Breweries Realize the Benefit of Being Trailside

March 29, 2018

By Timothy Malcolm, March 29, 2018

If you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail near Waynesboro, Virginia, there’s a shower waiting for you. One catch: You have to buy a beer from the brewery supplying the shower.

Basic City Beer Co., two miles from the trail crossing in this city of 21,000, is also hoping to be a tent site for hikers. Opening in 2016 in a former metal crafters building, Basic City is like a host of breweries just recently popping up along the 2,136-mile Appalachian Trail. Whether along the Appalachian Trail or near other trails across America, these breweries are taking advantage of the fact that hikers need, crave and want beer—and business is good.

For years, hikers of the Appalachian Trail—which runs continuously from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine and tempts intrepid souls each year for six-to-seven-month-long thru-hikes—could count almost exclusively on small dive bars just off the path for a quick beer and burger. For instance, the trail crosses the tiny community of Unionville, New York, right beside the Wits End Tavern, a friendly outpost with pool tables and macro specials. The very Irish Inn at Long Trail in Killington, Vermont is also next to the Appalachian Trail as well as Vermont’s Long Trail and has rooms for hikers along with plenty of dark beer.

Timothy Malcolm

For a long time there was a dearth of breweries along or near the trail, which seems odd considering drinking beer and hiking are practically joined at the hip.

“It’s the trail craving. Whether you’re on a long backpacking trip or a hike, you’re just like ‘I want a cheeseburger and beer,” says Drew Vetere, communications director at Long Trail Brewing Co. in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont.

Long Trail, 12 miles south of the Appalachian Trail as the crow flies, is known for its hiker-friendly aesthetic. From its logo to its beer names—Green Blaze, Trail Hopper, Sick Day—and its green “Take a hike!” bumper stickers that’s stamped on just about every Subaru in the Green Mountain State. The brewery doubles down on the marriage of beer and hiking. They’ve been at their location since 1995, serving all kinds of outdoors enthusiasts who are either fresh off a mountain or just rambling about in Vermont. But that’s Vermont, a state that holds its outdoor heritage dear.

“The Long Trail is kind of a cultural heart and soul of Vermont, to a large degree,” said Long Trail’s marketing director Jed Nelson of the 273-mile trail that spans the length of the state. In Vermont the Appalachian Trail runs 150 miles, at times coinciding with the Long Trail.

Long Trail Brewing Co.

Like Vermont, Colorado is a step ahead in terms of aligning craft breweries to hiking and outdoor activities. Brewers there have positioned themselves close to important recreation areas to take advantage of tourists and adventurers. There’s an absurd wealth of breweries in Fort Collins, where Horsetooth Mountain towers over the city. Classic Colorado brewery Oskar Blues greets drivers as they reach the tiny town of Lyons, which is on the way to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Even Estes Park, long the last frontier for craft in Colorado, is slowly becoming a hub. Thanks to loosening of some local laws, Rock Cut Brewing Co. and Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co. both opened in 2015. The latter offers picturesque views of nearby peaks from its converted gas station.

“The Colorado lifestyle really kind of speaks to the hiking and outdoor ethos,” said Ed Sealover, a writer with the Colorado Business Journal who also specializes in craft beer. “They come here for adventure, they want to see the world and want to experience true beauty. In the same way they’re looking for something adventurous in the palate too.”

Sealover, whose 2016 book “Colorado Excursions with History, Hikes and Hops” lists trips that combine hiking, beer and historical sites, thinks that’s how the craft industry grew in Colorado. Of course the high-quality local water is one factor, but the need to be in an adventurous element trying something new is crucial to the lifestyle. “Where craft beer thrives is where outdoor adventure thrives,” Sealover adds.

Devils Backbone Brewing Co.

Seeing the marriage of drinking and the outdoors out west was what led Steve and Heidi Crandall to open Devils Backbone Brewing Co. in 2008 in Roseland, Virginia, a community eight miles east of an Appalachian Trail crossing near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Devils Backbone was one of the first breweries to take advantage of the Appalachian Trail, offering shuttle rides for hikers to the brewery, which also has lodging and breakfast for hikers.

In the years since Devils Backbone opened, more breweries have started to see the benefit of being near the trail. The main reason for this is, again, the loosening of local laws. For example, in 2012, Virginia passed laws that allowed breweries to sell and serve onsite, opening the door for operations to get product out there quicker. North Carolina, famously hard on brewers, even putting a cap on ABV percentages, has eased on its regulations.

So now, Damascus, Virginia, the self-described “Trail Town USA” that hosts an Appalachian Trail festival each June—when thru-hikers typically reach the town—saw the opening of the Damascus Brewery in 2016. The small trail town of Franklin, North Carolina, with a population of 3,845, welcomed two breweries since 2015: Lazy Hiker Brewing Co. and Currahee Brewing Co. Plus, larger towns and cities within 15 miles of the trail are becoming hotbeds for craft. Asheville, North Carolina, has seen an influx of breweries in the last five years and Roanoke, Virginia, is hot on its heels.

Basic City Beer Co.

That brings us back to Waynesboro, located in between Shenandoah National Park and the north entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It should be a haven for outdoors enthusiasts, but, as recently as five-years-ago, only Blue Mountain Outfitters, the gear seller between the Blue Ridge and the downtown, saw the benefit of its unique map placement. Well, it and the local Chinese buffet gets it, too. But thanks to Basic City, that’s changing.

“The brewery really is making an effort to be part of the hiking community,” said Rich Gibson, manager of Rockfish Gap Outfitters.

It’s possible, come May, you’ll visit Basic City and see some happy hiker in clean clothes ordering a second pint. Then she’ll be off for Shenandoah National Park, counting down the miles until she gets to another brewery. She’ll certainly have more options.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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