Southern Appalachian Beer Guide

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Serious beer with a side of adventure

by Graham Averill and Jack Murray

Greek philosopher Aristotle famously said, “Everything in moderation.” We tend to agree. Except when it comes to adventure. And beer. What can we say? Sorry Aristotle, but good beer and good adventure are two hobbies we just can’t get enough of. Luckily, we live in the Southern Appalachians, where craft beer has become as ubiquitous as singletrack. Now, you find yourself a brewery that sits next to a killer piece of singletrack, and what you have there, is the “sweet spot.” We found eight sweet spots up and down the Southern Appalachians, so you can hit the mountains, then hit the brewery with a limited commute.

brewery map

1. Pisgah Brewing

Black Mountain, N.C.

Pisgah Brewing was North Carolina’s first organic brewery and strives to get much of their ingredients locally, even looking to source local hops from fledgling hop farms in the near future. In addition to the taproom (cash only), Pisgah has an outdoor stage and lawn where they host live music four nights a week (the Wailers are regulars). pisgahbrewing.com 

The Flagship 

Pisgah Pale, a cloudy, orange ale with organic malts that hits the hoppy notes just right.

The Seasonal

Bacon Stout. What happens when you combine bacon with beer? Something great. This winter brew pours black, but balances the sweetness of a chocolate stout with the salty meatiness of bacon.

The Adventure 

Pisgah Brewing sits at the base of the Black Mountains (the tallest range east of the Mississippi), giving you easy access to singletrack with monstrous downhills. Check out Kitsuma and Heartbreak Ridge, which are two of Pisgah National Forest’s classic descents, or hike-a-bikes, depending on your prowess. If you’re an angler, you can’t beat the crowd-free and gin-clear water of Curtis Creek, which drops steeply off the eastern wall of the Black Mountain Range, but has easy road access through most of its course.

Brewer’s Pick  

Biking Kitsuma. It’s a classic ride in the shadow of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi.

2. Mountain State Brewing

Davis, W.Va.

Mountain State has two restaurant and pub locations, one in Deep Creek, Maryland, and another in Morgantown, W.Va. Both of these pubs serve good beer near epic adventures, but we like their original brew house in tiny Thomas, W.Va. Much of the taproom was built by hand by founders Willie Lehmann and Brian Arnett, who’ve grown the brewery from an upstart into West Virginia’s largest craft brewery since 2005. mountainstatebrewing.com

The Flagship 

Almost Heaven is one of Mountain State’s original brews, and still its most popular. This amber ale is lightly hopped with a caramel finish for easy drinking year round.

The Seasonal  

Rumsey Rock Porter is named after James Rumsey, the Shepherdstown man who didn’t get credit for inventing the steam engine. It’s a dark and malty chocolate porter with plenty of hops.

The Adventure  

Mountain State sits on the edge of the Canaan Valley, the perfect base for exploring some of West Virginia’s signature adventures. During the winter, Canaan Valley has two downhill ski resorts (skithevalley.com) and the most active backcountry center in the Mid-Atlantic (whitegrass.com). You have hundreds of miles of cross-country trails at your disposal. After the snow melts, those trails become mountain biker and hiker nirvana.

Brewer’s Pick  

Hiking the Sods. Kate Lane, assistant brewer, opts for a simple hike. “Just pick any trail in the Dolly Sods. It’s all amazing.” The 17,000-acre Wilderness has a high-country ecosystem more common to Canada. You have 47 miles of trail to choose from, with Red Creek Trail being the most popular.

Blue Mountain Brewery
Blue Mountain’s family friendly atmosphere and outdoor patio make it the perfect spot for drinking in the Blue Ridge over some local brew.

3. Blue Mountain Brewery

Afton, Va.

Blue Mountain is one of the fastest growing craft brewers in Virginia, with a newly-opened production facility geared toward canning and distribution, a restaurant and smaller onsite brewery, even a cooperative hop farm project. The restaurant sources as much of their food as possible from local farms, and the brewery crafts a wide range of lagers and ales at the foot of Shenandoah National Park. bluemountainbrewery.com

The Flagship

Full Nelson Pale Ale, a pleasantly bitter American pale that uses five pounds of Blue Mountain’s own farm-grown hops in every batch.

The Seasonal  

Blitzen is a classic Belgian Christmas ale that has a drunk reindeer on the label. Thanks to the new expansion, this seasonal will be distributed beyond Virginia this winter.

The Adventure  

Blue Mountain sits five miles from Shenandoah National Park, with 200,000 acres of Virginia’s finest ridges and valleys as well as a 100-mile chunk of the Appalachian Trail. From the pub and restaurant, cyclists can choose between the 100-mile Skyline Drive, which bisects the park, or the Blue Ridge Parkway, which heads south through Virginia into North Carolina.

