The fresh talent that’s transforming the moonshine capital into a dynamic drinking destination
In our Rising Stars series, seasoned beverage professionals spotlight five of the most outstanding up-and-comers in their city—and discuss the mark each is making on the drinks scene.
The western part of North Carolina was historically known as the moonshine capital of the world, and it’s still easy to track down the illicit spirit. Yet now there are legal moonshine and liquor distilleries—as well as a wide array of bars, wineries, and breweries. With 30 craft breweries inside the city limits and a population of around 90,000, Asheville has one of the highest brewery-to-population rates in America. While so-called Beer City, USA, has long been a tourist destination, the mountain town’s reputation for great food, drink, and recreation now attracts more than 10 million visitors annually, according to the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Not long ago, much of the city’s downtown was vacant. But significant investment in the area both by government and by individuals has dramatically changed that, especially over the past decade. These days, the majority of Asheville’s food and beverage businesses are locally owned. There’s a strong cultural resistance to chain stores in the former frontier town, and a corresponding preference for supporting enterprises owned by friends and neighbors. Eating and drinking local has always been mainstream in Asheville. And that tradition, paired with clean, plentiful water from underground glacial lakes, access to growers, and the beauty of the surrounding mountains, attracts maverick and entrepreneurial personalities to the beverage industry. From a forward-thinking brewer who eschews modern equipment to a creative bartending dynamo who incorporates local vegetables, herbs, and spices into his cocktails, these are five of the rising stars transforming Asheville’s drinks scene.