I spent the past weekend in Asheville, NC, the four-time Beer City, USA winner. I was excited.
It’s not worth going into all the nitty-gritty details of the trip when others have done it superbly well, so I thought I’d take the chance to offer travel guide suggestions rather than review the city and the amazing time I had there.
So if you love beer, nature or simply want a good time away from “It All,” I offer you three do’s and don’ts for your trip to the beer mecca of the East Coast.
… stay downtown
For me, the top priority on any vacation that involves beer (to whatever extent) should always be where I’m staying. Location, location, location. Not for the sake of being near the best breweries, brewpubs and the like, but because it’s safe (and sane) to hoof it anywhere you want to go.
You can’t beat downtown Asheville, which has a handful of watering holes literally within a few minutes walking distance of the city center. I’ve never been as happy with a hotel decision as I’ve been with the Downtown Inn and Suites. Aside from being incredibly well priced – perhaps the best in downtown – you get a decent semblance of breakfast included in your stay. You’re also an arms length away from Jack of the Wood and a stone’s throw from Thirsty Monk, a bar you should not miss.
… visit Wicked Weed Brewing early and often
This isn’t just my new favorite brewery in NC. It’s my new favorite brewery.
The beer selection at Wicked Weed is amazing. It’s a third American (a handful of IPAs and more), a third Belgian (any kind of saison you’d ever want) and a third experimental (sours, barrel aged). It makes for an entirely dreamy brewery.
While beers like a chocolate/raspberry saison and double IPA brewed with 48 pounds of hops will stand out in my mind, it’s their PapIPA (pronounced puh-pie-P-A) that simply blew me away. It’s a 7 percent ABV IPA brewed with 50 pounds of papaya. It’s a great beer, if only for that fact that the tropical fruit is among a common descriptor for hops like Amarillo, which is used in beer. PapIPA is sweet, easy drinking and it’s everything I’d want out of an India pale ale.
Also of note was specialty brew Transgressor, an oak-aged red ale that tasted like liquid caramel.
… shop at Bruisin’ Ales
If you’re going on vacation, you’re certainly going to want some souvenirs, right? While Bruisin’ Ales might not be the largest bottle shop you’ve ever visited (Total Wine) it has one of the best selections you’ll find.
Since lots of breweries in Eastern and Western NC don’t ship their bottles back and forth to opposite sides of the state, Bruisin’ Ales offers a great opportunity to find local favorites from Asheville Brewing Company, small batch releases from Mother Earth Brewing or even odd out-of-state brews like a West Coast IPA from Moylan Brewery.
You can mix-and-match or load up on bomber-sized bottles, if you can handle such a thing.
… eat at Wasabi
You’ll definitely want to refuel while you’re in Asheville, whether you’re drinking beer or not. The Missus and I were intrigued by a small sushi place on Broadway Street with a sign out front announcing Wasabi‘s rank as Western North Carolina’s best sushi restaurant for nine consecutive years.
Apparently there must not be any other sushi restaurants in Western North Carolina. While the service was great and the dining space was small and quaint, the sushi was wonderfully mediocre.
Save your money and head over to Laughing Seed. While they offer a vegetarian/vegan-based menu, even meat lovers will find something they can’t pass up. They’ve got a wide selection of food styles and a fine collection of beers, meads, wine and more.
… worry if you miss Wedge Brewing
The only reason I say this is because it’s slightly out of the way if you’re staying downtown, but it’s still only a mile walk. To me, Asheville’ Wedge felt a lot like Durham’s Fullsteam. It was packed and seemed to be a huge hit with locals. I don’t doubt many were friendly, but I couldn’t kick the feeling my wife and I were getting the stink eye from some hanging in and around at the bar.
The service was good and two beers stood out – their Community Porter which had a unique spice kick. I’m not entirely sure where that flavor came from, but Wedge uses maple and carob in the brewing process. Also worth noting is the Vadim Bora Russian Imperial Stout, which is brewed with 168 pounds of raspberries and tastes like it, for good or bad.
… forget your hiking shoes
If you’re going to enjoy all that Asheville has to offer, your efforts should extend beyond the amazing beer culture. Sitting amidst the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey mountains, hiking options abound. You can take a drive of 20 minutes to two hours from downtown to find the exact kind of hiking experience you’d want, as there are plenty of options from easy to strenuous.
After all, exercise is a good way to balance out your beer.
Last time I visited Asheville The Missus and I hiked Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the East Coast at 6,683 feet. We’ve also done trails on Craven Gap which seemed a notch above moderate difficulty.
I’m sure there are others who have visited Asheville and most certainly have varying experiences from mine. What do you like? What don’t you like? What should I make sure to do next time I visit?
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac