Although the North Carolina beer scene has really taken off in the last decade, Asheville has definitely risen to the top of the heap. Take one of the highest number of breweries per capita in the United States and add a craft-beer loving population and you have a recipe for some pretty amazing brews. This combination has even led to the opening of east coast operations for New Belgium and Sierra Nevada in the Asheville area in recent years. As a beer lover, I set out to find the best beers in "Beer City". I started by asking some friends for recommendations, did a little research on my own, and then set out to explore the beer scene. As I was only there for a few days, my method was to ask the bartender for their favorite beer. Not their best-seller or newest beer, but the one they themselves would drink if they could only drink one. I went to almost a dozen breweries, but have narrowed this list down to my favorite six.
I started at Wedge Brewing Company, a beautiful old 19th century warehouse brewery in the River Arts District on the French Broad River, with lots of outdoor seating. On the bartender's recommendation, I had the Maerzen (6.2% ABV). It was a delicious, malty, happy, easy to drink beer in a friendly, spacious environment. I really liked this beer and I'm sure I could have had another, or several, but I had other breweries to visit and other beers to drink. My exploration was off to a good start though.
Next up was Hi-Wire Brewing closer to downtown Asheville at the north end of the South Slope neighborhood. It was in an old warehouse space very comfortable to this craft-beer enthusiast. I was happy to find it open after 10pm on a Monday. The beer of choice here was a Twice as Nice Doppelbock (10% ABV). This is a big beer, but they've lagered it for eight weeks leaving it incredibly drinkable and not overly sweet for a beer with such a high alcohol content. It was also only $5 for a 10oz. pour which was quite a bargain. I liked it. I also liked the dark atmosphere and pinball tables of this brewery. This was another great stop.
I walked about 10 minutes over to Wicked Weed Brewing Company on Biltmore Avenue downtown. This is a big brewpub style brewery with a full kitchen and a ton of outdoor seating. The bartender didn't hesitate to pour me the Tyranny Red Ale (6.5% ABV). He had started pouring before I finished asking. This was a good sign. This was also a very drinkable and inoffensive beer. It didn't do much on the front end, but left a little hoppiness on the back of my tongue. Another good beer and my last stop of the night, I would have to pick up again the next day
I was happy to find that while breweries weren't open late in Asheville, they did open early. I started the next afternoon at Burial Beer Co. in South Slope. This brewery was in a cool, weathered building with a nice outdoor space and a nice, brewery vibe. The beer of choice here was also poured with little hesitation: a Pinnacle of Dreams Rye Lager (5.5% ABV). This was a great first-thing-in-the-afternoon beer. Not too heavy, it had a nice color, good flavor and a nice clean finish. It was such a good one, I broke my rule and stayed for a second. The beautiful spring-like weather helped that decision. Another great beer to start the day.
Next up was Green Man, right around the corner from Burial. This was another cool industrial space with a big garage door to let in some fresh air. There was a great stained glass window and even a full sized Yoda behind the bar. The inside was a little dark, in an Irish-pub kind of way, but there was a nice covered outdoor space with plenty of seating. Here I got a Trickster IPA (7% ABV). This was a nice, flavorful IPA with plenty of hops that stayed with me in the back of my mouth, but in a good way, not an ashtray-mouth way. It was just right for that time of my day. This was a cool place, but I was a little saddened to see their giant new "Green Mansion" tasting room they are opening next door. I'm glad when businesses are doing well, but this will forever change South Slope. I wish they had put it elsewhere.
The last stop of my beer tour was at Funkatorium, a division of Wicked Weed. This was an amazing place dedicated to sours and saisons. It was a funky brick building with lots of wood; it would make a nice spot for a date. There were barrels from floor to ceiling in the back and plenty of outdoor seating on the side. My beer here was Oblivion (8.7% ABV), a sour red ale aged with blackberries and dates. It was tart, sour, came in a wine glass and was very, very good. There was also a great bottle shop and merchandise area in the back. I know this place can only exist as a part of the Wicked Weed empire as the barreling process is costly and difficult. The Funkatorium is all about beer, a labor of love. And I loved it and stayed the rest of the evening.
My time out in Asheville was a good one. I enjoyed some great beers at the suggestions of the people who pour them. Many wouldn't have been my first choice, so I'm glad I went this route. It was fun to have so many good and different breweries in such a small area and I am already looking forward to going back in the spring. Thanks Asheville for brewing up something good. Cheers!