As you all know I had the opportunity to visit Asheville, NC a few weekends ago. Asheville is just a small town in the mountains in the western part of North Carolina. 75,000 people in the city and 300,000 or so in the county. Asheville has become this hip and avantguard town for artists, environmentalists (grönavågare) and new born hippies. This is the town you move to if you want to get away from mainstream USA in search for something different. This is also the town where many people choose to retire. It’s beautiful tucked in between the mountains (it rained when I was there so I didn’t see much of them). Local is the word of the day in Asheville. The big chain stores have for the most part been denied entry to the downtown. Asheville has a vibrant and living downtown that in so many cities in the USA have died when the giant malls became established in the suburbs. The stores and restaurants are for the most part locally owned and they try to buy as much of their merchandise from local manufacturers and farmers as possible. Asheville is the town where you can find a restaurant in a building that looks like it’s about ready to fall down. But instead of being a shack it’s a restaurant with a renouned chef, fantastic atmosphere and great food. Here, side by side with vineyards, breweries and great beer bars have just popped up like popcorn the past few years. In Asheville and the Asheville area there are about 8 breweries and about 5 beer festivals. According to Charlie Papazian, President of The Brewers Association, Asheville is #5 on his list of Beertown USA. A weekend is much too short to experience all the great restaurants and beers that Asheville has to offer.
My weekend started at at Pisgah Brewing Company. This a one of Asheville’s most interesting breweries. I heard about Highland Breweries 15th anniversary party at Pisgah so I stopped by there for a short while too.
I had never heard about Wedge Brewing Company but I was told that it’s a great brewery. The brewery is located 2 km (1,5 miles) outside of downtown in an area called the Art District. The Art District used to be an area with manufacturing industries down by the French Broad river. Little renovation has been done to the buildings so the district is kind of rough yet has an inspiring atmosphere. This has now become a community for artists.
Wedge Studios is located in an old building that probably was a food warehouse, right by the rail road tracks. The studio is actually the home for many small studios with a wide variety of artists. A brewer is an artist in his own way so it’s not that strange that Wedge Brewing Company is located in the same building. Wedge only distributes their beer locally. They have a little brewpub at the brewery but the don’t serve any food. It’s just a small place but still packed with people. Many of the beers are really good. The alcohol content tends to be in the mid or upper range. Every brewery in US needs to have an IPA and so does Wedge. Their Iron Rail IPA is a 7.1% ABV beer with a lot of hops and fresh citrus flavors. The 8.8% 3rd Rail Road Double IPA/Barley Wine had a clear After Eight chocolaty flavor with a little bit of mint. I don’t understand how you can have a beer named IPA/Barley Wine. These styles are to me totally different and it seems hard to combine them. I would say that it is a hopy British Strong Ale. It’s a good beer no matter what style it is. My favorite at Wedge is the Community Porter with it’s rich flavors of coffee and some vanilla.
I made a quick stop at Jack of the Wood in downtown Asheville. They have their own brewery, Green Man Brewery, just a block away and I had heard that they have good cask ale. They had their IPA on cask and to my surprise served from a hand pump. Cask ale in the Southeast is kind of exotic and almost all the time served gravity poured. This is actually the first time I have seen a hand pump since I moved here. As with many cask ales here the Green Man IPA laced the fruitiness that I’m used to from the British cask ales. It’s still a good beer but I have yet to taste the cask ale that brings me back to White Horse on Parson Green in London. I had that experience with Sierra Nevada Keller Weis the first time I tasted it. I thought I was back at Paulaner’s beer garden Nockherberg in Munich.
One of Asheville most exiting beer bars is Thirsty Monk, almost right across the street from Jack 0f the Wood. They have some great domestic breweries and also a good selection of Belgian imports. If you live in Copenhagen or Stockholm it might not seem like much. Getting beer from Hanssesns Kriek and Geuze, Rochefort, Westmalle, Tripel Karmeliet, Fantome, la Chouffe and De Dolle Brouwers is really special here and some of them even on tap, Stille Nacht, Lucifer and many more. They usually always have a cask (gravity poured) and when I was there it was Dog Fish Head 90 Minute IPA. I realized that if I stayed too long at Thirsty Monk surrounded by all these great beers it would have ruined the reason I was there, the Winter Warmer Beer Festival, so I called it a day after the Dog Fish Head.
Just two weeks before I was in Asheville, Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB) opened. I was told that I needed to go and check it out and so I did. LAB is a brewery restaurant totally different from the one I had been to earlier. This is a place where all the hip and young people hang out. There are just as many beer drinkers as wine and drink drinkers. This place could have been in hip parts of New York, LA or Miami. Every detail at LAB seem carefully designed all the way from the door knobs through glasses ending at the beer. And that is the problem. The beer is designed and not brewed by a brewer with passion. The beer is not bad but a little plain and uninteresting. The 5.7% IPA lacks character and the chocolate flavors in the 6% Chocolate Stout are very weak. It’s an OK beer as long as the flavors last but they go away fast and the finish is a little watery. I’m not a hop head or someone that needs to have an oak aged flavor packed beer. I like a basic Pale Ale, Kolsch or a Barley Wine that has a well balanced full flavor. LAB’s beer lacks much of that.
A good beer town needs a good beer retail store. And Asheville has that too, of course. Bruisin Ales has been praised by many magazines and newspapers. Rate Beer makes it the #3 best beer store in the world. And it really is a good store. It has a great selection of domestic and imported beers. They often also have limited addition beers. I was a little surprised when I found a Limfjords Porter from Denmark and Carnegie Porter from Sweden. I left Bruisin Ales with $110 less in my wallet but very happy.
If you are ever in the Southeast or close to the Southeast, Asheville is well worth the detour it might be on your trip. It’s a great town with many good restaurants, plenty of things to do and great beers. Asheville is well worth the Beer Town USA nomination.