Carolina Beer Guy: Brewery daytrips

ORNITHOLOGICAL CHOICE: Guests enjoy the courtyard at Birds Fly South Ale Project in Greenville, S.C. The brewery has earned acclaim around the region for its wild and sour ales. Photo by Ames Cashin
ORNITHOLOGICAL CHOICE: Guests enjoy the courtyard at Birds Fly South Ale Project in Greenville, S.C. The brewery has earned acclaim around the region for its wild and sour ales. Photo by Ames Cashin

In Asheville, where breweries are literally across the street from each other, it’s easy to overlook beer adventures that are just down the road.

In Western North Carolina alone, more than 70 breweries have set up shop. Throw in Upstate South Carolina, and the number is more than 80 within about an hour’s drive.

“The number of [area] breweries has doubled in the past two and a half years, and a good portion of those are outside of the city of Asheville,” says Kendra Penland, executive director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance, which represents breweries and beer-related businesses.

Some of those brewers intentionally chose places not known as craft beer destinations, while others were looking for lower rents or property costs than those available in Asheville.

Now that vacation season is here, it’s a good time to gas up the car and hit the road in search of great beer. It sweetens the deal is that some smaller breweries only sell their products in their own tasting rooms, adding an exclusivity element to the trip. With those factors in mind, here are a half-dozen western Carolina breweries worth a visit, including one that will open in early June.

Neighbors to the south

Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom in Travelers Rest, S.C., is an easy drive from Asheville down Interstate 26 to U.S. Highway 25. The brewery is near the popular Swamp Rabbit Trail greenway system located on a former railroad bed. The trail draws plenty of visitors to Travelers Rest, but brewery owner Ben Pierson — who previously brewed at Asheville’s Green Man Brewery and Lexington Avenue Brewery — says a good number make the trip for beer. “We see a lot of people come down from Hendersonville and Asheville,” he says. “And a lot of people are just cruising the country.”

Pierson’s American Stout recently won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup competition, but he says that brew is long gone from the taproom. Fortunately, Swamp Rabbit has plenty of its flagship Belgian-style White Ale, a year-round märzen, an American pale ale, an IPA and a Scottish ale. Seating is available both indoors and outside, and the brewery is open daily except Mondays.

RJ Rockers Brewing Co. in Spartanburg is known for such brews as Son of Peach American Wheat Ale, Patriot Pale and Palisade Pils. Along with the taproom, Rockers has a restaurant called The Silo. “Downtown is going through a boom right now,” says Rockers founder Mark Johnsen, who adds that a Marriott hotel near the brewery helps pull a lot of visitors.

Rockers keeps 15 beer taps in the tasting room and a dozen in the restaurant, which opened in February. It’s open daily except Sundays and Mondays.

Over in Greenville, Birds Fly South Ale Project has emerged as a highly respected brewery, specializing in wild and sour ales. Founder and brewer Shawn Johnson recently added a 20-barrel brew house to expand production while sour beers are aging.

“There are a lot more people here who enjoy wild and sour beers than we realized,” he says. “We are so close to Asheville, which is a progressive beer market.”

The brewery is in an old cotton mill and has two bars, a patio and a green space. Asheville-based White Duck Taco has expanded across state lines and set up a shop next door. The brewery also hosts a yoga class every Saturday morning and various other happenings. “We always have music and events at the brewery,” Johnson says. “Every third Sunday we have a jazz brunch.”

Around the mountains

Mad Co Brewing Co. is in downtown Marshall, a popular destination with the outdoors crowd. During the warm-weather season, Mad Co draws a significant amount of tourists from Asheville, around Western North Carolina and Tennessee, says brewer Ian Yancich. “Marshall is a gorgeous little town,” he says.

A back deck at the taproom offers an impressive view of the French Broad River and passing Norfolk Southern trains. The tasting room is open daily.

Just inside the Rutherford County line, Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery opened in 2015 in the tourist town of Chimney Rock along the Rocky Broad River. “We do [beers] in an English, malt-forward style,” says brewer Matt Karg, who studied at the Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast at A-B Tech.

The Hickory Nut Gorge tasting room has four decks overlooking the river with a view of Chimney Rock, and is open daily. Karg says the majority of the brewery’s business comes from tourists.

Peaks & Creeks Brewing Co. looks to open Saturday, June 2, in Brevard, in a development called The Lumberyard. Situated a few blocks from downtown, the brewery’s immediate neighbors include a restaurant, gallery, music venue and covered outdoor area.

“We’re going to open with 10 beers on tap — a little bit of everything,” says owner Jon Bowman. He expects Waterfall IPA to be the biggest seller. “And I want to delve heavily into saisons, barrel-aged beers and Belgians,” he says.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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