Brewer’s Pick  

Fly fishing the G.W. Owner Taylor Smack likes the hundreds of tiny creeks in the nearby George Washington National Forest, where native brookies thrive. “These are respectable fish too—9 inches, but honestly, I just like getting back into these tiny waterways, places you wouldn’t bother going if you weren’t fishing.”

4. Moccasin Bend Brewing Company

Chattanooga, Tenn. 

Moccasin Bend is a nano-brewery just outside of downtown Chattanooga, crafting small batches of wildly inventive beers. Think barbecue-flavored porters and juniper-infused pale ales. Moccasin is in the process of expanding to meet distribution demands, but the brewpub already has a strong following among Chattanooga hop-heads looking for a beer with cojones. bendbrewingbeer.com

The Flagship  

Moccasin’s diverse lineup resists the “flagship” notion, but Welter Weight, a light pilsner, is about as straightforward of a beer as you’ll find in the taps. It’s popular as hell too.

The Seasonal  

Dead Ned Imperial Red was a winter warmer that was so popular, it earned a permanent tap. It’s typically 8.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but this winter, Moccasin is experimenting with an even higher, 10 percent ABV version that’s guaranteed to warm your cockles.

The Adventure  

Moccasin’s small brewpub is located at the base of Lookout Mountain, on the edge of downtown Chattanooga. Lookout Mountain has some of the South’s best-known kitschy tourist traps (Rock City, Ruby Falls), but it also houses some world-class adventure. Cyclists revere the roads that ascend Lookout, one of which (Nickajack Road) was the time trial in the gone but not forgotten professional Tour de Georgia, and 2,000 amateurs battle their way up and over Lookout annually as part of the Three State Three Mountain Challenge. The hang gliding park is on top of the mountain, the nearest trail head is a quarter mile from the dog-friendly taproom, and the local climbing gym, the Bouldering Authority, is a block away.

Brewer’s Pick  

In-town mountain biking. Owner Chris Hunt was a bike cop for 10 years, so mountain biking is his adventure of choice, particularly on Stringer’s Ridge, a newly conserved piece of forest inside Chattanooga’s city limits. “When I was training as a cop, I’d put the lights on and hit this crazy off-camber trail there late at night,” Hunt says.

devils backbone
At the base of Wintergreen Ski Resort, there is no better place for an apres beer than Devils Backbone

5. Devils Backbone Brewery

Roseland, Va.

Devils Backbone won the 2010 World Beer Cup Small Brewery Championship and pulled the gold for its Vienna Lager in 2012. The brewpub sits on 100 acres with 360-degree mountain views, but the crew has recently opened a production brewery in Lexington to fill the distribution demand in Virginia and beyond. DB is Virginia’s most decorated brewery, and one of the fastest expanding craft breweries in the South. dbbrewingcompany.com

The Flagship 

Wintergreen Weiss, a Bavarian style Hefeweizen, was modeled after founder Steve Crandall discovered it while on a ski trip in the Alps during the ‘90s. It’s a low-hopped lager with a smooth, malty flavor. And it’s named after nearby Wintergreen Ski Resort.

The Seasonal  

The Kilt Flasher (check out the label!), a Scottish wee heavy ale that’s a little higher in alcohol content (7 percent range).

The Adventure  

The brewpub is perched at the base of Wintergreen Ski Resort and founder Steve Crandall is a life-long skier and backpacker. During warmer months, cyclists revere the long road climb up the mountain, and DB sponsors the popular Stampede mountain bike race in August as well as a 100-mile road race. The brewpub is a stone’s throw from the cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway and is five miles from the Appalachian Trail. Even cooler, the brewpub will give hikers on the A.T. a ride from the trail to the brewery and let them camp on their property for free.

Brewer’s Pick  

The Appalachian Trail, of course. Founder Steve Crandall chooses backpacking the A.T. “There’s a section of the A.T. that runs through the Three Ridges that might be the toughest part of the trail,” Crandall says. “You can do a great 10-mile backpack that drops 3,300 feet to the Tye River, then rises 3,000 feet back to the ridgeline.”

6. Hardywood Park Brewery

Richmond, Va.

Just a year old, the fledgling Hardywood Park Brewery has already endeared itself to the Richmond community, distributing its beer widely throughout the town and instigating cool city-based endeavors like the Community Hop Project, where local gardeners were given free hop rhyzomes to grow specifically for a special release beer. Hardywood is the hip establishment you expect from a downtown brewery, complete with Food Truck rodeos during the summer. Just don’t go looking for an actual park named Hardywood in Richmond. The brewery was named after the sheep station in Australia where founders Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh first discovered craft beer. Along with Devils Backbone and Starr Hill, Hardywood was instrumental in getting VA 604 passed (see sidebar). The tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday. hardywood.com

The Flagship 

Hardywood Singel, a Belgian-style blonde ale with a mellow finish. It’s too high in alcohol to be considered a session beer (6.2 percent ABV), but it’s a great food-pairing beer. It’s also the only year-round beer Hardywood produces.

