In the last thirty years, I've probably traveled a little more than most. And in many of the U.S cities I've visited, I've been informed by at least one local that their "city is known for their great breweries" and is therefore nicknamed "Beer City". To which I've thought, "what city isn't?", as, the nickname "Beer City", is used so often as to become a banality.
Now when craft brewing started about 30 years ago, I was intrigued that there may be more options than the ten or so beers available at the grocery store. I remember visiting a brewery located in a former church and was fascinated by the kettles being located where the altar used to be. At the same time though I must admit I wasn't a fan of the beer. I like my beer like I like my women, "cold and blond" (i.e. a lager) and most craft breweries only have ales. So in almost all cases, I was fascinated with the concept but not the product. Also, when this all first started, I loved the look of the large loft-like spaces filled with clean lines and well-joined wood. Also, the kettles are always on display, as if to prove to the amateur cicerone that the beer you are about to drink was brewed right here. It's obvious that plenty of money was spent to make the place look cool, hip, and warm (but not too cool or too hip). Can a craft brewery be located in low ceilinged speakeasy? or a white-walled, spacious loft-like space with stainless steel counters? I don't think it's allowed.
• Hillman Brewery is located in "downtown" Old Fort (just east of Asheville) and follows the above time-honored craft brewery gameplan to a T, though with two very welcomed additions:
1. The large loft-like space has four garage doors that open up to a long porch that sits over Mill Creek. The ability of a restaurant to bring the outside in has always been a benefit, especially when a body of water is involved. Now in the age of Covid, it must be paying off in spades. I have to believe that any restaurant or bar that can bring the outside in, has a significantly increased chance of survival. As Hillman was quite full, I think it will be around for a while.
2. This brewery brews a lager! Though it could have been a little colder.
Note: If you are a "lagerhead" like myself, and you find yourself in a lagerless craft brewery, then give a Kolsch¹ a try.
We had a Rueben Sandwich which came with a choice of corned beef, roasted turkey, or tempeh. Now we all know that Rueben = corned beef, so if they want to make it with roasted turkey (though I don't know why anyone would eat it), they should of course call it a Rachel. I won't even bother to address the tempeh ridiculousness. Also, it comes with a special sauce, which in this case lacked zip, which makes me think it was a variation of Thousand Island, and we all know a Rueben comes with Russian dressing² (which is of course more piquant than Thousand Island).
• Andrew's Geyser: I had heard about this nearby geyser that was built in 1885 and our server said it was worth seeing, so we proceeded directly from Hillman and were directly disappointed on numerous levels.
1. It was not geysering.
2. To me a geyser connotes an intermittent blast of water and steam ejected through a hole in the earth. Now I knew going in that this geyser was man-made, but figured it would still be intermittent. Well, when operating, Andrew Geyser's is a constant blast of water, which to me is more of a fountain.
3. It's not even the original design or in the original location.
Even when operating, this "Landmark" would be very over-rated.
• Catawba Falls: Our server from Hillman Beer also recommended this place, but I was wary after the Andrew's Geyser debacle, but the wife was insistent so . . . As what is said in many a trite motivational poster "Success is a Journey, Not a Destination", can be said for Catawba Falls. The journey is a 1.2 mile hike up to the falls, which enabled me to view some stunning flora, numerous gorgeous streamscapes, ford a stream, and get me most of the way to my daily 10,000 step requirement. Unfortunately, the destination is the epitome of modern travel: too many other people getting in my way and getting in my shot. It was a Monday, didn't these people have jobs?!
• Black Mountain Brewing: I decided to reward myself with a post falls HiWire Brewing
Zirkusfest Oktoberfestbeer (whatever that all means) and was rewarded with a surprising mural of Black Mountain's favorite daughter, the incomparable Roberta Flack. Hoping for a free round, I told the barkeep that my last name was Flack, and he replied with a laconic, "$5.00, please".
• One World Brewery: Well remember how a few paragraphs ago I asked "Can a craft brewery be located in a low ceilinged speakeasy?" Well, it can, as this place is located down a downtown Asheville alley, through a peep-holed door, down a flight of stairs, in a low ceilinged space. While the look is slightly different from the typical craft brewery, the beer menu is the same: Hemp Ale, Chocolate Truffle Stout, and a Cream Ale. My options were limited, so I went with Classic Nectar of the Gourds which is a seasonal ale made from you guessed it, pumpkins.
• Wicked Weed Funkatorium: Gave the Wicked Weed Brewery the go by, as the line was out the door and down the street. Years ago I grudgingly stood on line³ to get into overpriced clubs and bars, but no more, I'm just too old for that horseshit (as Damon Wayans might say "Homey, don't play that"). The Wicked Weed Funkatorium on the other hand is just around the corner, lineless with outdoor seating, and with the same beer menu.
Note: The weed in question is not weed, you stoner. It's hops, based on a quote from King Henry VIII, "Hops are a Wicked and Pernicious Weed."
• Catawba Falls Brewing (Asheville): Life is a circle, so wary of covid, we chose this soaring loftlike space, with open garage doors and well-joined wood for our last Asheville beer (a light & fruity Heat Crusher #2 Sport Lager).
• Tom Wolfe vs. Thomas Wolf: There are two of them. Tom is the man in white, who is the author of The Right Stuff, Thomas is Asheville's native son and once said "you can't go home again". They are both dead.
This Missus loves the stuff, but I don't want to put you (further) to sleep.
When you visit a city, you will often have two options:
1. Stay “downtown” where it will be much easier to absorb the essence of the city (alcohol, restaurants, museums, landmarks, etc.), at a correspondingly higher price. 2. Stay ”non-downtown” where you will experience decreased absorption at a correspondingly decreased price. - There is no easy algorithm or answer (for you old farts), though due to this specific situation:
• AC Hotel by Marriott Asheville Downtown: We had planned to take our time to get to Beer City, USA, but were informed that a friend was in situ celebrating a milestone birthday, so the Missus put the peddle to the metal and we arrived in Asheville two days earlier than planned. We wanted to stay downtown as we would be helping her "celebrate" and therefore didn't want to have to "worry" about driving back to our lodgings. Prices for "downtown" Asheville were > $175$, so when we found a "friends and family rate" from our good friend Mr. Hospitality, at $125/night + tax, we grabbed it. Great location and room.
• Best Western Asheville Tunnel Road: About two miles from "downtown" Asheville, which required us to drive in (via the Billy Graham Freeway), but this was mollified by a $105/night + tax (which seems a little high, I mean we were staying at a Best Western on the outskirts of Asheville!)
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ Kölsch is a style of beer originating in Cologne, Germany that is a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, which is traditionally served in a tall, thin, cylindrical glass. It is a product that has a protected geographical indication (PGI) in the EU (meaning a Kölsch must be brewed within 50 kilometers of the city of Cologne). Since history is written by the victors, if a U.S. brewery wants to call their pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, a Kölsch, I'm cool.
² Russian Dressing is characteristically made of a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup complemented with such additional ingredients as horseradish, pimentos, chives, mustard, and spices.
³ I say "on line". In case you haven't noticed, I'm from New York.