Depending on the definitions you care to employ, there are a handful of U.S. destinations that could make good cases for being “Beer City, U.S.A.” If we’re talking about sheer scope and numbers, the title would no doubt have to belong to one of the heavy hitters, cities that are absolutely inundated with craft breweries at this point: San Diego, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, etc. But if we’re looking at this from a more holistic perspective, a more per capita basis, and asking what city feels most absolutely defined by the presence of craft beer when you’re visiting it, I’m not sure any other U.S. destination can top Asheville, North Carolina. There are a few that are close—Grand Rapids, Michigan, or perhaps Portland, Maine—but beer is such a huge part of Asheville’s identity as you stroll around town that you can never forget its “Beer City” status for more than a minute or two. It’s a city small in stature, but absolutely awash in quality breweries.
There are so many good breweries, in fact—and I’ve visited almost all of them over the years—that when I sat down to put together a top 10 list for visitors hitting Asheville for the first time, there were simply too many hard choices to make. And so, we’ve ended up with a top 15 instead. If you’re a beer geek visiting Asheville, and you’re looking to put together a checklist of breweries to visit, these are the locations you should consider checking out for one reason or another.
Below, I’ll try to give a detailed impression of what kind of beer each of these breweries specializes in, the general vibe of their taprooms, and what kind of role they fill in the local Asheville craft beer community.
A note on Wicked Weed, in particular: The 2017 sale of Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing to industry megacorp AB InBev was a sea change event for the Asheville beer scene, as possibly the most respected and hyped brewery in the city (on a national level, at least) overnight became a vehicle for Anheuser Busch to sell wild ales. Years later, the tensions have cooled down, and if we’re being honest, we have to acknowledge that Wicked Weed is still making some excellent beer. I don’t personally choose to visit their breweries any more when I’m in town, but they still make this list.
Breweries are presented in alphabetical order, rather than any kind of ranking. Also, it should go without saying that even beyond these 15, there are plenty of other quality brewing companies in Asheville these days.
Bhramari opened in 2016, during Asheville’s mid-2010s brewery boom, and its location in the midst of the South Slope Brewing District makes it feel like maybe the most central brewery in the entire city—a stone’s throw away from other entries on this list such as Burial, Hi-Wire, Wicked Weed, White Labs, Eurisko and so many others. Suffice to say, when you’re in this part of the city, you’re typically never more than a block away from a brewery taproom.
Bhramari set itself apart on opening for having a more full-service taproom vibe than most of the local Asheville breweries—this place is a full-on restaurant with lots of indoor seating, and it’s often packed with diners and revelers throughout the day. The menu swings all over the place, from pierogies and corn dog bites to “Greek fries,” burgers, BBQ and even deep dish pizza. The beer program, meanwhile, features many flavored and fruit-infused sours, though there’s also a nice undercurrent of lager and German-inspired styles—it’s always nice to find doppelbock and rauchweizen alongside the modern smoothie sours. Still, the thing with this place is that it just gives you a lot of options. Don’t feel like beer in that moment? Well, they’ve got a full bar and craft cocktail list as well. Go nuts. Bhramari can be a quick-stop watering hole, or a place for a full dinner to fill your stomach before a night of drinking on South Slope or downtown Asheville.
Notable beers: The Good Fight (Sour pale ale), Molly’s Lips (black gose)
The fact that Burial opened a bit earlier (in 2013) than most of the mid-2010s Asheville brewery wave allowed it to begin building a name and credentials for itself, ultimately playing a part in the way this brewery effectively stepped in as the heir apparent/torchbearer for the Asheville beer scene after Wicked Weed was sold to AB InBev. Today, they are likely the first brewery that many beer geeks would think of when someone says “Asheville,” and they’d probably be the most universal “you should check this place out while you’re in town” suggestion as well. It helps that they make really, really great beer.
