Saturday, 9 May 2015

Asheville day one

My Greyhound is quite early, 9:15. After the long wait for a taxi yesterday, I’m not taking any chances and get up in plenty of time.

After a quick breakfast, I check out and ask them to call me a cab. Then the lady on the desk suggests I use the hotel shuttle and cancels my cab.

I’m not going far and would happily have walked to the Greyhound station, were it not for my luggage. But I’m shocked at how short a distance the first person off the bus travels. It’s really just the other side of the street. It can’t be more than 20 metres from the hotel entrance. The second off doesn’t go much further. And Neither is carrying anything. Lazy gits.

The small waiting room at the station is packed and chaotic. It’s not exactly the cream of American society. I feel right at home. A security guard has a flaming argument with a passenger for no apparent reason. This is great. Free entertainment to while away my waiting time.

The bus is late. When it arrives there’s a mad scramble to get on and grab seats. I didn’t realise that you have to check in bags you want to put in the baggage compartment. So I have to squeeze my trolley bag in next to me. Not much room left for my legs. It’s not the most comfortable position. I console myself with the thought that it’s only for three and a half hours.

Once outside the city, the strip malls we pass in smaller towns have most of their signs in Spanish. How odd. Most of the stops are just around the back of a petrol station in one of those dismal malls. Other than Atlanta, this service doesn’t seem to venture into town centres.

As we approach South Carolina, billboards advertising Crazy Joe’s fireworks become more frequent. I guess the laws on fireworks are more relaxed in South Carolina than in Georgia.

My destination is Greenville, where Mike Karnowski is picking me up and driving me to Asheville. I’m relieved to see that he’s there waiting for me. We met last year in Chicago, of all places. Even better, he’s brought a sandwich and some beer for me. A Grodziskie, which is rather nice. Smoky and hoppy, as it should be.

On the way we chat about brewer, but also music. In common with many brewers, he also has a passion for music. I mention my dream of forming a garage punk band with Dann Paquette and Mitch Steel. All we need is a drummer. Sadly, Mike’s another guitarist.

We pick up his other half, Gabe, from their home and head straight to the Green Man, where Mike’s a brewer. Though not for much longer. He tells me he’s just handed in his notice. He’s starting his own brewery in a former fire station. Yet another brewery in Asheville. The place is full of them.

Mike gives me a quick tour of the brewery. I’m dead impressed by the number of my books he has in his office. I have a feeling that a large percentage of my self-published books have found a home in brewing rooms around the world.

After a quick beer in Green Man, we head off on a quick brewery crawl of the South Slope. First stop is Burial Brewing, which has a weird gothic vibe. The tap room isn’t open yet, but as the bearded brewers know Mike, they let us in.

It’s a pretty small industrial unit, with the brewing kit at the rear and a small tap room at the front. This seems to be a pretty common layout in the more recent breweries. The tap room isn’t really separated from the brewing part of the premises.

Hi-Wire is next. A little further up the hill. Not really used to hills after so many years living in Holland. Walking them up them isn’t my favourite pastime. They’re just about opening so we get a beer. They’ve six of their own plus 3 guests on tap. Again, the drinking and serving area is wedged between the brewing equipment.

That weird. They’ve got an Newcastle flag next to an Arsenal one. Don’t they realise over here that you’re supposed to hate Arsenal?

We head back down the hill to our next stop, Funkatorium. It’s the wild beer offshoot of one of the city centre’s larger breweries, Wicked Weed. This feels a slicker operation, with a stronger division between brewing and drinking. At the rear, there’s an impressive stack of wooden barrels and even a foeder. Complete with signs telling you not to touch them.

If I had a brewery, I’d keep any bugs well away from my main brewery. Preferably in another state or, better still, on another continent. Too much scope for things going horribly wrong. You’re pretty much buggered once Brettanomyces takes hold. That stuff is almost impossible to kill.

They sell a mix of sour and non-sour beers. I go for one of the former. Only sour of the trip so far.

We cross the road to Twin Leaf, which is directly opposite. Here the brewing kit is separated from the drinking area by a low wall. Everything is still in one room, but there’s a definite division of space going on.

We don’t have far to walk to our next stop. Catawba Brewing is just a few doors away. The company has been around since the 1990’s and this is their third location. Their main brewery is on the southern edge of town.

This time it’s just a rope between the seating and brewing areas. The latter being partly stacked with wooden barrels. When did I last visit a brewery without wooden barrels ageing something? I can’t remember. Everyone is doing it nowadays.

I mention that Lexie had requested sour sweets and they lead me to Mast, an old-fashioned general store on the main drag. I’ve more than enough choice of retro sweets.

Our final port of call is Wicked Weed, by far the slickest operation of the day. Their taproom is large and stylish. It reminds me of a smaller version of Stone’s bar in Escondido. We go downstairs, which is a little rougher around the edges and shares the space with the brewing kit.

All I can say about Asheville is wow. I’ve never been anywhere – not even in Franconia – with so many breweries in such a small area. Everywhere we’ve been is within 500 metres of Green Man. Most within 100 metres.

I’m dropped at my hotel to check in, but they pick me up again later. We’re off to a homebrew club meeting. Bizarrely, it's in a German restaurant, the Black Forest. Mike takes along some of his Grodziskie and I stand up and talk a little about the style. I get a few laughs, which is always a good sign. And I sell a few books, which is always good.

While I’m having a nightcap in the hotel bar, I get talking to a couple sat next to me at the bar. I tell them why I’m in town – pushing my book – and they seem quite interested. I manage to sell them a copy.

It’s been a good day.

Green Man
27 Buxton Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

Burial Beer Co.
40 Collier Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

Hi-Wire Brewing
197 Hilliard Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

145 Coxe Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

Twin Leaf Brewery
144 Coxe Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

Catawba Brewing Company
32 Banks Ave #105
Asheville, NC 28801

Wicked Weed Brewing
91 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801

Black Forest Restaurant
2155 Hendersonville Rd
Arden, NC 28704

Buy my book:

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer 

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