Craft Beer in AshevilleWhere Local Breweries are Rolling Out the BarrelsLexington Avenue BreweryAfter a four-year reign as Beer City USA, Asheville has solidly established itself among the top towns in America for local beers and brewing. More than a dozen breweries now operate in the area, with rumors of more always resonating.Interestingly, Asheville really didn’t appear on the beer scene until 1994. The city’s journey to earning its now formidable reputation started with humble roots in the basement of an Asheville pizza joint. From this underground beginning came Highland Brewing Company, now the largest craft brewer in Western North Carolina. Highland’s success influenced a wave of craft brewing creativity in Western North Carolina, and there now are plenty of breweries and brew pubs for beer aficionados to explore.Asheville Brewing Company This brewer actually has three places to sample its wares. The Brew ‘N View on Merrimon Avenue features second-run movies and great pizza, while the Asheville Brewing Company on Coxe Avenue has a big patio and a full liquor bar. A new location on the city’s south side further showcases such popular brews as the Shiva IPA and the Ninja Porter.French Broad Brewing Company Named for a river that runs through Western North Carolina, the French Broad Brewing Company on the outskirts of Biltmore Village combines a working microbrewery with a tiny tasting room featuring live music. The beers here have a European edge, including the creamy Gateway Kolsch and the 13 Rebels Extra Special Bitter.Green Man Brewing Known by locals as “Dirty Jack’s,” Green Man is one of Asheville's oldest brewers, opening its taps in 1997. The brewery itself on Buxton Avenue has a small bar, a handful of tables, and a definite European vibe, right down to the soccer matches playing on the big screen TV.Highland Brewing Company Stop by this brewery for afternoon tours Monday through Friday and live music in its tasting room on Friday and Saturday. Its flagship brew, Gaelic Ale (a malty, amber beer), is more popular on Asheville taps than Budweiser. Besides the Gaelic, Highland is known for its robust Oatmeal Porter and its hoppy Kashmir IPA.Lexington Avenue Brewery The Lexington Avenue Brewery (nicknamed the Lab) features unfiltered additive-free beer, an extensive food menu and a live music venue. This affordable brewery even offers a hostel upstairs with cozy beds to sleep in.Oyster House Brewing Company Just as Highland started its journey in the basement of a pizza joint, Oyster House was tucked into the Lobster Trap restaurant on busy Patton Avenue, but now has its own location in West Asheville. The flagship beer here is the Moonstone Stout, which is brewed with five pounds of oysters, shell and all. There’s no distinguishable oyster flavor, but the process does leave behind a slight taste of sea salt.Pisgah Brewing Company Located about 20 minutes outside of Asheville in Black Mountain, this certified organic brewery includes a tasting room, indoor and outdoor music venues, an art gallery and game room. Popular brews include the Pisgah Pale Ale, Endless Summer Ale and Pisgah Porter.Thirsty Monk This brew pub in downtown Asheville is split into two levels, an upstairs that serves American craft beers and a downstairs that serves Belgian and other European rare beers. Altogether, Thirsty Monk serves 36 beers on tap and more than 150 bottles. There now are two other locations to further the Monk experience.Wedge Brewing Company The Wedge is based in an old warehouse in Asheville’s trendy River Arts District. The space is small, but people here make the most of it by putting a tasting room and small bar among the massive brewing tanks, and many customers make themselves at home on the old loading dock outside or the patio. The flagship beers here are Payne’s Pale Ale and the Golem.Several nationally recognized breweries are on their way to Asheville as well. Oskar Blues opened a brewery and restaurant in Brevard in 2012, while Sierra Nevada Brewing is set to open in 2014 and New Belgium Brewing in 2015.It’s always a good idea to designate a driver for your brewery visits, or book a tour with Brews Cruise or Asheville Brewery Tours if you’d like to leave the driving to someone else and get some behind-the-scenes views. If you want to burn off some brew calories, there’s also the unique Asheville Running Tours that provide an on-the-run tour of local breweries, with even pauses for tastes.An ideal time for beer aficionados to visit Asheville is during one of the town’s popular brew festivals – just be sure to get tickets early. And there’s always April, which is designated statewide as North Carolina Beer Month.