If you know me, you’ll know that craft beer is kinda my thing. So naturally, I heard through the hop vine that Asheville (AVL) was a craft-beer lover’s paradise. Just a couple months ago, I finally got to experience everything this peculiar mountain town has to offer … well, not everything, there are something like 30 breweries inside the city limits after all.
Drinking Down the South Slope
There are a lot of good reasons to visit Asheville, but their beer might just be the best. With more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S., there’s a reason they call AVL Beer City USA. On our first day, we hit Sierra Nevada’s new-ish East Coast location just south of the city. Despite Sierra Nevada not being a local brewery, the mecca to beer that is this facility is well worth taking a trip to. If Disney World had a theme park dedicated to beer, it’d look like this.
While there are entirely too many good local breweries to list here, I’ll try to cram in a few of my favorites during our time drinking down AVL’s South Slope (home to more breweries than you can hope to hit in one night … trust me, we tried). Perhaps my favorite brewery visit was Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium. If you love sours like I do, this place offers an amazing array of sour beers with everything from tropical fruits to flowers and even teas. Nearby you’ll find Burial Beer Co., which is easily a must-see. The brewery has a ton of unique brews, like a braggot (think mead meets beer) aged in brandy barrels. Hi-Wire Brewing, Bhramari and Green Man will also get honorable mentions here. Other great stops worth noting are Ben’s Tune Up in downtown — one of the few places in the U.S. where you can get locally made sake.
River Arts District
Perhaps my favorite location inside the city, the River Arts District is a testament to Asheville’s dedication to the arts — local art particularly. If you can make it to two areas in AVL, I’d suggest this and the South Slope. Located in the former industrial district, the River Arts District transformed from abandoned buildings to the public art spectacle it is now back in 1985.
The graffiti-filled district is now home to over 20 studios, with more on the way. While you’re here, might I suggest you pop over to 12 Bones, one of Asheville’s best BBQ joints. Featured on tons of travel-related shows and magazines (as well as getting a visit from President Obama), 12 Bones is a great place to grab a bite in the art district. Even better, walk next door to Wedge Brewing for some more of Asheville’s great local beer. I’d recommend the blueberry-chipotle ribs from 12 Bones and a Dragul (an 11.2 percent Belgian strong dark ale) from Wedge.
Foraging Tour in the Blue Ridge Mountains
While foraging for food might not seem like something you want to do on vacation, I beg to differ. After getting a recommendation to do this, we met up with No Taste Like Home (read our article with the owner here) for one of the best experiences during the trip. After heading north from AVL, we arrived at the Laurel River Trail on the fringes of the Pisgah National Forest with our guide, Marc. We were all given a basket, a knife/brush tool and a basic set of instructions before heading into the woods in search of mushrooms, greens and other edibles. Once we had our haul, our guide then separated the edibles from the stuff that might do us harm, grouping various plants together by family and showing us traits associated with each.
After we had picked enough various greens, flowers and mushrooms for a meal, we took our haul back down to Asheville and gave the raw foods to Nightbell, a restaurant in the downtown area run by Chef Katie Button (a finalist for the prestigious James Beard Rising Star Chef award). Now let me tell you, I’ve had a lot of meals in my brief time on this planet, some of them pretty damn good … but this one blew just about all of them out of the water.
Chimney Rock and Lake Lure
If you’re in the area during the warmer months, I would definitely check out the Lake Lure area (about an hour outside AVL). If you’re looking for a cool little “hike” for any skill level, check out Chimney Rock State Park nearby for some truly breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding areas. One word of warning, check and see if the elevator is in operation, otherwise you can look forward to counting all 1,996 steps to the top of the rock while you struggle to find a working water fountain along the way and have much older, physically fit people laugh at you as you struggle your way to the top … it’s fun, really. Coincidentally, this is also where the last scene in “Last of the Mohicans” was filmed.
If there’s one thing on this list that local Ashevillians will sneer at, it’s this one. But let me attempt to defend myself here by saying that while this place is essentially a museum to the most affluent members of American history, it’s pretty f***ing cool. Yes, the price to get in is a little ridiculous, but you can spend a whole day here exploring the grounds of the Vanderbilt family’s not-so-humble abode — complete with scenic gardens, lush greenhouses, lavish decor and American history you simply can’t find elsewhere. The tour through the estate will give you just a taste of what it was like to be one of the wealthiest people in America during the early half of the 1900s. Did I also mention there’s a free wine tour included?
So much beer, so little time. After spending a week trekking about Asheville and the surrounding areas, I’m hooked. While I didn’t have a life-changing moment during the course of my trip here, I had some of the best beer/food of my life, met some amazing and welcoming locals, stood atop a mountain offering gorgeous views and listened to a questionably high amount of Doc Watson while trying not to drive off winding mountain roads with my loving family … all this makes for a pretty damn perfect vacation. Only six hours stand between you and Asheville via car — make the trip.
Special thanks to the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau for their help. All photos shot on 35mm film by Zach Sweat.