A 2014 Buzzfeed article entitled “What Your Beer Choice Says About You” says, to describe Bud Light Lime drinkers, “This is a garbage beer for garbage people.” Since this was published back in 2014 when Buzzfeed listicles were still widely shared on Facebook, I vividly remember the first text I got about this particular piece. I’m paraphrasing, since again this was 2014, but it was something along the lines of, “Bud light lime being garbage beer for garbage people reminded me of you and Katelyn.” The Katelyn here in question is my sister, and we both were, and still remain, committed bud light lime drinkers. I subsequently got a few more texts saying the garbage beer for garbage people brought me to mind, though only that first text implicated my dear sister.
Why am I taking you on this trip down memory lane? Because I think this little story, combined with the fact that I’ve now been living in Asheville for a whole 8 months, makes me the perfect person to rank the breweries in this city.
According to AVL Today, there are 33 breweries in Asheville, and 48 in the surrounding regions. It has the second most breweries per-capita than any other city in the US besides for Portland, Maine. That stung to learn since I’ve been telling everyone Asheville was #1.
Editor’s Note: I will not be ranking these in any particular order, simply giving each brewery a superlative as I’m hoping to gain some #sponcon from at least 5 of them, and thus don’t want to offend anyone. Also, I was the Manheim Central High School Yearbook Advisor for 4 years. I know a thing or two about superlatives.
Without further ado:
Best Hidden Treasure: Riverside Rhapsody Beer Company
I’ve never heard anyone mention or suggest Riverside Rhapsody as a brewery to check out, and only found it because I got lost trying to find somewhere else I can’t remember. However, a friend of mine lives not too far from here, and so I’ve been stopping by not infrequently. It’s a newer brewery, with a pretty constantly rotating beer menu, and a very low-key outdoor seating area. The beer’s good, but to me the biggest draw is knowing you’re never going to find this place overrun with people. I also always give extra points to breweries that have cheap snacks (in this case, $1.00 bags of chips).
Best Backyard: One World Brewing, West Asheville
One World has two locations. My “Best Backyard” award goes to their West Asheville outpost. I’m giving this one “best backyard,” because in a city full of breweries that have amazing outdoor spaces, the backyard at One World feels like you’re not in a brewery-yard, but a legitimate backyard. I don’t know if it’s the stonework, the wooden fence, the back deck, or the mulch, but every time I’ve been there I feel like I’m at a house party, and I mean that as high praise.
Best College Basement Cosplay: One World Brewing, Downtown Asheville
One World’s downtown Asheville locale is located in a basement you access by going down a dark alleyway. The ceiling is low, the floor is dirt, and it has that distinct college-basement smell that I associate with regret-tinged nostalgia.
One World’s basement also allows me to revisit one of my favorite collegiate phenomenon: spending a gorgeous, sunny day in a dark bar, losing complete track of time, getting tricked into feeling like you’ve reached the end of your night, emerging from said darkness to a sunny day, and realizing it’s only 5 PM and the world is your oyster.
Best Potato Salad: Hillman Beer
I love potato salad, but it’s one of those foods that I think alot of places get lazy and/or weird with and screw up. And I don’t know why anyone would add celery to it. Editor’s note: I don’t know why anyone would add celery to anything. Hillman’s potato salad is great. There’s no celery, no excess condiment globbage, and the potatoes are somehow both creamy, while never swerving into mashed-potato territory. This is a delicate balance I commend Hillman’s chef for pulling off. Hillman also has really good beer (I really like their hazy IPA), good non-potato salad offerings (any brewery that serves soft pretzels gets points), and feels more like a pub/restaurant that an industrial brewery space, which is a nice change up. They also have a very nice backyard that sits alongside a stream.
Best Beer/Best Deep Dish Pizza: Bhramari Brewing Company
Neon Ghost, one of Bhramari’s hazy IPAs, is officially my favorite Asheville beer. It’s smooth, cloudy as all hell, fruity, and doesn’t taste as strong as it is, but also still tastes like beer so you don’t forget what you’re dealing with. I covet it.
Bhramari also has a deep dish pizza I’m obsessed with. I am not a deep dish believer. I think generally they taste like they are made with Bisquick. Pizzas should not taste like they are made with Bisquick. Bhramari’s crust is deep and delicious, but tastes like pizza crust, and you don’t have to eat it with a knife and a fork which is important. Maybe I’m just in love with this pizza, but I feel like they use exceptionally high quality tomatoes too, because the sauce always tastes super fresh. I highly recommend a deep dish pizza/Neon Ghost pairing from Bhramari.
Best Riverside Brewery: Zillicoah Beer Company
Zilicoah is right down the road from Riverside Rhapsody, but much more well known. I’ve never been here where it’s not almost full to capacity, but it never feels crowded because the brewery sits in a sprawling riverside field full of picnic tables overlooking the French Broad River. I would come and spend money here if the beer was shit because of the location. I’m happy to report that the beer is not shit though, and they also have a taco truck that lives at the brewery full time.
