Two blog posts in one day; crazy, I know. But it's pretty eventful around here lately. July 5-9 was spent in Mills River with my old buddy Glenn Bailey and his family. I had not seen Glenn or anyone else in his family in at least eight years. We had planned a weekend of hiking and visiting as many of western North Carolina's craft breweries as possible. We hiked to waterfalls in South Mountains State Park near Morganton and Dupont State Forest near Brevard. We also took a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
The more impressive part of our weekend was the fact that we managed to visit 15 breweries in 4 days time, including seven on Saturday and five on Monday. What follows is a brief review of each brewery.
1. Catawba Valley Brewing (Morganton) - Our first brewery was a good one. Though the folks were having some technical difficulties with their cash register system and didn't seem to have their mess together, they had plenty of good beer. I sampled their Mother Trucker Pale Ale and their Scottish ale, both of which were very good. The pale ale was actually excellent. Glenn really enjoyed their red ale. The place seemed to be a local gathering place, with many people coming in and bringing pizzas for dinner. The pool tables were a nice touch. Like many of the breweries we visited, this place was set up in an old warehouse type building, but it was cool.
2. Lookout Brewing (Black Mountain) - One of the newest places we went to, it was located in a nondescript office plaza behind an Asian restaurant. The place was very small, but had a cool vibe going on with some art on the walls and Grateful Dead playing on the stereo. There was also a small outdoor seating area. All of the beers on tap were good, but nothing stood out to me as particularly outstanding. The people were super friendly and it was a nice, laid back place to hang out. Glenn really enjoyed their smoked ale.
3. Pisgah Brewing (Black Mountain) - Another warehouse location with a large outdoor seating area, this is a well established brewery. Cool music helped make the atmosphere. The Toubab International Pale Ale was excellent. I had previously tried their signature Pisgah Pale, which is a very good beer, but the Toubab was even better.
4. Lexington Avenue Brewery, aka Lab (Asheville) - Though they make their own beer, this place was much more of a restaurant in my opinion. I did not try any of their beers (trying to pace myself) but the food was excellent. I had the Cuban pulled pork nachos, which turned out to be a whole lot more food than I had planned on and it was really good. The atmosphere was much different than the other places we visited and I have to say that this is one of those places that just didn't make much of an impression on me (other than the great food).
5. Highland Brewing (Asheville) - Probably the best established of all the breweries on our tour, this was my Mecca prior to arriving. I have loved Highland's beers for a long time and was stoked to finally visit the home of those wonderful brews. Rather than trying one or two beers, I decided to get a flight of six tasters. It was nice just to have a little bit of everything. Unfortunately our visit was cut short as they were preparing for a concert and cleared everyone out. As an aside, we were able to take a tour next door at Asheville Distilling, where Troy & Sons Whiskey is produced. That was pretty cool.
6. Burial Beer (Asheville) - I think this was the newest place we went. It is a small brewery in an old industrial building. The ambiance was much different hear with hard rock/heavy metal music playing, lots of old tools displayed on the walls, and even the tap handles were made out of old tools like a pitchfork, hammer, scythe, etc. The owners were super nice and eager to talk with the customers; they were certainly enthusiastic. All of their beers are high gravity varieties, with nothing coming in under 7% ABV and most above 8.5%. I tried their farmhouse ale, which was nice.
7. Green Man Brewery (Asheville) - After leaving Burial, we walked right around the corner to the well-established Green Man. I had previously tried their pale ale and their ESB, both of which are very good. Green Man featured one of the more unique environments we visited with all kinds of random stuff hanging in the rafters and a ton of interesting stickers on the tap wall. There were also lots of choices, most with unique names. I tried the Ironic Mustache Red IPA, which was excellent. Glenn had the Hops for Teacher IPA and said it was very, very good. One of their specials was an imperial IPA called Imperial Stormtrooper (10.5% ABV). As I heard one customer exclaim, "I can't drink that; I'm a mere mortal!" Our friendly bartender at this location also gave us a few suggestions for other places we might want to try.
8. Wicked Weed Brewing (Asheville) - We wrapped up Saturday at Wicked Weed, which has a great restaurant (the food was really good) as well as a nice tap room and outdoor seating area downstairs. The beer selection here was huge and it would take many trips to try them all. I only had one, but it was a great choice. While I normally don't drink fruity beers I tried their watermelon saison and it was wonderful. A wedge of watermelon was placed on the rim of the glass and the aroma of watermelon was apparent from start to finish. The flavor of watermelon came through better the warmer the beer got. An excellent summer brew!
9. Brevard Brewing (Brevard) - This is a small brewery in downtown Brevard. The bartender was very friendly and most of their beers are of the lighter variety. I tried a flight so I could get a good sample of their beers. Glenn had looked all day Saturday for a lager with no luck, so he jumped all over the lager at Brevard Brewing and he was not disappointed. The pilsner was also very good, possibly the best I had on the entire trip.
10. Oskar Blues (Brevard) - A large warehouse operation, with a tap room named The Tasty Weasel upstairs and ample outdoor seating, this was one of the largest places we visited. My only previous experience with this brewery was Dale's Pale Ale, which I'm not a huge fan of. However, I had two of the best beers I tasted all weekend at this place. Their pilsner, Mama's Little Yella Pils, is really good. However, what may be the best beer I had all weekend was their imperial red ale named G'Knight. I can't even begin to describe how good this beer is and I ended up bringing some of them home with me.
11. Wedge Brewing (Asheville) - Located in the River Arts district of Asheville, I can only describe the atmosphere of this place as "junkyard." It is in a huge old warehouse/industrial building near the railroad tracks, river, and highway. It looks like an abandoned industrial site, but the beer is great. I tried their pale ale and their pilsner (noticing a trend here?) both of which were very good. Glenn had been itching to try their Belgian double, called Golem. It's a big beer at 10.5% ABV, but very smooth - a dangerous combination. It lived up to all the hype and Glenn was very happy it did.
12. Altamont Brewing (Asheville) - This place was recommended by our bartender at Green Man and when we arrived she was actually there, having drinks with friends. Located in West Asheville, this is sort of out of the way, but in an area that is probably about ready to take off growth-wise. The beer selection was extensive, but we wanted to try Altamont's own brews. Glenn got the ESB and said it was very good. I don't even remember what I had, but it was OK. Altamont seemed to cater to a crowd of mostly regulars, but certainly is a brewery worth checking out.
13. Oyster House Brewing (Asheville) - Located inside a pricey downtown restaurant, which I'm sure is very good just by the looks of the food I saw, their beer did not particularly impress. We can say we went there, but I doubt I'll ever go back. Nothing against the place, but I had better beer almost everywhere else.
14. Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville) - I again tried a flight in order to get a broad perspective on their beers. The Acrobat Spring Ale was excellent and the Prime Time Pale Ale and Hi-Wire Lager were both very good too. I think the spring ale was on par with Highland's famous Little Hump. Everything here was good, but these three really stood out.
15. Asheville Brewing (Asheville) - The tour ended here with dinner. At this point I could only really have one beer and I chose their Rocket Girl Lager. This beer was good enough that I brought a six pack home with me. The food at this place was excellent too.
All of these places had their own unique niche. I have to say I didn't have a bad beer the whole time, but there were a few that stood out as being better than the rest. I'd love to return in the fall when all these places have their fall seasonals on tap. It really would be Oktoberfest!