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A Glimpse of Asheville

DSC00004Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, lays the beautiful city of Asheville. Whether you come here in the fall to see the leaves change color on the parkway, a spring visit to the Biltmore House to see the flowers bloom, or for a summer vacation to enjoy all the outdoor activities you can imagine, Asheville is the perfect place to visit any time of the year.  

This small city is a great place to be if you’re traveling here with your family, by yourself, or with your significant other. The adventure of Asheville begins as soon as you step foot in downtown. Here you will find some of the best restaurant and small shops. You will not want to miss a trip to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge! Call us here at Wilcox Travel and we would love to set you up a tour of downtown Asheville so that you can learn the history of the wonderful town. While you are downtown make a trip down to the River Arts District to enjoy multiple art studios and experience the culture of Asheville. If you are a fan of the night scene then you will love some of the bars there are, including Aloft hotel where you can go on the roof and see all of the city under the stars.

Just ten minutes from downtown Asheville located in Biltmore Forest sits The Biltmore Estate. The house is one of the biggest private homes in the US and the estate is one of the largest that is still privately owned. Don’t forget to get your tickets at the front gate because you will not want to miss out on the walk through tours they offer of the home. A visit to the Biltmore Estate can last all day and will still leave you wanting more. Surrounding the house are the estates gardens, a pond, and many walking trails, including one that line the French Broad River. Not to mention the many dining options they have from snacks to completely formal, which is great for celebrations and special occasions. You can enjoy a free tour of the winery and if you are of age, free wine testing when the tour is complete! The options at The Biltmore Estate are endless.

After you have enjoyed two of the most famous places in Asheville you will want to continue your adventure outdoors! Surrounding Asheville are many hiking trails, waterfalls, places to zip line, a tubing experience down the river, a drive down the parkway, and much more. The hiking trails range from very easy, something the whole family can do and then there are strenuous ones for the most adventure seeking outdoor lovers! While on your hike or outdoor adventure there will be plenty of opportunities to view the wildlife. There are also great places to horseback ride, or play golf in the valley of the mountains.

If you love to shop there is something for you too! Besides the many shops in downtown Asheville and Biltmore Forest, an outlet mall recently opened up fifteen minutes down the road with plenty of stores for all different tastes.

There are so many activities to do you will want to spend as much time in Asheville that you can! Enjoy your adventures and come see us here in these beautiful mountains we call home. Contact Wilcox Travel so we can help you plan the perfect trip to Asheville, NC.

Foodie vacation destination: The Admiral in Asheville, N.C.

Go For the Food is a weekly AP food and travel series about food as a driver of tourism.

BY LINDSEY TANNER

ASHEVILLE, N.C. | In downtown Asheville, good restaurants are as handsomely conspicuous as the artsy boutiques and bodegas that give the Blue Ridge Mountain mecca its trendy, vibrant flair.

IF YOU GOCooks @ The Admiral

The Admiral: 400 Haywood Road, West Asheville, N.C., 828-252-2541SunnyPointCafe

Sunny Point Cafe: 626 Haywood Road, West Asheville, N.C., 828-252-0055

Across the French Broad River, in West Asheville? Not so much. This is the funkier side of town, where families, artists and workers live in frame bungalows lining narrow, hilly side streets, and the main drag, Haywood Road, has an earthier, slightly gritty feel.

That's why driving down Haywood, you're more apt to notice the gas station across the street than the squat cinder block building that houses The Admiral.

"Chances are, you will pass us at least three times. You won't be able to find a good parking place," said Admiral co-owner Drew Wallace.

When The Admiral opened in 2007, Wallace and business partner Jonathan Robinson called this "the wage-earning side of town" and their aim was to create a successful dive bar/unexpected restaurant. It has more than met their desires. West Asheville has blossomed since those early days, and The Admiral has morphed from a neighborhood tavern into a destination restaurant, but it still feels like a wonderfully hidden gem.

Reservations are a must, unless you want to sit at the bar and are willing to wait. But those are the best seats in the small, dimly lit space. That's where you get the best view of the open, galley kitchen, where a quartet of chefs busily cook up small plates of unforgettable mussels, bathed in a slightly smoky sauce of San Marzano tomatoes; entrees like meaty, barbecue sauced pork chops with collard greens and root vegetable gratin; or an other-worldly version of steak frites, featuring black Angus rib-eye, sweet potato chips, green beans and quail egg salad. Desserts might include a sinfully delicious chocolate mousse with cherry clotted cream and red wine cherry sauce, but the eclectic menu changes regularly, so prepare for the unexpected.

"There is really no straightforward summary of our style" Wallace says. "The food tends to be a little more experimental than most of our peers." And much of it is locally sourced from family-owned businesses.

The slightly kitschy decor includes a neon "Dive" sign in one corner, a handful of industrial-looking hanging lamps and black-clad, tattooed and welcoming servers.

There are no uppity attitudes at The Admiral, and that's partly what draws Boomers, hipsters, business execs and obvious out-of-towners. Most appetizers and small plates cost $12 or less, and entrees run up to $30. On Friday and Saturday nights, tables are pushed aside at 10 p.m. for dance parties.

