Will Travel For Beer

Charlotte is surrounded by great beer. Here's a guide to Asheville, also known as Beer City USA

The rumors are true: Beer City, USA, pays North Carolina taxes, and it's just a short drive from here. Beer lovers could spend years getting to know all of Asheville's outstanding drinking options, but we've distilled the city's offerings down to the absolute must-dos and -drinks.

To visit: With five year-round beers and distribution in seven states, Highland Brewing Company is the largest brewery in North Carolina. Highland has expanded beyond its original focus on English ales to include Belgian-style beers, like the Seven Sisters abbey-style ale. The brewery is also on the cusp of opening a 12,000-square-foot tasting room with twenty-four taps. In addition to the year-round brews, look for seasonals and experimental, small-batch beers from a new three-barrel brewhouse — the fruits of which will only be available on-site. Plus, determined to make it the most music-friendly tasting room around, they've adjusted the room's acoustics and added a stage, expecting a 300-person capacity for concerts. 12 Old Charlotte Highway, Asheville, 828-299-3370, highlandbrewing.com

For a flight of brewery tours and tastings, make a reservation with the Asheville Brews Cruise, a guided tour that takes you to Highland as well as some of Asheville's smaller microbrews, like Craggie, Green Man, French Broad, and OysterHouse Brewing Company. Walking or van tours depart from one of the featured breweries and are available Thursday through Saturday. The $40 entrance fee covers the tastings, the expertise, and, of course, the ever-valuable designated driver. 828-545-5181, brewscruise.com

For lunch: The Thirsty Monk has brought together some of the USA's finest craft beers with their European predecessors. The top floor of this strictly beer-and-wine bar features a rotating stable of fourteen American craft drafts, featuring locals like the French Broad Gateway Kolsch, as well as more cross-country finds like the Rogue Mom Hefeweizen from Oregon. Once you've had your fill of patriotism, head downstairs for fourteen Belgian taps; the Chimay White will complement a create-your-own cheese board with, say, gouda, prosciutto, and tabouleh. 92 Patton Ave., Asheville, 828-254-5470, monkpub.com

Shop at: If Asheville is the beer capital of America, then Bruisin' Ales is its National Archives. The cozy, downtown specialty beer store was ranked the third-best beer retailer in the world by ratebeer.com in 2010, and it carries more than 800 craft beers from around the world. Be sure to catch a glimpse of some of the hard-to-come-by bottles, like the XFume from Birrificio Le Baladin in Italy. 66 Broadway St., Asheville, 828252-8999, bruisin-ales.com

For dinner — and maybe a show: Pizza and beer are like cookies and milk for grown-ups, which is why it's imperative to stop in at the Asheville Brewing Company, where the specialty pizzas (like the Shear Delight, with pesto, portobello mushrooms, walnuts, and Gorgonzola cheese) are the perfect match for its own specialty beers. Of the two locations, the downtown restaurant — which has the largest outdoor patio in downtown Asheville—is the adult-friendly one, with a full liquor bar and even a fancy beer infuser that filters the brew through different flavors, like a roasted red pepper fused with the popular Shiva IPA.

If you've got the family in tow, though, head to the North Asheville location; the sit-down restaurant offers the same eight year-round brews and delicious menu, but also comes with an on-site game room and movie theater that plays black-and-white classics, eighties high school comedies, and even the latest Oscar winners. Tickets are just $3, and, since each row of seats has a table, you can order drafts and pizza from the concession stand inside the theater. 77 Coxe Ave., Asheville, 828-255-4077; 675 Merrimon Ave., Asheville, 828-254-5339; ashevillebrewing.com

One (or two) last pints: Barley's Taproom, a fifty-two-tap bar in the heart of downtown Asheville, is probably your best bet for a pint-stop. We're sure you'll be depressed about leaving, so drink away your sorrows with a pint of Pisgah Fresh Hop Ale, Duck-Rabbit Schwarzbier, or another NC brew — more than half the selection is local. 42 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, 828-255-0504, barleystaproom.com

Care for tunes with your craft brew? With a bright blue storefront, gold awning, and sidewalk benches filled with beer guzzlers and people watchers, you'll have a hard time missing Jack of the Wood, especially on one of its popular live music nights. Sunday features Celtic jam bands, while local and traveling bluegrass acts rotate through the brewpub Wednesday through Saturday nights. The former owner of Green Man Brewing Company, this Celtic pub remains the signature brewhouse for Asheville's baby (but mighty) brewery. Of the eighteen taps, Green Man's brews typically take up five or six, including the Truth Double IPA and Imperial Porter, both brewed just twice a year and sold only at the brewery or Jack of the Wood. Plus, Green Man's signature ESB — a crown jewel among Asheville beers—is a great fit for the Guinness Beer Stew. 95 Patton Ave., Asheville, 828-252-5445, jackofthewood.com — Annie Monjar

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