Asheville, North Carolina
Our third annual Beer Christmas with Lauren and Ben! Having focused on the northeast portion of the country’s brew scene for the past two years, we decided to take Beer Christmas south to Asheville, North Carolina. The boys have heard nothing but great things from the city’s craft beer so it was an obvious contender for Beer Christmas status. With ample hiking options and a wide array of food offerings, we were ready to check Asheville off the list.
We all flew in the afternoon on Friday into Charlotte since the flights into Asheville were limited and not direct from our home airports. Since we intended on renting a car anyway, it was not a big effort to finish out the last leg of the journey driving. Luckily, we were able to find flights that landed within minutes of each other so we could get started on the two hour drive to Asheville without wasting any time!
While we wanted to head right into town, we decided first to check into our Airbnb as we had a feeling it may be difficult to find at night. Being completely honest, we were looking for something in downtown so everything was walkable but since I am not a beer drinker and we had the car anyway, it expanded our search. Most places were expensive, small, or unavailable so when we found this Airbnb fifteen minutes from downtown, we were hoping for the best.
Pulling through the property and down a hill revealed the private guest house that would be our home for the weekend. To say we were impressed and surprised is an understatement – this home was perfect for the four of us! Two separate sleeping areas, large bathroom, fully stocked kitchen, working fireplace, porch in the front towards the property and deck in the back overlooking rolling farm hills – we immediately wished we were here for a week to just enjoy the home. Definitely hit the jackpot for Airbnb’s here!
BONUS: The owner also works for ride share so if you do not rent a car, you may get lucky and have a quick ride!
After freshening up, we headed straight into town to explore. Since this is Beer Christmas, our first stop was Wicked Weed Brewery.
The place was bopping with a full outdoor area with firepits and large indoor seating with bar. The vibe was very comfortable and I think we could have hung here all night. Everyone commented that the quality of all three beers the group ordered was really great and while interested in tasting more, we had to save room for all the other spots in town.
Knowing that we would have to build in some chill time to enjoy our Airbnb, we stopped at Asheville Wine Market to pick up beverages for later. While in the store, we got a reminder call for our dinner reservations down the street at Curate.
One of our favorite cuisines together is Spanish tapas so when Curate came up in my searches as one of the highest rates restaurants in Asheville, I knew I had to get us in. After a few phones calls, a reservation opened up – always keep calling when you are looking for a spot if the night is booked as you never know who will cancel, even last minute!
Read the full dining review of Curate!
What an incredible meal, well worth the high praise. Completely stuffed and exhausted from the long day, we headed back to the Airbnb where we continued to enjoy our time together before passing out.
With only the weekend for exploration, we made it out of the house around 7:30AM with the full day ahead. Multiple recommendations sent us to Biscuit Heads for what we hoped would be a satisfying way to start the morning.
Reviews indicated the lines can be a bit insane even at opening so we were happy to arrive shortly after the 8AM opening to no line outside. We also chose to go to the store front outside of the downtown so I think that added to our success.
The menu is full of biscuit options, especially as sandwiches, but do not underestimate the simple biscuit as there is a full bar of homemade butters and jams. Oh, and a gravy flight option to try a few of their six gravy offerings. It was a but overwhelming! Ultimately, we each ordered a biscuit sandwich and sampled quite a few options from the butter / jam bar.
The biscuit sandwiches were enormous and the biscuits were surprisingly sturdy for the contents of the sandwich. We intentionally ordered different sandwiches so we can try multiple items on the menu – the benefits of traveling in a group!
- Country Ham Biscuit – Biscuit with country ham (Country ham is a dry cured ham coveted in the South. Ours comes from Goodnight Brothers, who have been perfecting this deliciously salty Appalachian specialty for 67 years—not for city slickers!), fried green tomato, cheese egg, and red-eye gravy (I substituted the red-eye gravy (espresso based) with the gravy daily special shiitake, onion and bacon gravy)
- Classic – Biscuit with egg, cheddar cheese, and a choice of one side (Kevin chose the fried green tomato as his side)
- Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit – Biscuit with mimosa fried chicken, sweet potato butter, sriracha slaw, and a poached egg
- The Daily Special – Fried chicken sandwich with bacon, tomato, two poached eggs and local ramp gravy
We sat at the table staring at our plates, giggling at how much food was there and how awesome it was going to taste. The line started to build so a pat on the back was in order that we all made it out of the house early.
Biscuit review! I ordered the Country Ham Biscuit and while I read the disclaimer about the ham was salty and dried cured, it was the saltiest thing I have ever had. I took several bites but could not eat more and took it off the biscuit. I really ordered this one for the fried green tomato and that made it all worth it. It was my perfect biscuit!
