There’s no denying it: the water that fuels narrow roadside streams and cascades down wooded ravines in the scenic forests surrounding Asheville serves as an idyllic, picturesque backdrop as you drive into town. But some would argue that it plays an additional, even more significant role: serving as the primary ingredient in some damn fine beer.
A full post could easily be dedicated to the beauty of the morning drive from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina — which takes you through the heart of the Smoky Mountains — but you probably couldn’t care less. So let’s focus on the beer.
I spent most of the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day in Chattanooga for business, dabbling in the local brew scene as time permitted. The house beers on tap at the brewpub where I grabbed dinner the first night were nothing to write home about, but the libations in the two taprooms I dropped in on certainly were.
Heaven & Ale
Just across the Tennessee River from downtown Chattanooga you’ll find Heaven & Ale, a deep, warehouse-style space with impossibly tall ceilings and brewing equipment so immaculate it was literally sparkling. It’s clear that it’s relatively new.
You have to walk past all of this shiny gear to reach the taproom in the back of the building, where you can look out onto the river from a long bar or one of the bench-like tables. It was a quick stop on the way home from work, so unfortunately, I only had time for two:
- Juice Buckets: A relatively light hybrid between a standard American IPA and a New England, this hazy nectar with a strong citrus aroma was amazing. First try, nailed it.
- Victor IPA: Few beers could live up to the Juice Buckets, and while I’m sure this one is fantastic in its own right, I continued to pine for the Juice once it was gone.
Precisely what I was seeking late on a sunny Chattanooga afternoon, OddStory’s taproom was rustic and social, offering up open-air windows that allow just enough fresh air and sunlight to penetrate the room, creating a semi-outdoor vibe.
An assortment of plant life situated on and hanging from handsome wall shelves looked a little bit out of place, but somehow it works. And you know what else works: the beer, of which I sampled a flight to kick off my evening.
Cloud Walker Pale Ale: Just because it rocks a lower ABV than its more robust counterparts — the Monkey’s Heart IPA and the Fool’s Wish Imperial IPA — doesn’t mean this flavorful, balanced brew lacks hops (it incorporates five separate species).
While the pale ale was the favorite, the imperial delivered a nice jolt of piney bitterness as well. The Woven Stone Vienna Lager was a tasty change of pace after the hoppy stuff.
Goodness gracious, any questions I had about Asheville’s reputation as one of the nation’s most dynamic brewery scenes were answered within the first couple of hours in town. I’m not saying there’s a taproom around every corner, but…there’s a taproom around every corner.
Burial, Green Man, Hi-Wire, Twin Leaf, Asheville, Highland — I spent time in too many breweries to even attempt to incorporate them all into a breakdown.
We did spend extended time in two, though, so let’s take a look:
Wicked Weed Brewing
It doesn’t take long to work out that this brewery is one of the main drag’s primary tourist attractions, but that shouldn’t steer you away. I can’t decide which impressed me more, the outdoor patio or the delicious food. And the beer ain’t bad, either:
- Pernicious IPA: The brewery’s flagship didn’t move the needle too much for me — just struck me as a typical, tropical West Coast style IPA.
- Lieutenant Dank: Hi! This one did move the needle, thick and zesty and way too easy to drink out in the afternoon sun. Bonus points for well-placed Forrest Gump references.
- High Five: A ho-hum pale ale, sessionable and drinkable.
- Myrtille: Wild ales are always a crapshoot for me, but this one got it done, thanks to a funky, fruity flavor that wasn’t overpowering. It tastes pretty light for a 6% ABV.
More reminiscent of a backyard barbecue than a full-fledged bar/restaurant, Bhramari was a nice ying to Wicked Weed’s yang. More importantly, we were able to sample 10 or so of their experimental, creatively-named beers. To highlight a few:
- The Good Fight: Out of an inordinate amount of sours on the menu (I believe we tried at least three), this tart, lemony number stood out as the superior option. Probably because it was the hoppiest by far.
- Molly’s Lips: According to our bartender, this black gose is a serious fan favorite. While it certainly wasn’t my favorite, it was probably the most interesting beer I tried in town: dark in color and almost sooty in taste, it was an all-around strange experience.
- O.G. Purp: I think this was a one-time offering, and it was the purple-est beer I’ve ever consumed. It was also very tasty for such a floral brew.
- Opulent Couch: Of all the flights and samples from these two breweries, it’s kind of ironic that the “couch” beer was the one that really brought me out of my seat. Pleasantly cloudy and dripping with hops, it’s exactly what a NEIPA should be.
To say I didn’t even scratch the surface of Asheville’s beer-fueled offerings would be an understatement; I’m not sure a month would be enough time to cover it all. Suffice to say yet another return trip has been added to an increasingly crowded list of future destinations.
Conversely, I’m pretty sure I managed to dip into a considerable portion of Chattanooga’s brew scene. It was better than expected, and if I’m ever sent back, I’ll make sure to take care of any unfinished business.
And before I forget, hats off to Asheville’s Burial Brewing as the most unique indoor-outdoor taproom combination I’ve visited. If only I’d been coherent enough at that point on St. Patty’s Day to properly appreciate the beer.