Holding “The Silver Bullet,” I felt a sense of empowerment, almost like the moment Indiana Jones picks up the prized golden idol in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sure, it wasn’t the best beer out there, but I didn’t know any better, and, frankly, I didn’t care. I had a near-frozen can of suds and all was right in the world.
My love for beer goes back as far as I can remember. There’s something uniquely special about hoisting a cold one high and proudly saluting another fine day in this chaotic thing we call life. Yes, I’m aware about the responsibility of enjoying a brewski, but as well, sometimes you just have to let loose and carpe diem.
And for a time, squirreling away those Coors Light cans worked. Soon, I became curious about other products and brands. I worked my way up, snatching a Budweiser from a lonely cooler at a summer picnic, a Heineken at special events or the random Red Dog from someone who definitely viewed life as about quantity and not quality.
That outlook and circumstance changed the day I came across Ubu Ale. Brewed by the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, the English-style beverage was deep garnet red in color. I could smell the fruits used, taste the roasted malt flavors. I was in heaven. Coors Light immediately took a backseat to my new hobby – craft beer.
Entering college in Connecticut, I explored further into the great beers of New England. From Magic Hat #9 to Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter, Geary’s Pale Ale to Red Hook ESB. If a town had a brewery, I wanted to belly up and taste the goods.
After graduation, I found myself wandering America, reporting on music festivals and feature events around the country. Forty-nine states as of last count. When I visited a new place, I didn’t want a souvenir T-shirt or bumper sticker. No “Garret” coffee mug from Seattle, no sir. Craft beer and local, independent breweries were my souvenirs, each filled with the true essence of a community through its patrons, ambiance and attitude.
While covering the Rothbury Festival in Michigan, I found my love affair. Strolling the streets of Ann Arbor during a free afternoon, my photographer and I stepped into the Arbor Brewing Company. Poured from a cask, the Sacred Cow IPA stopped me in my tracks. Every sip was a burst of flavor, a brew heavy and succulent, like eating a steak (and I love steak). To this day, it remains my favorite, and a great excuse to head north again for a road trip.
Thus, when I was deciding to move to Western North Carolina, the idea of living in a craft beer Mecca played a large role. Dozens of breweries at my doorstep, all ready to tease and surprise me with rotating taps and seasonal flavors. Over the last year, I’ve interviewed numerous brewmasters, photographed facilities and written articles about these special places tucked away in the hills of Southern Appalachia or around the corner in bustling downtown Asheville.
Within my immediate coverage area, there are five breweries, each bringing something different to the table. Personally, I like to dive into the Noon Day IPA (Nantahala), Edelweiss (Tipping Point), Folkmalt (BearWaters), Salamander Slam (Frog Level) and Middleworld Brown (Heinzelmannchen).
All of these locations are pushing forward and thriving, evolving each year. It’s a formula for success that includes innovation, patience, community support and outreach. Hosted by BearWaters, the inaugural Waynesville Craft Beer Fest (www.waynesvillebeerfest.com) will take place on Aug. 31 at the American Legion. The festival will include more than 20 local and regional brewers alongside live music and an array of vendors.
It’s been quite the journey since the days of sneaking into garages. Luckily, there’s no shortage of new and interesting craft beers, at least here in Western North Carolina. Cheers, y’all.
1: The Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam will be Aug. 9-10, featuring Balsam Range, The Crowe Brothers, and Whitewater Bluegrass Company, among others.
2: The Mountain High BBQ Festival and Car Show will be Aug. 9-10 in Franklin.
3: River Rats perform at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva on Aug. 9.
4: Marci Spencer presents her book Clingman’s Dome: Highest Mountain in the Great Smokies on Aug. 10 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.
5: Town Mountain hits the stage at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville on Aug. 10.