Foundation. The Foundation location is known to also have live music and is situated in a public graffiti park sponsored by the city government.
We have made plans to visit Asheville and cancelled them and made plans and cancelled again them for years now. So it was great to finally get our chance. To say we enjoyed Asheville is an understatement. A little bit of hiking could have been a good way to really earn some beers, but we were a little bit too busy trying to visit as many breweries as possible! What a catch 22. But hey, we’ve been craving a taste of Asheville for so long now that we deserved those beers and so we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and totally guilt-free.