Brewvue: French Broad River Brewery

Like Hillman Beer and Catawba’s Biltmore tasting room, both of which are just a stone’s throw away, French Broad River Brewery is located outside of the city proper and southeast of the Biltmore Estate and Village area. The brewery is named after the major river that sweeps through the Asheville area but is nestled in a slightly out-of-the-way cluster of industrial buildings sitting along the Sweeten Creek.

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The tasting room is very homey and welcoming, with attractive colors and designs and a great deal of varied and unusual furniture choices.


On the whole, I found all the beers I tried here to be solid, but I didn’t find anything spectacular. The Black IPA (which looks like a seasonal) and the Wee Heavy-er Scotch Ale (a year-round offering) are among the best of the bunch.

Brewvue: Hillman Beer

While I don’t expect a trip to Asheville, NC, aka the East Coast Mecca of Craft Beer, to necessarily become an annual occurrence—there are just too many other great places to visit—it was my chosen destination for several days last month. The visit was centered around a show by a favorite band of mine in Asheville that week, but I also checked out a handful of new breweries, checked out the Beer Geek tour at Sierra Nevada’s Mills River facility, and visited a few old favorites or places that didn’t get much attention last time around.

After the obligatory stop for a BBQ lunch, the first place on the agenda was Hillman Beer, located near the Biltmore Estate and Village just south of the city.


The space is fairly industrial, with the production area easily viewable from the tasting room, though some nice woodwork in the bar and other areas set this tasting room apart from others. Where Hillman truly excels, aesthetically, is in their outdoor spaces, which includes a partially-shaded roadside picnic table area out front (shown below) and a small seating around in the back shaded by trees and sitting near a creek.


Two notes to take away from their tap list: the Great American Beer Festival medals, and the fact that they tend to like pushing things in a decidedly Belgian direction, as a unique Belgian Pale Ale joins a number of more traditional Belgian styles. The ESB lives up to its Silver Medal status, and the previously-mentioned BPA and the Wampa Wit are also quite good.

BrewVue: #CBBCity

This was not my first visit to Crystal Ball Brewing Company. I first checked out their home base in a small warehouse in West York, PA—a space that practically put its roughly dozen-seat bar virtually IN the production area. Between limited space and relatively few hours, the CBB team knew they needed something better. The result has been stylized as #CBBCity, a taproom in downtown York City, an area trying to undergo a major revitalization.

The York taproom, while a major upgrade from their production space, is a bit on the small side (maybe a dozen bar stools and 20-30 seats, tops). And it’s maybe a bit dark, with grey walls and dark furnishings doing little to help what light is provided in the room. Still, it’s a very nice space where they are serving up a half-dozen or more of their brews, along with a couple of other options for those that aren’t adventurous enough for craft beer. Without a doubt, it is far better than their brewery-based tasting area. They served their well-liked Coconut Porter there (I’m not a coconut guy, but I’ve heard great things) and might even have it on nitro. Other notables include the Opal IPA and the Jamaican-Style Wheat (which is fruitier than your average wheat beer), though I’ve yet to have anything bad from these guys between a few cans and a couple of visits to their tasting rooms.

BrewVue: Troegs Independent Brewery

I am in Pennsylvania for the holiday, and already got started on the local beer scene. I’ll be writing about some of the newbies soon, but started off with an old standard.

I got fresh off the plane in Harrisburg, PA, picked up by my parents, grabbed some lunch, and then headed to Hershey for our third ever trip to Troegs. This marked our first time going on their well-regarded brewery tour. It opened with a pre-tour choice of beers, roughly 10 ounces of their core Amber Ale, seasonal IPA, or small-batch Cranberry Porter. This was followed by a perusal of their art gallery, featuring winners and notable entrants from their annual art contest. Starting at the bottom of the hour, the tour began in earnest. Our tour was led by a lovely young woman whose name I forget, because I am a lousy person. She had a Zooey Deschanel thing going on, if that helps.

The tour covered the four principal ingredients of beer (water, malt, hops, yeast) and the brewing process in-depth, with a walk-through of the production floor. Highlights included tasting malted barley at various stages of roast, smelling fresh and pelleted hops, and sampling “green”/unhopped beer. The tour concludes with further sampling, including our being able to sample their Perpetual IPA fresh off the bottling line. We closed out with a taste of their excellent Jovial Dubbel Ale. Troegs puts together a high-quality tour with some unique experiences. Even if one doesn’t want to do a guided tour (which costs $10—quite a bargain—and takes about an hour), the self-guided tour allows you see some of the processing equipment and contains a ton of information itself, written on glass windows and walls along the couple hundred square-foot tour. Even more of the process equipment, including the boil kettle and hopping tanks, are visible from the main taproom, easily the cornerstone of the brewery overall.

Courtesy, the Troegs website

Courtesy, the Troegs website

The taproom bar presents upwards of two-dozen beers from their core, seasonal, and small batch line-ups, with all but a few rarer offerings available on tap and able to be carried out in growlers or crowlers (in addition to an extensive group of single bottles, six- and twelve-packs available in their main store. With such a long line-up at the bar, it’s easy to find something you’ll like, but among their notables are the previously-mentioned Jovial along with the current seasonals, Blizzard of Hops, a Winter IPA, and Mad Elf (more on this one at a later date). Among the year-round group, the Perpetual IPA, HopBack Amber, and JavaHead Stout stand out.

