phirx On the Road: Asheville, North Carolina
Warning: long post in three parts
Part 1 of 3
With only a couple days to spend in Asheville on a family vacation, it was difficult to narrow down what beer spots to check out. When your very tolerant traveling companions are (understandably) not as obsessed with finding the best beer experiences to be had as you are, things can get tricky in a town like Asheville, especially when one of them is not even of drinking age. This narrowed down my choices to brewpubs – a term that is inadequate in the face of the subject of this post: gastropub? brewery/restaurants? – but even if I left out the taprooms that have limited food offerings, there were still too many to hit in the time I had, even if I did nothing but drink beer while I was there.
After spending a while looking at websites (mostly in the cafe at Malaprop’s) I made a short list and the first one I made it to was the provocatively titled Wicked Weed Brewing. I was so astounded by what is happening there that I didn’t make it to any others this trip – instead, I returned a second time.
Wicked Weed’s name ironically comes from a quote attributed to King Henry VIII: “Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed” although there is evidence that this is an ale house myth – for more detailed background check out Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile site here and here. Regardless, it is a terrific quote to name one’s 21st century craft brewery after, although I have another idea about where the name came from (see upcoming Part 2 of this review).
Ideally located next door to national profile music venue The Orange Peel and across the street from the French Broad Food Co-op in downtown Asheville, WWB occupies a large property set back from the street, with a spacious patio in front of the building.
The main entrance opens onto the upstairs restaurant, dominated by a majestic portrait of the cranky Tudor king and the large chalkboard hanging over the full bar.
We arrived mid-afternoon. A hostess greeted us and asked if we were going to eat – when we told her we were there to drink beer she wisely suggested that we visit the tasting room downstairs. After a brief look around the room – which is beautiful, in rustic Tudor-inspired brick and wood – we followed her advice. We didn’t eat in the restaurant either visit but hope to on a return visit soon. This blog is not a restaurant review and so I will not dwell on the food, however, it is clear that WWB puts as much artistry and passion into what their kitchen produces as they put into their beer. We ate supper there on our second visit (albeit in the taproom downstairs) and the food was a creative and excellent step beyond traditional pub fare.
The downstairs tasting room consists of an indoor taproom with tall tables and bar stools and a covered outdoor patio with picnic benches. Both seating areas look onto the adjacent brewery through large open doors, and we were able to watch several of the brewers at work during our first visit. A large projection screen had been set up over the patio for the World Cup matches – we watched Chile vs. Spain on the first day and Greece vs. Japan on the second. Several of the brewers were hanging out watching the games when we were there, in between and after attending to tasks in the brewery, and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and talk with them. Enthusiasm for the World Cup was so strong at WWB that the current series of beers coming online (eight in three weeks) were inspired by, named for, and crafted with ingredients from countries competing.
Wicked Weed Brewing opened in December 2012 and is a sibling partnership that has drawn many more into their operation. Owners and brewers (brothers) Walt and Luke Dickinson began their craft beer journey as home brewers, and trace the development of WWB to conversations begun five years ago. WWB now employs seven brewers total including Brewhouse Manager Eric Leypoldt (formerly of Delaware’s renowned Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) and is run by a consortium of five owners that includes the Dickinson brothers and their lifelong friend Ryan Guthy and his parents Rick and Denise. There is a warmth and feeling of community at WWB that no doubt flows from the fact that family is at the heart of this enterprise.
The brewery runs on a 15 barrel system, with 14 fermenters, an open fermentation tank in a climate-controlled room off the main brewery, and a separate building for sours and wilds. Barrel-aging beers are stored in a separate warehouse, and WWB plans to open a taproom dedicated to sours in a separate facility on Cox Ave. in Asheville later this summer.
Go to Part 2