Sitting at one of my favorite restaurants on Earth, Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, NC, the sheer beeriness of the town hit me. I wasn’t planning on beer for lunch, but Green Man IPA was on tap. How could I turn it down? I had, after all, given just about every other beer in town a try over the weekend, and this was my first encounter with Green Man after 4 days in town. Asheville has certainly embraced its longstanding culture of individuality and freedom, and if you’re not drinking local beer when you’re in town, you’re not doing it right. So I had a beer with my Shrimp and Goat Cheese Grits.
Asheville isn’t a huge city, but it’s populace have an insatiable appetite for good food and beer. It’s also an artsy region, which leads me to the reason I was in town. My wife runs an art yarn and fiber business, Jazzturtle Creations, and we were manning a vending booth at the Friends and Fiberworks Summer Retreat. Our occupation takes us to lots of different places where there are lots of different beers available, so part of the planning involves mapping out the best beer stores and restaurants in each town we visit. Asheville is an old haunt of ours, though, and I already knew where I was headed as far as stores: The Appalachian Vintner, Bruisin’ Ales, and Hops and Vines.
If I had to choose only one store to visit during a trip to Asheville, it would have to be The Appalachian Vintner. The selection of local bottles available in Asheville is pretty meager compared to the number of breweries, but you’ll be able to stock up on whatever is available at the Vintner. They have all of the Olde Hickory line plus the requisite Asheville Brewing and Pisgah bottles, along with things like Mother Earth and Big Boss, which are available statewide. On top of that, there’s a jaw-dropping section reserved for extra special offerings like Dogfish head’s Squall IPA. It’s an exquisite experience in a homey environment where, if you’re lucky, a big, friendly dog might follow you around.
If you’ve got the time, two more world-class stores are just a short drive around the city. Bruisin’ Ales certainly has the style and selection to back up its considerable hype, but you’ll pay for the priviledge of shopping there. Prices on local bombers and six-packs are considerably higher than most places. It’s a necessary stop, though, because you’ll find esoteric, rare things like 2008 Imperial Stout from Rogue and 2009 The Dark Side from Terrapin. Plus there’s an unrivaled import selection. Hops and Vines has more of a neighborhood store feel and a relatively small selection, but they carry some unique imports and they always seem to have multiple vintages of J.W. Lees Harvest Ale.
With work going on at the retreat, there was no time for serious bar visits to places like Thirsty Monk and Westville Pub. Thankfully, Asheville restaurants offer a rich drinking experience all their own. If a restaurant could wear a beard, Universal Joint certainly would. This tater tot-slingin’ spot is one of the utmost hipster hangouts for food and beer. The draft selection is a well-chosen dozen or so taps featuring the expected local variations and a consistently rotating Bell’s and Founder’s taps, among others. Marco’s Pizzeria is more focused on their incredible Italian comfort food than beer, but they offer a great draft selection as well. Of particular note is the Wedge Brewing IPA, which is my favorite Asheville beer, hands down. Granted, that’s like choosing your favorite child – they’re all so special – but it’s my pick. The best overall food and beer experience goes to Asheville Pizza and Brewing, though. Not only do they offer a thorough lineup of their own beers, like the popular and soon-to-be-canned Shiva IPA, but the atmosphere and food are jubilant. The attached movie theatre imparts a cinematic theme on the entire place, and it’s full of energy that your group will feed on.
Outdoor activities, art, and food have always been major tourism draws for Asheville, but the city has now helped put North Carolina on the map with the rest of the country’s best beer states.