After a couple of months with an aggressive travel schedule, I’m in the midst of a long stint at home, which means I actually got to ride Bent Creek, Asheville’s de-facto Central Park. Bent Creek is loaded with classic Eastern singletrack—old fire roads converted into skinny trails snaking up and down mountain slopes. There’s some good fall line stints, lots of contouring trails, some decent, rooty gnar…it’s Pisgah lite. And it’s probably been six months since the last time I got to ride there. I spend a lot of time riding new trail systems all over the country, but it’s easy to forget how good I have it at home. Bent Creek is baller. I love that place.

Ditto for beer. I’m always on the look out for the next great IPA or stout, and I spend a lot of brain cells working my through bottle after bottle of new brews. I know, it’s a tough job… And yet riding the classic trails of Bent Creek recently put me in the mood for some classic craft beers. The South’s craft beer scene is booming—both North Carolina and Virginia have more than 100 breweries each, and Georgia is catching up after the state changed some stupid distribution laws. With all of these new breweries popping up, it can be easy to lose sight of the beers that paved the way for all of this craft beer hysteria. So, I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and gush over the three beers that turned me into a craft beer lover.

New Belgium Fat Tire 

When I lived in Boulder 15 or so years ago, I hated craft beer. I was a die hard Keystone Light fan. Or Coors Light. Or anything that I could get for $6 a 12 pack. And then Fat Tire came into my life, with its malty, easy drinking goodness, and my eyes were opened, like a Born Again Christian coming out of the baptismal water. I think a lot of craft beer lovers have a similar story. Fat Tire is the gateway beer for Americans of a certain age. For decades, you couldn’t get this beer east of the Mississippi, and now, New Belgium is building a brewery a couple miles from my house. That’s progress people.

 Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

After dipping my toe into the craft beer world with Fat Tire, I stuck mostly to the malty, amber side of things. I loved sweet porters. But anything with a bitter bite? Hell no. I couldn’t understand why everyone loved IPAs; Even Sierra Nevada Pale Ale turned me off. Then an editor at BRO gave me a Dale’s in the can after a long day in the woods, and my world was rocked. A pale ale that was creamy, balanced and hoppy as hell? And I like it? Word.

Highland Brewing Gaelic Ale 

This was the beer that made me realize the “little guy” could make a beer as good as the big boy craft breweries. Highland’s Gaelic has probably played the gateway beer role for many a Southern drinker over the last 20 years. It’s malty, but still light enough and easy as hell to drink. It was my go-to beer after moving here 11 years ago, kind of like the Bent Creek was my go-to trail system. I’m not gonna lie, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a six pack of Gaelic, but every time I have one at a party or in a bar, I always wonder why it’s been so long between bottles. Kind of like when I get to ride Bent Creek.