The Burial aesthetic, as the name implies, is on the morbid side, with most beers combining absurdly grandiose names with labels that celebrate the duality of life and death, destruction and rebirth. Beer wise, Burial is known for explosively hoppy IPAs and burly, flavored stouts, although they also make wonderfully elegant lagers and especially delicious and complex barrel-aged wild ales. For my money, the very best beers made by Burial Beer Co. are often wine barrel-aged wild saisons, which you should go out of your way to try if you can.
Burial operates two different Asheville locations with substantially different vibes. The original South Slope Brewing District location is a laid-back taproom with a lot of outdoor space and tons of beers on tap. The Burial Forestry Camp, on the other hand, is a converted lumber mill with a full-service restaurant on site, not to mention a bar program that shows off house cocktails, house-made wine and vermouth. A visit to Forestry Camp is a very clear indication of how much the Burial ethos has thrived as they approach their 10 year anniversary.
Notable beers: Surf Wax (IPA), Skillet Donut Stout (coffee stout), Separation of Light and Darkness (barrel aged saison)
One of Asheville’s younger breweries, Cellarest managed to open its doors for the first time in the midst of the pandemic in 2021, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. It’s located in West Asheville, loosely defined as “everything west of the French Broad River,” a side of the city often characterized as a bit more relaxed, with fewer tourists than downtown Asheville or the Biltmore area especially. That’s fitting for this small, modest taproom, which is in support of an equally small, DIY brewing operation.
Cellarest’s philosophy hinges almost entirely around wood, and the transformational aspects of beer coming into contact with wood, rather that means clean conditioning in wooden tanks, wild fermentation in contact with wood, or spirits barrel aging. They have an environmentalist feel, with a logo depicting new growth from a stump, and a beer philosophy using only North Carolina-grown malt.
In terms of the beers this philosophy produces, Cellarest turns out everything from wood-fermented IPA and lager, to wild ales created with locally propagated brettanomyces, and wood-tinged classic styles such as English dark mild or saison. They even have something they call “snack stout,” a vanilla and coffee beer called Peiskos that weighs in at only 3.7% ABV. Beers here tend toward subtlety, nuance, and lower ABVs, potentially making Cellarest a good contrast to the city’s more bombastic breweries.
Notable beers: Apricate (IPA), Mangata (Dark lager), Yatta (English dark mild)
One of Asheville’s most enigmatic breweries, I’ve been to Cursus Keme several times at this point and still don’t fully understand exactly what the vibe and theme are supposed to be. The website’s apparent slogan, “Antiquity dawns at modernity’s twilight,” does little to clear things up. What I can tell you is that Cursus Keme possesses one of the prettiest, most aesthetically pleasing breweries in Asheville, but it simultaneously seems to be one of the least known, at least to tourists.
Cursus Keme is an impressively large, beautifully furnished brewery with a lot of production space and a ton of space for patrons, at huge communal tables (beautifully carved natural wood) and a large outdoor patio. Despite that, if often seems to be sparsely populated, which almost seems to be by intent, because the brewery is well and truly hidden away in an industrial area, with very little signage or any indication you’re in the right spot when you pull up. Push on ahead, though, and it’s one of the loveliest Asheville taprooms to grab a beer in. Also: Hit the bathroom while you’re here, if you want to see the closest approximation to the all-black Bob’s Burgers bathroom I’ve ever seen in real life.
As for the beer, Cursus Keme typically seems to maintain a draft list with nods to both ubiquitous necessity (a few IPAs) and what feels like the real areas of their interest, such as wheat ales, saison, stout and lager. They rarely seem to have a ton of beers on at once, but it’s nice to see styles such as dunkelweizen, California common and rauchbier given space to shine.
Notable beers: Xylomancy (farmhouse ale), Washashore (gose), Dunkel Dinkel (dunkelweizen)
I’ve seen DSSOLVR described. as “not a brewery, but a brand,” and that honestly feels pretty on point. Since opening in 2019, no other Asheville brewery has so readily assumed “next big thing” status, especially in terms of the attention they’ve received from beer geeks on a national level. A lot of that attention is driven by their completely over-the-top design aesthetic, which has run with the neon colors and surreal imagery popular in the genre, and then just pushed it even further than most drinkers would think possible. Every DSSOLVR can is like a collage of dream imagery—you probably either dig it, or feel like it will give you a headache if you stare too long.
