Despite Being Sold to Big Beer, A Visit to Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium is a Must

A month before I arrived in Asheville, local legends Wicked Weed announced that they sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev. The move was so controversial that other brewers backed out of the company’s annual sour beer festival in protest, while local bars refused to stock them anymore.

That’s just silly. It’s their company, they can do what they want. I remember when indie bands like R.E.M. and Death Can for Cutie signed to major labels, fans were offended.

My response is that there are 4,800 other breweries that Anheuser-Busch InBev hasn’t bought yet, so go to them. In the meantime, let’s drink some Wicked Weed.

Since W.W. isn’t distributed up north, this was first trying the local favorite. The main location is a vast restaurant, tap room and bottle shop. Their line-up is just way too extensive to sample everything, so I made myself a mix-n-match pack to try later.

The real draw is the nearby Funkatorium, which specializes is barrel-aged sour beers. You’re in for a rare treat because a good portion of the beers never make it outside of the bar. Grab yourself a small flight and savor some funky beers.

The taproom, as you’d expect, is filled with dark woods and barrels that lead to the warehouse. The bottle shop is dangerous because of all the funky and rare beers, but it ain’t cheap. Some out-of-production bottles can run you up to $30. I opted for Arcanic, a Belgian Strong Ale that clocks in at 12.1% ABV.

With my little flight, it helpful to drink some barrel-aged water to cleanse your pallet. Also be aware of the fruit flies buzzing all around. As for what to get, pick your favorite fruit or style and they’ll something that fits that your flavor profile.

Here’s what I had:

  • Watermelon Saison
  • Medora Blackberry Blonde Sour aged in red wine barrels
  • Plainsdealer — Bourbon barrel-aged sour fermented with lemon zest
  • Khatta Masala — Barrel aged American Sour Ale fermented with mango and spices
  • Silencio — Bourbon Barrel-Aged Black Sour Ale with Coffee and Vanilla

Gravy Flights and a Jam Bar Are a Thing at Asheville’s Biscuit Head

I’m not a big breakfast kind of traveler. Afterwards, I just want a nap and it will slow me down. The world of brunch is something I avoid. In North Carolina and the vast south, you have to have a some biscuits and gravy, y’all.

Going to the popular and always crowded Biscuit Head was a no-brainer. When you don’t know where to go for great eats, just find which places that have their own cookbook and go there. Also, when their motto is to put some “mouth in your south,” that’s my type of attitude.

There are two locations, the closest one to where I was staying was at Biltmore Ave, but I drove around the parking lot and saw the 20+ line out the door. Thus, I went Haywood St., and for some miraculous reason, at 9am, there was no line. Once I ordered and took a seat, the line grew instantly to 10 deep. Great timing is a key to great travel.

So yes, gravy flights with biscuits is on the menu. That’s just too much yummy for a solo traveler. I just went with a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich with side of fried chicken gravy. I then took a few samples from the jam bar that had about 30 selection. They have some of those in jars to go, but I went with the sweet fire hot sauce to go.

It was the perfect amount of food where I felt sufficiently stuffed, but not wanting to crawl in a ball and take a nap. You know it’s good when your licking your fingers around the bowl to get all the gray you can.

Here are the gravies that are available, plus a gravy of the day. GRAVY OF THE MUTHA FUGGIN’ DAY, YO:

  • Espresso red eye gravy
  • Fried chicken gravy
  • Pork sausage gravy
  • House-made veggie “chorizo” gravy
  • Sweet potato coconut gravy
  • Mushroom medley gravy

The Thirsty Monk Is Where to Drink The Best of North Carolina Beer

Tthe website I trust for my drinking destination recommendation is Draft Magazine. Every year, they put together the top 100 beer bars in America. On that list consistently is The Thirsty Monk in Asheville.

After my visit, those Draft Mag peops know what they are talking. I’ve been to their recommendations in Nashville, Atlanta, San Diego, Portland, Vermont and Denver and the beer list and bartender knowledge were nothing but stellar.

The Thirsty Monk, a Belgian tavern theme place in downtown, has two levels of beer goodness. The downstairs bar, which is cooler temperature wise and has couch, is where you can find rare Belgian bottles that ain’t cheap. The ground floor serves simple food, a extensive tap list of North Carolina beers and their own Belgian-inspired home brews.

As it seems to be a thing in Asheville, the bar is filled with ironic beer paraphernalia and assorted humorous brick-a-brack. A toy monk holding a unicorn?!?!? How delightful! I loved the monk mascot so much I bought an empty growler.

Here’s what I had:

  • Brother Noah stout
  • Screaming Monk Belgian IPA
  • Holy Wit
  • Abby Blonde
  • CocoNorm porter

 

 

Beer Voyage — Oskar Blues, North Carolina

Hellooooooooo. Is it beer you’re looking fooooorrrrr. I can see it in your eyes.

