I really knew nothing about Asheville before this trip, so I was ill prepared for the amazing mix of country, urban detritus and craft revival that awaited us. Pulling in alongside a graffiti coated freight train, through beautifully dilapidated abandoned buildings, dotted with art studios, and local businesses, set the tone appropriately for the next day and a half. There seems to be a healthy air of ok with decay, that brings a texture and visual/historical interest to the area that could be so easily destroyed by the well-meaning. Whatever they’re doing, I’m for it.
First stop was 12 Bones Smokehouse for lunch. The BBQ here was reportedly amazing, and the selection of local brews was a nice addition. I ordered a smoked half chicken and some sides, accompanied by a Green Man Brewing ESB. The environment at 12 Bones is very laid back and comfortable. At no point do you feel rushed to order, sit, or leave, which is pretty nice, coming from an incredibly impatient city like Philly. Our food arrived about 20 minutes later. The chicken was really expertly done. every part seemed to be cooked to perfection, and their dry rub was very tasty. The also had a selection of additional sauces to dip in. My favorites were a vinegary mustard, and a substantially spicy jalapeno. The sides were ok, if a bit of an after-thought, but satisfying nonetheless. The Green Man ESB was very good. I’d rather it have been on hand pump or gravity, but it was so classically English it couldn’t be denied. Very well done.
After lunch they crew was planning to head to Wedge Brewing. Figuring they’d be there for a while, I decided a little light urban exploration was in order, seeing as how the area was positively littered with abandoned factory buildings. I walked along the main road until I found a building with low barriers to entry, waited until I was out of sight, and popped in through an old bay-door opening. I’m really glad I took the time, it interesting to experience that side of Asheville, and it got my old exploration juices flowing again. While the building has been gone through probably 1000 times before, and it bore the signs of being a teen drinking hangout, it was still nice to see the sun streaming through a fallen-through roof again, and the signs of urban life were an amusing read.
The Wedge wasn’t open until four, so I met up with the dudes again and we headed to the hotel and checked in. Once we were settled we headed out to see Highlands Brewing, and Troy & Son’s distilling. We popped into Troy first, hoping a whiskey tour and tasting was in our future, but were immediately rebuffed by the owner. Apparently they only give tours on the weekends, and are only open to the public then. (yet always have the doors open!) The big boss scuttled us vermin out into the street post-haste. He seemed a little too eager to give us weary travelers a shove, and hence his whiskey get’s no mention here. Man did they have some shiny gear though!
Highlands was a bit more welcoming, but they had a private party that night, so we took the last tour just so we could try some beers. Woof, double rebuff. I think I need a t-shirt that says blogger, so people know I need a free drink and a comfortable place to sit. (Perhaps I’ll try that next time.) I was pretty pleased with the Highlands brews in general. While doing relatively typical “craft beer” styles, pretty much within style guidelines, the beers were definitely above average.
Gaelic, Highlands’ flagship is a wee heavy. Sort of an unusual flagship, which I like. Were it a Pale Ale, I probably would have passed. Gaelic was nice and complex, yet easy to put away. One of my pet peeves is the nexus of flagships and session beer. It generally leads to, well, crap. Gaelic is an notable exception. While this beer is certainly a flagship, and definitely session-able, it’s a substantial beer with enough going on to keep you reaching. Lots of dark fruits and deep sugar flavors to chew on, finishing with a nice sweet n’ roasty flavor. Very good.
I went for an Abbey Dubbel next, in an attempt to branch out, lest this become the tour of 1000 IPAs. Nobody (except maybe my hop-worshiping wife) wants that. The Dubbel must have been one of the most bubblegum flavored beers I’ve ever had, like Big League Chew in a glass. I’m sure most Belgian beer lovers would probably find fault with this, but I thought it was pretty damned delicious. There were also some dark fruit and black bread notes to balance this, but no perceptible hops at all. Warming and delightful, especially on such a cold day.
Hatchy got Highlands’ Imperial IPA, which was easily the standout of the bunch. Bursting with flavor that demands another sip, this featured prominent notes of cantaloupe, honey, grapefruit, and orange flesh, followed by a lasting bitterness. Just a big, juicy, assertive DIPA. Really great, one of the best DIPAs of the trip.
Highlands was a nice, friendly comfortable atmosphere, and we could have hung out longer for sure. Even though the private party was gearing up, they didn’t really pressure us to leave, which was nice. But this point, we were geared up for the evening, and the Wedge was open.
The Wedge Brewery was one of those places that seemed to capture the soul of Asheville, at least as it appeared to me. Wedge Brewing is in part of a large factory building that is also occupied by some artist studios, and is part of a larger strip of factory spaces located right on the freight line that have been reclaimed by local craft in some way. It has a sort of unfussy feel to it despite the intricate metalwork of disused mechanical parts that adorns the exterior. Outside the bar, are rows of tables lit by strings of lights, and occasionally a slow-moving freight train rumbles by. The whole place has a sort of welcoming, come as you are vibe, that almost makes it feel like you are at a big bonfire instead of a bar. The interior is pretty tight space-wise, both in the tasting room and the brewery, so it’s nice to have their heated porch seating to take you out of the fray.
