By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Great Beers & Great Food!
Cheers & Bon Appetite! Welcome to Asheville in the beautiful western North Carolina Mountains! A thriving mountain city that boasts the most microbreweries and an array of unique eateries for a culinary delight from the casual to the gourmet. Join us on sipping and tasting tours of Asheville.
Cheers to Great Beer! Asheville “toasts” over 15 microbreweries! Ready to do some beer sampling we take the Asheville Brewery Tour. Beginning at the Wicked Weed, a large microbrewery featuring 70 different beers it’s only been open 6 months. With a multi-million dollar conversion a two-story auto garage is now a premier brewery and tasting room downstairs with a restaurant upstairs serving a seasonal menu of elegant bar food. Luke Dickinson, Brew Master and a co-owner, shares his story and passion “to craft beer that is creative, inspiring and above all extremely drinkable.” Their specialty is beers from Belgian Beer to Double IPA to Sour Beer. Today it’s generous samplings of Lucid Blonde (Belgian Blonde with spelt), Watermelon Saison (an ale style beer served with a cool slice of watermelon and my favorite), Tyrant Double Hop Red (heavily dry-hopped) and Day Walker (ginger beer). The outside patio is good for sipping beer and people watching.
Hopping in the van, Josh our guide and co-owner, shares the history of microbrews in Asheville on the way to Altamont Brewing Company. Known locally as “the bar”, the Altamont boasts a wide open floor plan with regulation ping-pong, a foosball table and other leisure sports. Featuring a 7 beer barrel brewery and 20 taps including guest taps, it’s also a full bar. They boast “To make great beer people enjoy and provide a place for drinking it!” Bellying up to the long bar, we sample a Heffavison, the ESB – Extra Special Beer, the Rye Pale Ale and a Porter, which Richard loves. More beer to come at the newest brewery in Asheville – Burial Beer. Opened less than a month, this small brewery is serving up some terrific brews. In keeping with the “Burial” theme we sampled the Bill Hook, Rye Pale Ale Scythe, and Drawknife Double as we chat with one of the owners on how they got into the brewing business. Asheville Brewing Tours is the best for visiting the Asheville breweries, learning about the beers, lots of sampling and meeting the brewers and owners. Josh and Critter, the co-owners, make sure we have plenty of time at each brewery for sampling and getting to know all about Asheville beers. Even better they do all driving!
What’s the attraction for Asheville and microbreweries? Water! As one brew master shared with us the rains filtering through these oldest mountains results in a quality fresh water for brewing beer. In search of more craft beers and with recommendations from Josh, our microbrew quest continues during our visit. The Asheville Brewing Company is brewery and restaurant with good pub grub. Their Ninja Porter wins Richard over and he leaves with a Ninja Porter tee shirt. One of the largest distributors in Asheville for microbrews is the Highland Brewing Companies. Here we find huge tasting room, which often features entertainment. My favorite Highland Brewing beer is the St. Theresa Ale while Richard is very happy with the Oatmeal Stout.
In Black Mountain a charming town just east of Asheville, we sample local brews at Pisgah Brewing specializing in certified organic beer. Stopping in on a Wednesday afternoon, we enjoy beer tasting, scrumptious appetizers from the food truck, and entertainment. Black Mountain’s newest microbrew is Lookout Brewing Company, a small casual brewery that is crafting some super beers, too.
Hungry for a taste of Asheville but don’t know where to start? Take the walking food tour “Eating Asheville!” Our Saturday “High Rollers” sip and taste tour begins at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar with its expansive book collection and champagne bar. Cheers! A Pink Sparkling Wine anddelicious appetizers of a trout spread and a cheese spread are our first tastings on our gastronomical tour through Asheville. Our guide, Cicily, entertains and educates us on our culinary expedition to Asheville’s top notch “farm to table” restaurants. A short walk has us at Cucina 24 which features interpretations of classic Italian cuisine. Chef Brian creates a scrumptious flavorful Brushcetta from homegrown tomatoes accompanied by a red wine. Strolling over to The Lobster Trap where fresh seafood reigns supreme, we delight in a luscious jumbo grilled scallop with tasty sauces paired with the Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay. Down the hill and around the corner from the Fine Arts Theater, we stop at Limones. The sea scallop here is an inspirational mix of Mexican and Californian cuisine. Next stop is Chestnut featuring local and seasonal flavors. Today our sampling is the Pesto Seared Shrimp atop a fresh salad.
Chocolate! Everybody’s favourite! A primary goal of Chocolate Gemsis for the finest handmade chocolates and gelatos.Owners Andrew and Sue enthusiastically share their “Chocolate Gems” story. After sampling the gelato, we each take a Chocolate Amaretto Truffle and per Cicily’s instructions, “Save the Truffle!” Next door is The Social Lounge & Tapas a premiere craft cocktail bar to eat, drink, and be social. The appetizer of a lamb skewer is delicious. Watching the bartender mix the specialty cocktail, a THALIA, with ingredients of gin, basil, pineapple juice, and bitters we wait in anxious anticipation. Sipping our THALIA on the rooftop of the Social Lounge with our Chocolate Amaretto Truffle taking in scenic views of Asheville we toast “Eating Asheville.” Cheers!
Don’t expect to walk in and get a table during season as these restaurants are small. To celebrate our final evening in Asheville, it’s dinner at Cucina24, a favorite from our Eating Asheville Tour. With a menu that changes daily based on what’s in season, the chef and his team adjust and incorporate locally grown veggies, produce and meats into their dishes. A savory Sampling of Oysters begins our dinner followed by a luscious Watermelon and Cucumber Salad with compressed watermelon enhancing its flavor. Chef Brian wins me over. The succulent Seared Scallops with heirloom tomato, eggplant, raisins and pine nuts even has me an eggplant fan. Richard has the Smoked Manger Duck Breast paired with cauliflower, peaches and sorghum, most delectable. Plus he is delighted with the Duck Creek Milt Stout that is so smooth and I love the Tenuta Mazzolino, “terrazze”, Pinot Nero, Lombardia 2011. A mouth-watering Peach Upside Down Cake is the finale. From a leisurely tasty lunch at Chestnut to a more fine dining experience at Cucina24 to elegant bar food at the Wicked Weeds community table, Asheville will satisfy any appetite. Bon Appetit!
If you go:
Asheville also has many vegan restaurants and most restaurants have several vegan dishes. Another fun tour is the Lazoom Bus tour, which we did a couple of years ago. It is still going strong, so if you are in Asheville and have time add it to your list of things to do.
Asheville Brewery Tours. 828.233.5006; firstname.lastname@example.org
Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 36 Montford Ave, Asheville, NC 28801 828). 258.6101; www.exploreasheville.com
Cucina24, 24 Wall St., Asheville, NC 28801; 828.254.6170; www.cucina24restaurant.com
Eating Asheville, 1 Page Ave #101, Asheville, SC 28801; 828.230.1290; www.eatingasheville.com