America is undergoing a craft beer boom, and while many regions have been embracing craft beer for what seems like decades, new regions are entering the fray all the time, bringing their own unique perspective to America’s favorite beverage. The success of craft beer nationwide is truly dependent on the communities in which these breweries exist. It is in these pockets across the country that brewers challenge each other, people push boundaries and great beers are made. For this reason, no beer region in our country is more exciting right now than North Carolina.
While Denver, Portland and other massive craft meccas may still have a hold on the mainstream craft movement, if you’re looking for the next great beers that hop heads will ultimately drool for, chances are you’ll find them in the Tar Heel state. Over 110 breweries can currently be found across North Carolina and they’re winning medals: from Charlotte’s NoDa Brewing Company, that won gold for their Hop, Drop ‘n Roll I.P.A., the most competitive category in the World Beer Cup, to White Street Brewing Co. from Wake Forest, that won gold in the Kolsch Category, great breweries crisscross the state. But if North Carolina were to truly have a craft capital, it would be Asheville.
Situated in the Blue Ridge mountains, Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other city in the country, and its laid back vibe creates that perfect kind of collaborative community that leads to awesome beer. On any given day one can easily sample over 100 unique craft beers, all served at breweries within a pretty manageable walking distance of one another, which is why many have taken to referring to Asheville as Napa for beer lovers.
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It all started in Asheville in 1994 when Highland Brewing Company became the first brewery to brew beer in the city since Prohibition. Since that time, it’s grown to become the city’s largest local brewery, producing 38,000 barrels this past year. And as Highland has grown, other breweries have followed, with counts currently between 18 – 21 breweries in the city depending on how you define them, which is a ton of places producing beer for a town that only has a population of about 90,000 people.
On our most recent visit to the city, we were blown away by the quality and quantity of beer available at almost every turn. Just like in Napa, great restaurants have sprouted up to complement the brews, and on any giving weekend tourists flood the streets on local brewery crawls. It’s no wonder west coast breweries have begun to take notice and decided to locate their east coast operations near the city. Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues and New Belgium are all opening breweries in and around Asheville to meet demand on this side of the country.
One of the things that makes Asheville such a great town for beer is the quality of the water, and with water being the primary ingredient for beer, it should come as no surprise that an area with quality water would cause brewers to flock in droves. Coming fresh out of the mountains, Asheville’s high-quality water allows brewers to manipulate it in any way they see fit, allowing for the creation of numerous brew styles. The water is so pure it even allows brewers like Sierra Nevada to match it to the water flavors from their water source in California, so that there would be no way to tell if you’re drinking a Sierra Nevada brewed in North Carolina or one made at the original brewery in Cali.
It’s this type of robust community where brewers challenge each other, each trying to make a better beer than the last, and it’s why North Carolina brewing is so exciting. Here are just a few of our spots to grab a pint if you plan to visit: