(Updated 2023) In the 17 years I’ve lived in Asheville, we’ve seen it go from a few breweries that had the atmosphere of a friend’s garage, to so many tourist-filled breweries it’s hard to keep track.  There’s been a few failed brewery attempts through the years, but by and large it has been a story of collaborative and repeated success. With this growth and popularity, national awards, and trendy decor it sometimes feels like branding and distribution have taken precedence over the local roots that started it, but we locals still love our breweries and we like to sample them all, and we have our favorites that we often return to.

In full disclosure, I am not a beer connoisseur, so I’ll make no attempt to say which particular beers are better than others, but I care a lot about atmosphere, so I’ll try to share which breweries best fit the atmosphere you’re looking for.  This is just an overview of some Breweries.  For a more complete list of regional breweries with hours and locations, visit https://avlbeer.guide/breweries/.  If you like the serendipitous grab bag approach, just choose a random brewery nearby and check it out.

Be sure to check out current hours, kid or dog friendliness, prior to your visits.

The best place to hit up a number of breweries on foot, pub crawl style is the South Slope (on the southern flank of downtown, mostly down Coxe Ave).  It is a  revitalized warehouse district and has many breweries, as well as spirits and cidery.

Our favorite in the South Slope is Burial Beer for it’s quality beer and repurposed beer garden.  For me, the Sloth-Tom Selleck mural alone makes it worth a visit.  (Their “Forrestry Camp” location near Biltmore Village is great too.)  Catawba and the Wicked Weed’s “Funkatorium” also have nice outdoor spaces as well.

Also check out Dirty Jack’s the original “hole in the wall” location of Greenman Brewery before they got all commercial and expanded.  Doesn’t seem that long ago we used to drink $3 pints there and had copious amounts of free parking.  Times have changed, but Dirty Jack’s is the one that started it in the South Slope.  They saved it as a relic when they built the “Greenmansion” next door, and we locals still prefer to drink there.  Adjacent to the South Slope is downtown proper, and it has several breweries too which are nice, but they tend to blend in with the atmosphere of the surrounding manicured bars and restaurants, so they might feel less distinct.

Beyond Downtown

Some might think the South Slope and downtown may be a victims of their own popularity, so if you’d rather avoid more of the tourists and bachelorette party crowd, here’s some outskirt breweries we like for their more casual and local atmosphere:  Zillicoah Brewery is the best place to pretend to be a local.  It has a big, outdoor space (kid friendly) on the French Broad River (not far from our house, but the road conditions on Riverside Drive are not really walkable so driving is advised).   Sweeten Creek Brewery and Blue Ghost Brewery south of Asheville both have a similar outdoor atmosphere, full of locals.

The Wedge Brewery original location (now called the “Studio” in the River Arts District) is great when the weather is good.  An Asheville favorite, and they’ve largely resisted the tendency to capitalize on it with distribution.  Their expansion to the nearby site, called the “Foundation” location is pretty awesome too in its graffiti filled setting.  They now have a downtown tasting room in the Grove Arcade if you just want to try the beer, but it lacks the atmosphere of the RAD.

Highland Brewery is Asheville’s first and oldest microbrewery; their warehouse taproom and beer garden on the East side of town is good for an early evening visit, particularly when there’s music.  It’s impressive how they’ve transformed their outdoor spaces into a recreation and entertainment zone.

Hi-Wire Brewery has great “circus” themed beers and each of its locations in the South Slope, Biltmore Village “Big Top” and River Arts District are unique and worth a visit when you’re already in the area.

We hesitate to mention New Belgium Brewery since it is already so well known, and draws in its own tourist crowd, but they deserve the attention, not only for their spacious tasting room / lawn, but from the moment they announced this East Coast expansion from their Colorado base, they have sponsored many of our local fundraising events, paid living wages, and were a huge catalyst for the ongoing development of bike path greenways flanking the river below.  So besides liking their drinks, we like the company.

Sierra Nevada Brewery (the Chico, CA based brewery’s massive East Coast expansion) is often and aptly called the “Biltmore” of breweries.  It sits on its own estate-like setting in Mills River and everything is done well on a grand scale.  It’s a good place for when we locals like to pretend we’re tourists.

