Wicked Weed restaurant and brewhouse is a super-sized, stacked-up and spread-out empire of beer and pub eats.
The space includes a restaurant, tasting room, courtyard beer garden and street-side patio. With a seating capacity of about 400 people (inside and outside), it’s one of the biggest outfits in downtown Asheville.
“It’s going to be just as much a restaurant as it is a brewery,” says head chef Jason Saunders (formerly of Table and Cucina 24). Upstairs holds a full bar with 28 taps, a high-end liquor selection, indoor seating for over 100 people and an expansive, glassed-in kitchen, designed to serve “enlightened pub food,” as Saunders brands it.
The roll-up, dining-room windows take up most of the front wall and overlook the Biltmore Avenue patio, which is still under development. It’s clear, however, that the wide, sunny plot has a lot of potential. “That is going to be the spot,” Saunders says. “We’re taking [a] silo, we’re going to have a bike rack around there. We’re going to have fire pits. We’re going to have outdoor seating, lots of landscaping, trees.” In case you’re wondering, the three-legged silo was originally designed for grain storage; now, it’s been re-purposed as a decoration, bearing the Wicked Weed logo. The gas-powered fire pit should be operational within a month.
The building, which used to be an auto-repair shop and, later, Asheville Hardware, has undergone a complete transformation inside. While the large, glass garage doors remain, the interior feels both industrial and luxurious with its reclaimed, polished wood, exposed brick and Edison bulbs with their glowing-orange filaments. The bars on both floors are made out of a 200-year-old piece of Black Gum that was sourced from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Two musket balls, likely from the Civil War, are still embedded in the upstairs bar top. “We’re really trying to create a full sensory experience here,” says Luke Dickinson, one of the venture’s five owners.
Dickinson and his brother, Walt, co-own the restaurant with family friends Rick and Denise Guthy and their son, Ryan. Walt’s father went to college in Pasadena, Calif., with Rick. Later, both families moved to Asheville. Ryan, Walt and Luke went to high school here.
The Dickinson brothers are longtime home brewers (Walt also owns Higher Ground Rainwater Systems). Luke’s interest in the craft even landed him an internship at Dogfish Head in Gaithersburg, Md.
Rick says he never imagined he would open a brewery until the Dickinsons persuaded him (he owns a marketing company). “The boys make such great beer, and they just convinced me,” he says. “Once I started tasting their beers, I knew they were on to something.”
Food was a natural extension of the brewing operation, and soon, the group hooked up with Saunders, who went to high school with Walt, to develop a menu. “It’s bar food,” he says. “It’s got to be comfortable; that’s what we have to go for. That being said, there’s got to be a little bit of balance. We’re not just trying to put out burgers and fries.”
With that balance in mind, the menu features a kale-ribbon salad with Merguez sausage, northern beans, halloumi cheese and warm vinaigrette dressing. On the decadent end of the burger spectrum, it offers a beef patty topped with braised short ribs and caramelized onions. “It’s almost an opulent burger,” Saunders says.
For a more conservative option, there’s the affordably priced, classic burger. “I’ve always wanted a place where you could go and get a $6 burger and a beer for $10,” he says. “We’re not trying to exclude anybody. It needs to be a place where people feel instantly comfortable to go and not be put out by the price.”
Since Wicked Weed is both a brewery and a restaurant, Saunders’ kitchen creations could wind up both on plates and in glasses. Luke and Walt are working on a saison brewed with sweet potatoes, grits and local honey. Saunders will cook up the Southern staples for use in the brewery downstairs.
In the brewery below the restaurant, more than half of the space is taken up by brewing equipment. There’s a glassed-off room with yeast bubbling in an open fermentor. A line of oak barrels separates the bar from the brewery.
This is where beer happens.
And it’s not just the atmosphere. Of the 28 taps upstairs, at any one time they can only run 14 beers through them. “Downstairs you will eventually be able to order up to 25 different beers,” said Luke Dickinson, part-owner and brewer at Wicked Weed. The plan is for about half those beers to be West Coast style American ales (meaning aggressively hopped and on the dry side) and Belgian style ales for the other half.
Highlights on the hoppy side include Transgressor Imperial Red and Freak Imperial IPA. Freak is already an Asheville favorite: the brewery cites it as a main reason they won the People’s Choice award at Brewgrass in 2012. Its recipe has been in development for close to a decade. “We’ve always wanted it to be a beer that’s like sticking your face in a bag of hops …You’ll still be smelling it and tasting it 15 minutes after you finish it. You’ll be burping hops,” said Luke.
Transgressor — dank, citrusy, and clearly inspired by breweries like Green Flash — has also proved popular. A preview keg was sent to Thirsty Monk in late December and sold out in just over an hour.
While the hoppy beers have received the bulk of the hype, Wicked Weed’s brewers are equally excited about Blondes, Dubbels and other Belgian beers. “Saison is probably my favorite style to brew and drink,” said Walt Dickinson, Luke’s brother and also part-owner and brewer.
A loosely defined Belgian style farmhouse ale, Saison can vary wildly from brewery to brewery—and even within the same brewery. However, when you order a Saison, you can expect certain things: fruit, earth, and spice-forward notes from the yeast and a light, crisp body with high carbonation. Wicked Weed will be the first Asheville brewery to keep this style on tap year-round. Like small-time brewers of old, they plan to continually change recipes, using what they have on-hand.
“We love the rustic character of saisons … it’s something we’re really passionate about,” says Luke. “We’re trying to recreate the feel that you’re actually drinking beer made in a farmhouse by using a variety of base malts, throwing in raw grains; and using our open fermentor.”
Saison I and Saison II, both on tap at opening, were variations on a theme with small riffs on ingredients, similar ABVs and the same yeast strain. However, the brothers say to expect wildly different saisons in the future. From sessionable beers (4 percent ABV) made with Belgian Ardennes yeast, to the aforementioned sweet potato, grit and local honey saison.
With plans for wood-aged beers, sours and other one-offs in addition to the stable of West Coast style beers and Belgians, will non-beer geeks be overwhelmed at Wicked Weed?
“Not at all,” Walt says. “It really just comes down to what you like. The nice thing is that we’ll always have three to four offerings in a variety of different styles. So feel free to just come in and tell us, ‘I want a hoppy beer,’ or ‘I like dark beer.’”
Then again, “I like all our beer,” he says.
Wicked Weed Brewing, 91 Biltmore Ave., opens Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 12 to 10 p.m. On weekends, the kitchen closes at midnight. For more information, call 575 – 9959, visit the brewery Facebook page, or check out wickedweedbrewing.com.
Thom O’Hearn contributed to this article.