Don’t Be Bashful, Beercation in Asheville Part 2

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.

After an exciting first day, I am primed to continue exploring the marvels of Beer City, USA. While embracing the craft beer scene in Asheville is my primary objective for the trip, I also want to see what other activities I can get into while I am here. If there is a chance to get into the mountains to see some natural beauty, I want to do so. However, it is becoming apparent that without a car, it will be tricky.

Lucky for me, I am staying at the Dragonfly Cottage and Paula is pulling out all the stops for me because I am a teacher. She asks me how it is looking for me to get into the mountains. I tell her that most of the tours seem a lot more involved than just popping up to an entry point and exploring. So, I will probably just do that the next time around when I have a car and can do the exploring myself. After hearing that, she said, “Well, you just can’t come to Asheville and not see the mountains. So, how bout I take you up there?” Again, I continue to be wowed by Paula’s Southern hospitality.

Within an hour of our conversation, we are heading up the winding Blue Ridge Parkway. Paula is an incredibly engaging tour guide. She knows the land and its stories better than the board of tourism. I am struck by the magnitude and vastness of the mountains and the trees. It is clear that these are older trees. The tops of the mountains do have a bluish hue, which is where the namesake comes from.

“On most days ending in “Y,” I would not classify myself as a hiker. In fact, heights actually scare the pilsner out of me.”

Dan Beaubien

We get to our destination and begin hiking up to the Craggy Pinnacle Overlook. On most days ending in “Y,” I would not classify myself as a hiker. In fact, heights actually scare the pilsner out of me. However, I realize the opportunity to see this kind of natural beauty comes around once in a blue moon. So, I leave my fears in the car and begin the hike. The trek up is a slow burn, full of twists and turns.

The different little types of plants and bushes I have never seen before make for a picturesque way to get in some exercise. Paula is ready to explain each plant to me which is incredibly helpful. Finally, after about a half hour, we break through the cover of the foliage and emerge into the open air of the overlook.

For me, there are few things in life that are more impressive than seeing the natural impressiveness of a mountain. In Minnesota, mountains do not exist in nature unless you consider how I organize my socks on laundry day. We have rolling hills, an over-abundance of lakes, and more Target stores than you can shake a stick at. However, the overall topography of my home state leaves a lot to be desired in the heights department. That might be why when I see mountains, I am instantly wowed.

Being up on the Craggy Pinnacle Overlook and seeing for miles makes me realize how great nature is. The age and presence of the mountains and trees have been here so much longer than any of us. It is a humble reminder about time and being. I think that the things we get stressed about and the negative things we spend our bandwidth on really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Getting out to see this level of nature is good for the soul and really brings me a sense of calm.

After a while of sitting up on the rock wall it is time to head back to the car. Of course, the natural thing to do after a hike like this is refresh with a beer. So, Paula and I set a course for a brewery back in Asheville proper.

Paula and I arrive at Green Man Brewery, in the heart of the Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood and pick a patio spot in the shade. Green Man Brewery came highly recommended by many when I was doing my trip research. The night before, I had their ESB in a can, and that beer made me want to explore more of their portfolio. Paula and I sit in the shade and catch the late afternoon breeze. The first beer after exerting yourself always tastes extra special.

Paula and I sip and chat. After a bit, Paula has to head back and meet some friends for dinner. I thank her, again, for bringing me up into the mountains and she heads off. It is so nice to be able to have a little bit of companionship on my Asheville beercation. The heat is getting a little much for me so I head inside to sit in the cool or the air-conditioned taproom.

The taproom space is gigantic. In fact, there is also a second floor with an entirely separate bar and outdoor patio. I am a little surprised that there are not more people here. I guess it is only Tuesday, but I can’t be the only one who is in search of some good beer today. The bartender is really nice and is willing to share some of her suggestions with me about places to go when I am in town. She is a transplant from Florida and knows her beer.

A Southslope Mainstay

According to locals, Green Man Brewery played a role in the resurgence and gentrification of the South Slope area. Dirty Jack’s, the original brewpub, came to be in 1997. In 2003, Green Man Brewery opened the first taproom in Asheville. Then, in 2015, the 3-story Green Mansion was built. Now, the South Slope Brewery District is a thriving place for people to eat, drink, and be merry.

It is hard for me to believe that the South Slope area was ever a place you wouldn’t want to hang out given the plethora of places to hang out. However, I do understand how gentrification works. As a tourist, it is great, however, if I were an Asheville local who was displaced by rising housing costs, I am not sure I would be as excited about it.

I know that the Green Man Porter is a must-try as it won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2021. For me, the porter hits a 10 out of 10 on the roast-meter. I like the body of the beer, as well. I can understand how this beer stands out to beer judges. The ESB is wonderful. I love the floral and earthy blend of hops abed the base of English malts. The IPA is a fantastic example of an English IPA. The use of Golden Promise malt really catapult it into the stratosphere of special. The use of American hops add the bitterness punch that make it really balanced beer.

I head up to the top level of the mansion and sit on the patio that looks out into the evening sky. Drinking beer and seeing mountains should be something I do more than every couple of years. It blends the pristine majesty of nature’s most alluring sight with the inspiring and delicious sip of my favorite beverage. However, I am on beercation and there is more to explore in the South Slope Brewery District. A search reveals that one of the breweries that I had on my list recently opened a South Slope location that is a few blocks away. I say goodbye to Green Man Brewery and begin my stroll to the next watering hole.

