Asheville, NC: Beer City USA

By Kevin Litwin on November 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm EST
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Asheville has refreshing answers to whatever "ales" you, thanks to 10 microbreweries doing business in the community.

In 2011 and for the third consecutive year, Asheville won the national title of Beer City USA as voted by readers of Examiner.com and organized by the Denver, Colo.-based Brewers Association.

“I was the first person to start a microbrewery in Asheville back in 1994 and never could have imagined that today there would be 10 microbreweries in a city of 70,000 residents,” says Oscar Wong, president of Highland Brewing Company in Asheville. “People here are supportive of local businesses and are open to new ideas, and that has really helped this industry succeed. Plus the city's location is ideal because water that flows down from the nearby mountains is great for brewing.”

Fresh Enthusiasm

Wong says he is also surprised that microbreweries have actually become an important part of Asheville’s tourism sector, with brewery sites serving as destinations to many visitors.

“Speaking of which, I was given the 2011 William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce at their annual dinner,” he says. “The microbreweries in Asheville are like teenagers, still with an enthusiasm for this business. Many microbrew operations in other cities have matured and became complacent and even a bit boring, but Asheville is still a youngster at all of this.”

Highland Brewing Company is the largest microbrewery in Asheville and in the top four in microbrew sales throughout the entire Southeast United States. Their beer brands are sold in restaurants, beer stores and taverns in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

“We produce a Gaelic ale that accounts for about 50 percent of our sales, and the second-most popular is an oatmeal porter dark beer,” Wong says. “Highland Brewing also does a lot of specialty brews, including an occasional wheat beer and one specifically for Oktoberfest.”

Houdini and Ninja

A key reason why Asheville microbreweries have become so popular in recent years has been the establishment of an Asheville Brewers Alliance that markets the industry. The ABA was formed knowing that Asheville’s microbreweries (and a few others in surrounding communities) are in individual competition with one another, but as a unified group the alliance can market the entire industry to attract the brew tourist to Asheville.

The alliance's president is Mike Rangel, who also owns Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, which has two locations and has been crafting ales since 1999. His company produces a variety of brews with names like Houdini, Ninja, Rocket Girl and Scout Stout.

“The Asheville Brewers Alliance doesn’t necessarily market to tourists who visit Biltmore and places like that. We target the tourist who actually makes visiting a microbrewery a priority,” Rangel says. “Alliance members meet once a month at different breweries to talk about interactions with the city as well as supporting nonprofits that approach us, and we discuss how to further promote the Beer City USA brand for Asheville.”

Learn more about local pubs and restaurants in Asheville, NC.

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The mountains and the changing seasons make this one of the most beautiful areas on earth. That’s probably why the restaurants here are so good. Great scenery, great attitude, great food.

Kevin Schwartz, resident