In May, New Belgium opened the “Liquid Center” tasting room at its recently up-and-running Asheville, N.C., brewery, which is spectacularly perched along the French Broad River.
On Aug. 27, the 6,000-square-foot “LC,” as it’s known, was packed with elbowing beer lovers, who’d traveled to Asheville to celebrate New Belgium’s 25th anniversary and the inauguration of public tours of the brewery.
Currently the fourth-largest craft brewer in the U.S., New Belgium was founded in 1991 in Fort Collins, Colo., by Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch, and the 100 percent employee-owned company still operates there.
But like California’s Sierra Nevada landing in Mills River and Colorado’s Oskar Blues in Brevard, New Belgium opted to build a second brewery in scenic Western North Carolina, both to minimize its national distribution footprint and to increase its presence east of the Mississippi.
Of course, tastings and tours are a big part of its outreach to beer tourists and the local community, too.
Formerly home to a stockyard, auction house and auto salvage repair business, the once-blighted West Asheville location of the brewery and surrounding campus is described as an “18-acre urban brownfield property” that was purchased “as a targeted, sustainable, urban in-fill development strategy.”
As such, it’s situated directly across the river from the reclaimed downtown section known as the River Arts District, with views of colorful studios and shops along the bank and hazy-blue mountains on the horizon. A favorite spot to take it all in is the cantilevered deck at the Liquid Center that was constructed along with a new riverside greenway featuring walking and bike paths.
The tasting room and brewery make use of materials reused or recycled from the site, with bars, tables and chairs crafted by local artists from repurposed wood.
You can find popular year-round and seasonal beers, such as Fat Tire and Ranger IPA, on tap every day. More limited offerings from the Lips of Faith and Hop Kitchen series are available on release, and rare, barrel-aged and one-off beers sometimes make surprise appearances. And there’s a refrigerated case behind the bar, offering plenty of beer to go.
Adding to the festivities, local food trucks can park around the edges of a sprawling lawn, where music, movies and events like the 25th anniversary are hosted.
The overall design of the property is said to be influenced by the flow of the French Broad, one of the few rivers in the world that flows south to north.
On 90-minute brewery tours, guests enter the LC on the south end of the campus, then follow the river through the brewhouse, downstairs (or through a tubular slide, if you dare) and past the lab and sensory areas, ending up at the packaging hall at the north end.
Along the way, there are several bars set up as tasting stops, including one that conjures the Belgian bike tour and beer bar in Bruges that was the inspiration for New Belgium.
TASTINGS AND TOURS
“Liquid Center” hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-8 p.m. Sundays. Public brewery tours must be booked online. 21 Craven St., Asheville, N.C. 828-333-6900, newbelgium.com/brewery/asheville/tours.