Archetype Brewing has three different locations sprinkled around Asheville. In fact, there are quite a few breweries with multiple locations in Asheville. Archetype showed up in my initial search, but this particular location did not . So, I am happy to see that I can knock off another South Slope Brewery on foot.

The newly-opened Archetype location has a wonderful food menu, and a handful of beers that seem to be the mainstays. Unlike most other breweries I have been to, Archetype has a smaller number of beer options. What Archetype lacks in quantity of options, they make up for in quality. Every beer on the flight that I order is a beer I would happily order a whole pint of.

I enjoyed a flight consisting of a light lager (Cowboy Poet), Belgian Blonde (Original Blonde), Session IPA (Commitment Phobia), and Coffee Porter (Unruly Mystic). Of the four, the Unruly Mystic was my favorite.

The thing that sticks out to me is the friendliness of the staff. The gal taking care of me at the bar is bubbly and engaging. She is legitimately interested to hear about what I think of the beers. The positive experience of the incredible staff made me want to revisit this spot.

I wound up visiting here later in the week to check out their rooftop patio. During my rooftop visit, I experienced a rain squall that would feature sideways rain, gale-force winds, and a bartender who happily braved the elements. I was happy to try the Witbier (Talking to Plants) on my second visit. As I was enjoying the impressive look of the mountains, I guy sitting a few seats over commented that it might actually rain. He continued to say that every time there has been rain in the forecast this summer it never actually shows up. So, I was not too worried. I continue sipping and enjoying. My server comes over to tell me that I might want to consider moving to the bar because she just saw the radar.

As I am finishing up my beer, sure enough, the rain starts. The patio pretty much clears out and I order an Old Fashioned to wait out the storm. Before long, the rain goes from a slight pitter-patter to a full-on torrential downpour. All the while this is going on, I am shielded from the elements and just sipping my cocktail. The staff is slowly but surely migrating to the main bar downstairs where all the other patrons went. The breeze is refreshing and invigorating so I remain a fixture at the patio bar.

At this point, the rain is coming in sideways and the lone bartender who drew the short straw is trying to keep everything dry. It dawns. on me that if I go downstairs, then she can probaly close down the patio bar and head inside. I ask her if I should close out, but she assures me that I don’t have to and that she would be up here anyway. So, we chat and pass the time while she prevents water from getting everywhere with a bar towel.

After Archetype I had enough tread on the tire for one more brewery stop. I also want to watch a little bit of the MLB the All-Star Game. So I take the stroll up the hill to Wicked Weed Brewing. Wicked Weed came onto the craft beer scene in 2012. They quickly became known as a brewery that pushed the envelope with the myriad of craft beer options they brewed. Their portfolio had everything from IPAs to mixed fermentation beers sought after from coast to coast.

In 2018, Wicked Weed sold to AB In-Bev and that created a significant amount of controversy among beer nerds. While I never love it when a brewery sells out, I do understand that it is sometimes a necessary thing for a business to do if they want to grow. So, I am curious to see for myself what the vibe is at Wicked Weed. Will it feel like a brewpub with a lot of character or more like a corporate-owned glorified chain restaurant?

Wicked Weed is a brewpub and their food is something that numerous people talk about with a fervor. So, I know that I want to eat and drink because I am already merry thanks to the day’s events. I get to Wicked Weed around 8ish and stake my claim to a spot and begin to peruse the menu. There are a variety of beer styles that look enticing. I also see the food menu and everything looks good!

The first beer I order is a Kaltes Bier, a German Pilsner. I love this beer and wind up having many pours of it during my following two visits back to Wicked Weed throughout the week. The bartender recommends the fish and chips so I order that for dinner. The bartender is incredibly attentive and that only adds to my experience. This place is huge! In fact, it wouldn’t be until my 3rd visit that I would discover that there is another bar downstairs with a wonderful outdoor patio.

“Maybe Henry VIII was just having one of those off-days after being hit with the realization that if he keeps beheading his wives he will have to go back on the dating apps.”

The gigantic mural of King Henry VIII is quite magnificent. In fact, the brewery’s namesake is derived from a quote about hops spoken by the British monarch. He once referred to the hop as a, “wicked and pernicious weed.” This quote seems a bit harsh. Maybe King Henry VIII was just having one of those off-days after being hit with the realization that if he keeps beheading his wives he will eventually have to go back on the dating apps.

Regardless of whether a British Monarch would have liked it, I am excited to try the Pernicious IPA. Pernicious is Wicked Weed’s flagship beer. After one sip, I can see why Pernicious is the flagship beer. It has a wonderful bite of hops to it without being too aggressively bitter. I like its brightness and appearance. After the Pernicious IPA, I move onto the Napoleon Complex Pale Ale. Napoleon Complex is lower octane than Pernicious, but it still possesses a bright balance between bitter and bright. It is a delicious pale ale.

Has the vibe at Wicked Weed changed since being acquired by AB In-Bev? I have no idea. Would I recommend Wicked Weed to anyone and everyone who is heading to Asheville for beer? Absolutely. One thing that made Wicked Weed an appealing option to me while I was in Asheville was that they are open later than most other breweries. My three visits allowed me to really understand the beers and get a good feel for the atmosphere.

The All-Star game is a bit lackluster, but the beers and the food are all putting a great finish on a day that wound up being a fantastic mix of natural beauty, fun people, and tasty beverages and eats. Currently, my Asheville breweries visited count stands at 5, which is a little behind my normal beercation average. Hopefully, Wednesday and the wiles of the River Arts District (RAD) will allow for at least 4 or 5 stops. Cheers!

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