For three years, I lived in Beer City USA before people ever thought to assign that moniker to Asheville. Even then, though, the city laid claim to several local breweries and was really coming into its own as a beer town. The breweries were putting out great beers, bars and restaurants were committed to carrying them, and a large portion of the city’s residents were adamant in their support of local, craft beer.
I was not one of them.
I am ashamed to say that my friend James and I kept our fridge filled not with the city’s ubiquitous Highland Gaelic Ale, but with cheap swill like Busch Light. I didn’t drink Asheville’s best — I drank Milwaukee’s Best. Big deal, you say. You were in college. Everybody drank that stuff.
Well, yes, but not in the way James and I did. We were not pouring these light lagers into funnels and solo cups with a view to getting wasted — instead, we would have a beer or two with dinner, or while sitting on the couch watching TV. We didn’t like the beer, necessarily, but we tolerated it as much as our wallets did.
In my final semester at UNC Asheville, I wrote for the school’s Blue Banner newspaper as part of my print journalism minor. After writing an article on wine that was well-received, my editor asked that I cover the city’s beer scene. I reached out to Mark Lyons, who the year prior had started the Asheville Brews Cruise. Mark allowed me to ride along on the Brews Cruise as it made stops at Asheville Brewing, Highland Brewing and French Broad Brewing. To this day, I still attribute that tour — and Mark’s tutelage — with setting me on this great craft beer journey. We enjoyed many beers during the tour, and I came away fascinated by Highland’s Oatmeal Porter. I’d never had anything like it, but from then on I made it a point to see that my fridge split company between my new-found favorite and the more economical light lagers. The light lagers began to see less and less of my fridge’s soft light, until eventually they were phased out altogether.
Here six years have passed, and I’ve somehow gone from writing about beer to being written about. I am incredibly humbled and grateful to Lee Pham for writing about me and the Charlotte Beer book for Niner Online, his own school’s paper. With help from UNC Asheville’s special collections program, Lee was able to track down the article I wrote so many years ago. I had not saved a copy, so it really meant a lot for me to be able to revisit it. If you’re interested, you can read it here: “Brewers Quench Asheville’s Thirst.”
I wonder how my experience with craft beer might be different had I not been assigned that piece. I like to think I would have come to craft beer under different circumstances, but you never know. I hate to think I would have missed out on so many great beers and even better people. Thankfully that’s not the case, in large part due to the Blue Banner and the Asheville Brews Cruise. Since I wrote the article, Mark has opened up Brews Cruises in other cities like Atlanta, Charleston, Denver and most recently Charlotte. I wish him the best of luck with the Charlotte franchise, and I certainly hope some craft beer neophyte hops aboard and has the same enlightening experience I did.