Hordes of beer lovers will gather this Saturday, clamoring for cold brews and hot bluegrass at the 12th annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival.
If you have a ticket, good work: For the fourth year in a row, tickets for the festival sold out weeks ahead of time.
But for those beer aficionados who weren’t as proactive, fear not. The Xpress has put together a guide to WNC’s craft breweries and beers that can be enjoyed outside of festival-time.
For lucky ticketholders, this year’s Brewgrass will feature about 30 beers crafted in Western North Carolina (see guide to area microbreweries below). And it’s for a good cause. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina will receive at least $10,000 of festival proceeds. The music lineup features Cadillac Sky, Greensky Bluegrass, Dixie B-Liners, The Biscuit Burners and Brushfire Stankgrass.
Jimi Rentz and Doug Beatty founded Brewgrass in 1997 and still serve as the event’s organizers. The two formerly co-owned Barley’s Taproom, though Beatty’s since moved to Kingsport, Tenn., and opened a business there. Still, Beatty says he’ll always come back to Asheville for Brewgrass.
He’s not the only one coming to town for the festival.
“People come from all over for Brewgrass,” Rentz says. “We like keeping the festival small in terms of numbers of people, but big in terms of numbers of brewers.”
In fact, Xpress found beer aficionados from Houston, Knoxville, Tenn., Huntsville, Ala., and even Harrisburg, Pa. (see box), who are planning to attend the festival.
Still, if you didn’t score tickets to Brewgrass 2008, remember that on any given day in Brewville, U.S.A.(aka Asheville), 40 to 50 beers are being crafted at our eight area microbreweries. Plus, two more craft brewers, Craggie Brewing and Lexington Avenue Brewing, are due to open in Asheville within the next year. There’s always plenty of beer to go around. Cheers!
Here’s Xpress’ up-to-the-minute guide to Western North Carolina’s craft brewers.
Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co.
Expanded production capacity at APBC’s second brewery location on Coxe Avenue has enabled brewer Doug Riley to start selling kegs. For the first time, APBC also offers the well-loved beers on a number of taps around town besides their two locations.
APBC’s second-run movies, game and party room, kid’s menu, and “we heart dogs” policy (at least in the outside areas) make the Merrimon location the most family-friendly brewery in town.
Locations: 675 Merrimon Ave. (254-1281) and 77 Coxe Ave. (255-4077 or www.ashevillebrewing.com).
Beers brewed year round: Shiva IPA, Red Light IPA, Old School Pale, Roland’s Red, Scottish Ale, Rocket Girl Pale, Ninja Porter and Scout Stout.
Seasonals: None at the moment.
Beers at Brewgrass: Rocket Girl, Shiva, Ninja and Old School.
System and production: Seven barrels at the Merrimon location and 15 barrels at Coxe Avenue, producing 2,000 barrels annually.
Takeout and tap availability: Growlers and kegs. About 10 taps around Asheville.
Catawba Valley Brewing Co.
If you’re heading east of Asheville, particularly on a Friday, you should stop by the weekly party at Catawba Valley Brewing in Morganton (55 miles east). Owner/brewer Scott Pyatt opens the tasting room on Fridays from 4 to 11 p.m. to a crowd of regulars. CVBC will also hold its annual Brew & View, a Halloween costume and beer-quaffing event on Oct. 31.
Location: 212 South Green St., Morganton (828-430-6883 or www.catawbavalleybrewingcompany.com).
Beers brewed year round: Farmer Ted’s Farmhouse Cream Ale, Brown Bear Ale, Firewater Indian Pale Ale, Honest Injun Stout and Indian Head Red Ale.
Seasonals: King Coconut Porter, King Don’s Pumpkin Ale, Whiskey River IPA and Hyper Monkey Java Stout.
Beers at Brewgrass: All of them, says Pyatt.
System and production: Ten barrels, producing 500 barrels annually.
Takeout and tap availability: Kegs and growlers. Taps from Morganton to Asheville to Knoxville, Tenn.
French Broad Brewing Co.
French Broad Brewing has had an exciting year, almost doubling their production, says assistant brewer Chris Richards. Head brewer Drew Barton started working at FBBC as a delivery driver and climbed the company rungs until earning the head-brewer title. Since then, he and Richards have produced a number of interesting beers, including the new Ryehopper Amber rye-style beer, which will be available at Brewgrass. The French Broad Tasting Room offers live music Thursday through Saturday, pint specials on Monday, and games and trivia on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Location: 101-D Fairview Road (277-0222 or www.frenchbroadbrewery.com).
Beers brewed year round: Goldenrod Pilsner, Alt Bier Amber, Wee Heavy-er Scotch Ale, 13 Rebels ESB, Gateway Kolsch.
Seasonals: Ryehopper Amber, Harvest Porter and Belgian Farmhouse Ale.
Beers at Brewgrass: All five regulars plus two or three seasonals.
System and production: Fifteen barrels, producing about 2,000 barrels annually.
Takeout and tap availability: Kegs, growlers and 22-ounce bottles. About 100 local taps. Now selling beer in east Tennessee in draft and bottles. Planning to sell in South Carolina and Georgia soon.
Green Man Brewing Co.
John Stewart, head brewer at Green Man since early 2007, is producing a number of new seasonals for the brewery. His new Hefeweizen, previously a favorite when he was a brewer in Atlanta, will be available at Brewgrass.
The Green Man Tasting Room is open seven days a week, from 4 to 9 p.m. Customers have nicknamed the space, a rustic former garage, “Dirty Jack’s.” Green Man beers have been available at Brewgrass for 11 of its 12 years.
