Remember when the only beer you could get in town was an Anheuser Busch product? It wasn’t too long ago when our only choices on tap were Bud or Bud Light. It was a coup when Coors started distributing east of the Mississippi. Finally, options! More recently, many of us packed an extra suitcase on our ski trips so we could bring back a couple of cases of Fat Tire from New Belgium. Oh, how things have changed. Today, breweries line the Southern Appalachians and surrounding foothills. Why? Apparently, there’s something to those old Coors commercials.
“There’s a lot that goes into making a great beer, but the first thing you need is good water,” says Win Bassett, executive director of the North Carolina’s Brewer’s Guild. “That’s one of the reasons you see so many breweries popping up in places like Asheville. The mountains have good water.”
Forget the Rockies. Tap the Appalachians with this list of our favorite beers in the Blue Ridge.
Best Field Beer
Boxcar Pumpkin Porter • Starr Hill
You can smell the pumpkin in this dark-pouring English style brown porter, made with caramel and chocolate malts. The sweet malts help balance the subtle pumpkin spice we’ve all come to expect from a pumpkin beer. It’s a combination that screams fall. The low alcohol by volume makes this the perfect cold-weather session beer.
Available in the fall, distributed widely in the bottle throughout Virginia and beyond. starrhill.com
Best American Pale Ale
Full Nelson • Blue Mountain Brewery
This perfectly bitter pale ale uses a dose of Blue Mountain’s own farm-grown cascade hops in the mix for that floral aroma, but you’ll also notice the malty, rich taste that helps balance the ale. Full Nelson hits all the American pale high notes.
Available year round, on draft at the brewery and in cans and bottles throughout Virginia and beyond. bluemountainbrewery.com
Best India Pale Ale
Sweetwater IPA • Sweetwater Brewing Company
Intense is the only way you can describe the hop character of this India Pale Ale. The aroma is thick with pine and citrus, and the beer starts sweet but finishes hoppy, thanks largely to an extensive dry-hopping process. The beer is a multiple award winner on an international scale. Most recently, it won the Gold for IPA at the 2012 U.S. Open of Beer.
Available in bottles year round throughout the Southeast. sweetwaterbrew.com
Best Fruit Beer
Pisgah Blueberry Wheat • Pisgah Brewing Company
Black Mountain, N.C.
Hazy in color and light in body, the Blueberry Wheat is a thirst quencher on a hot summer day. A healthy dose of blueberry puree gives the beer its signature flavor, but it’s not too sweet for even the manliest of manly beer drinkers.
Available in the summer on tap at the brewery and throughout the Asheville area. pisgahbrewing.com
Best Amber Ale
Almost Heaven • Mountain State Brewing
Amber ales are designed to be easy drinking brews, and Almost Heaven doesn’t disappoint. There’s nothing for hop-heads to get excited about, but the rest of us love the caramel finish. This is the beer that will get macro beer drinkers hooked on craft beer.
Available year-round on draft at the brewery’s three locations (Thomas, Morgantown, and Deep Creek Lake, Md.) and select bars throughout the Mountain State. mountainstatebrewing.com
Vienna Lager • Devils Backbone Brewing Company
This amber-colored beer looks a little like the beers of your youth, but has a smooth malty finish that’s light and balanced. We’re not the only ones who love this beer; it won the gold for Vienna style lagers in the 2012 World Beer Cup, the biggest brewing competition in the world.
Available year round at the brewery and in bottles throughout Virginia and beyond. dbbrewingcompany.com
In Heat Wheat • Flying Dog Brewery
Some beer drinkers steer clear of hefeweizens (too fruity!), but on a hot summer day, after a long run, you can’t beat the easy drinking goodness of In Heat Wheat. The golden-hued German-style hefe is way low on the bitter scale and has slight banana, orange, and lemon notes.
Available year round in the bottle. flyingdogales.com
Black Mocha Stout • Highland Brewing Company
Dark, rich, and sweet, you wouldn’t want to finish a six pack of Black Mocha solo, but taken singly, the stout’s chocolate and coffee flavor deliver the goods, particularly on a cold winter night. The beer has won silver medals at both the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Festival in the past.
Available year round and distributed widely on draft and in the bottle. highlandbrewing.com
People’s Porter • Foothills Brewing
This tasty beer pours dark brown, the way an English-style porter should, and delivers hints of chocolate and toffee before finishing with espresso notes. It’s a moderately hoppy brew, but overall, beautifully balanced thanks to the deep malt character.
Available year round at the brew pub and in bottles in North Carolina. foothillsbrewing.com
Best Session Beer
Easy Rider • Terrapin Beer Company
Session beers are low in alcohol and easy drinking ales meant to sip for extended periods of time. Think, car camping. Easy Rider has a hoppier finish than you’d expect from a session beer, taking it firmly into the pale ale category and giving pale ale aficionados something they can drink all night long. The beer won the silver at this year’s U.S. Open of Beer.
Available during the summer in bottles distributed throughout the Southeast. terrapinbeer.com