It All Started With Asheville
How a Trip to Asheville Turned Into So Much More:
Asheville and Chapel Hill (and a few stops in between)
Sometimes a trip starts with one destination and without much effort, grows into a bit of an adventure. That’s exactly what happened with our trip to Asheville.
When it comes to firming up travel plans, I’m both a planner and a procrastinator. I’m often known as the friend that will plan a trip from A to Z and back again with little effort (and with complete enjoyment), but other times I can’t make a decision for the life of me, and procrastination tends to take over. That's pretty much how our North Carolina adventure began to take shape.
Of course, as most trips do, the planning started with researching travel options to and from Asheville since that was our primary destination. Somehow amid that research I had the idea to fly in and out of Charlotte so we could explore that area bit before or after our time in Asheville. In a completely unrelated conversation Eric mentioned a band he wanted to see (Hippo Campus) was going to be in Philly during the time we were scheduled to be away. This made me think to myself, wonder where else they’re playing? As it turns out, they were going to be in North Carolina right around the start of our time down there. It wasn't going to time perfectly for our arrival into Charlotte, they were going to be there the day we were flying in, but they were going to be in Chapel Hill. I took a quick look and found that Chapel Hill was 2 hours to the east of Charlotte. So instead of heading 2 hours west once we landed, we were just going to take a slight detour to the east. And that’s how we decided to add Chapel Hill to our itinerary.
Now onto our time in North Carolina…
We landed in Charlotte bright and early on a Saturday morning and made our way to Raleigh to the North Carolina Museum of Art, because sometimes we throw a little culture into the mix to balance the copious amount of craft beer and brewery visits we tend to include on vacation. Especially when a museum was presenting the very cool exhibit Ansel Adams: Masterworks. When we pulled up to the museum we realized that this was a very neat way to start our trip. The Ansel Adams exhibit may have been one of my favorites I've seen in a while. Eric and I even found a print that we both completely love and know the perfect spot for it in our yet to be named 'room with no name' in the house project. Now if we can just find said print to purchase!
In addition to two buildings filled with art works of several genres, the North Carolina Museum of Art also boasts the gorgeous Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, connecting “art, nature, and people to encourage creative experiences and human interactions.” We loved spending time wandering around the different paths around the park.
If you know you're going to be at the museum around a meal, be sure to make a reservation at Iris, named from the museum's benefactor, Iris Cantor. This full-service restaurant is located in the West Building and is surrounded by works of art from artists in so many different genres including African, American, Modern and Contemporary, and Egyptian. The bright windows inside Iris provide you with pretty views of the outside surrounding gardens too. You can also grab your go-to coffee drink, tea and cookies at Sip Cafe, located next to the Museum Store, if you aren't down with a full sit-down meal. We also noticed a lot of people bringing picnics to the grounds of the museum. Not a bad idea when you're surrounded by so much gorgeousness.
After spending a few hours surrounded by culture and North Carolina beauty, we made our way over to Chapel Hill where we visited Beer Study, located right in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill. We made our way inside to grab a couple of beers, and then headed back outside, as it was too pretty of a day to pass on the outdoor seating on a pretty afternoon. The tap list was impressive and their bottle selection was stellar - especially with the number of brews they had available from around North Carolina. If you get hungry, you can pop next door to Al's Burger Shack and order up some food to enjoy while you're sipping on your beers at Beer Study.
A few blocks from Beer Study is the Chapel Hill location of Carolina Brewery. Can we talk about the size of the beer flight?! Yes, that's a total of TWELVE small pours on 2 boards, and yes, we split it! Carolina Brewery isn't messing around! As fun as the beer flight was, we got down to some serious business with our food decision, the Seasonal Dips, which includes a mild obsession of mind: pimento cheese. It only seems right to enjoy pimento cheese as often as possible when in the South. Accompanying the pimento cheese was a little hummus and a serving of shrimp and crab dip. When you indulge in a flight of this size, be sure to set yourself up with a hearty bit of food, like the dips! Especially when there's pimento cheese involved (can you tell I'm a bit of a fan?)
Later that night was the Hippo Campus show at a neat little venue, Cat’s Cradle, in Carrboro, a town adjacent to Chapel Hill. When we got there, we parked near Steel String Brewery, so logically we went in there on our way to our dinner reservations at Milltown.
Here’s the thing, southern folks are typically pretty darn nice people, and from the time we landed in NC until we left, we ran into one helpful, sweet person after another, including while we were at Steel String Brewery. A guy we were sitting next to at the bar picked up on the fact that we weren’t local (guess the Yankee was shining through) and asked if we needed any suggestions for our drive to Asheville. This was the first time we heard of two places that were huge highlights of our trip: Haw River Farmhouse Ales and Fonta Flora Brewery.
I kind of love how Steel String Brewery describes themselves on their website: “Inspired by the agriculture of the Piedmont and the free-spirited vibes of Carrboro, Steel String adapts modern brewery styles to a unique NC vernacular.” With a mantra like that, we knew we needed to include that in our Carrboro portion of the itinerary.
