Graffiti decorates the walls of the Wedge Brewing and 12 Bones Smokehouse complex in Asheville’s River Arts District. PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Townsend.

Could Atlanta someday replace Asheville as Beer City, USA?

Last month, I traveled north to the Beer Marketing & Tourism Conference in Asheville, N.C.

The attendees from all across the U.S. and a few other countries represented breweries, brewer associations and destination marketing organizations, along with tour operators, bloggers, beer writers and even an academic or two.

The workshops and discussions ran the gamut from tap room management for breweries and best practices for brew pubs to a panel called “The Beer Marketer’s Guide to Working with Media.” And because it was a beer conference, there was lots of beer tasting, almost all the time.

For me, one of the most enlightening presentations asked the question “What Is Beer Tourism?” Dr. Carol Kline, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism at Appalachian State University, and Chris Cavanaugh from Magellan Strategy Group had some answers from the recent research they’d been gathering.

Among the emerging national trends they discovered: destination marketing organizations are developing more travel experiences around food and beverage; all eyes are on the millennials; the sharing economy and the on-demand economy are leaping forward; visitors seek out “community” and “social worlds.”

Not surprisingly, all those things are vividly in view in Asheville, a bona fide beer destination that boasts more breweries per capita than almost any other U.S. city and proudly calls itself Beer City, USA.

For our group of beer writers, which included authors Josh Bernstein and Stephen Beaumont and Draft magazine’s Zach Fowle, the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau set up an itinerary that not only included visits to breweries and brew pubs but other businesses that were spawned by the city’s beer boom.

Among the destinations, White Labs’ new factory is producing high-quality specialty brewers yeast, and River Bend Malt House is providing locally farmed artisan malts to the area’s craft brewers.

Among the breweries on the list, Wicked Weed continues to impress, growing to four facilities across the city, including its always busy downtown brew pub, and its always fascinating South Slope sour and barrel-aged tap room, the Funkatorium.

One of the newest attractions can be found at The Foundation, a skateboarding and graffiti outpost in the River Arts District, where Wedge Brewing and 12 Bones Smokehouse have come together to create a distinctive dining and beer-drinking complex.

Maybe the biggest surprise was the reveal of the Burial Beer Forestry Camp Brewhouse and Beer Bar in Biltmore Village. The historic New Deal-era compound is situated on 2 acres with a collection of six buildings that are in various stages of restoration. But the brewery and canning line are up and running, and the beers are as fresh as can be.

Certainly, all those glimpses of growth brought to mind some of the big differences between Asheville and Atlanta, both in terms of the relative size and hype surrounding each city’s beer scene.

But if anything, my convention visit gave me great hope. And given the recent changes in Georgia beer law, I can easily envision a day in the not too distant future when streams of visitors are biking from new brewery to new brewery along the Beltline.

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