The Most Essential Craft Breweries to Visit in Asheville
The best one? That’s for you to decide.
Where to even begin? It’s the question that even the most intrepid beer lovers find themselves asking when confronted by the variety, prestige, and sheer volume of craft breweries that call Asheville home. This increasingly trendy mountain town in the Smokies has been a brewery hotbed for decades thanks to its pristine spring water, boundary-pushing brewers, and eco-conscious drinkers craving tasty beers made with quality ingredients. You’ll have a lot of options when mapping your taproom adventure in the Land of the Sky.
That said, we are still living in COVID-19 pandemic times, making your brewery crawl experience different from the days of yore. “We all are down as a whole in terms of sales volume, but with the hard work of many folks and the local and state governments, we have been able to stay open,” says Brandi Hillman, co-owner of Hillman Beer and president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance. “Our industry has adapted with outside tents, tables in parking lots, enforcing mask-wearing and creating ways to help our customers feel safe to visit.”
North Carolina requires masks in public unless you’re sitting at your table, and alcohol sales and service ends at 11pm, at the latest. Many breweries no longer accept cash. However, every brewery in Asheville offers some kind of outdoor space and all of them also have to-go beer. Some have online ordering and curbside pick-up. Many also now offer delivery and even (hallelujah!) shipping -- both throughout North Carolina and to other states.
If you’re uninitiated to the Asheville beer scene, or visiting for the first time, we’ll steer you towards some can’t-miss picks. All of these featured breweries are in or real close to town, except for Highland. If you can get over to West Asheville, there’s a whole other brewery district popping up, with standouts such as Archetype, UpCountry, and local favorite Oyster House Brewing. In these fast-changing times of limited hours, capacity restrictions and COVID-related closures, it’s always a good idea to check a brewery’s website before you go.
North Asheville, South Slope
This OG on the scene has been keeping Asheville well-satiated since 1998, when it opened its North Asheville location. That one is a glorious brewpub/movie theater concept and serves tasty pizzas that are regularly named among the city’s best. ABC always carries the Beer City, USA, torch proudly, and these days has multiple locations: the original, a downtown production brewery and pizzeria, plus a brand-new outdoor beer garden called Rabbit Rabbit, next door to its South Slope brewpub. Currently ABC is serving beer only outside on its downtown patio, on the huge Rabbit Rabbit expanse of reservation-suggested picnic tables, and on its large converted parking lot in North Asheville. The movie theater is closed for now. All the beer is delicious here, but the standout is undoubtedly Ninja Porter, a super-smooth brown porter with two GABF World Cup medals under its Shinobi.
Beers to try: Ninja Porter, Perfect Day IPA
Just a couple blocks down from the Green Mansion, and behind Asheville’s venerable but currently shuttered Orange Peel music venue, sits Bhramari, a funky, taproom, brewhouse and restaurant. Named for the Hindu goddess of bees, this snug spot planned to call itself HiveMind, until the owners learned that name was already taken. But no one can take away their brewing prowess, thanks to a small system handed down from Green Man, with which they make first-rate sour and barrel-aged options. Try a year-rounder like The Good Fight (a sour pale ale) or order what everyone’s buzzing about (bee jokes!). The food here is great, too. Come hungry. There’s regular outdoor seating and you can make reservations for weekend indoor seating. Unusual for downtown, Bhramari has its own parking lot.
Beers to try: The Good Fight, Bumblestick Nut Brown
South Slope, Biltmore Village
Of all the breweries clustered throughout the former industrial South Slope district, Burial may be the most renowned. The original taproom and kitchen continues to pour a dizzying range of one-off brews, most with delightfully morbid names (Deathstalker, A Fall From Grace, A Cruel World Nevertheless). There’s lots of outside seating as tables patios and gardens flank the building on three sides. Burial also operates a taproom in Raleigh, as well as a large production brewery, restaurant, and American beer bar near Biltmore Village. Nested into a hillside, Forestry Camp’s beautifully renovated historic buildings once housed Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Inspired by French and Spanish traditions using lots of local ingredients, the Forestry Camp menu is a work of culinary art. Both AVL locations currently are open with outside seating only. Best to book reservations for Forestry Camp dining and drinking, especially if you want a seat on the super cool rooftop deck.