In addition to the eight brews they had on tap, Steel String also had a few cider from Citizen Cider in Burlington, VT on tap. Sounds like that's a pretty common thing too. As we were deciding on what we wanted to try, I noticed that there was a collaboration with Free Will Brewing on tap. Of course I had to go with that as my selection.
We noticed Steel String serves their flights in a pretty neat a guitar shaped 'tray' with space for 4 of their brews. Pretty cool.
After our visit at Steel String Brewery, we headed over to Millsboro for dinner. This was one of our many Beer Advocate finds we've visited over the years when traveling. Before heading to a new destination (or even one we've visited several times before), as we're getting a game plan of what we're doing, and most importantly, what we're eating and drinking, I log onto beeradvocate.com and read up on what the destination has to offer. Of course we check in with friends or family that may live or visited to get their suggestions, but we have landed on some pretty cool finds thanks to the suggestions on Beer Advocate. Anyway, that’s how we found Milltown (and Beer Study).
One thing you'll probably start to pick up on is that I'm pretty big fan of sitting outside as often as I possibly can. To me, there's nothing better than enjoying your beer and some food outside in the warmth of the sun or under the stars. Milltown had a great outdoor space for doing just that. I’m not going to pretend the food we had at Milltown was good for us. It was overindulgent and delicious. #sorrynotsorry. How can we be when we have a pretty neat appetizer called gnocchi tots and Carolina (BBQ) fries?
We love that more and more we're seeing concert venues, big or small, are focusing on serving craft beer. Cat's Cradle was rocking a nice selection, including brews from Foothills Brewing Company out of Winston-Salem. Seeing a show in a venue of this size - it holds 750 people, max! - is something we love doing. Sipping on a craft beer is a nice little bonus. And Hippo Campus put a pretty fantastic show that night.
As we were leaving Cat’s Cradle, we noticed that they were like 2 doors down from a brewery. It was an unexpected stop, but YesterYears Brewery was our last stop on the Carrboro/Chapel Hill night of fun.
When we've visited the south in the past, we continue to find that the food is pretty amazing. I feel as though I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't continue to mention it. A lot of it is amazing, decadent, over the top, and unnecessary to indulge in on the regular, but when you're in the south, just enjoy it. How could I not mention the breakfast we treated ourselves to the morning after the Hippo Campus show. Something described as a Pineapple Basil donut topped with pistachios cannot be passed up. And when you’re at a place called Rise Biscuits and Donut, you can’t leave without having an egg sandwich on a biscuit (somehow passing on the pimento cheese option…). I swear there's egg and bacon under that massive slice of cheese (which was a local cheese of some sort...but we both may have been a bit too foggy that morning to remember what it was!)
Totally fueled up and ready to conquer the day, we started our 3-hour trek to Asheville, making our first stop at Haw River Farmhouse Ales.
The way Haw River was described, our interest was totally piqued. What we stumbled upon was so much more than we expected. It was a beautiful setting, with a unique mix of shops and food and drink options. Because the setting was so awesome, we decided to head up to the outdoor deck of The Eddy Pub & Restaurant where we grabbed a round and snacked on pimento cheese fries. Let that sink in, and yes, they were as amazing as they sound.
After spending some time on the outdoor deck taking in the view of the Haw River, we made our way downstairs to Haw River Farmhouse Ales, where we were totally blown away. Between the flight, the house made kombucha, and the spent grain pretzels (which we saved for a post brewery visit to Fonta Flora); we could have easily spent a long afternoon here.
We had another lovely southern experience while we were at Haw River. We grabbed a spot at the bar next to the sweetest couple who gave us a million and one suggestions for Asheville and the surrounding areas, including a second suggestion for stopping at Fonta Flora before getting into Asheville.
Before we left Haw River we made a quick pit stop at Haw River Ballroom’s Cup 22, which is also the venue’s box office, a quick visit and a dose of caffeine. This is a neat little coffee shop/music venue that you should include when you’re visiting Haw River. The view from the second-floor seating area/balcony is another beautiful one!
We could easily see why Fonta Flora Brewery was such a highly suggested stop when we were chatting with our sweet North Carolina beer buddies. It’s one of the more unique breweries we visited, with funky brews and styles on tap, brewing what they call a North Carolina/Appalachian style of beer. Fonta Flora “integrates the soul of agriculture with the artisanship of zymurgy to create a menagerie of rustic and savory libations.” Our visit proved that. As cool as the brewery’s building and artwork showcased was, the beers were pretty fantastical. This was a great little stop and a nice way to break up our drive to Asheville (and now that spent grain soft pretzel from Haw River came in handy!)
After our visit to Haw River Farmhouse ales and Fonta Flora Brewery, we were so glad we had the time to wander around the North Carolina countryside. Yes, we had planned on visiting a state park or two on our way to Asheville, but I think we’re pretty okay with what we did instead. A bit of a bonus: as we got closer and closer to Asheville, the drive got prettier and prettier.
Next stop: Asheville.
