Winner: Harrisonburg, Virginia

It doesn’t matter that Harrisonburg is home to only one brewery: the community of beer drinkers ultimately helped define this town as a place where craft beer is not only created, but more importantly appreciated—and in large quantities.

That one brewery is Three Brothers Brewing, appropriately named for the three brothers that run the company, Tyler, Jason, and Adam Shiflett. Adam, who has recently retired from 11 years of service with the Navy, says the brothers always had a passion for the area they call home and have always had an interest in starting a business together. Tyler, who was a microbiologist, and Jason, who majored in business, teamed up with Adam only a year ago to create the area’s first microbrewery.

“We received a lot of initial support, and it showed that the community was willing to stand behind us,” says Adam.

Restaurant owners in town have been particularly supportive in helping to spread the good word on Three Brothers’ brews. Adam Brenneis, General Manager at Capital Ale House in downtown Harrisonburg, recognized the emerging interest in craft beer and opened his restaurant’s new location two years ago.

“Three Brothers has really taken off since they opened in January,” Brenneis says. “Most of that is due to the quality of the beer they put out, but it also speaks to the beer drinkers here in town.”

Brenneis predicts that the availability of craft brews will help Harrisonburg continue to grow as a microbrewery destination. Capital Ale House currently has 100 draft lines, roughly half of which are dedicated to Virginia brews.

“I have been working in restaurants, bars, and breweries for 18 years,” Brenneis says, but the combination of good beer, great people, and the beautiful svalley place Harrisonburg at the top of Brenneis’ places to live.

Harriosnburg is close to the Appalachian Trail, Massanutten and Bryce Ski Resorts, and endless mountain biking and hiking trails throughout George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The town’s outdoor culture and the craft beer scene go hand in hand, and the businesses in town try to cater to that rapport.

Aaron Ludwig, co-owner of two restaurants in town, he says the local beer and event festivities are tailored to that outdoorsy crowd. Ludwig understands the culture of outdoor recreation firsthand. An avid skier and mountain biker, Ludwig first moved to the area to follow his dream of starting a ski shop.

“After 13 years of that, I wanted to do something else,” he says. “Harrisonburg is a great town for outdoor sports, but there are plenty of things to do downtown, too.”

Ludwig opened Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint and Billy Jack’s Wing & Draft Shack with a childhood friend after moving on from the ski retail industry. He’s seen Harrisonburg grow from a dwindling community with just a few homebrewers to a city that regularly holds large-scale beer events for the public like their annual Rocktown Beer & Music Festival. Homebrewing clubs have become popular in town, and there are plans to establish more craft breweries in Harrisonburg. This, they agree, would not be reason for competition but for collaboration and inspiration.

“The more people drinking good beer, the better for our businesses,” Ludwig says.

Best Mountain Towns of the Blue Ridge – Part I from Blue Ridge Outdoors on Vimeo.

Runners-up

Asheville, North Carolina

Given the history of Asheville, it seems both ironic and completely appropriate for this mountain city to be awarded the title of Beer City, U.S.A. for nearly four years in a row. In 1907, Asheville became the first city in North Carolina to vote for Prohibition, an undertaking that was largely spurred by the ideas and platforms of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. The state of North Carolina followed suit a year later in 1908, becoming the first Southern state to prohibit alcoholic beverages. Despite the illegality of booze, homebrewed moonshine and beer was still common, and when the federal government repealed Prohibition in 1933, the beverage scene took off.

It has been nearly a century since those dark and beerless days, but Ashevillians now have the luxury of choosing from over a dozen different breweries located right downtown. The Highland Brewing Company, the first successful craft brewery in town, is still in production after nearly 20 years of business. Companies like French Broad, Lexington Avenue, and Green Man Breweries offer innovative, off-the-wall spins on traditional beers, which only escalates the town’s reputation for unique craft brews. When Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues Brewing Companies all announced within four months of each other that they would be opening second breweries in or near Asheville, the hype on the city’s beer scene leaped to a new level. You can check out the local brews during the Asheville Brews Cruise or the Brewgrass Festival, which showcases more than 120 different American craft beers.

Roanoke, Virginia

The early forays into the New World brought about much more than political expansion and economic power. Beer, as it turns out, was one of the first products manufactured. In 1587, the first known New World beer was brewed in Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony, Roanoke Island. Despite this exciting development, the beer lacked the quality that colonists had grown accustomed to back in England and the beverage largely failed.

Nearly 300 years later, L.A. Scholz created Virginia Brewing in Roanoke to take advantage of the sudden boom of business which had surfaced with the introduction of the railroad. The city (and the state of Virginia) finally had a successful brewery that produced quality drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Present-day Roanoke has seen an emergence of craft breweries like Flying Mouse, Roanoke Railhouse, Parkway, and Sunken City. 

The Rest of the Pack

Brevard, N.C.: Mountain biking is BIG here. Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest offer not only great opportunities for hiking, but also some of the best singletrack in the country.

Charlotte, N.C.: The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a great way to get your adventure on, but the microbrewery scene here hosts a variety of events like Charlotte Oktoberfest and Charlotte Craft Beer Week.

Chattanooga, Tenn.: Once known for its copper mines, the nearby Ocoee River is now a river rat’s playground. If you’re into beer, ‘Nooga is home of the Southern Brewers Festival, which features over 100 draft beers.

Frederick, Md.: Good people drink good beer, according to Flying Dog Brewery. Based in the heart of town, this nationally renowned brewery has a large selection of quality beers (the Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA is a favorite).

Morgantown, W.Va.: This mountain town sees the value in outdoor recreation and has a number of parks, facilities, and a rail-trail system available within a short drive of each other. Pair it with a microbrew for the true Morgantown experience.

Nellysford, Va.: Grab a designated driver and hit the Brew Ridge Trail, a network of craft breweries throughout Nellysford and the surrounding central Virginia area. Blue Mountain, Devils Backbone, and Wild Wolf Brewing Companies are just a few of the places you’ll stop along the way.

Raleigh, N.C.: Home to a number of its own breweries, Raleigh also hosts the World Beer Festival with every type of beer imaginable on tap, from German light wheats to imperial stouts.

Waynesville, N.C.: Blue Ridge beauty inspires not just the town but the beer industry as well. Check out Frog Level and BearWaters Brewing Companies located right downtown.