A long-time friend — and I mean a long time friend, we’re talking since 2nd grade — wanted to celebrate his 40-something-ieth birthday in Asheville. Of course, I was interested. But what to do? There are SO many cool breweries and beer-related experiences, if you’ve got 1 day, what do you do?

photo via Pack’s Tavern

My buddy chose the Brews Cruise. I didn’t have any say in it, I was just along for the ride. But what a ride it was! I’m glad I did it. Here’s how it went down:

First, we had lunch at Pack’s Tavern — it’s an amazing pub for beer sampling. It had just the right number of draft lines, which is to say more than I could safely sample, but not so much that I was suspicious as to whether they were ever properly cleaned.

Couple that selection with a very knowledgeable staff eager to put fresh, local beer in your hand and you’ve got a winner. It also happened to be about a block away from where we were to meet our bus, so that was convenient.

The bus was early, which was great because the weather was awful and sitting in the weird little sideways pews on this retrofitted school bus was way better than standing in the cold rain. I don’t remember our driver/guide’s name because alcohol, but he was super fun, super knowledgeable, and really patient with our inebriated rowdiness. We left promptly and headed to our first destination – Pisgah Brewing Company.

photo via Pigsah Brewing

Our guide, Melissa, gave us a very informative tour of their original brewery/brewhouse set up and we got to sample several of their offerings. This is when it got really fun:

We started with their Pilsner, which was a delightful introduction to their craft. Pils malt was crisp and crackery, and it was interestingly set off with very American hop flavors. Pretty spiffy. We then went to their Tripel. This one was not a huge hit amongst the tour; their yeast was very heavy on banana/bubblegum notes, which I generally associate more with Hefeweizen yeast rather than Belgian stuff, but whatevs. It was still tasty, even if it didn’t float everyone’s boat. The surprise hit of the tour was the Mole Stout… this is from the website:

“… aged on raw cocoa nibs from French Broad Chocolate Factory, raw Madagascar vanilla beans, raw cinnamon, and fire roasted Guajillo, Habaner, and Anchillo peppers from the makers of Firewalker Hot Sauce…”

Yep. Sounded like too much to me, too. But it worked, and it was great.

photo via French Broad River Brewery

Then we were off to French Broad. I was excited to see this place, as I understood it recently changed hands and was seeing some improvement on some already good selections. Their kolsch and IPA were really solid, but the star as you might expect was the Wee-Heavy-er Scotch Ale. I’m a huge fan of Maris Otter as a base malt, and this did not disappoint. The star of the show is that Maris Otter – deep, viscous, and biscuity sweet – and then it’s very lightly set off with just a touch of subtle hops. That’s a beer.

Last stop was the Big Top of Hi-Wire. If you know me, you know my connection to this joint and my feelings about its beers. They are amazing people and put out consistently fantastic beers. It’s really hard to go wrong with any choice there. They had a black lager that was really interesting, and their IPAs were all citrusy, fresh, and enjoyable. But the star of this visit was the Ghost Pepper Stout. I was told that the entire batch ended up using only 1 teaspoon of dried ghost pepper (they tried one batch with 1 tablespoon and had to sewer it). We’re talking GALLONS of beer with just a smidge of pepper, and it was still spicy! Amazing stuff. But was it good? YES! The roastyness leads you to a not-quite-coughing-level-but-close spiciness, and the only solution to it was to have another sip. They are doing the Lord’s work here, people.

Would I recommend the Asheville Brews Cruise? Yep. Fo sho. Would I recommend each of these breweries? You know it. If you get up there, do this thing! Visit these places and support your local breweries. Even if you can’t get up there, look for and ask for these breweries beers where ever you buy/imbibe. You won’t be sad. Go getchoo some!