The brewery location, though, is a pretty nice downtown Asheville hangout on a good weather day, with an alley-like patio that feels unique among downtown watering holes. The beer here leans very heavily on the hops, and hazy IPA is undoubtedly the straw that stirs the drink, with the sort of ostentatious additional styles you would expect, such as pastry stout and even “smoothie hard seltzer.” At the same time, though, the brewery does make concessions to those who just want less bombastic beer, including their popular kolsch Thank You For Existing, or isolated instances of styles such as ESB or even the practically extinct American amber ale.
One gets the sense that DSSOLVR aims to be the next standard-bearer for Asheville beer, and judging from social media buzz alone, they seem to be doing a good job of it.
Notable beers: Thank You For Existing (kolsch), Reapers & Creepers (hazy IPA)
A modest little brewery focused around its relaxed, second story taproom on the south edge of the South Slope Brewing District, Eurisko feels like an Asheville brewery that could easily be missed by the weekend tourist hitting other South Slope breweries in the area. This is both a factor of its location, which is near other breweries but not necessarily obvious, and its lack of ostentatious adornment, but it makes Eurisko a great place to poke your head into on otherwise busy days in the downtown and South Slope areas.
This is a well-balanced beer operation, producing a bevy of styles that range from classic pale ale and IPA to more nouveau takes on the style, coupled with styles such as saison, porter and stout, various lagers and kettle sours. In particular, the PennyCup Coffee Porter is a go-to example of the style. All in all, Eurisko isn’t the flashiest local brewery, but they seem to have a strong groundswell of local support, and more national recognition than one might expect.
Notable beers: PennyCup Coffee Porter, Soft Light (hazy pale ale/IPA)
There are snooty beer geeks out there who would act as if Asheville’s oldest brewery (founded in 1994) doesn’t need to be on the visit list for out-of-town beer geeks, as if the scene has so eclipsed the relevancy of a company like this that they can now be ignored. Suffice to say, those people are wrong.
Highland is the old guard of the Asheville scene, but their beer lineup is uniformly solid, and since last year they now have a presence in downtown Asheville once again thanks to the opening of a taproom in the beautiful S&W Market food hall. Before that, one would have had to drive out east of the city to visit the large Highland production facility and its lovely meadow, but now it’s quite easy to grab a quick pint when you’re in downtown Asheville.
And that’s something you should do, because Highland’s well-rounded lineup of classic styles are all executed quite well. Their pilsner is a perpetually underrated example of the style, while the Black Mocha Stout is one of the last great, widely available, non-adjunct stouts from a craft brewery. I could scarcely have more respect for the quality beer that Highland continues to produce, and so should you.
Notable beers: Highland Pilsner, Black Mocha Stout, St. Terese’s Pale Ale
There are now a shocking number of Hi-Wire taprooms across several states, and three different locations in Asheville alone, including the original outpost in South Slope, the “Big Top” production facility in Biltmore Village, and a beer garden in the River Arts District. They’re indicative of fast, taproom-oriented growth for this brand, which I first visited when they had only one taproom, and a cramped one at that.
Since then, things have changed—not bad for a circus-themed brewing concept. The Hi-Wire brand is widely available in a handful of Southeast to Midwest states, but you’ll never get greater variety than by getting it at its Asheville source. There, you’ll find a taproom to suit whatever mood you’re in, and a beer lineup that features solid lagers, IPA and stout in particular. Highlights include the always delicious Strongman Coffee Milk Stout, the bigger 10W-40, and the humble but well-executed Hi-Wire Lager. Another novelty: Hi-Wire’s spin-off brand Old North fills a void by producing the value brand Old North Premium Lager for the Asheville area, making Hi-Wire one of the few brands participating in producing a genuinely “craft” version of domestic all-malt “premium lager.” It’s an excellent choice when hitting Asheville dives.