Oskar Blues is another major craft brewery that chose the great state of North Carolina to build a production facility and tap room. This is one of two locations outside of their home state of Colorado (the other being Austin, TX).

Based in Brevard, NC, it’s a 30-minute drive from the beer mecca of Sierra Nevada’s North Carolina facility and a 42-minute drive from Asheville. While Oskar Blues is a well-known and well-respected brewery with Dale’s Pale Ale being a staple of craft beer, it’s not a “must-visit” for beer travelers.

The facility is if a drive bar made a brewery. It does go with the Oskar Blues brand in that it’s a little rough around the edges. The beer garden is sparse and on a 100-degree day, it was not optimal for day drinking. As you can see, the towering mural was under construction.

The tap room, where you enter through a gate of cans, is located above the tanks. It’s mostly a large merch store with a horseshoe bar and a few tables around.

The tap list has their year-long flagships (Pale Ale, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Old Chub), rotating seasonals (Hot Box Coffee) and a few one offs. When I visited, I was looking at the chalk board to decided on my flight and happen to pick 3 out of the 5 were kicked. That’s all fine and good. I picked others. The next person did the same thing, the beers were out. OKAY! Here’s the thing. It’s a chalk board. Chalk boards come with chalk erasers. A simple three second swipe with the eraser solves the problem of people ordering beers that are not available.

Here what I did have:

  • Priscilla Pale Wheat
  • Amarillo Hopped Experimental IPA
  • Freedom Tickler French Saison
  • Fugli IPA
  • Beerito Mexican Lager

 

Beer Voyage — Sierra Nevada, North Carolina

As you probably know, Sierra Nevada is one of the pioneers of craft beer in America. They pretty much put pale ales and Cascade hops on the map when it was founded in Chico, CA in 1980. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of craft beer, founder Ken Grossman would be on it.

With the craft beer explosion in America, it was time for Sierra Nevada to expand and create a brewery experience fitting of the Sierra Nevada brand and the craft beer traveler. Thus, they looked to the mountains of North Carolina for their second location.

Located 18 miles south of Asheville (appox. 25 min. drive) and built next to Asheville Regional Airport, the second location opened in 2014. The new brewery is a sort of beer amusement park that includes a guided tour, a self-guided tour, full-service restaurant, merch store, concert amphitheater, flower garden, hiking trails and expansive outdoor lounge area. If you been to Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA, it’s similar in layout and amenities.

For the 90-minute guided tour and tasting, it’s best to book way in-advance since the tours are small and become fully-booked quickly. Although, I was able to get stand-by and fill in for a no-show.

You’ll get the usual brewery tour information — a history of the brewery, a review of the process, a walk through the tank room, a lesson in hops and look into the massive bottling and canning area. At the end, you get a full rundown of their most popular 8-10 beer with 3 oz. samples and a free bottle opener.

If your visit is a spur of the moment thing, the self-guide tour is perfectly suitable. You’ll see the museum cases of  bottles and other beer artifacts and a look down into the tank room and bottling line.

Then the Tap Room/Restaurant is opened to 9 or 10pm, which you can do a 4-sample flight for $6. Along with their flagship, year-round beer, they serve a few oddities, one-offs, vintage kegs and brewery exclusives. The merch and bottle shop has a few barrel age beers in 750ml bottles that are hard to find. I walked away with a Chocolate Cherry stout and a Scotch ale aged Islay Fog barrels.

Since you have to drive there from Asheville, you can do a 2 or 3 flights and be able to get back safely. The pours are small about 2.5oz. each, so you can check out their extensive line-up. Their were Sierra Navada beers I never knew existed, so definitely sample something new and different.

Whether you plan your visit or just discovering it, the place is a must for any beer fan, craft or not. The outdoor area is perfect for lounging with a pint. The whole design of the space is a retro industrial modern concoction with a lot of wood and brass and all environmental sustainable.

All this and the beer was awesome. Here’s what I sampled over three hours:

  • Pale Ale
  • Keller Pilsner
  • Porter
  • Southern Gothic Session Pilsner
  • Hoptimum Triple IPA
  • Torpedo Extra IPA
  • Sidecar Orange Pale Ale
  • Ovila Abbey White Ale
  • Kellerweis
  • All Systems Gose
  • Audition Double IPA
  • Know Good IPA
  • Beer For Drinking Golden Ale
  • Close Call Kölsch
  • NC Saison
  • Tropical Torpedo
  • Summerfest Czech Pilsner

 

Tips for Visiting the Biltmore Estate

Even though Ashevile is Beer City, U.S.A. and a great base for exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s the Biltmore Estate that’s the biggest attraction to the area. It’s the largest privately-owned estate in America and covers a bit under 11-square miles of real estate.

