A ‘Brew Blaze’ of the Appalachian Trail
There’s a reason why the hashtag #willhikeforbeer exists. For some of us along the trail, the thought of a tasty beverage in town is just the motivation we need to get up and over that last mountain or push a couple extra miles. So, when planning this roughly 2200-mile adventure, I, being the beer snob that I am, did a little research about what I might find along the way. This evolved into a game for me, and I created an epic side quest to “brew blaze” the AT.
I was certainly not alone, nor was I the most dedicated in this quest. There were hikers who carried spreadsheets of every brewery along the Appalachian corridor, some who took zero days to hunt down a particular brewery, and others who stayed in beer meccas like Asheville, NC for a bit so they could visit multiple places.
My reasons for doing this were twofold:
1. Find good beer.
2. Bring attention to small businesses along the trail.
The rules of my game were simple.
1. If I was in town to resupply, and there was a brewery or distillery in town, I went to it. That meant no side questing for beer if I wasn’t already heading into town and no going to other towns if the town I was in didn’t have a brewery.
2. No hanging around if my timing was off and the brewery wasn’t open that day. I think I missed one or two breweries following this rule. I had to give myself a couple of parameters. Otherwise, I would still be out on trail, and seven months was quite long enough!
Without further ado, here is my Brew Blaze of the AT. Enjoy!
Granddaddy Mimms. This little place won Georgia distillery of the year 2021. They offer tastings and cocktails. The staff was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and the ‘shine was tasty. Close to hotels, if you’re in town for the night.
Currahee Brewing Company. Walking distance if you’re in Clayton to resupply, but they also have other locations. I had just enough time to enjoy a lovely brown ale during my visit. Open space with food trucks nearby.
Hiawassee Brew. The lighter stuff is better than their heavy beers, but overall, it was just OK. Food is great, though. Live music was a bonus!
Lazy Hiker. You know you’re going to end up here if you’re in town. Offers a great food truck. This is the place for all the beer snobs. They offer a huge variety of really well-made beer, enough to make me want to go back a few times and try them all. The dark sour I tried was very reminiscent of Flemish sours like Duchesse, which is pretty hard to get just right, IMO. Sign their banner and send a postcard home!
Outdoor 76 (also in Clayton, GA). A novel place, half tap house, half gear shop. One-stop shopping for most of your resupply needs, and then go grab a local beer either after (NC location), or while (GA location) you shop! Not a microbrewery per se, but both offer local brews to try.
Smoky Mountain Brewing. Surprisingly solid for such a tourist town, or maybe I was just really in need of a beer after getting snowed in a shelter for a couple of days. Good food, too, but unless you’re rolling solo, make a reservation. The stout I had was dry and very smooth.
Gatlinburg Brewing Company. Surprised me again. The coffee porter is COFFEE. Nice variety that isn’t too mad scientist-ish, with a great set of flagship beers.
Hot Springs, NC
Big Pillow Brewing Company. In a town that can easily distract you off trail for a couple of days, this is definitely a great spot. Nice selection of dark beers; flights available too. The taqueria is excellent and a lovely bonus. Big enough outdoor space for the whole tramily!
Roan Mountain, TN
Station 19E. While technically not a brewery, the selection is worthy of a stop. Constantly rotating taps, tons of bottles and cans, and knowledgeable folks behind the bar make it a great stop for a brew or two! This place is currently up for sale, which is sad, but I hope whoever picks it up keeps the quality beer selection.
Appalachian Heritage Distillery. Wanna feel fancy for a moment? Stop by here for a cocktail. They offer tastings of their vodka, gin, and bourbon, as well as a mixologist’s delight of cocktails. Sadly they don’t offer food, but it is still a lovely and peaceful stop right on the trail.
Tap House Tavern and Grille. Not a microbrewery, but their draft list includes several beers from nearby breweries if you don’t have time to do some brewery hopping. The food is a little pricey, but the hiker portions are legit! Probably one of the better burgers I had along the way.
Heliotrope Brewery. Go. Just go. From lights to darks, the beers were excellent, and the food is just about the farthest you can get from eating out of a plastic bag.
Devil’s Backbone Basecamp. Free camping, free showers. Sure, you’ve probably been buying their tall boys at the convenience stores since Damascus, but nothing beats beer fresh from the tap. Bring your tramily and take over the cornhole boards. The food is expensive, but there are picnic tables in tent city, so you can just make your food bag lighter.
Basic City Beer Co. Only a .3 from the outfitter, why wouldn’t you take a brief side quest? Sadly they were out of their dark beers, but they had a nice array of light beers as well as a legit ESB. With all the brewery games one could find, as well as good food, this would make a reasonably priced stop on your zero.
Elkton Brewery. Worth the side trip to Elkton, and there’s a grocery store not too far away for a resupply. It’s everything I think of for a craft brewery: the space repurposed an older building, the food truck is parked outside, and the beers are many and varied on tap. I had a great nitro porter and a dangerously tasty triple IPA.