Which leads to Kevin’s choice of the Classic Biscuit which since his included a side of his choosing and he went with the fried green tomato, our sandwiches were almost identical. He got more fried green tomato with his and I was cheaper than mine so his was definitely the way to go. It is too bad that ham was so darn salty. These biscuits were such a great value – every biscuit sandwich was under $10, most hovering between $8 and $9 and Kevin’s was $6! So much food for your buck.
The Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit was the option that caught everyone’s attention so we were happy Lauren chose it as her biscuit. There is certainly a good reason this is one if their top sellers. The fried chicken was crunchy with a kick to the batter and that alone was enough. But the sweet potato butter on top was so fun, reminding us of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes with brown sugar and cinnamon – such a great touch.
For the bits of biscuit that crumbled off, we utilized the homemade jams and butters to try some flavors – it was impossible to try them all. Of the ones I tried, my favorite jam was the banana foster and my favorite honey was cinnamon sugar.
To say we were stuffed was an understatement. We all tried our best to not over eat or feel compelled to completely clear the dish. This meal ended up keeping us full until dinner that night – now that is a value! Definitely hit this staple venue on your trip to Asheville.
Fueled and ready, we dedicated the morning to the outdoors. There are so many trails around Asheville so it made it very difficult to choose. Dupont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest care nearby with hikes focusing on waterfalls and peaks – depending on what type of scenery you are in the mood for, there is a trail for you. The farther from Asheville you are willing to drive, say up to an hour, the more options are available to you. Since we only wanted to dedicate about three hours to the hike, we kept our search for something close to our Airbnb.
We ended up choosing the Hard Times Trail that leads to the North Carolina Arboretum. Entrance to the Arboretum is free if you hike to it ($14 fee per car otherwise) and offers many exhibits showcasing 65 arces of gardens.
The Hard Times Trail was an easy walk with some elevation climbs as we approached the Arboretum property (after Tongariro Alpine Crossing, everything seems so small!). This was clearly a great spot for bikers, joggers, and doggies! Since the trail follows a stream, we also passed many people fishing.
Once at the Arboretum we started making our way through the exhibits. Since it was early April, it was unclear how much plant life would be in bloom for us to enjoy. While the Bonsai trees were in hibernation and Azalea area were still awaiting bloom, the rest of the property had many beautiful colors to see. To Kevin’s delight, there is a garden scale model train, Rocky Cove Railroad, but unfortunately only operated from 12-4PM this day.
We were fortunate to have a gorgeous day to walk through all the exhibits. Some one our favorites included the Quilt Garden and the cherry blossoms. There were also a few ferns peeking up from the ground showcasing the iconic curly-q we saw so often in New Zealand.
Returning to the car just after 12PM was perfect timing, probably better than if we planned it! Our goal was a three hour journey so this fit into our schedule perfectly. We made our way back tot he Airbnb to freshen up and take some time to enjoy the house. Sitting on the back porch with a few beverages, including an excellent cider and quite decent local Biltmore Chardonnay, and some tunes, we were so satisfied soaking up the sun. Such a wonderful view from this hill on the property! Cows from the neighing farms made their way to the property, probably a routine of their grazing ritual, and the pet ducks in the pond below fight off the intruding geese. While we only had a short amount of time in Asheville to “see it all”, I am thankful we took some time to just “be” and slow down.
Approaching 3PM, it was time to head out into town to get a better look at all there is. My only request was to stop and get ice cream first. Were any of us hungry? No. But hunger was not the point. Vacation ice cream is always a number one priority. After wandering around for a few unblocks, we found Kilwin’s Chocolates Fudge and Ice Cream.
Just the smell of fresh chocolate and waffles made the place smell amazing the second you walked through the door. While the store has areas of fudge and other confections, I went straight to the back for the ice cream. Asking for the most chocolate flavor, I was recommended chocolate fudge brownie – double scoop in a waffle cone. An enormous waffle cone of chocolaty goodness! And yes, I finished the entire thing.
Happiness in our stomachs, we took the next several hours to explore downtown. We stopped in The Captain’s Bookshelf (extensive collection of used books), The Chocolate Fetish (beautiful chocolate displays), The Spice and Tea Exchange (loose teas and fresh spices), East Fork (beautiful local pottery), and Lexington Par Antiques.
After completing a full lap, we journeyed outside downtown towards the brewery district (approximately twenty minutes walking). The choices here are quite extensive depending on what kind of drink you are in the mood food, ranging from craft beer to cider to sake. The entire area was hopping with people – such a fun and relaxed scene!