Best Overall Vibe: Highland Brewing Company
I feel like this might be a little bit of a cop out since Highland is Asheville’s original brewery and ostensibly its most famous (well, based on the lines to get in, Wicked Weed might be the most famous, but since I’ve only there once for approximately 10 minutes, I’m not including it on this list), but going to Highland is an experience in itself. It doesn’t ever feel gimmicky though, like some larger breweries do. It’s also a 5 minute ride from my apartment, so that’s convenient.
The Highland complex sits on the top of a hill in East Asheville and is comprised of a gigantic brewery, a distillery, an outdoor space called “The Meadow,” the taproom, and always has, in my humble opinion, the best food truck selection. It’s an easy place to spend an entire afternoon, and they always have quite a few small batches to try. This is one place I make sure to always bring visitors. I like both their Rising Haze and Daycation IPAs and am very excited to try their Vanilla Milk Stout once it’s in season.
Best Brewery Inside a Caboose: Whistle Hop Brewing Company
Whistle Hop also gets points for being five minutes from my apartment (in the other direction than Highland). It’s technically in Fairview, which is probably why it never appears on any Asheville Brewery lists, but I’m including it because of its convenient location, excellent beer, and caboose seating. Yes, caboose seating. The Whistle Hop taproom is essentially a covered deck set between a boxcar and a caboose, both of which you can also drink in. I cannot stress enough how much fun it is to drink in the top of a caboose. Whistle Hop also has a great outdoor area with mini golf, lawn bowling, a firepit, and children’s slide that I’ve yet to make an adult slide. Whistle Hop’s standout is their banana wheat. It’s so good and so drinkable. I can’t figure out why it doesn’t get more accolades.
Best Farm Brewery: Turgua Brewing
Turgua is also technically in Fairview. It’s also technically not a farm brewery, but it has heavy farm brewing vibes. It’s rural—I actually don’t get cell service there, which could be viewed as a negative, but sometimes I like being forced to unplug, especially somewhere that can legitimately be described as bucolic. I really like their beer too. They have a great Carolina Lager and a sour blackberry beer that’s delicious. I don’t generally love sour beers, but have ended up going back to a few of Turgua’s sours.
Best Decor: Green Man Brewery
Green Man has two locations next door to each other. The “Mansion” on the bottom of Buxton Ave feels like it was manufactured specifically for brewery tours to stop at. Dirty Jacks, right up the road is weird, grimy in the best way, and what scores Green Man the coveted “Best Decor” superlative. I took my parents there for the Super Bowl, and my mom kept saying “I don’t think this was made for people like me,” which means it was made for people like me. They have both Michael Myers and Yoda decor. Enough said. They also have an excellent IPA and lager.
Best Outdoor Space: Burial Beer
Burial’s patio has old truck cabins and an old van you can sit and drink in. It has seating in mulch under trees, picnic tables on a stone patio, and a raised deck you can hang out on. When you enter Burial, you’re greeted by a large mural featuring Burt Reynolds and the deformed man from The Goonies (I’ve never seen The Goonies but as someone born in 1986 who spends enough time on the internet I know this deformed Goonie when I see him). It’s the most varied outdoor brewery space in Asheville. Burial also has the option to get beer slushies, which I’ve never partook in, but I respect.
Best Dark Beer Selection: Catawba Brewing
I really like Catawba as a locale. It’s never too crowded, but it’s also never empty, and its a great place to go do work after work during the week. Catawba’s also a great meeting point because it’s located on the South Slope amongst Asheville’s largest concentration of breweries and connected to both a BBQ restaurant and donut shop.
I’m a big dark beer guy, but don’t like imperial stouts. I also don’t think beers need to be over 8% percent to be good, and don’t think stouts need to taste like coffee. That’s a long-winded way to say that I like dark beer, but it’s hard to find dark beer that suits my tastes. I’ve had a great chocolate cherry stout, very drinkable dark Czech lager, and an excellent cinnamon yam spiced stout at Catawba in the past month, none of which what have put you under after one pint. They also make one of my favorite Mexican lagers. Good stuff all around.
Best Hazy IPA: Archetype Brewing
You can’t be a middle class white guy writing about craft beer in 2020 and not have a favorite IPA. I have to take it a step further and pick out a favorite hazy, New England IPA to keep any type of street cred since I have neither a mustache, nor a forearm tattoo involving feathers or trees. I pick Archetype. They have a great, hazy IPA that’s juicy, DANK, and has a sumptuous mouthfeel (not really sure what mouthfeel entails, but still going for that street cred). It also must be good because my father, who enjoys going to breweries and asking brewery staff if they have anything “like a Miller Lite,” actually drank and enjoyed three of these when he was visiting in July.
Best Lo-Fi IPA: Hi-Wire Brewing
I’m going to destroy that street cred I just carefully curated in the last entry, but I also need to be authentically myself, ya know? I love a lo-fi IPA. You get the cool-factor of an IPA, with the utility factor that make dads everywhere covet light beer. Hi-Wire makes my favorite. Their Big-Top location in Biltmore Village also has the Foothills Food Truck permanently parked there. They do an excellent, excellent burger.