"Since then we have seen Asheville proper have 18 breweries, so things have popped up from there," she said. Highland Brewing now produces 38,000 barrels a year and ships to nine states, mostly in the Southeast.
"A major, major portion of the Asheville economy is from tourism—they also have beautiful mountains and hundreds of great restaurants," Metzger said. The expansion of breweries in the area has added to its tourism and accelerated craft beer's growth by making the area a hot spot for "beer pilgrims."
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"You can have a neighborhood bar that draws locals, but if you have a cluster of them, and a cluster of breweries, you have a destination," Metzger said.
In addition to homegrown breweries, the Asheville area is becoming home to Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues, major craft players from the West that came to the region to extend their reach.
"Just looking in the mirror, it kind of made sense to start looking for another small community we enjoyed spending time in," said Chad Melis, marketing director of Oskar Blues. "Dale [the founder] had been visiting the small town of Brevard, North Carolina, for quite a while, and we really liked the craft beer scene that was out there. There was a good quality of life with good music and an outdoors environment and it's centrally located for shipping."