For many decades I’ve loved the vibrancy of beer community. Kibitzing on a conversation about beer flavors at a World Beer Festival, buying a round of the newest at Tyler’s Taproom, leaning across a rough wooden table at Bull McCabe’s armed with a Fuller’s London Porter and a lot of opinions, standing up against the wood at the Fed with a pint and friends: I just relish the social fabric created around good beer.
But these are isolated moments in space and time. What about a whole damn town? Now that’s a beer community and one just happens to reside a few hours west of my hometown. Welcome to Asheville, NC, Beer City, U.S.A.
One of my favorite get away locations, Asheville has a vibe that won’t be found many other places. It reminds me somewhat of my former home, Boulder, CO, and another favorite getaway, Portland—Maine or Oregon, take your pick.
The vibe plays right into the heart and soul of good beer culture. Bring together a bunch of artists, toss in some bohemian culture, add in a healthy dose of outdoor recreation, a dash of university life, mix in some good bars and restaurants, and you’ve got the basic dish to pair with craft beer.
At every good beer joint, brewery, brewpub, beer bar, or beer store, the noise is loud. Lexington Avenue Brewery: nice beers, nice food and loud. Craggie Brewing Co.: kinky location, captivating beers, and loud. Bruisin’ Ales: walls of major beers and loud. Every single place I went, the noise was awesome.
And it’s loud on the streets, too. People were walking everywhere. If I asked for directions to a brewery I’d also get a recommendation for a beer to try and a reminder of another brewery not to overlook. And don’t forget the brewery bus tours. I stepped into one offloading at the Asheville Brewing Co. and, man, were those “beer tourers” talking up a beer storm.
That admixture of creativity, bohemia, academics and outdoors speaks directly to craft beer, which is nothing if not artistic and iconoclast. Scratch a backpacker or a painter and you’re likely to find passion for Old World-style ales or New World extreme beers. Characteristics, personality, tradition, heritage, and serious, in your face, originality in every single glass of beer.
What is that all about, and what’s with Asheville? Marketing phrases come to mind: old school “Go for the gusto,” and new buzz phrases like “creative class” and “tipping point.” However, when I’m asked about the vitality of the craft beer industry, I have to think of Asheville and Boulder and Portland (both) and Durham and dozens of others. All the outposts that launched a revolution now taken up by Middle America.
These beers and their town embody the romantic, creative individuality of that edge that everyone is looking for today.
This editorial originally appeared in the November 2010 issue, Vol. 31, No. 5.