Carolina Beer Guy: Brews with a view

DOWN BY THE RIVER: The patio at New Belgium Brewing's Liquid Center tasting room is popular year-round.
DOWN BY THE RIVER: The patio at New Belgium Brewing's Liquid Center tasting room is popular year-round. Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing

The return of fall colors to the Western North Carolina mountains is a great time to sit outside and enjoy a few beers while soaking up the surroundings.

Among the many local breweries that offer an opportunity to take in natural and man-made scenery through patios or outdoor open spaces is Highland Brewing Co., which has a meadow used for concerts and a rooftop beer garden with views of both Mount Pisgah and Cold Mountain.

“It was a dream of mine to have something on top [of the brewery],” says Highland founder Oscar Wong. He notes that the roof space was designed to cast a shadow in the seating area and block as much of the blazing sun as possible. The brewery’s latest addition is open to ages 21 and older and can handle 375 visitors. Meanwhile, the meadow, when it’s not hosting nationally touring musical acts such as Primus or Phantogram, sports a family-friendly vibe with food and copious space for kids to spread out and play. Both the rooftop area and the meadow have beer taps.

A few miles away downtown, Green Man Brewery was the first taproom and beer production facility in what became known as the South Slope brewing district. An expansion about 18 months ago included a tasting room that can accommodate nearly 400 guests. But it’s the covered third-floor patio with its impressive views of the area — including mountains and the McCormick Field baseball park — that’s become a customer favorite.

“It was a lot of work getting it open, but people really enjoy it,” says Green Man owner Dennis Thies. “It was an architectural challenge. The building is on a slope, and we had a finite amount of square footage. To make it work, we had to go up [in construction]. It just sort of worked out. We got really lucky [with the view].”

Over in the River Arts District, New Belgium Brewing’s big riverfront patio wraps around the Liquid Center tasting room, offering visitors a great view of the French Broad River. When the brewery purchased its site, which had once been a stockyard, Liquid Center manager Tyler Foos says “a great experience for [its] guests” was high on the brewery’s list of priorities.

Original plans called for a smaller deck, but ultimately one was designed to handle 200 visitors with room for another 187 indoors. Overall, the brewery property can accommodate up to 5,000 people for special events. “The deck seems to be popular no matter what time of year,” Foos says. But to provide extra comfort, he and the staff added umbrellas for shade and bought heaters for fall and winter weather.

Though New Belgium’s expansive river charms are enticing, more modest-sized breweries next to smaller bodies of water provide a different allure. Situated next to Scott’s Creek in Sylva, Innovation Brewing has a big, partially covered patio that is both kid-friendly and pet-friendly. Nicole Dexter, who owns the brewery with her husband, Chip Owen, says they were intentional about creating a patio that would turn the creek into a focal point of the facility. “We wanted to make sure there was room for people to sit out there and enjoy it,” she says.

The patio can handle about 40 visitors at a time, and while it’s open year-round, the space is not currently heated, although there are plans to change that. “It’s always the first place [at the brewery] to get busy,” Dexter says. “You’ve got the creek on one side, and on the other, there’s a big wooded hillside. That whole area changes color [during fall].”

Likewise thriving on the periphery of the Asheville brewery scene, Ecusta Brewing Co. has two locations in Transylvania County. Ecusta on Main in downtown Brevard combines a taproom with a small brewery, while the production brewery at the entrance to Pisgah National Forest provides outdoor seating beside the peacefully babbling Davidson River. Brewery co-owner Bill Zimmer says the Pisgah Forest spot is popular with hikers, bikers and campers, and thanks in part to the open air setting, it’s seen a steady increase in business since opening last August.

However, not all scenic attractions at breweries rely on natural wonders. Over in the River Arts District, Wedge Brewing Co.’s original location and its new Foundation site both have views of an active Norfolk Southern rail line. When Wedge opened 10 years ago, brewery owner Tim Schaller figured his company would mostly do wholesale business and never really considered it would become a popular draw. “My neighbors told me that they would never go down [to the undeveloped riverfront],” he says.

Nevertheless, a former loading dock at the original Wedge became a popular hangout. The new Wedge has more indoor space, but like its sister site, customers prefer to be outside. “There are not a whole lot of places [in Asheville] that feel industrial and where the trains roll by,” Schaller says. “It’s unique. The train view [at the new Wedge] in some ways is better because [the rail line] sits up on a hill.”

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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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One thought on “Carolina Beer Guy: Brews with a view

  1. Peter Robbins

    Don’t forget Mad Co Brewing in Marshall, which has the best view of the French Broad River in the known world. Bicycle and car pool up NC 251 if you want the full experience. Takes a little while, but it’s worth it.

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