Let's Go to Asheville!
Did I hear you correctly? My dear wife tolerates my beer fetishes and at times even encourages them. Sometimes! When she suggested we go to Asheville during a recent trip to central North Carolina I didn't hesitate to say yes fearing it was a dream or might later be recanted.
Asheville NC is one of those places people tell beer stories about — a mystical place from which those that have ventured, more knowledgeable and better traveled, tell you tales of beer conquests — and you listen with child-like wonder. The only real thing I knew about Asheville is that this was the home of Wicked Weed and it was tucked into the western mountains of North Carolina.
Yes, we were going! No hesitation on my part.
I'm Coming Your Way
I have a colleague and friend, Wes, that moved to Asheville a couple years ago. He would send back stories of the great beer being made — and drank — there. The Wicked Weed Funkatorium and other such haunts. Then with great dismay, Wicked Weed was sold to ABInBev. He said the locals were in revolt and would not even go into the place that only weeks before they held in such high estate. Gloom had set in on Asheville.
White Labs — It's the Yeast
If you do some home brewing or follow beer much at all, then you will recognize the name White Labs. They are the yeast people. Just about six months ago they set up a new east coast shop in Asheville NC.
White Labs Taproom
Tasting a hazy IPA at the White Labs Kitchen & Tap in Asheville NC
As you would expect for a professional yeast company, their taproom was impeccably clean. It was also spacious and friendly.
The Fourth Ingredient
With many beer drinkers, yeast may be the fourth ingredient, but at the White Labs taproom it is most prominent.
In the While Labs taproom the beers were a yeast school. Each beer was done twice (some more), the same beer except with a single variation — the yeast. And you noticed! The affable bar-keep (aka staff) would describe each beer and the yeast profile. Unless you were an experienced brewer, it was enough to get your head spinning. These guys liked to talk yeast.
We had just eaten lunch, otherwise we would have more to say about the wood fired pizza. It looked good, it smelled great. I can speak to the the excellent desserts. And where else can you have Kombucha on tap?
Oh, and the sandwiches, "All served with Lactobacillus fries or salad." Of course!
We took the 3pm tour. There was just four of us — another couple and us. She was a homebrewer so had a special interest in what we were learning. No pictures were allowed during the tour to protect proprietary processes.
There are plans to expand the brewhouse. There are many good beer people that have made the trip — or are considering — but somehow White Labs gets missed. It may that is so new, but it is "a-must" if in Asheville.
It was Asheville Beer Week and my friend suggested we meet at Burial Brewing. Not realizing it was Skillet 6-Ways special day, the line was to the corner. We enjoyed each others company and were able to catch up on news back in Maryland and Asheville, the beer paired with Vortex Doughnuts was truly an experience. The head brewer came to our table to introduce himself and his beers. Nice touch!
Being in a beer town such as Asheville, I needed to find a good bottle shop to bring back some treasure. Wes had recommended a couple in town, one being just down the street. As we were walking away from Burial and back to the bottle shop, we passed by Wicked Weed. I heeded Wes' call, slowed a bit, took a photo, and kept walking. This place was on most beer geeks bucket list... I was there... and walked on by.
That single act and mental exercise requires some examination and philosophy. Probably everything was the same as it was a year (or so) earlier. With the exception of who owns it. Does that fact demand a change in attitude? To some, a resounding yes! Should I let someone sway my opinion of what I should drink? No, and I don't — usually. But I didn't go in.
I'd mentioned to my wife that I must find a good bottle shop to bring some fine Asheville beer back home. Wes actually suggested two places, Tasty Beverage, and it was just around the corner from Burial Brewing. I entered, perused the selection of local NC beers, grabbed a couple and left a happier man. Nice selection, great location to downtown.
Appalachian Vintner blew me away. I wanted up the the fellow behind the counter and used my usual plea that I'm from out of town and looking for local not-to-miss local beer. I've found that if you will just ask, staff are very willing to assist. I'd promised my wife not to buy too many, so with great restraint (only comes with a disciplined mind) I limited myself to six — but a great six.
There are many great places to eat in Asheville and we could only take in a sample. One was the Laughing Seed, a vegatarian eatery on Wall Street. Great food, good local beer, great energy from the street vibe. Recommended!
One of the places recommended to us for breakfast was Biscuit Head. On our last day, as we were ready to leave town we sought it out. Wow, what an eclectic joint. Full of character and characters. The service was very quick, the biscuits were huge and the coffee very nice.
The restaurant is in a strange sort of business park that looks like a combination of old apartments and strip mall. But the place oozed with character and characters, personality, great food and excellent service. The man that took my order took great pride in showing me how my Batman coffee cup changed its design when filled with hot coffee. Nice touch I thought. We were surprised at how fast our food was brought to our table — we sat outside taking in the perfect weather. We were later told that the lines can sometimes be a bit longer.
Our meals were served with huge homemade biscuits — not the size of your head — but really big and very tasty. I loved the shirts wore by the staff — "Put some south in your mouth". Another not-to-miss place in Asheville.
Like many great places, you cannot expect to experience all you would like in a single visit. While we did bring many great beers and memories, there was still so many other experiences to be had. As they say, “Next time”.
In some circles, supporting Wicked Weed in any form since they were sold to AB-Inbev, whether drinking their beer or stepping into the Funkatorium, can be controversial. One day they make great beer and have the cool-factor, the next they are the pariah. At the risk of stepping outside the circle of authentic beer geek practices, afterall, I (and perhaps you do too) still enjoy a Bourbon County Stout, I will have to taste a beer in the Funkatorium my next time in Asheville. There, I said it—hate me if you will.
Sierra Nevada Brewing
Sierra Nevada is an icon brewery that originated in Chico CA . Now that there is an new east coast version it is a must see for beer people. My first time in Asheville I simply didn't have the time and my wife can only tolerate so much of my beer excursions.
New Belgium originated in Ft. Collins CO and is another iconic brewery that has opened an eastern coast brewery in Asheville in May 2016.
There simply so many great breweries to be experienced in Asheville. Just walking from one end of town to the to the other you walk in front of so many. I was able to bring back some beer from Hi-Wire but not able to step inside.
Highland Brewing is another must-experience of the breweries that began much of the beer renaissance in Asheville. But alas, this gives me so many great ale establishments to look forward to next time.
More Than Just Beer
While many know the town for its eclectic beer culture, Asheville is so much more. The Great Smoky Mountains, the Pisgah National Forest, food, coffee and culture. And…
The Biltmore Estate was on our list of attractions for our first time in Asheville but we were advised and soon realized this demands a full day to fully appreciate all that it is. So, we had to defer the Vanderbilt's grand estate for our next visit.
Blue Ghost Fireflies
Little did we know, that we were in Asheville at the right time to see the Blue Ghost Fireflies. Unfortunately, we didn't know that a few weeks in advance. When we learned about this phenomena, it was too late, the events had be sold out.
Asheville certainly lived up to its reputation as an eclectic town tucked into the hills of western NC. We had less than two days and while we did as much as our time allowed, there certainly is much more to experience.
We did tour the Thomas Wolfe Memorial boarding house that his mother ran, had some great coffee, and purchased artisan note cards from one of the many vendors. It is a very walkable town with many nooks and crannies to explore.
Another trip is necessary for us.
Share your Asheville experiences or wishes in the comments below.