North Carolina’s Winter Warmer

Asheville is a city in and the county seat of Buncombe County, North Carolina, United States.

The Winter Warmer Beer Festival at the U.S. Cellular Center was the place for beer lovers Saturday. Saturday.

ASHEVILLE — Maybe it was the beer talking, but there was a lot of love coming at the city during Saturday’s Winter Warmer Beer Festival at U.S. Cellular Center.

It was love for its beer, its plethora of breweries, its beer drinkers and the city in general. And some of the love was from brewers who came from afar to showcase their stouts and pale ales at the sold-out beerfest, which drew more than 1,500 aficionados.

“I like the fact that in Asheville, everybody appreciates the IPAs — even girls drink them, and that’s not normal,” said Mark Doble, owner of Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina near Raleigh. “It seems like there’s a lot more openness here to trying new beers.”

Dave Engbers, co-founder of Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Mich. — which shares the Beer City USA designation with Asheville — said Asheville has a “more than healthy” beer community, with “some up-and-coming breweries making very nice beer and doing great business.”

Engbers, who launched his brewery with co-founder Mike Stevens in 1997, said his advice to novices is simply “brew great beer.”

“If young brewers focus on being product-centered, that will be a movement in the right direction for our industry,” he said. “The big brewers will always appeal to the masses, but you can’t deny the contingent of beer enthusiasts that demand quality.”

Doble, who has brought Aviator beers to Asheville’s three big beer events for the past three years, said he was impressed by his visit to Wicked Weed Brewing the night before the Winter Warmer and appreciates the city’s overall beer scene.

“It would be cool if you had more nano-breweries,” he said. “They’re real popular in Denver — guys who just have a couple of brew pots and make great beer — and I think there’s room for more of those here. And no, I don’t think it’s getting saturated … just like restaurants, the good ones will stay. It’s all about quality.”

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