Also on Haywood Road is the informal Sunny Point Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but best known for amazingly fluffy and delicious biscuits and legendary waits for breakfast and brunch.

Sierra Nevada gets closer to rolling out beer and opening

While there still is more work to do before full-scale production commences, Sierra Nevada has achieved a spot-on flavor match between its two top-selling brands produced in Mills River and at the company's Chico, Calif. brewery.

Sierra Nevada Pale AleSierra Nevada Pale Ale and Torpedo Extra IPA — the No. 2-selling craft beer in the U.S. and top-selling IPA in the country, respectively — are now being brewed and bottled at the Mills River plant, but company spokesman Ryan Arnold said they are “still probably a couple of months out before we're really pushing things out the door.”

Sierra Nevada's quality-control process is a rigorous one, with up to 150 checks conducted in its high-tech research and development lab. The company says it tests everything from raw ingredients and water chemistry to full-spectrum molecular analysis to determine if its beer “has a potential for off-flavors before it ever makes it out of the kettle or fermenter.” The company also is splitting shipments of malt and hops between Mills River and Chico to eliminate variability from batch to batch and ensure consistency between the two breweries.

In addition, Arnold said, a Sierra Nevada team of professionals with “highly developed sensory capabilities” taste-tests fermenter samples and packaged beer three times a week for final approval. Samples of Mills River beer are shipped overnight to Chico, and then analyzed and discussed via video conference by panels on both coasts before final approval is given.

“We have hit one or two home runs with some of the batches of Pale Ale and Torpedo, but we're extremely quality-driven, so one or two home runs isn't quite enough; we're looking for a home run on every swing,” Arnold said. “So it is going to take some more time and some more test brewing, and that's just two brands.”

Sierra Nevada, the country's second-largest craft beer maker that was named one of the top 100 breweries in the world this month by the consumer-rating website Ratebeer.com, also will be brewing several other year-round and seasonal beers in Mills River, including some of its High Altitude Series brews.

“We also need time to nail some of those other brands,” Arnold said. “So while we can kind of celebrate and appreciate that we're nailing it with some of these test batches of Pale Ale and Torpedo, it's still an exercise in patience to being able to ship beer out of there.”

Sierra Nevada's Mills River NC PlantThe company also is busy testing and refining procedures for the Mills River plant to serve as a new distribution hub by sending Chico-brewed beer to Mills River, storing it in a refrigerated warehouse and then shipping orders to regional distributors.

“That, too, is going to take a little time to work out any kinks so that we'll be able to cover the majority of the East Coast,” Arnold said, adding that a rail spur similar to the one in Chico has been set up to limit travel for delivery trucks to within a couple miles of the brewery.

Brewery eyes August opening

Meanwhile, Western North Carolina residents and officials are gearing up for the opening the brewery to the public later this year. The $100 million facility on the French Broad River is expected to be among the most technologically advanced, aesthetically impressive and visitor-friendly breweries in the world, with a focus on alternative energy, environmentally conscious construction, reforestation and river quality monitoring and protection.

The company announced this month that installation of its parking lot solar array, featuring nearly 200 individual panels, had recently been completed and will complement a much larger rooftop array.

Beth Cardin, executive director of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, said that while her department is monitoring the Sierra Nevada project before highlighting the brewery in printed literature, officials are promoting it verbally in the Visitors Center. And, according to Cardin, the next installment of the Hendersonville Vacation Planner also will dedicate an editorial page to the growing beer and wine industries in the area.

“We're expecting it to impact our tourism tremendously this year — the last half of the year, anyway,” she said of the impending Sierra Nevada opening. “We think it's going to be an overnight success; we don't think it's going to take long to let people know that they're up and running.”

Arnold said the company hopes to open its doors by August, aiming for a grand opening that would coincide with the culmination of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across America tour this summer.

“The whole process has been a whirlwind,” Arnold said. “We're trying to build a world-class facility rather quickly, when it comes down to it. August is probably an ambitious goal, but that's what we're hoping — where we can have a pub and tour team and other pieces of the brewery experience all complete so we can welcome folks in.”

The Beer Camp Across America project will also feature a first-of-its-kind, variety 12-pack of beers that will be produced in collaboration with a dozen of the country's most acclaimed breweries at both Sierra Nevada breweries. Representatives from those breweries, including Oskar Blues and the Asheville Brewers Alliance consortium, have been traveling to Chico the past couple months designing and brewing the test pilot batches of their respective brews.

Sierra Nevada's progress in Mills River comes as the company has unleashed a bevy of new, innovative products to the national market, while initial reports of craft beer's 2013 performance last week suggest continued growth for the industry.

According to a report in USA Today, craft beer production grew by 9.6 percent last year, from 178 million cases to 195 million. This despite total U.S. beer sales receding by 1.4 percent — including a 3.5 percent decrease in light beer and 2.4 percent drop in overall mainstream domestic beer volume — as American consumers thirst for fuller-flavored, locally made brews.

Another report by the Beer Institute released last week said that 2013 saw a record 3,700 breweries nationwide as permitted by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (which includes breweries that are not yet operational). That includes 114 breweries in North Carolina — or 32 more than in 2012 — which ranks the Tar Heel State No. 10 in the country.