Notable beers: Hi-Wire Lager, Strongman Coffee Milk Stout, Hazy & Juicy & Hoppy & Fresh (hazy IPA)
There’s something about One World Brewing that, maybe more than any of the other breweries on this list, encapsulates the earthy, arts-driven spirit of Asheville as a city. Their brewery locations feel like retreats from the hustle and bustle, even though the original location is ironically right in the middle of downtown Asheville. Its underground location, however, renders it an odd outlier in the downtown/South Slope brewing scenes, and it feels quite easy for someone to miss the brewery even though it’s on arguably the busiest street in town. One World is simply tucked away, in its own little world—a world filled with easygoing ales and the game Sjoelbak, also known as Dutch Shuffleboard.
As for the beer, this is typically a pretty balanced collection of mostly classic styles, with the occasionally more eccentric flourish or twist. Drinkability often seems to be a key tenant, and the IPAs rarely rise to the more ostentatious hop rates of some of the neighbors. One will also find a smattering of styles such as farmhouse ale and classic British-style ales, which just feels right in the homey setting of the downtown basement brewpub. It’s the kind of place where you nurse a pint of ESB, play some games, and all feels right with the world.
Notable beers: Citra Bomb IPA, Ashevegas Pale Ale, ESB
The taproom is a great place to grab lunch in particular, perhaps at the end of a strenuous morning hike. The food is far above average, especially the “chicken lollipop” take on traditional chicken wings, while the bar pours lost classics from the Sierra Nevada portfolio (such as Sierra Nevada Porter or Sierra Nevada Stout) that have long since disappeared from bottles on store shelves. Hell, even the gift shop is a must-visit, for its assortment of creative Sierra Nevada merch that is hard to find anywhere else—my wife will attest that I am a devotee of their stout mustard in particular. From top to bottom, this is simply one of the best-executed breweries you’ll ever visit.
Notable beers: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Stout, Kellerweis
No other Asheville brewery can really approach Wedge for the status of “beloved local hang-out.” An extremely welcoming, come-as-you-are aesthetic is the calling card of this business, which has always prioritized hospitality over glitz or flashiness since first opening in 2008. Regardless of which of the three Wedge locations in Asheville you may be visiting, you’re likely to find them well-attended by locals, with a relaxed vibe akin to drinking beer on a friend’s backyard patio. For our money, though, the most essential Wedge is the original in the River Arts District, accessible down a recessed stairway from the road, where it feels like an oasis of friendship and free peanuts, the shells of which are literally everywhere. Visiting this original Wedge will give you an opportunity to browse through the artist galleries with which it shares a building, which is an excellent way to take a bit of Asheville home with you. Granted, there are also perks to visiting the equally relaxed Wedge at Foundation location, one of which being its proximity to Asheville’s excellent Pleb Urban Winery. Basically, you can’t go wrong.
In terms of the beer, Wedge definitely sticks to classic styles first and foremost, with a nice array of lager styles, pale ale, IPA, occasional Belgians, and flagship dark ale Community Porter. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what you order. Pretty much any Wedge beer has an uncanny ability to taste great with sunshine and a bowl of free peanuts. That’s how they’ve kept on charming locals for 14 years at this point.
Notable beers: Payne’s Pale Ale, Community Porter, Golem (Belgian golden strong ale)
Certainly one of the most unique beer producers in Asheville, or most anywhere else, the White Labs brewpub offers a unique opportunity for beer drinkers to develop a greater understanding of just how beer’s most vital ingredient—yeast—impacts flavor and affects our entire culinary history. Homebrewers will already know White Labs as one of the country’s biggest suppliers of various strains of beer yeast, but rarely does one ever get an opportunity to taste something like the same beer recipe side by side with different yeasts. That means a trip to White Labs can provide an invaluable sensory experience to the beginner beer geek in particular, as they can see how radically a style such as IPA might change with the seemingly small difference of which yeast strain was used. It’s the most educational experience one is likely to have while getting tipsy.
