Meet and eat: Asheville food and drink meetups nourish community

BEER HUG: From left, Asheville Beer Club members Chris Power, Tommy Green and Don Baker share some conversation — and some brews — at a recent meet-ups at Barley's Taproom. Photo courtesy of Louise Baker

Everybody has a thing. And regardless of whether that thing is Boston terriers, hiking with small children, drinking wine or paranormal activity, Meetup.com offers a way for strangers with similar interests to connect with each other and cultivate friendships.

Created by Scott Heiferman who was inspired by the camaraderie shown by New Yorkers in the wake of 9/11, the website facilitates upward of 90,000 gatherings globally each week. Among Asheville’s 192 (and growing) Meetup offerings, food and drink are unsurprisingly popular themes, along with alternative and holistic lifestyles, spirituality, hiking and biking.

Local food-oriented groups span a range of tastes and interests, from the Asheville Vegan Society to the Katuah Region Local and Sustainable Food Enthusiasts. Drink-focused groups tend to pair their preferred libations with other themes, like the Doomer Drinking & Solidarity Society, whose members “deem survival almost impossible,” and the Asheville Hash House Harriers, who describe themselves as “a drinking group with a running problem,” according to both groups’ Meetup.com information.

Xpress recently checked out three food-and-beverage themed Meetups and to see what they’re all about.

Asheville Beer Club

Brew Papa Tommy Green’s photo on his Meetup.com profile features him grinning and shirtless, a glass of amber brew perched atop his well-earned beer belly. The image exemplifies the tone of the Asheville Beer Club: casual, passionate about beer, fun-loving and over 40.

 “We really just stand around and drink,” says Green, CEO of the forthcoming Brewpon, an app that will allow local beer aficionados to receive notification when a favorite beer is on special around town. 

Nearly 1,000 members strong, the Asheville Beer Club holds a standing monthly meetup, each at a different brewery or pub. The members also assemble to celebrate beer-related openings, tour breweries, go camping and attend festivals. At the annual Just Brew It Homebrew Festival, a benefit for Just Economics, they are responsible for judging the beer and allocating awards.

And there’s a yearly bar crawl, “but we usually only make it to a few places before everybody is a mess,” says Green.

Asheville Real Foods

Asheville Real Foods is a Meetup group that focuses on a healthful lifestyle by the way of a raw-vegan diet. The group’s monthly potlucks serve creative raw cuisine and socially conscious discussion. “It’s about being open-minded, loving and accepting. It’s a place of no judgment. We are here to celebrate being here and community. Everybody’s welcome — people of all ages, families and any dietary preference,” says co-organizer Shannon Lagasse.

Asheville Real Foods is, in some ways, the antithesis of the Asheville Beer Club. Members’ faces glow with bioavailable micronutrients and spring water collected at the source. They eat zoodles (raw zucchini noodles) with soaked cashew sauce, fermented vegetables and desserts concocted from avocados. These self-described “high beamers” do, however, share a concern with their drinking counterparts: the potential effect of fracking on the water supply, which could adversely affect the taste and quality of Asheville’s drinking water and craft beer. 

A topic of conversation at a recent Real Foods meetup, fracking is also on the Beer Club’s agenda. According to Green, after the organizers of a local beer festival thwarted attempts by the club to share information with the public about fracking, many club members did not attend the event.

Asheville Wine and Food Society

Asheville Wine and Food Society members have their noses in several wine-related activities. There is the standing monthly meeting at Weinhaus’ Cork and Keg Wine Bar, owned by member Hunt Mallett. Mallett also works with local restaurants to orchestrate wine-pairing dinners every couple of months. 

Members, who also tend to be more of an over-40 crowd, also participate in “the hardest drinking game you will ever play,” says group organizer Mary Trauner: the Metro Wines Blind Tasting League, in which certified wine specialist Andy Hale guides novice palates in a blindfolded quest to detect subtle nuances indicative of particular grapes and regions.

Organizers from all three Meetups say many of their new members join upon moving into town, and agree that the core of these Meetups isn’t about drinks or diet. It’s about fostering conversation and creating community. It seems that Meetup.com, at least in Asheville, is fulfilling Heiferman’s vision.

 

 

 

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