The Seasonal  

Gingerbread Stout. This is an imperial milk stout brewed with fresh local ginger harvested from Casselmonte Farm and local honey. Sweet. And it packs a punch at 9.2 percent alcohol by volume. It was also this year’s bronze medal winner at the World Beer Cup.

The Adventure  

Richmond. Geographically speaking, you’d be hard pressed to call it a mountain town, and yet there’s no denying that Richmond’s adventure portfolio is stout. A smokin’ class III-IV section of the James River runs right through downtown. Belle Island, in the middle of the James and connected with downtown by a bridge, has tight singletrack and a new bike skills park. The city was even picked to host the UCI World Road Cycling Championships, cycling’s pinnacle event, in 2015.

Brewer’s Pick  

Fat tires. Both Murtaugh and McKay dabble in kayaking, but mountain biking is their go-to adventure. “From the brewery, you can ride a mile of pavement, then hit trail in Byrd Park for a 13-mile trail ride. Buttermilk Trail is the most technical piece of the ride, but I like coming out of the singletrack jungle and getting a big view of Richmond’s skyline,” says Eric McKay.

7. Dry County Brewing

Spruce Pine, N.C. 

Dry County is a nano-brewery/pizza shop in the surprisingly hip Spruce Pine, N.C., a tiny outpost of a town with more-than-decent grub and quick access to some of North Carolina’s most iconic adventures. DC’s production is small, putting out 10-gallon batches at a time, but the brewers love to experiment, so they have a stock of 30 beers they like to rotate through their bar with six beers on tap at a time. And you can pick up a giant cheese pizza for under $12, making a visit to the small shop a win/win. drycountybrewing.com

The Flagship  

Though locals love the Farmhouse Ale and IPA, there’s no real flagship beer here—the experimentation of brewer Chad Mohr resists that sort of consistency. Dry County tries to put out at least one new beer a month.

The Seasonal  

The Homewrecker is a Belgian strong ale with crystallized ginger and cherry. Does anything say Christmas like ginger and cherries? Just keep the name in mind when you find yourself ordering one after the other.

The Adventure  

Spruce Pine is 15 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway and about 30 minutes from Roan Mountain and its string of high elevation balds.  The North Toe River runs through downtown, offering in-town fly fishing. Cyclists have a love/hate relationship with Hwy 80, which leads up to the Parkway with a brutal ascent, and hikers and trail runners can explore miles of singletrack on the privately owned (but open to the public) Springmaid Mountain Retreat.

Brewer’s Pick 

Hiking high. “We always go straight to Roan,” says Dry County Brewing owner Chad Mohr. “It’s a little further than some local trails, but the hiking is amazing.” Pick up the A.T. at Carver’s Gap and head east for seven miles of grassy balds, all of which stand over a mile high in elevation.

8. Nantahala Brewing Company

Bryson City, N.C. 

Nantahala Brewing Company is still a relative newcomer to the Western North Carolina beer scene (the tasting room opened in March 2011), but in just a couple of years they’ve managed to make a name for themselves as a brewery with an adventurous mindset. Brewery founder Joe Rowland also owns a paddling guide and hiking guide business, local boaters and bikers frequent the taproom, and Nantahala even puts out a special limited edition Trail Magic series that helps support the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner program in the Smokies. The brewery is located in a converted warehouse on the edge of Bryson City, which is rapidly becoming a hot gateway town to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. nantahalabrewing.com

The Flagship  

The Noon Day IPA was NBC’s first beer out of the tanks and is still the most popular. The pale ale gets plenty of hops throughout the brewing process, and has the citrus aroma and dry finish beer lovers have come to expect from an IPA.

The Seasonal  

Sticky Dog Stout is a straightforward stout without the typical hints of chocolate or coffee usually associated with winter stouts. Also look for the limited release Trail Magic Series in 22-ounce bottles.

The Adventure  

It’s hard to beat Nantahala Brewing’s location. The brewery sits less than two miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and not much farther from Lake Fontana, which offers pristine flatwater paddling as well as a handful of wild islands for those seeking an isolated campsite. Drive a little farther and you have Tsali Recreation Area’s 20 miles of buffed singletrack to the south, as well as the Nantahala River’s eight miles of class II-III whitewater and newly enhanced surf wave.

Brewer’s Pick

Fat tires in town and out. Joe Rowland, founder of the brewery, loves paddling the lake, but his go-to adventure these days is mountain biking. “The new SORBA chapter has done such a good job maintaining Tsali, it’s a great ride now,” he says. “But I also like doing a 10-mile road loop into Deep Creek, because you can hit one of the only trails in the GSMNP open to bikes, then come back for a beer.”

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