Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Asheville NC, Part 2: The Beer

Please note that this entry is copied nearly verbatim from my Greenville SC blog. Why? Well, Asheville is a somewhat popular tourist destination (especially in this area) and I wanted everyone to know that there is more to do there than see the Biltmore! But I'm a bit too lazy to write an entirely new blog entry when this one fits just fine ;)

Earlier this year I attended the Winter Warmer Beer Festival in Asheville. According to the site, this was the festival's fourth year. I had heard some rumors about how in the past it was held in some questionable places, things got too crowded, etc. As this is the first year we had the pleasure of attending, I certainly can't compare it to past experiences, but I can say that we did have a total blast. We also stayed overnight, booking our room at the Four Points by Sheraton for about $105 for the night (including taxes). We got that rate as AAA members but supposedly they were offering the same rate to Winter Warmer customers. However, when I called to book our room and mentioned the Winter Warmer festival the woman had no idea what I was talking about and until I mentioned that we were in AAA, claimed the best rate I could get was about $125 for the night. Not really sure what the miscommunication or issue was, but thank God for AAA!
A NC brewery named after Steve's distant relative!

Steve and I coughed up the extra $12 per ticket for the VIP treatment--we paid $50 per person and the "regular" tickets were $38. Having splurged for VIP tickets to Top of the Hops in Greenville last year (worth it), as well as for VIP tickets to Sippin' Safari at the Greenville Zoo back in September (not worth it), we figured it couldn't hurt to take our chances...and we were very pleased! We attended Winter Warmer with some friends who purchased just the regular admission tickets, and they had to wait about 30 minutes just to get in whereas we had no line at all. That, and we got t-shirts and a nifty little canvas bag. The t-shirts cost $10 on their own and you couldn't buy the bag, so between these goodies and the nonexistent line our VIP tickets were more than worth it.

The thing is, because this festival was a lot smaller than the country-wide Top of the Hops - and all of the breweries were from North Carolina and surrounding states - I was forced to try some beers that I normally wouldn't bother with. Stouts and the like. I was actually - mostly - pleasantly surprised with my many samples. There was also live music, which was surprisingly really good. I honestly wasn't sure how I'd feel about a band named Brushfire Stankgrass ;)

Playing trivia
A couple of local radio stations were in attendance as well, and one of them held little trivia contests throughout the afternoon...I had to drag Steve away after he had participated in these three or four times.

Of course, it did get a bit crowded but thankfully there were never really long lines for the beer samples - people were pretty good about spreading out and nearly every brewery had one or two crowd favorites, from what I could tell. The only time when the people became a bit too much for me was when the single bathroom (which had only four stalls!) had a line so long that I had to wait about 30 minutes to pee. No lie. Really not sure why there was only one women's bathroom open in the entire civic center, but we can only hope that next year they'll realize that you can't stuff that many woman into a big room full of free beer and not have more than one restroom option (or at least, not have only a single restroom with a mere four stalls available).

Another great thing about Winter Warmer is that all of the tickets included food, which was supplied by a local restaurant called Fiore's Ristorante Toscana. Unfortunately...the quality and quantity of said food was questionable at best. Not the worst food I've ever eaten, but it was pretty obvious that the stuff had been sitting in chafing dishes all day, and the portions were pretty darn meager. Granted, it was nice to have some food to fill our bellies a bit while we were downing all that free beer, but I guess what it comes down to is that Italian probably wasn't the best option they could have offered, and it would have been nice to receive more than a couple tiny appetizers and a little mound of pasta with sauce. Should you travel to Asheville of your own accord, at this point I'd have to say don't bother trying this particular restaurant.

Yummy food at LAB!
We stayed at the festival until it ended, then hit up the hotel for a quick freshen-up before a night out on the town in Asheville. I was excited to see a little more of the city, as so many people have ranted and raved about how fun it is - but to be completely honest I far prefer my home city of Greenville ;). Sure, Asheville has that beautiful setting right at the base of the mountains, but the looks of downtown leave a lot to be desired and although a bit bigger than Greenville, nothing stuck out as being superior by any means. We stuck somewhat close to the hotel, stopping at a pretty sad little lounge with a one-word name and populated by some rude tourists from Atlanta first, then heading to LAB on Lexington for some more craft brews and good food. Steve and I just shared some appetizers - the venison nachos and sweet potato gnocchi - but I was impressed. Although I think the nachos could have used a bit more flavor, they were still yummy and the gnocchi were to die for. Seriously. Everyone else who ordered food agreed that this place has some tasty dishes! It probably also helped that their "Whitey" ale and their Hefeweizen were both delish.

Once we were done eating, we headed around the corner to a sort of...basement bar. This place was seriously hidden, but they had pool tables and a jukebox. I'm not sure if it was officially a part of The Southern Kitchen (it was attached, but could have been a separate entity) but regardless, it was a great place to wind down after a long day of drinking and running around.

All in all, although I wouldn't necessarily make this festival a yearly occurrence (more because staying the night in Asheville makes for a not-so-cheap outing), I'm glad we went and I'm glad I can now say that I've actually been to Asheville (having only been up there to tour the Biltmore before). If only because now I can say that it's for sure not as awesome as Greenville ;)

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