BrewVue: Wyndridge Farm

It's been a while now, but I had the opportunity to check out a few breweries while up north for Christmas. First off, I made my second trip ever to Wyndridge Farm, located on a repurposed farm just about a mile from where I went to high school in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.


Wyndridge is more than just a brewery. In fact, they utilize York County, PA's excellent apple orchards to produce a number of different hard ciders alongside their beers, and they also produce a number of unique craft sodas. But for all their quality drink production, their greatest asset may be the grounds and premises.


This is in the dead of winter. Imagine when the grass is green and there are leaves on the trees. I can be absolutely amazing. You can see the little arch/gazebo thing in the distance--Wyndridge is big on weddings, as they also have an attractive barn converted into a rustic indoor reception space. There is also a similarly-themed standard restaurant and bar space for public use.


Getting back to the relevant topic of this blog, the beer selection can be a tad limited--just 4 core beers with a few seasonal and limited run options that might bump that up to 6-7 options at any one time. But if you pair it with the hard ciders, which includes a nice cranberry-apple ciders and a hoppy cider, you have a decent overall drink selection. Beer-wise, everything tends to be solid, though nothing that will blow you away. Do what I did this last time: try a sampler. Just be sure to throw a cider in there, too!



BrewVue: 7 Mile Brewery

By sheer luck, I had the chance to stop by the 5th and (right now) final brewery in Cape May County, New Jersey.

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7 Mile Brewery isn't much to look at from the outside, occupying your standard chunk of strip mall beside an escape room, a food market, and an insurance office. Indeed, before going to the brewery, one of the criticisms I heard about the location was a "lack of ambiance". Now, as we learned from Cold Spring, atmosphere and ambiance are far from everything. But even beyond that, I'm no decor expert, but I found this to be a perfectly fine space.

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I like the deep blue wall color. I think these narrow tables are nice. Sure, there's a some stainless steel around, and the stools and chairs are pretty industrial, but industrial tends to be a recurring theme at breweries. It's a good-sized space, too, so any inherently lacking atmosphere can be generated by a boisterous crowd. Long story short, I think the atmosphere of this place is perfectly fine. There's even a small outdoor space that is reached by walking through/past the production/tour area.

Let's get to what matters: the beer. They seem to have a 10-12 tap selection at any typical time, with two sets of taps so it's easier on the bartenders. I had the cherry Saison at another bar earlier on vacation, so here I largely stuck to core styles. Beach Bubbles is a solid traditional Witbier, while El Heffe was a really tasty Hefeweizen--though I found it to be more Belgiany despite the German-named style. I also tried the Shorty Stout, quite good, and the Black Rye Pea Aay, which I found to be a little unusual. After being open for just over a year, 7 Mile has quickly developed a reputation for high-quality beers, and most of what I drank supported that. At this point, it seems to be the top challenger to Cape May Brewing's status as the area's King of the Hill.

BrewVue: Cape May Brewing Company

Cape May Brewing Company, located in multiple buildings on the grounds of the Cape May Airport, is certainly seen as the big brother of the craft beer boom hitting that particular part of the Jersey Shore.

Cape May Brewing Company recently underwent a rebranding, including all new logos and designs.

Cape May Brewing Company recently underwent a rebranding, including all new logos and designs.

This is the third time I've been to CMBC, and while still a solid visit, it was a bit underwhelming. For starters, Cape May County is performing extensive renovations and upgrades to the grounds of the airport. At the particular time I visited, this included extensive road renovations and closures, resulting in a less-than ideal parking situation that included trudging through a muddy field around the industrial building to get to Cape May Brewing Company's main entrance.

Cape May easily has the most impressive factory/production floor tour of any in the area, with an extended walkthrough area with videos and interactive exhibits with an opportunity to pick up a beer list or flight selection card before heading into the tasting room and outdoor beer garden.

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The production tour (top) and the brewery's outdoor seating area (bottom). Courtesy the Cape May Brewing Company Facebook page.

The production tour (top) and the brewery's outdoor seating area (bottom). Courtesy the Cape May Brewing Company Facebook page.

At this particular visit, Cape May had 10 different beers on tap. While a fine number, and the most of any brewery visit so far, this is actually a low number for Cape May. There have been prior visits where they've had nearly double that number of beers on tap. To their credit, they continue to have their in-house non-alcoholic sodas on tap, as well. The root beer is excellent, and tastes similar to commercially-produced root beers, but with the flavor intensity turned up to 11 or 12. They also make a ginger ale which is very good if you can stand the intense taste coming from the ginger root used. It can be overwhelming to some people.

Really, you can't go wrong with anything in their line-up. Truly, one of the things that impressed me about this brewery in the past was the ability to have such an extensive tap line-up of 15-20 beers and have every one be of decent quality at minimum. Some of the more notable beers include the namesake IPA, the Honey Porter (which can be found on Nitro), and Apple Bomb, a fruit beer that'll knock you on your butt if you aren't careful--it's 8% ABV, but doesn't taste it. Arguably their greatest offering is The Bog, which is a super-tasty cranberry shandy. It's highly accessible for just about anyone to drink and absolutely perfect for being near several beach towns. Cape May calls The Bog a seasonal, but it seems to have a wide length of availability.

Cape May is still tops in the area's craft beer scene. But it is quickly being caught up to by a few breweries, especially one I'll be telling you all about next week.