Meanwhile, this location is also a full-service restaurant as well, with a menu that likewise provides in-depth information about how yeast is used in the kitchen, highlighted on items such as the Neapolitan-style pizza dough. Beer styles, meanwhile, are typically old-school brewpub classics, allowing the yeast to do the talking—every beer is available in at least two variations. Not drinking? There’s a mocktails menu as well, along with house-made ginger beer.
Notable beers: English Pale Ale, Imperial Stout
As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I don’t personally visit Wicked Weed locations when I’m in Asheville these days, largely choosing not to give business to AB InBev-owned breweries. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that Wicked Weed was instrumental in raising the profile of Asheville beer, along with the prevalence of American wild ales, in the front half of the 2010s in particular. They were long stars of Paste blind beer tastings, particularly with fruited wild ales that pushed the limits of how much tart, fruity flavor one could cram into a 500 ml bottle. Those beers are still around, and they’re still quite good, regardless of the ownership.
There are two Wicked Weed locations in Asheville—the original brewpub, which is often overrun with tourist crowds, and the Funkatorium, the South Slope barrel aging facility. The latter is the more essential stop for those who love sours and wild ales, as it has a larger selection of tart beers on tap, and a setting that really revels in the transformational power of barrels and wild yeast. Just walking into the Funkatorium is a memorable experience, as you’re usually hit by a wave of funk in the air—bacteria and wild yeast from the barrels seems to permeate the entire place, reminding you of its function. In particular, any entry from the “Angel” series of fruited sours is usually a showstopping combination of tart, funky and bombastic fruit flavors.
Notable beers: Black Angel (cherry sour), Pernicious IPA, Dark Age (BA imperial stout)
The only brewery on this list that I haven’t yet managed to physically visit during various trips to Asheville, Zebulon is tucked away in Weaverville, a small town north of Asheville proper. I have, however, sampled enough of their beers at various festivals/bars in the area to appreciate the nuanced and esoteric way in which they approach the brewer’s art. Zebulon has no flagship beers at all, employing a constantly rotating lineup that is rooted in the nuanced and multifaceted world of Belgian/French farmhouse ales. They also brew what they term “historical, forgotten and mythological beer styles,” and each release from Zebulon feels distinct and special. Recent releases have included a mixed berry sour fermented from a wild Asheville yeast culture, a traditional barleywine, and a saison aged on Buddha’s Hand citrus.
Suffice to say, a visit to the physical Zebulon location in Weaverville is high on my priority list for the next time I’m in Asheville.
Notable beers: Rotating and ever changing, but seek out some saison.
Asheville’s reigning king of lager beer styles, without a doubt, is Zillicoah, which has turned pilsner into a beautiful canvas for noble hop expression. Although there’s a good handful of breweries in town that produce a solid lager or two, no other brewery dedicates such time, attention and resources to the task as Zillicoah, where lagers make up the majority of the taplist. That includes numerous twists on pilsner, along with helles, rye lagers, maibock, doppelbock and beyond. Sure, there’s usually a single IPA on here. You can order it, if that’s what you really want. But it certainly feels like it would be missing the point. If you genuinely don’t want lager, the other draw at Zillicoah is mixed culture wild ales, bright and beautiful, in a refreshing assortment of styles. I can’t tell you how much I love something like Geist, a 3.1% ABV Berliner weisse that just begs for a lazy afternoon in a hammock.
And speaking of hammocks, they got ‘em! Zillicoah is set on a large property that beautifully backs up against the French Broad River, allowing wonderful, leisurely sightseeing as drinkers tip back glasses of pilsner and watch the river lazily float by. Please note, though, that the brewery is open only to patrons older than 21 years every day of the week except Sunday. There’s no official kitchen on site, but there is a taco truck in residence that provides the best pilsner accompaniment you could ask for. Zillicoah’s beautiful setting and immaculate lagers has certainly earned a special place in my heart.
Notable beers: Pils, Dark Oat Lager, Geist (Berliner weisse)
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.