Start your day off with what the locals calls Southern hospitality (and the rest of us call delicious, sugar-stuffed, fried food) at the Tupelo Honey Cafe. The NC staple now has 14 locations across six states, but the best of them is still the original in downtown Asheville. You’re going to be doing some major-league drinking later on, so grab something filling and absorbent like the Shoo Mercy Sweet Potato Pancake, a hubcap-sized flapjack served with fried chicken, apple cider bacon, pecans, two fried eggs, apples, blueberries and a golf ball of butter. Don’t get coffee yet, though; that’s coming up next.
Coffee at Vortex Doughnuts will help you fight off the nap that pancake wants you to take. Get the Nola, a chicory-infused cold brew sweetened with cream, and, if you still have room, try one of the Rotating Tap Donuts featuring icing made with local beer.
Time to start drinking. Asheville Brewing Co. opens at 11 a.m. every day except Sunday, so it’s your best bet for a pre-afternoon pint downtown. The brewery’s grapefruity flagship Shiva IPA is always a solid choice, but also look out for newer releases like the Nitro Ninja Latte, a caffeinated version of ABC’s World Beer Cup gold-winning Ninja Porter. Take your pint out to the huge covered patio and catch a game on the giant projector screen, if one’s on.
It’s a quick walk over to New Belgium’s production facility. Grab a glass or a flight in the Liquid Center tasting room and head outside to the wood deck overlooking the French Broad River. If the weather’s warm, you’re in for some solid people-watching: the river fills with tubers floating lazily (and drunkenly) each summer. Sign up for a tour of the massive facility if you’re up for it; they’re offered every half-hour.
New Belgium helped develop a lovely little walking path along the French Broad; use it to head south and across the river toward Asheville’s River Arts District. Here you’ll find art studios and graffiti galore, but the masterpiece you’re looking for is The Hogzilla, a beastly sandwich combining candied bacon, kielbasa and pulled pork only available at 12 Bones Smokehouse. Try it with some of the housemade blueberry chipotle barbecue sauce (which local ice cream cafe The Hop has used to make an ice cream that is simply unreal) and wash it down with an Iron Rail IPA, a floral and malt-sweet British IPA from Wedge Brewing Co., located right next door.
A one-mile walk northeast will take you to a cluster of breweries: Burial Beer Co., Catawba Brewing Co., Green Man Brewery, Twin Leaf Brewery and Wicked Weed Brewing’s sour-focused facility, The Funkatorium. Have at them.
Time for dinner. The upscale food and funky aesthetic at one-year-old Bhramari Brewhouse is the perfect exclamation point for the day’s eating. Start with a pickled egg—sunflower-yellow and beautifully plated with colorful swirls of hot sauce, herb aioli and orange marmelade—and pair it with The Good Fight, a sour pale ale that’s much more pale ale than sour (just the way we like it). The garlicky, melony Lorelei IPA will also prove a worthy match for the brewpub’s Crispy Duck Breast, glazed with an orange-ham sauce and dusted with mushroom powder.
The urban beer garden/Asian fusion restaurant/convenience store/beer and sake brewery Ben’s Tune-Up is mere blocks away; saunter over for a glass of the nama genshu—aka Heavy—a sweet, 17% ABV sake that tastes like bruised pear with a finish of white rice and banana peel. It’s often carbonated and served on draft with several fruit/spice treatments, including pineapple-jalapeño, lemon-ginger, strawberry-cucumber and Creamsicle—get one of those if you see it.
Hi-Wire Brewing is right next door to Ben’s. It closes at 11 p.m. most weekdays, so drop in for a quick draft pour of the classic Lager and check if any bottles from the Single Barrel Series of wild ales pulled from a single oak barrel are available; grab some if they are.
Close out the night scene at One World Brewing. Located under a burger restaurant, this basement brewery is decorated with hanging terrariums (terraria?) and lit with Edison bulbs and Christmas lights. It’s a cool, dark, woody, funky space with the feel of a dive bar in your buddy’s basement. Hoppy brews dominate the 10 taps; the best of them is the Citra-Bomb IPA, bittered solely with the eponymous hop variety. A fridge full of pre-filled crowlers is there if you want to take some home and keep this thing going, but you probably want to sleep. It’s been a long day.