After bidding Europe goodbye, we spent a few days checking in with students, colleagues, and friends at Skidmore, and a night with Oliver’s family in Allendale. But with help from the New Jersey Soells—who had kindly tuned up the Buick in our months away—we were on the road again in less than a week. Chasing Hurricane Joaquin most of the way, we were relieved to make the 700-mile drive to Asheville, NC in under 12 hours, and were rewarded with a warm reception from fellow San Francisco expats Owen Grace and Megan Zehnder.
The rain quashed our hopes of exploring Asheville’s natural wonders, so we settled for the cozier indoor sights of the new craft beer capital of America. By some counts, the Asheville region is now home to 40 breweries, more per capita than any other US metro area. Alongside local favorites like Green Man and Wicked Weed, big-name outfits Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada recently established branches in the area, with New Belgium and Deschutes in line for coming years. Although critics have questioned how far the beer boom can go, the fervor to us was palpable.
We spent the better part of an afternoon in the South Slope tasting room of Catawba Brewing Company, founded in neighboring Burke County in 1998, but recently expanded into an Asheville paper warehouse. Owen and Megan served the aromatically accessible White Zombie at their wedding reception last May; this time I fell in love with the Brown Bear. It’s always special to imbibe on-site, surrounded by the same tanks that brought your beer to life. Like many Asheville breweries, Catawba’s landscape now also features stacks of wooden barrels nurturing long-aged sours, with extra acid-producing microbes adding a distinctive tang to the traditional Saccharomyces strains.
Around the corner at Burial Beer Company, the vibe was darker and hipper, with smaller specialized tanks wedged among the thirsty crowd. I enjoyed the Pollination Honey Saison, one of several Belgian ales on rotation. The brewery’s fascination with Tom Selleck was harder to justify, but artfully overstated.
Wicked Weed Brewing helped put Asheville on the craft beer map in 2011, and opened a dedicated tasting room in 2014 for sour as well as funky mixed fermentations. The Funkatorium offered at least a dozen sour beers when we stopped through, including the beautiful Montmaretto with hints of cherry and almond. Hand-hewn pouring racks drove home the artisanal effect.
Fortunately, our Asheville day wasn’t all about beer, as Megan’s aunt invited us that evening to her fall concert with the Asheville Choral Society. The program, a benefit for the Asheville Humane Society titled All Creatures Great and Small, featured music celebrating humankind’s special relationship with animals. Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, albeit a stretch in context, was a long-time favorite for us both. And while traveling so far from our own boys, it helps to remember how deep our connections to the animal kingdom can run.