Asheville’s 2nd oldest brewery Asheville Brewing Company (ABC) has remained perhaps its most local and unique.  They started out as the “Brew & View” in North Asheville, and it remains a very popular place for a beer, pizza and a cheap movie all in one.  Their Coxe Avenue branch was one of the first establishments to extend downtown into the South Slope, and their recent repurposing of the adjacent drive through bank into a venue called Rabbit Rabbit is a testament to Asheville’s resourceful creativity and love of open spaces.

West Asheville’s trendy corridor has several breweries that reflect the character of West Asheville – hipster, young, and creative mixed in with some local grit and struggle.  Unlike downtown or South Slope where things cluster around overlapping streets, West Asheville’s draw is a long line, Haywood Road, like a single streak buffered by residential streets on all sides (very popular neighborhoods by the way, so expect to overlap with lots of interesting locals). 

There’s not really one place we suggest over another, but the atmosphere of West Asheville is felt more on the sidewalk than inside any one place, so what we recommend is to take some time to walk a length of it, getting drinks and food and people-watching along the way.  For the full experience, start at Archetype Brewery on an early evening and walk Haywood Road all the way to All Sevens Brewery (777) or even further to Upcountry Brewery, which is about a mile and a half total.  If that’s too much, then focus on the central corridor where Haywood Road meets Brevard Road.

All in a Day Brewery Blitz:

If you like the challenge of trying to sample as many breweries in a day as you can, without having to drive back and forth much, then I suggest this approach:  Start along the French Broad River / River Arts District (Wedge both locations, New Belgium, Ginger’s Revenge, Zillicoah).  These are better enjoyed by daylight anyway.  For the extra zealous, you could spur off from there to either the Biltmore Village area (French Broad, Hi-Wire Big Top, Catawba, Hillman, 7 Clans, Burial Forestry Camp, Cursus Keme) or spur off to West Asheville (Urban Orchard, Archetype, Cellarest, One World, Whale, Oyster House, 777, UpCountry).  Then around dinner time, head to downtown, where you won’t need to drive for the rest of the night.  Eat and check out downtown breweries (Dssolvr, One World, Thirsty Monk, Highlands in the S&W Market Food Hall) then slide down the South Slope for the after dinner revelry hours (Wicked Weed, Bhramari, Asheville Brewing, Ben’s Beer, Hi-Wire, Funkatorium, Twin Leaf, Catawba, Green Man, Burial, Eurisko).  If current trends continue, there may be even more breweries to add to this list shortly after publication.

All In Moderation?

If you think a beer is best enjoyed and “earned” after a hike or a run, check out my “Bites, Boots, and Beer” section in my Asheville Outdoors post for suggested day trips for combining good food, great hikes, and well deserved beer into a single outing.

Other Drinks.  Gluten Free, or just not that into beer?

While Asheville breweries get a lot of attention in Asheville, there’s some cool places to just get a drink.  Pretty much every bar and restaurant serves local beer on tap, but also ginger beer, ciders, wine, spirits and cocktails.  Some non-breweries that we like to just get a drink are 5 Walnut Wine Bar (also a great place to see local musicians play), Sovereign Remedies (creative cocktails and great windows), or the Battery Park Book Exchange Wine Bar (a labyrinth of bookshelves used to create nooks for cozy drinks and quiet conversation.  It’s also worth paying the elevated prices at Capella on 9 to get the elevated views from the AC Hotel’s super fancy rooftop bar with good views of downtown.  On the other depth of the spectrum, and uniquely Asheville is Crow and Quill which is too cool to even make a big sign to let you know it’s there behind those dark windows.  Picture yourself having a unique cocktail with Edgar Allen Poe while listening to ragtime musicians.  All of these options are located downtown.

For the gluten free drinkers, many of our cider breweries have opened locations downtown:  Noble Cider and Bold Rock right in downtown, and nearby in the South Slope, Urban Orchard and Ginger’s Revenge.