Front Royal, VA
Vibrissa Brewery and Basecamp. What a great spot for hikers! Basecamp has showers, laundry, and pack storage. The brewery has ‘buy one, get one FREE’ beers for thru hikers. I loved that the beer list was small and really solid. No digging through 25 IPAs.
Bear Chase Brewery. Not sure why this isn’t listed in AWOL or Far Out. It’s under a mile walking distance from the trail, has food, great beer, and is a stunning place to kick back and relax. Think gorgeous views and Adirondack chairs. All the bartenders suggested the Porter, and it didn’t disappoint. I got word from another hiker that the cider was very tasty as well, if that’s your jam.
1787 Brewing Company. First off, you haven’t seen a little town like Hamburg yet, so it’s worth a little walk around downtown. Everything has history. No super standout beers, but many solid ones, and all of the beer names are connected to local history. I tried a lovely malty amber ale, and the featured grapefruit gose was a perfect compliment to some tasty wings. They also feature trivia and things, so a good place for the tramily, but call ahead to reserve a table. Hands down, some of the friendliest staff thus far along the trail!
Shire Breu Haus. Nice place to cool off for a bit. Great selections of lighter beers with fun names. It also shares a parking lot with Silverbear Distillery if you’d like to be efficient in that two-birds-one-stone kind of way. Sadly the distillery was not open when I wandered through. The brewery also has a delicious menu, but prices are definitely a little higher than the average hiker budget.
Smuggler’s Notch Distillery. Reminiscent of all those tasting places in Gatlinburg but with a calm New England vibe. A simple tasting runs $5, but they have minis to pack out if anything tickles your fancy.
Long Trail Brewery. Chances are, you’ve been seeing this brand for a while. The brewery is a lovely place to relax during a zero in Rutland, Killington, or even Hanover. Pretty easy to catch a hitch. You’re not going to find anything super experimental, just solid beers, but the site is right along a beautiful stream to chill beside, or in. As a waiter told me, ‘This is America, if you want to go stand in the stream with your beer, by god, go stand in the stream with your beer!’ The food is pretty good, too.
Woodstock Inn Brewery. Man, I’ve been on trail too long if the fall beers are starting to show up, but here we are. The 4000 Footer was definitely the star of their IPA lineup. Unfortunately, their dark beers weren’t available, though they did offer a golden stout. Walking distance from Old Ski Colony hostel makes this a no-brainer.
One Love Brewery. Sehr Gut! Finally! A German-style brewery (and restaurant) that got it right and reminded me of all the tasty nectar I had while I lived overseas. Their dunkel-style beer was a little sweet but could be forgiven. If you want a beer that’s NOT an IPA, this is your New England mecca. The Inka Binka oatmeal stout is so good your little dark heart will be happy.
Rhythm Studio. If beer isn’t your thing, leave your beer snobs at the bar and walk next door to Rhythm. Cider, mead, and wine flights are available. Real wine, not your seven different types of fruit wine type place. Charcuterie plates available to go with. Put on your fancy loaner clothes or not, put your pinky in the air, and have fun.
Big Day Brewing. A newer brewery, the server said it was maybe a year old. They are off to a decent start. I appreciated that all the descriptions of their beers were geared towards the beer geek crowd, and they are brewing a variety of German styles. I enjoyed the Dunkelweizen, which was my preferred beer when I lived overseas. Good food but portions are small, so go get your hiker hunger satiated at the AYCE Chinese buffet first.
The Forks, ME.
Kennebec River Brewery. First thought that comes to mind is “the Chuck E. Cheese of the AT.” Way more than just a brewery, they have games for us big kids like foosball and corn hole. And a hot tub. Like a 12 people party kind of hot tub. And a freakin’ swimming pool! Ok, so the place is insane, which would usually mean the beer and food are sub par, but that is definitely not the case. Really good food, and a wide variety of solid beers. Their flagship IPA reminds me of what an IPA was supposed to be, before the style became trendy and people started messing with it. Being in Maine, of course I tried the blueberry beer, which I wasn’t impressed with, until I bit into one of the blueberries floating in it. Wow!
I had a blast putting this together! I used the Untappd app to record many of my stops with a little more detail. There is a noticeable lack of craft breweries near the Mid Atlantic section of trail, unfortunately, but I did find some pubs here and there. For example, the Inn at Long Trail boasts “the best Guinness on the Appalachian Trail,” and they are true to their word and worthy of a stop.
Also, while I didn’t rank the breweries I visited, I do have a couple favorites. The Lazy Hiker, Heliotrope, and One Love Brewery were the standouts of the trail. I am already planning a trip back to Franklin because there were simply too many beers to try at The Lazy Hiker in just one visit. Cheers!
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