Don’t Be Bashful, Beercation in Asheville!
Asheville, North Carolina, is known by many beer geeks as Beer City, USA. My fascination with Asheville started in 2013 when I saw the documentary Crafting A Nation. That film highlighted several aspects of craft beer, an entity that, at the time, I knew very little about. One thing that I did know, however, was how I liked the way that craft beer could bring people together. Since the summer of 2015, I have traveled to some of the most vibrant and exciting craft beer cities in the country.
Traveling for beer provides a unique perspective on a place. The same kinds of people you meet in craft breweries are the same kind of people you find at your favorite local coffee shops, independently-owned bookstores, and fantastic hole-in-the-wall eateries. Craft beer drinkers are passionate, caring, and helpful when it comes to learning about a place. Now that San Diego, Denver, Portland (Oregon & Maine), Burlington, St. Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Boston, Bend, Boulder, Pittsburgh, and Fort Collins have all been checked off the beercation list, it is high time I visit Asheville, North Carolina to see what all the talk is about.
I booked roundtrip airfare from July 10-17th, secured an Airbnb, and began researching breweries to put on my radar. Things were definitely shaping up to be a wonderful #SummerOfDan beercation. One thing I discovered from talking with people who have been to Asheville was that I would probably not need a car. I would be hoofing it from place to place or utilizing Lyft.
I’ve Heard of Tiny Houses, But Tiny Airports is a New Concept…
The Asheville Regional Airport is what you would get if you decided to retrofit a church basement into an airport. We deplane on a ramp and walk right into the gate where it seems like a crowd is waiting for Taylor Swift to show up and start giving free guitar lessons. I make my way past the throngs of travelers to the baggage claim. The wait isn’t long to get my bag, so I order my Lyft. There is a designated area where you wait for rideshare companies on the far side of the parking garage. It is easy to find if you know what sky blue looks like. I say this because to get there, you follow a line that is sky blue that meanders through the parking garage.
Longing For My Lyft
The Asheville Regional Airport is about 25 minutes from Asheville. Why is this detail noteworthy? Well, if you are traveling here, be prepared to wait for your Lyft. It is like dating in high school all over again as I was rejected by at least 5 different drivers. The last time my emotions were played with this vociferously, I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles getting my license renewed. After what seems like the gestation period of a horse, Charlie accepts my ride. I begin silently praying to the patron saint of rideshares as the little car icon gets closer and closer.
A Hyundai Sonata to the Rescue
If you had told me that someday I would be pinning all my beercation hopes and dreams on the simple act of seeing a Hyundai Sonata pull into a parking garage, I would have called you crazy. Yet, here I am, on pins and needles as I wait for the arrival of my Lyft driver. Eventually, I see the car pull in and if my bone structure and BMI would have allowed for it, I would have done a cartwheel. I put my bags in the trunk and get in the backseat of Charlie’s midsize vehicle.
“I says, ‘It is right across from the terminal!’ She says, ‘What’s a terminal? Well, right there, I know I’m dead in the water with this one.”Charlie, East Coast Lyft Driver
Follow the blue arrow if you want a lyft
Charlie is an obvious New York transplant based on his accent and facial similarities to Phil Leotardo from The Sopranos. Charlie said, in an exuberant and congratulatory tone, “You found the rideshare area!” I replied, “It was hard to miss with all that sky blue.” He goes onto say that he has had to deal with many travelers who are flummoxed by this seemingly simple task.
He starts telling me about a woman who he was on the phone with for what seemed like the entirety of the Roosevelt administration, trying to explain how to find the rideshare area. In his thick, East Coast accent, he narrates the tale, “I says, ‘It is right across from the terminal!’ She says, ‘What’s a terminal? Well, right there, I know I’m dead in the water with this one.” If the accent weren’t enough to tip me off, once we get out onto the interstate, his driving confirms my suspicions of someone who is comfortable driving aggressively.
Charlie uses his horn like a sous chef in fine dining uses a tweezers to fluff microgreens. He merges and passes seamlessly, without signaling, and has no time for the glut of construction and all the red on Google Maps. “It’s pretty jammed up out here, so I’m going to try something else.” Before I know it, we are in a residential area where the houses are surrounded by an arboreal wonderland of mature trees that almost envelope the road in a canopy of shady green.
I prefer this much more to the construction-slowed highway. I don’t know why, but about 50% of the Lyft drivers I find myself riding with always ask me, “Is this your place?” while they are driving past it at the speed limit. First off, I have no idea because I have never been here before. But even if I did, asking me that question as we are careening by at the speed of light is frustratingly counter productive. By the time I say, “Yes, it looks like it,” we are across the county line, and I have to backtrack on foot.