Beers to try: Surf Wax IPA, Shadowclock Pilsner
South Slope, Biltmore Village, Morganton
The so-called “Craft Beer of the Carolinas” lives up to its slogan with its regional footprint stretching from two Asheville locations to the original Morganton taproom and production brewery east of Asheville plus a production/taproom in Charlotte. Catawba also owns South Carolina’s Palmetto Brewing, where they’ve kept that historic brewery’s branding and beer lineup intact. All that expansion means they’re doing something right, and that something is brewing solid beers like the Hopness Monster IPA and the widely loved White Zombie Ale. Catawba’s South Slope and Morganton outposts are open to the public inside and out, with social distancing and capacity restrictions in place, but the cozy, neighborhood taproom in Biltmore Village remains closed.
Beers to try: White Zombie Ale, Hopness Monster IPA
Asheville’s newest brewery, DSSOLVR, is one of the hippest spots in one of the nation’s hippest small downtowns. Who needs vowels, anyway? Trippy marketing influences range from heavy metal to psychedelic animation to comic books to internet memes, per the co-founders, whose motto is “Brewed until Surreal.” Touting itself as a beverage company, DSSOLVER plans to brew wine, cider, and mead -- in addition to keeping the off-beat brews coming. The renovated historic building fronts one of Asheville’s oldest thoroughfares, and walk-up sidewalk pick-up has been keeping downtown residents happy and well-lubricated during COVID. The side patio is a great spot for watching the parade of tourists and Lexington Avenue regulars. While mired in building renovations, the brewers kept their chops smooth by making collaboration beverages with breweries across the country. Even in pandemic times, they’ve continued the fun with local breweries and “virtual” long-distance collabs.
Beers to try: Thank you for Existing Kolsch-style Ale, whatever is on tap
Eurisko has been keeping it simple since 2017 when they flung open their doors to Short Coxe Avenue, and thus extended the brewing district’s reach a little farther south. Started by three high school friends from Charlotte, this charcoal-hued brewhouse in a renovated barber shop boasts a two-story taproom and a small, but serviceable, outdoor space with picnic tables. You can partake in a tightly focused list of brews that includes a great porter (brewed with coffee from local roaster, Penny Cup) and often one or more Belgian-style varieties. They keep things rotating all the time and sell a selection of stuff in bottles via curbside pick-up. Bonus: Their branding is pretty slick, which makes their merch a hell of a lot more wearable than many breweries can claim.
Beers to try: Penny CupCoffee Porter, Pilz
Named for the mythical sylvan woodland creature, Green Man is one of the elders of the Asheville craft beer scene. Since 1997, it’s been plying thirsty North Carolinians and guests with fresh, hop-forward beers brewed on eco-friendly brewing equipment at either the hulking “Green Mansion” (production facility built in 2016) or Dirty Jack’s, its eclectic tasting room where special releases like highly lauded DIPA The Rainmaker is brewed (98 on RateBeer). The Green Mansion is a bit austere, while at Jack’s the decor is funky and the atmosphere cozy. There are dog-friendly, shaded patios alongside both buildings. You know what to do.
Beers to try: Green Man Porter, Green Man IPA
Highland can lay claim to being Asheville’s oldest craft brewery as it opened its doors in 1994. Ever since then, the brewery has been spreading WNC’s craft beer gospel throughout the region with widely distributed (and widely loved) classics. East of town and off what’s become the beaten path for breweries here, this spacious, shipping-container-studded taproom also boasts an outdoor venue called The Meadow, which is currently open to families with children. The socially distanced taproom is limited to 21 and older only for now. Grab an AVL IPA or Gaelic Ale (extremely coy tagline: “Asheville’s first beer”) and soak in the local brewing history.