One thing we love almost as much as craft beer is a fantastic cup of coffee (or iced coffee as the weather might dictate). Thankfully we found the latter in High Five Coffee. After fueling up on a rosemary hazelnut currant scone and cold brew, we made our way to The North Carolina Arboretum, and then the Biltmore. Add both to your itinerary when you visit Asheville.
The Arboretum and botanical garden is located in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest of the Pisgah National Forest. The views are incredible.
A trip to Asheville isn’t complete until you see the Biltmore. We stumbled upon a fun find while we were walking the grounds of The Biltmore. Tucked behind the Conservatory in the Gardens of the Biltmore was a little kiosk that served Biltmore Brewing Company Cedric’s Pale Ale, named after the “patriarch of the St. Bernard’s who shared Biltmore House with the Vanderbilt’s,” and Highland Brewing Company Gaelic Ale. The round of beers was a peaceful start to our time in Asheville and the perfect way to enjoy the last bit of sunshine before a storm rolled in.
Asheville completely indulged in my desire to sit outside as often as possible too. Asheville Brewing Company’s covered patio was a nice cover from the warm North Carolina sun, but open enough that a nice breeze made its way through.
Things we learned (or further justified) at Asheville Brewing: a flight, pint and a pizza to split is always a bit more enjoyable on a sunny Monday afternoon, especially when we’re both usually at work!
Easily visible from the Fukatorium is Twin Leaf Brewery, not surprising, another great find. Are you traveling to Asheville with your kids or dog? Twin Leaf is all about it. They aim to be your “friendly neighborhood pub” while sparing “no expense to make high-quality world-class beer.” We admire the brewery aiming “to be a community steward and meeting house.” How could you not want to hang here for a while during your visit to Asheville?
When we travel I try to find the cool, unique, local spots, and tend to ignore chains, unless they’re a more regional, special kind of chain, like Tupelo Honey Café, originally founded in Asheville. (They now have restaurants in Colorado, Georgia, throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia). We got the suggestion for Tupelo Honey from our friend Todd, who liked it so much during his time in Asheville he visited the restaurant twice! Though they have a house beer, Tupelo Honey Rye Ale, we were very quickly swayed to try Olde Hickory Brewery 2015 The Event Horizon, while Eric went with Highland Brewing Company IPA.
Eric surprised me with his lunch choice: Salt-Roasted Beet Salad with mixed greens, spiced pecans, goat cheese and a toasted pecan vinaigrette. I went with more of a brunch item, Southern Shakshuka: eggs, goat cheese grits, avocado and a creole sauce. I could have easily eaten that every day during our time in Asheville!
Between the top-notch service, awesome beer selection, and so good food, Tupelo Honey was such an awesome choice.
After getting to Buxton Hall BBQ to find that it was closed because they were already sold out for the day (talk about super sad face – all I wanted was a Cheerwine Bourbon slushy), we turned to the right, and there was Catawba Brewing Co., literally right next door, giving us a perfect opportunity to check them out - and to try their Peanut Butter Jelly Time. It was a bit crazy to taste a bit of the peanut butter on some taste buds and a bit of the jelly on others!
We had read quite a bit about Burial Beer Co., and knew it was on our 'must-see' list while visiting Asheville. In addition to the awesome beers brewed here, they have a great food option, Salt & Smoke, and they have a mural on the outside wall of Sloth from The Goonies and Tom Selleck. Yes, you absolutely read that correctly.
New Belgium Brewing picked a fantastic location for their brewery in Asheville; right on the banks of the French Broad River. The setting invites you to hang here for a while. The laid back, open air vibe of the Liquid Center, what they call the tasting room, fits in perfectly in Asheville. Grab your flight and pull up a seat on the deck and let the afternoon fade away. p.s. If you're "allergic to crowds" the brewery suggests visiting them on Tuesday :)
Since we already visited the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, we couldn’t leave Asheville without a visit to the Wicked Weed Pub in downtown Asheville. You can grab lunch or dinner in the restaurant or head down to the Downstairs Beer Bar. Find something you want to take home with you? Check the Bottle Shop to see if they have it available!
Take a short drive outside of Asheville, up a very long, winding driveway and you’ll land at the beyond impressive east coast brewing location of Sierra Nevada at Mills River. It’s massive, and I mean massive. The brewhouse was breathtaking. That copper though. I'm trying to decide if we can get a 'whirlpool' like Sierra Nevada's, and I definitely want to figure out a way to incorporate a chandelier like that one into our home! The brewery is surrounded by so my nature and prettiness, it was a really amazing way to end our time in Asheville.
When it’s all said and done, sometimes there really is a beauty in being a bit of a procrastinator. Every once in a while, it’s fun to thinking outside of the box when it comes to your travel plans. Give yourself a little flexibility. Add a random stop along the way as something cool sounding pops up. Talk to the locals and see where their favorite places are. When you’re traveling, especially on a beercation, see as much as you can, without too rigid of a game plan (or without a driver or Uber!) You might miss a hidden gem or a neat attraction along the way if you do. Just remember, have fun and seek out some great craft brews along the way.