My Asheville Home Away From Home: Paula’s Dragonfly Cottage
I arrive at the Dragonfly Cottage, my home for the next week, and am greeted warmly by Paula, my Airbnb host. Paula’s southern drawl is disarming and hospitable. She gives me a tour of her place and there are a bevy of amazing little personal touches that make it a special Airbnb find.
I have stayed at all types of Airbnbs since 2016. Some have been great, others just ok. I am sensing that Paula’s place is going to really raise the bar for my Airbnb expectations. In fact, Paula offers to drive me around in her convertible for a tour of the city.
My Asheville Airbnb Hostess with the mostest
As we are chatting, I learn that Paula is a retired teacher and school counselor. She has a wonderful demeanor and is an amiable ambassador for Asheville. She is full of tips for me to get the most out of my stay here. Paula takes me on a loop around the main drag of Asheville. She then brings me to the River Arts District. After all that, she asks me where I would like to be dropped off. I thought that this was all just incredible.
I ask her where to go to get some great bbq and she says that Bear’s Smokehouse will fit the bill. As she drops me off, she says, “Well, call or text if you need anything. The only thing I can’t help with is bailing you out of jail.” I laugh and respond, “Don’t worry, Paula, that won’t happen until at least Wednesday.” We have a good laugh and I walk up to see what Asheville bbq is all about.
Asheville Meat sweats, here i come!
Paula tells me that I might want to try Bear’s Smokehouse because they have fantastic bbq. When she mentions their incredible burnt ends, I immediately start to drool uncontrollably. In fact, Paula might have thought I was in the throes of some kind of anaphylaxis. Burnt ends are just a thing we don’t do well in Minnesota. In fact, Minnesota is a barren wasteland for bbq. If you are looking for tater tot hot dish, Walleye, or crippling passive aggressiveness, Minnesota has you covered, but bbq is not our forte.
Before I even set foot on the property, my nostrils are enchanted with the rare, yet familiar scent of smoked meat. As I walk into the air-conditioned restaurant, I see a myriad of delectable menu items. The 2-meat combo with 2 sides strikes my fancy. I choose burnt ends, moink balls (bacon-wrapped smoked meatballs), collard greens, and baked beans.
I take my tray out to an area with picnic tables and an open-air bar and order a Torch Czech Pilsner from Foothills Brewing and begin to enjoy my lunch. In addition to the moink balls, collard greens are also something that are new to me. The burnt ends are well-seasoned and succulently melt in my mouth. The moink balls are balanced between the crunch of the bacon and the juiciness of the meatball. The baked beans are the perfect marriage of sweet brown sugar and a hint of spice.
However, the collard greens are an absolute revelation to me. I love the acidity from the vinegar that seem to brighten the greens. They are toothsome and tender all at the same time. I need to find more of these while I am in Asheville. Now that I am fortified with smoked meat, I decide I need to go to Burial Brewing, which is a four-minute walk.
Burial Beer Co.
When I started researching the itinerary for my Asheville beercation, Burial Beer Co. was constantly suggested. So, it felt right for me to make it my first stop. Initially, the vibe of the place reminded me a lot of TRVE Brewing in Denver.
The mural of the grim reaper on the building and the sickle door handles give off an edgy vibe. The music blaring in the taproom is a stark juxtaposition to the outdoor seating area that is so peaceful with the evening Asheville breeze blowing through the trees. A steady stream of beer folks keep showing up on this glorious Monday evening. I am not the only one who thinks beer is a good idea tonight.
The burial beers are sensational!
The beers are fantastic. I have a Keller Pils, a foeder-aged Mexican Lager, a dry-hopped pale ale and a saison. The beers I try all have a commonality of fantastic texture and distinct aromas and flavors. The lagers are crisp and effervescent. The Saison has a fresh and herbaceous note from the lemongrass. The peppercorns add a bite for balance.
The Prophetmaker is a bouquet of tropical fruit with mango being at the forefront. There is a nice hit of bitterness for balance. There are many more beer options on the menu. I realize that it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to try them all. I know that I will have to come back later in the week for some of their higher octane barrel-aged options.
The age-range of patrons is quite diverse. It appears that young and old, alike, are fans of the beers at Burial. One of the points of interest on the patio is a VW van seating area. It is great for parties of local 20-somethings and youngsters.
Ope, cool beer shirt!
