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2016 Beer City Festival

We traveled to one of Asheville's finest beer fests to sample wares from the best local breweries around.
Photo Credit: Josh Rhinehart

On a glittering, cloudless day in late May, Asheville, North Carolina’s Beer City Festival took place for the seventh time.

With some of the best breweries in NC pouring some of their finest creations, the Beer City Festival promised to be a terrific occasion full of joyous revelry and lovely libations. Spoiler alert: it delivered on both fronts.

The festival was already heaving (though not from overindulgence) by the time we arrived, and we proceeded to join one of the lengthy lines that crisscrossed the entire venue. But with so many distinguished breweries lined up, it’s no surprise that people would bake in the hot sun for a chance to sip some tasty brews.


Burial's Scythe Rye IPA was an early favorite.


Our first stop was Innovation Brewing’s tent, recently covered in Finding Brew Gold in Sylva, where founders Nicole Dexter and Chip Owen were pouring some of their delicately-flavored and beautifully-executed beers. My choice was the Orange Berliner Weisse, which tasted like a zestier, prickly glass of orange juice while my fellow editor chose the Ginger Pale Ale, which impressed with its light body and subtle zing of ginger flavor.

Burial Beer Co., which released a barrel-aged version of its Skillet Donut Stout the following day after the festival, had one of the longest lines at Beer City and was pouring Skillet, Scythe Rye IPA and a kolsch. I opted for the IPA (as I often do) and was greeted with a hopped-up but spicy rye aroma, which the flavor matched along with some additional tropical fruit notes.

After this point, the beers kept on flowing, the music got a little bit louder and the lines got a little bit shorter. A few of the beer highlights from the remainder of the festival:

Pisgah Blueberry Wheat – This summer seasonal from Pisgah Brewing Company was a breath of fresh air in the sweltering spring heat. A cereal-like maltiness coupled with a beautiful, round blueberry character made this one of the most refreshing beers at the event.


Boojum Brewing Company impressed with its stylish aesthetic and refreshing brews.


Boojum Mûr – Another fruited varietal from an up-and-coming NC brewery, Boojum was on hand to pour its American Pale, Double IPA and this delightful Raspberry Saison. Pouring a light-orange with pinkish hues, raspberries definitely wafted their delicate bouquet out of my tiny tasting glass. Fruit beers tend to be eminently quaffable on hot days, and that quaffability is amplified when they’re this well-made.

 

Catawba White Zombie – I always like a beer event where actual brewery employees work the tents, and this was definitely the case with the Beer City Festival. When I happened upon the Catawba tent, I was first transfixed by the terrific label designs, then greeted by head brewer Billy Pyatt who walked me through each beer. My personal favorite was White Zombie, an engaging Witbier that hit all the right stylistic notes.


 


Hi-Wire Gose – Hi-Wire’s tent was located right by the entrance to the fest, so in our fervor to land some whale pours we scurried right past it. We found it again on our way out and were greeted by the brewery’s Gose, a newly canned beer that was spritzy and effervescent, with just the right amount of salinity. A refreshing draught to enjoy on our way out of the festival.

Sanctuary Raspberry Beret – Another tent that was inhabited by the head brewer and founder of its respective brewery, Sanctuary Brewing Company’s founder Joe Dinan outlined the flavor profile for the beers he was pouring. I opted for Raspberry Beret (both in remembrance of Prince and because I was all about fruit beers apparently), which was another delightful, ruby-colored fruit beer with tasty cereal notes and an enjoyable carbonation profile that helped to beat the heat on this sultry day.

Even high-capacity Western transplants New Belgium and Sierra Nevada were in attendance, both of which have established local outposts around Asheville in order to cut down on shipping times to the East Coast. New Belgium’s Heavy Melon, a revitalizing watermelon-lime ale, garnered hefty praise.

Asheville is almost certainly the best beer city in the south. With breweries dotting the downtown landscape alongside great bars, brewpubs and restaurants, the city makes for a terrific mountain retreat where you can both commune with nature and fully embrace The Beer Connoisseur lifestyle by discovering new breweries, tasting new flavors and making memories.


Asheville transplants Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada poured rarer selections.


Beer festivals are a terrific starting point for any beer-themed Asheville trip, and the Beer City Festival was no exception. We look forward to returning in September for the 20th Annual Brewgrass Festival (link), which is held at Memorial Stadium and is roughly double the size of the Beer City Festival. That’s quite a feat considering that the Beer City Festival was a rather sprawling event set near the heart of Downtown Asheville.

Beer events are a great way to mingle with fellow craft beer lovers and discuss everyone’s favorite beverage. When the beers being poured are brewed in (and around) Asheville, North Carolina, you can be sure you’ll find something worth talking about.


Header and Footer images by Josh Rhinehart.