While you can stay in the high-end hotel, eat at the winery, see a concert and shop, a half-day or full is plenty to explore the house, the gardens and the grounds. Here are a few pointers to plan your visit and make the most of your experience.

Buy your tickets ahead of time and print them out
Like any major attraction, you can buy online to take advance of some coupon codes. In this case, it makes a huge difference. If you drive up without a ticket, you’ll be directed towards the ticket office, park, get out to take get your tickets and yadda yadda yadda.

Be prepared — it’s not, cheap on- and off-season ($40-$75). It’s not a national park so they can charge whatever they want. Your paying for a lot more than the operation of the house, it’s 11 squares miles of forest.

If you have the tickets on your phone, they might have difficulty scanning. The person in front of me had to hand their phone and the dude was struggling with his ticket scanner thingamagig. I printed mine out and there was no problem.

There’s no best time to go, but noon to 5pm won’t be as crowded
On a Wednesday morning in July, it was a tolerable level of crowded. The weekends during the summer tends to be a nutty while off-season is perfectly fine.

As for the time of day, most people and tour groups arrive in the first hours (9-11am) and spend the rest of the day.

Four and half hours is plenty of time to see the house, follow with the audio guide and explore the gardens and surrounding grounds
The audio guide is worth the extra cost. It gives a good overview of the design, how each room functioned and some biographical information about the Vanderbilts. It also allows you soak in the grandeur and history of the space while not feeling rushed.

Dress light and don’t carry a lot
You know my stance on tourists and backpacks — they are stupid. The house is not air conditioned. Even though there are plenty of blowers around that brings down the temperature, you’ll spend a good chunk of time walking outside.

Skip the gift shops and restaurants, but get ice cream
Asheville has some major good eats, so don’t waste a meal at a place geared toward tourists. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, the ice cream shop is perfectly serviceable. It will tide you over for a late lunch or mid-afternoon snack.

The gift shops all sell crap and cheap crap. You don’t need anything there.

Spend time walking the gardens and up the hill that looks over the estate
It’s a nice view and a great place to sit on the grass and rest a bit.

I’m not much of a gardens and flowers guy, but I was mightily impressed with the grounds. The greenhouses, the small fountains and the manicured beds makes for great pictures. You can even buy a beer and enjoy it among some fine greenery. Here’s a taste…

Take the long way out
Basically, a shuttle takes you to and from the central parking lot. They give you two options when you are ready to leave. You make a left and you take the express exit out. Make a right and you’ll able to drive pass the house and gardens and then through the rest of the grounds. While the drive through the house gates and gardens are a tight squeeze and you’ll need to drive 5mph to not hit any families, it’s worth it.

You’ll get to drive through winding roads through some great scenery. I didn’t pull over to take pictures of the lakes and fields, but I saw some who did. You’ll eventually get to the winery. I didn’t visit it.

It takes about 25-30 minutes to drive out if you take the long way, but it makes a nice end to a truly grand estate.

You Can See The Sunshine Over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Highland Brewing Co.

There’s no shortage of great places to soak in the setting summer sun in Western North Carolina and the greater Asheville area. Add on top of that some of the many craft beer venue options and you have some good living.

Highland Brewing is one of the largest local breweries in Asheville. It’s on the outskirts of town, up slightly on a hill. You’ll need a car to get to the facility.

In the facility is a distillery and full concert venue where bands plan, not dopey local bands playing Van Morrison covers. The Orange Peel takes care of the 2,000 capacity version called The Meadow. Phantogram was playing the weekend I was there.

If you just want to chillax, you can do on the rooftop beer garden on the roof brewery. You can watch the sunset over a sea of solar panels.

On the ground floor is large indoor area with the largest ceiling fan I’ve ever seen. It’s like a turbine up there. There’s not much in terms of food options so you can consider it more of a pregaming type of situation.

Started in 1994, it’s one of Asheville’s original craft breweries. Founded by Oscar Wong (one the few Asian-American brewery owners in the U.S.) and run by his daughter Leah Wong Ashburn, it’s a Scottish-theme brewery with a bagpiper as their mascot. Their beers you’ll find anywhere in North Carolina, even at places that are not considered “craft”. I actually had my first taste (the Pilsner) at the Biltmore Estate.

In the taproom, you explore the whole line of goodness. They keep the beer straight-forward and traditional. Here’s what I had:

  • Black Mocha Stout
  • Oatmeal Porter
  • Gaelic Red Ale
  • Mandarina IPA
  • Karate Kat Wheat Ale
  • St. Terese’s Pale Ale