Location: 23 Buxton Ave., Asheville (252-5502 or www.jackofthewood.com).
Beers brewed year round: Gold, Pale Ale, IPA, ESB and Porter.
Seasonals: Imperial Stout, Hefeweizen, Belgian Gold and Belgian Abbey.
Beers at Brewgrass: Hefeweizen, Imperial Stout, Pale, IPA, ESP. Also, Stewart says he’s bringing a cask with a hand pump, probably containing the Porter.
System and production: Fifteen barrels, producing 1,100 barrels annually.
Takeout and tap availability: Kegs and growlers. About 10 taps around Asheville.
When in Sylva (43 miles west of Asheville), it’s worth a visit to Heinzelmännchen Brewery, open every Tuesday through Saturday for beer sampling and tours. Owners Dieter Kuhn and Sheryl Rudd recently changed their logo in preparation to put 5-liter party kegs of their authentic German beers into area specialty stores. Heinzelmännchen beers are available in restaurants and taprooms from Asheville to Robbinsville to Franklin. In addition to harder beverages, the brewery also makes hand-brewed root and birch beers.
Location: 545 Mill St., Sylva (631-4466 or www.yourgnometownbrewery). Beers brewed year round: Gopher Ale, Ancient Days Honey Blonde, Weis Gnome, Middleworld Brown, Black Forest Stout and Kilted Gnome Scottish Ale.
Seasonal: Oktoberfest, Gnutty Gnome and Hoppy Gnome.
Beers at Brewgrass: Honey Blonde, Weis Gnome, Black Forest Stout, Oktoberfest and root beer.
System and production: Ten barrels, producing more than 400 barrels annually.
Takeout and tap availability: Kegs and growlers. About 40 taps. Five-liter kegs will be in specialty stores in 2009.
Highland Brewing Co.
As it has for the past three years, Asheville’s oldest and largest brewery will offer a new beer at Brewgrass, then sell that beer by the bottle and the case from the brewery the next day. This year’s specially-brewed beer is the Imperial Black Mocha Stout. The beer will be sold from noon to 3 p.m. ($8 per 22-ounce bottle) on Sunday, Sept. 21. The brewery is producing about 40 barrels, and this year, there’s no case limit. You’ll have to stand in line to get yours, but it’s a great opportunity to hear everyone’s Brewgrass party flu stories.
Location: 12 Old Charlotte Highway (299-3370 or www.highlandbrewing.com).
Beers brewed year round: Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir IPA and Black Mocha Stout.
Seasonals: Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Tasgall Ale, Cattail Peak Wheat, Clawhammer, Oktoberfest and Shining Rock Lager.
Beers at Brewgrass: Most of Highland’s year-round beers and the Imperial Black Mocha Stout.
System and production: Fifty barrels, producing more than 12,000 barrels annually.
Takeout and tap availability: No takeout from the brewery. About 150 taps around Western North Carolina. Six-packs, big bottles and kegs available at most stores that carry Highland’s beer. Highland beers are also available in South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Pisgah Brewing Co.
Since opening in 2005, Pisgah Brewing Co. has been one of the fastest growing breweries in Western North Carolina. Co-owners Jason Caughman and Dave Quinn recently renovated the brewery’s tasting room, which is now open on Thursday and Friday starting at 4 p.m. Quinn says that up to 200 beer lovers show up for the Thursday tastings, often spilling out into the field behind the brewery.
Pisgah Valdez, a stout flavored with coffee specially roasted by Asheville Coffee Roasters, is currently ranked 88 on Beer Advocate’s list of “Top Beers on Planet Earth.” All Pisgah beers are unfiltered and certified organic.
Location: 150 Eastside Drive, Black Mountain (669-2491 or www.pisgahbrewing.com).
Beers brewed year round: Pisgah Pale, Pisgah Porter, Pisgah Nitro Stout and Pisgah Solstice.
Seasonals include: Baptista, Valdez, Vortex, Equinox, Red Devil and Endless Summer.
Beers at Brewgrass: Valdez, Pale, Endless Summer, Stout and Solstice.
System and production: Ten barrels; 5,000 barrels produced last year.
Takeout and outside availability: Kegs and growlers. 22-ounce bottles at specialty stores. More than 100 taps, now including Brevard.
Wedge Brewing Co.
Asheville’s newest craft brewery opened its doors on May 30 to hordes of happy beer lovers. The brewery’s location, next to the railroad tracks in the River Arts District, gives it a kick-off-your-shoes feel. Owner Tim Schaller teamed up with former Green Man brewer, Carl Melissas, and the twosome are keeping the beers coming.
According to Melissas, Wedge is the only true European-style brew house in town. He says their three-vessel decoction system enables the brewery to produce any kind of obscure beer authentically.
Location: 125-B Roberts St. (505-2792 or www.wedgebrewing.com)
Beers brewed year round: Iron Rail IPA, Community Porter, Golem, Payne’s Pale Ale and Marco’s Pilsner.
Seasonals include: Wit bier, Oatmeal Stout, Helles Bock.
Beers at Brewgrass: IPA, Pale, Wit bier.
System and production: Ten barrels; 1,100 barrels per year.
Takeout and tap availability: Kegs and growlers. Fourteen taps around town.
[Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
what: The Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival, featuring at least 40 brewers and a clutch of bluegrass bands.
where: Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, Asheville
when: Saturday, Sept. 20. Noon to 7 p.m. (Tickets are sold out. For those with tickets, bring identification and ticket printout. Event will be held rain or shine. No one under 18 admitted without parent. No coolers, no pets and no Frisbees. www.brewgrassfestival.com)