Our first stop was Burial Beer Co. with a large outdoor seating area and the group trying three different beers.
Across the street is Urban Orchard Cider with a very modern, lounge styled decor. We ordered several flights that allowed us to try almost their entire menu of ciders, which was very extensive! My favorite was definitely the Sweet English but that is no surprise, while other favorites included berry and ginger infused ciders.
Our reservation time was approaching so we wrapped up our tasting and headed back into town. We had not eaten since breakfast this morning- those biscuits really kept us full just about an entire 12 hour period. Dinner at Tupelo Honey would continue our southern food journey with the one and only, fried chicken.
Read about our full meal at Tupelo Honey!
Unbelievably stuffed and satisfied from a very full day of exploring Asheville, we headed back to the Airbnb and went straight to bed.
We were so sad to be leaving this wonderful Airbnb! If we return to Asheville, we will certainly be staying here. Packed the car and checked out, we headed out for another day.
There are a few popular donut shops that I stumbled across when looking for places to eat. The two that made the cut were Vortex Doughnuts (more dessert donuts) and Hole Doughnuts (simpler donuts). The group ultimately decided to try Hole Doughnuts.
The small store front was crowded upon our arrival but we were able to grab a place to sit. Expecting an anthology of flavors, I was shocked to see four donuts in the display case. Four flavors? This place is riding on one base donut with only four slightly different variations – and no chocolate??? The donut must be one solid donut. In the display case was Vanilla Glazed, Toasted Almond Sesame Cinnamon, Cinnamon Sugar, and a seasonal flavor that changes weekly – this week was Strawberry Apple. We ordered a sampler of sorts- one of each so we could all try each flavor.
Taking our seats, awaiting our freshly made doughnuts, we observed the doughnut making process that definitely made this spot click. The process was happening right in front of us!
Every doughnut is freshly made and flavored as it emerges from the fryer depending on the pending orders. This was definitely an artisan operation that the locals appreciate, making this place so popular.
After ten minutes, our donuts were ready as we arranged them in front of us. One bite and we knew – this really was a solid donut. It was light, not cakey, and the simply dusting of flavors allowed the donut to shine. We were all so happy we ended up here! Ironically, I think we eat favored one of the four for an even spread in popularity among our group.
Thank goodness the donuts were so light since we were heading into town from brunch at Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas.
Read the full dining review for Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas!
With a few more hours together, we decided to head back to the brew district and the area was far more subdued than the previous evening. We starting with Green Man Brewery and the group enjoyed the offerings here the most out of all our brew stops.
Since the Fonta Flora Brewery was well outside Asheville but something the group was in search of trying, Buxton Hall Bar-B-Que had it on tap. The second you walk it, you are immediately hit with the smoked smell of BBQ. There is a table of pies of the day next to a gorgeous bar.
While we weren’t hunger, we could not resist getting a plate to share (thanks Ben!) and taste the deliciousness.
Everyone ordered a beer on tap and I decided to order a slice of banana pudding pie. No regrets here! It was a layer of graham cracker crust, then the banana pudding, and finally a thick topping of whipped marshmallow burnt on top. So awesome!
Grabbing our attention for our next stop was Ben’s Tune Up Beer and Sake Garden – not just for the name but it is one of four places in the country that has sake on draft. While I do not consider my self a sake drinker, I would not classify this place as traditional sake. We tried the Heavy, Natural, Lemon Ginger, Apple Spice, and Horchata.
Some of them were creamy but not due to a dairy but because of rice. I think we were all pleasantly surprised with the sake. The garden area itself has room for a band and a second bar – we could tell this was a happening place at night.
It was unfortunately time to say goodbye to our Beer Christmas in Asheville as we had a two hour drive back to Charlotte ahead of our flight back home. Beer Christmas has become one of our favorite traditions and we are so happy to have this time set aside together.
I know many may be wondering – what about the Biltmore Estate? Yes, we had considering going there to visit the estate, even just visiting the winery on the property for a tasting and some cheese, but the ticket price of $70 just didn’t seem worth it. We would have had to spend all day on the property to justify the price and we did not have that sort of time. I am sure it is as lovely as everyone says it is but that is a steep price of admission, especially when there is so much to do in the area – including free hiking! Just goes to show that you do not need to hit the marquee attraction.
Overall, Asheville was a definitely a perfect destination for Beer Christmas! While we had many things we would have loved to do, the weekend itinerary worked out very well. We did not feel rushed to get everything done and had very full days, though I know we all wanted more time to just chill at the Airbnb.
I wonder where Beer Christmas will take us next year!