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NC Craft Beer Tour

2011 April 3
by Chris

This Christmas, Katy bought us tickets to go on the Asheville Brews Cruise.  I’ve been home brewing beer for a couple of years now, but have never gone on an actual brewery tour.  If you are at all interested in the world of craft beer and the brewing process, then I highly recommend going on the “cruise.”

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The cost for the brews cruise is $40/person, and for that, you are covered.  A bus drives you to three local breweries, you get a behind-the-scenes tour at each stop and your glass is never empty.  Each brewery provides generous samples.

In our group, Katy and I were one of about three couples, and then there were TWO bachelor parties.  It made for an interesting night, since there were clearly some people who were on the cruise for the educational aspect of the brewing process, while others were just in it for the samples.  One of the guys with the bachelor party made a bet that he could fist pump continuously from 5pm until midnight…and he did.  It was impressive.

Highland Brewing Company

Our first stop was at the Highland Brewing Company.  This is the oldest and largest brewery in the Asheville area.  We were given a tour starting with the grain and mill room. The tour continues through the brew house, where the mash is made and the beer is boiled, and through the lines of fermentation tanks that hold all of the beer while it ferments.  Then, the beer is sent to a large tank where 100s of gallons are carbonated in about 1.5 hours.

After that, we got to see the bottling line, where the bottles are cleaned, filled, capped and packaged into 6 and 12-pack cases, and the cleaning area, where all of the kegs are steam sanitized and filled.

It was an impressive work of machinery.  The whole place really had a factory feel to it, though it was full of personal touches – a speaker system, a dart board and, of course, a tasting bar, all inside the brewery.

Highlands also had it’s own tasting room where the public can stop by and have a drink.  Our tour guide was great – she was very friendly and knowledgeable.  She is one of three certified brew masters in the area and heads up quality control for Highland.  And yes, quality control at a brewery does include a lot of tasting.

Tons of bags of specialty grain for the Highland brews

The mash tun and the (giant) kettle

Two rows of giant fermentation tanks

All of the fermentors and the bottle conveyor belt

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French Broad Brewing Company

Our next stop was at the French Broad brewery.  This was a totally different atmosphere.  The fermentation tanks all had fish scale designs and there was a disco ball hanging up in the brewery.  I found out that the founders were big Deadheads, so that explained a lot.

A “community” brewery, French Broad was much smaller and had a more local feel.  They made some great beer, and the whole operation is run by five guys – three brewers, a CPA, and someone to do sales and run the tasting room (where there was some great live music!).

I was able to chat with the brewer there for a while.  He seemed like such a normal guy.  Got his start home brewing 5-10 years ago, and then started working for the brewery.  Now he is one of the top dogs, making up the new recipes and making sure everything is running smoothly.

The tasting room at French Broad had a great local atmosphere, with a mountain string duet playing some live music for a small crowd.  I really wish there were a brewery just like this in the RDU area. There are a TON of small breweries, but the atmosphere of this place was phenomenal.  Maybe I’ll just have to start it myself – anyone want to invest?  Haha.

Fish scale fermentator and a disco ball!

Hanging out at French Broad Brewing Co.

It looks gross, but it's just the C02 and beer bubbling out of the fermentor

Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company

Our last stop was at Asheville Pizza and Brewing where our entire group got to enjoy some great pizza in the back room seated between the kitchen and the brewery area.  While there wasn’t much educational about this stop, it was a nice way to end the evening.  We got to hang out with some friends we made along the way and enjoyed being able to try a few more beers and eat some great food.

Then Katy and I moved into the main room of Asheville Brewing to watch the end of the final four game between UConn and Kentucky.  Obviously, we were wishing our Tar Heels had been playing, but it was definitely a fun game to watch in a fun atmosphere.

Our wonderful tour guide, Delaney, pouring some samples

Again, we really enjoyed the trip and would highly recommend it.  If you want to learn about the beer and the brewing process, then I would consider one of the weeknight tours or one earlier in the day on Saturday, as the Saturday night tour does attract more of a party crowd.  But, if that’s what you’re going for – it’s great!


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