Beers to try: AVL IPA, Gaelic Ale
Biltmore Village, Old Fort
This no-nonsense outfit down the road from Biltmore Village has it going on. Family-owned since it opened in 2017, Hillman is less industrial-chic than some of its fellow AVL taprooms. Instead, it skews cozy, with low iron-wrought rafters and bistro lights above long communal tables inside, and large deck and patio spaces both out front and back. Beer names are refreshingly straightforward, and so are the beers, in the best possible way: try the DIPA or the ESB (a double GABF medalist). Hillman recently opened a taproom and second production space in dry Old Fort, after a legal battle to put breweries on par with wineries and allow them to serve beer from the place of manufacture -- even within dry municipalities. Both locations have delicious pub food menus chock full of locally-sourced ingredients.
Beers to try: Hillman DIPA, Hillman ESB
South Slope, Biltmore Village
Circus vibes reign supreme at Hi-Wire, an Asheville stalwart since 2013. That year, it earned Ratebeer.com’s best NC brewery honors and hasn’t looked back since. Check out the original location in the brewery district on South Slope, where they brew limited-run stuff. Or head out to just north of Biltmore Village, where you’ll find its “Big Top” production brewery and a much calmer scene. Both locations pour the brewery’s flagship lager and IPA, as well as specialty stuff. If you’re there late summer into fall, keep an eye out for Zirkusfest, a GABF gold-medal-winning Oktoberfest Maerzen. Oh, and the Foothills food truck at the Big Top has a killer Cuban and a tasty locally-sourced beef burger. Get to it.
Beers to try: Hi-Wire Lager, Hi-Pitch IPA
River Arts District
Just across the French Broad and almost within eyesight of Wedge is New Belgium’s shiny East Coast craft colossus (the brewery headquarters are in Colorado). Opened in 2016, this sprawling riverfront campus is in town, as opposed to the also-spectacular East Coast outpost of fellow high-profile brewery Sierra Nevada, affectionately known as Malt Disneyland (20 minutes from AVL in Mills River.) At New Belgium, there’s lots of outdoor space to enjoy the company’s staggering liquid array, from super-fresh pours of Voodoo Ranger IPA and flagship Fat Tire, to super-new and one-off stuff brewed onsite in NC. Food vendors can be found out front, although the inside tasting room is closed and tours are cancelled until further notice. Equally awesome is the expanded greenway below the brewery and along the French Broad River, although you’ll have to chug your adult beverage before stepping off of NBB’s campus.
Beers to try: Voodoo Ranger IPA, whatever is fresh and new on tap
River Arts District, Foundation
Nestled off the beaten path in the city’s wonderfully funky River Arts District, this humble brewery earned gold at the 2017 GABF. Wedge has been consistently churning out one of the city’s strongest, most focused all-around portfolios since opening in 2008. Both the OG taproom (located ground-level in the historic Wedge building) and the newer location (in another repurposed building that was once part of an early 20th century tannery) offer expansive outdoor seating. Grab the aforementioned lager or an Iron Rail IPA and enjoy the ambiance of these industrial-chic, graffiti-artist covered patios just a few blocks from the banks of the French Broad River. Food trucks rotate here, but don’t be afraid to get you some barbecue at the beloved 12 Bones Smokehouse next door to the Foundation taproom.
Beers to try: Iron Rail IPA, Golem Belgian Strong Golden Ale
...Outside of AVL
There are many truly exceptional breweries surrounding the city and throughout western North Carolina, and we wouldn’t want you to miss them. Nearby breweries worth a car ride include: Pisgah, Fonta Flora, Zillicoah, Zebulon, Eluvium, BearWaters, Innovation, Riverside Rhapsody -- and on and on. Also, two craft beer titans have set up facilities in nearby towns -- Oskar Blues in Brevard, and the aforementioned Sierra Nevada in Mills River. So if you’ve got a few days (and a willing driver), sally forth, folks.
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