As I am sitting here enjoying the people-watching, I notice a woman who is wearing a really cool City Barrel Brewing t-shirt. I told her that I like that brewery a lot and it was a definite highlight from my beercation to Kansas City in the spring. I asked if she was from Kansas City. She said that she had visited there and is actually from Minnesota. I smile and say that I am also from Minnesota. We both just burst out laughing. I said I am a teacher on summer vacation doing some beer travel and she said that she was also a teacher. Well, this just seemed like too many coincidences not to sit down and chat.
I ask her if she minds company and she invites me to sit down. I introduce myself and she tells me her name is Jess. Jess is en route from Savannah where she was visiting a childhood friend. She says that Asheville seems like a good place to stop to check out some breweries. Great minds think alike.
In addition to teaching elementary school, Jess also works at a liquor store in the Twin Cities. We compare notes on our Asheville brewery research and had a wonderful chat. We do a deep dive into the Minnesota craft beer scene and she thinks my Lupulin Fashion Mullet fanny pack is really cool. As we are talking, we find that we have a lot of the same breweries in common.
It is always nice to run into someone when you are out on a beercation. Chatting with Jess really added to my experience at Burial. My beer was almost finished and I realized that I wanted to get in one more brewery stop before heading back to my Airbnb. Jess and I exchanged info and agreed that it would be fun to meet for a beer back in Minnesota. This fantastic and serendipitous meeting of a fellow beer geek just makes me so happy.
Twin Leaf Brewery
I see that Twin Leaf Brewery is on my walk back to the Airbnb, so I stop in to check it out. As soon as I walk in, a gentleman sitting at the bar notices my Odell Brewing Cutthroat Porter t-shirt and says he loves that beer. It turns out that he used to live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and was a frequent flier at Odell. I love it when people notice beer shirts. I think that it is one of those “If you know, you know” kind of things. More importantly, it made me feel like if a dude who lived in Fort Collins hangs out here, it means they will probably have good beer.
Twin leaf beer
I don’t have a ton of time because it is a little after 8pm and they close at 9pm. I go for a tasting flight to get a few different tastes of what they have. There are quite a few things to choose from. I go with the Para Amigos (Mexican Lager), Corresponding Shapes (Dark Lager), 144:Code Name Juicy Fruit (West Coast IPA), and Mexican Chocolate Stout. Of all 4, the Dark Lager and MDXXI 1521 (Imperial Mexican Chocolate Stout) are my favorites.
The Mexican Lager is pretty crisp and refreshing. I wish that they didn’t put a lime in the glass, but that is just a personal preference. The Dark Lager has a roasty and satisfying malt character. The IPA is fairly nondescript. It is devoid of the bitter balance that should be the calling card of a West Coast IPA. The Imperial Mexican Chocolate Stout had a depth of flavor thanks to the peppers. The peppers dry out the beer and balance out the chocolate sweetness.
A bad taste in my mouth
The taproom space at Twin Leaf Brewery is spacious and I like that a solo traveler like myself can sit at the bar. As I am sitting at the bar drinking my flight, I can hear the conversations happening around me. There are people who, presumably, have a connection with Twin Leaf talking about the brewery ownership in less than desirable terms. I am all for venting about your boss, but I think it is really tacky to do it within earshot of a patron.
In fact, the bartender is more engrossed in this conversation than engaging the dude at the bar who is clearly interested in beer. While the beers at Twin Leaf are fine, I don’t think I would recommend others to visit here based on my customer experience. In craft beer, people expect a positive experience. Why on earth would one go and pay a premium price for beer that they can simply buy in the liquor store? Well, it is because they want an experience.
Later, I would come to find out that there is definitely some turmoil with the staff at Twin Leaf. Had I known that, I might have skipped it altogether. So, as exciting and positive a visit as Burial was, Twin Leaf Brewery was on the other end of the spectrum.
Bourbon to the Rescue!
As I am walking back to the Airbnb, I am annoyed that I picked the wrong brewery to end the night with. However, the last sip of the night is never bad when you end with Bourbon. As Paula says, it is a Southern tradition to have a little Bourbon before you retire. Well, I am not one for arguing with tradition when it comes to hospitality.
So, after a wonderful first day of my Asheville beercation, it is a satisfying dram of Bourbon that puts the exclamation mark on my day. After sipping my Bourbon on the Dragonfly Cottage porch, I am off to bed. If today is any indication, Asheville holds a lot more in store for me and I think that this is going to be a beercation for the books! Cheers!