Asheville isn’t even one of the top 10 largest cities in North Carolina, but it’s one the biggest beer cities in the whole country. With a population of just under 85,000, it has the largest number of breweries per capita in the United States. Not only do they make a ton of beer out of their 11 breweries, they also celebrate it: they’ve got their own Oktoberfest, Beer Week and Winter Warmer, Best Firkin, Beer City and Brewgrass Festivals. There’s a brew for everyone, fed by the mountain streams of the surrounding Appalachian Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. With more dedication to local sustainability than Portland, mountain views comparable to the Rockies and beer to boot both of them, Asheville is the most friendly and underrated beer destination only serious beer drinkers know.
The Thirsty Monk is a great stop on any beer pilgrimage through Asheville because it’s stocked with nearly all of the local offerings, easily available through a flight of samplers. However, beer drinkers with a penchant for Belgian beers will tear this place up. Their downstairs bar offers a wide but curated selection of bottles, predominantly French and Belgian (tripels, dubbels, Belgian IPAs, wheats and trappists) and 15 unique drafts. Upstairs, they’re mostly American, serving up pints of porters, lagers, IPAs and pale ales from breweries from California to the Rockies. Their food transcends the typical pub grub, offering bar snacks inspired by Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece and other countries around the world; tacos stuffed with Thai pulled pork and tempeh for vegans, beef and lamb sliders, and even a full pint of bacon to share – and of course, being an American Belgian beer jam, there’s never a shortage of frites!
More Belgian-style brews abound at Wicked Weed. In their three years of brewing, they’ve already been hailed one of the top breweries in the city. A nice mix of American and Belgian, Wicked Weed has a wide selection including American and Belgian ales, sours, barrel aged and cask beers. Their restaurant side pays as much respect to the food they serve as the beer they make: all-seasonal, with a commitment to local ingredients; never treated with hormones or antibiotics. As such, depending on the season, visitors can enjoy tea eggs with applewood bacon lardons, avocado and sherry; beef tartare and a fresh crostini, or even middle neck clams topped with a white bean bruschetta. As always in Asheville, vegetarians will never leave disappointed.
Anglophiles with a taste for the ales will find a cozy home at Jack of the Wood, a pub that specializes in craft beer from near and away, and never runs out of Green Man Brewery English-style ales, which are brewed a few blocks away. With 20 taps, Jack of the Wood is sure to surprise. Their music nights also rotate, hop-scotching from unplugged Irish folk sessions, local singer-songwriters, Old Time and Bluegrass jams ($1 off bourbon those nights kicks up the ambiance) and touring bands.
This very local brewery makes tremendous English ales and offers a large, eclectic and airy bar where visitors can taste flights of their IPAs, Wheat beers, Porters and more. Outside, the green box-shaped building looks like it once repaired Toyotas, but once the garage door is lifted, visitors are greeted with chairs, tables and a long bar that grants the drinker a nice view of their beer list, shiny taps, awards. Down the bar are all the vats, and those who are chatty can get a handshake with the brewmaster. No food menu, but free pretzels – for a perfect local corner brewery with simple and award-winning ales, follow the Green Man.
The first brewing company in Asheville, Highland Brewing, has an enormous 12,000-square-foot tasting room and a wide range of hoppy ales, porters, English-style IPAs and coffee stouts to try. It’s a large operation with influences from the Scots, English and Belgian, but its process is very much Asheville: green, sustainable, local and whimsical. For example, the large papier mâché Scottish Highland mascot in the brewery – that’s whimsical. The coffee for their Coffee Porter was roasted in nearby Black Mountain, and water recycling system, retrofitted dairy tanks and high efficiency burner aligns with Asheville’s devotion to its land. Take a 30-minute tour through their expansive brewery, grab a few tasters of fresh, fresh beer and enjoy the best of what Asheville has to offer.