We had heard that Wedge was the spot to go for beer in Asheville, but looking at their tap list online was a bit underwhelming, so we were a little in doubt, when we sidled up to the bar. Luckily it seems the online list wasn’t quite up to date, and the current tap selection looked pretty interesting. I started out with their Third Rail Imperial IPA. I was instantly impressed with this beer. There’s nothing like lifting a glass to your lips and catching a massive, intricate hop aroma bursting from the glass. It just tickled my inner hop-head in a way few things do. The taste did not disappoint either, everything the nose had promised was there. The Third rail, was thick and resiny, rich, with lovely tropical flavors of kiwi and papaya. caramel, and butterscotch were also present, and the bitter finnish was heavy-handed and confident. A world-class offering.
As much as I wanted to just keep drinking that DIPA all night, I wanted to try some of the other Wedge offerings. I chose the Local Porter next, specifically for the inclusion of carob. Carob is a difficult adjunct to work with I’d imagine. The kind of thing you want a light touch of, or you’re in trouble. It was expertly deployed in this porter to my delight. Lending the beer a kind of zucchini-bread undertone that just seemed to fit right in with the typical dark and roasty flavors. Complex, but highly drinkable as well.
Wedge doesn’t serve food (though they do have free shell peanuts, which I’m a big fan of) but they have rotating food trucks that park in their lot and deliver food right to your table. The truck of the night was Tin Can, brick oven pizza. We had to try some, so we ordered a Margherita to see how it measured up, a couple among us being serious pizza heads. We were very pleased. The pie had a nice thin crust, with really great tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella and basil. It was midway between crispy and chewy, just really really good. And definitely a welcome counterpart to the beers we had that night.
Apparently the other food truck that spends some of its hours parked outside the Wedge, was a Korean taco truck (!) called El Kimchi. On one of my trips inside I found the menu stuck to a bulletin board. Amongst some pretty attractive food offerings, was the list of locations they serve at during the week. Finding one of them to be pretty close, we resolved to finish our rounds and head to get dinner there.
The scene around El Kimchi was pretty weird… in a good way. It was in a sort of fringy area, that felt like it had been run down for a while and was in the beginnings of some form of cultural revival. The truck sat in a parking lot opposite a rock club. It was a cold night, and I had no idea where we were going to end up settling down to eat, but I stepped right up and ordered anyway. The owners were really nice, and the scents coming from the truck were just amazing.
While everyone ordered, Hatchy and I noticed an odd looking bar-like place across the street, and decided to check it out. This turned out to be Altamont Brewing, an as-yet unlicensed brewpub. It seemed to be pretty relaxed inside, with some tables, and a bar, so we grabbed our food and headed in for a pint.
Altamont is an odd place. it’s a little big for it’s size if that makes sense, and the space is taken up with a stage, a ping-pong table, and scattered tables and chairs. Oddly it has the vibe of a church-basement prayer group meeting… with beer. The as yet, unused brewery gleams in the background, dogs run around, there are children here and there, everyone knows everyone else… and then there’s us. No bother, we’ve got Korean tacos to eat.
Al went to grab us a beer, and I dug in. I started with a kimchi pancake, which I typically love, and this may have been one of the better i’ve had. The tacos were also really great. I opted for the spicy chicken. One of the cool things about these, is that they are on small, thin corn tortillas, which makes them a bit more delicate than the tacos I’m used to. In combination with the finely shredded lettuce, and a little pico de gallo, the textural quality of these is very pleasing. The taste was a great mix of hot and cold, and sweet and spicy. I could eat 100 of these things, or rather, I want to. Actually, the 3 that came in my order were a bit more filling than I would have expected. Other highlights include the kimchi quesadilla (awesome!), and the straight kimchi, which may be the best I’ve had. Highly recommended!
The Altamont was having open-mic night, and even as we ate, we were being subjected to some folky tunage or other, that was not really to our liking. Might have stayed for another, but it was time to get the folk out as it were. All in all, Altamont was pretty cool though. Wish we could have tried their beer. Hope they get up and brewing soon.
Now this being our only night in Asheville, we weren’t done just yet. After a quick stop back at the hotel, Hatchy, Cake and I decided to go check out the Thirsty Monk, Asheville’s one and only Belgian inspired pub. Coming from a city that holds the inimitable Monk’s Cafe, we were curious to see how it measured up.
(Note: At this point I was tired of taking photos of everything, sorry…)
Thirsty Monk’s has an odd setup, the upper floor seems to be a regular pub, serving beers from the states and abroad. Fair enough, some pretty decent looking offerings there, but we didn’t hang around, as the downstairs held the Belgian bar. Complete with Belgio decor, and ephemera. Kind of odd, but I like the basement better anyway. And the beer selection was pretty vast. The tap list that night included Liefman’s Goudenband, Duchesse du Bourgogne, and Stift Engelszell Gregorius, amongst others. Not bad indeed. And the bottles seemed to go on forever. Not quite to the extent of Monk’s, but pretty close, and all very well chosen examples of style.
Thirsty Monk sells 4oz drafts, if you like, which is really nice when there’s a decent amount of taps to try out, something I’m a huge fan of. By this time, I was done taking beer notes, though we had some excellent stuff. Two notable beers from the bottle selection, both of which are thoroughly weird, though quite good were, MOA Breakfast, and De Proef Omnipollo Leon. I could try to describe these, but I’m not going to. Let’s just say if you like quirky beers, here’s two to add to your list. You may not love them, (feelings were mixed among us) but they are worth a try, and I was quite pleased to have had the opportunity.
Thirsty Monks was a very comfortable, and fitting end to what was one of the more intense, and adventurous days of Beercation. I definitely need to spend more time in Asheville, but I was pretty proud of how many places we knocked off our to-do list in one day. Definitely my favorite city of the trip.