Winning Recipe from the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

What do Picasso, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt all have in common? All three of these famous creatives were able to produce stunning artwork from relatively simple materials. The magic lies in the artist’s ability to create something greater than the sum of their materials, and this philosophy is exactly what propelled UCSB’s Bren School to victory at the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown. For those unfamiliar, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is the biggest cooking competition west of Paris, and draws some of the world’s best chefs and artisan sandwich makers (that we know of).

With stiff competition and numerous competitors duking it out for the coveted Golden Spatula trophy, recipes are often kept secret. After all, why would you divulge such confidential and fame-inducing information? But this reserved mindset is not shared by all, especially the team from UCSB’s Bren School. They were generous enough to share the recipe to their winning sandwich, The Vampire Slayer, so everyone can enjoy their marvelous creation. Recreating the greatest grilled cheese sandwich of the year may be difficult, but rest assured, with enough time and dedication, you’ll surely be able to turn out a sandwich capable of slaying vampires!

The Vampire Slayer by UCSB’s Bren School


1 loaf of sourdough bread (The winning bread was from Helena Ave Bakery.)
Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar Cheese (Try some from Face Rock creamery.)
Dubliner Irish Cheddar Cheese (The one from Kerrygold is a good bet.)
Garlic Parsley Butter (1 stick of butter, 4 cloves of mashed garlic, liberal pinch of parsley.)
Homemade Marinara Sauce.


For one sandwich, allocate enough Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar Cheese slices to cover an entire piece of sourdough bread.
Top the Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar cheese with a few slices of Dubliner Irish Cheddar Cheese.
Liberally apply garlic parsley butter to the outsides of both pieces of sourdough bread.
After the garlic butter has been applied to the bread, garnish the outsides with parmesan cheese for a toasted parmesan crust.
Place the sandwich on an already hot griddle, and toast until the bread has a light brown color, and a crispy texture.
Now you are ready to experience The Vampire Slayer!

DSC02027.JPGThe best team of the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown, UCSB’s Bren School!

A Day in Portland, Maine

Words and Photos by Gretchen Powers 

Twenty minutes south of the Toad&Co Store in Freeport, Maine lies the beer capitol of Maine: Portland. When a commitment free afternoon presented itself midsummer, I called up my friend Giuliana and we charted our course for a beer-tasctic day. We discussed matters of the utmost concern (specifically which brewery to sample) and found that sometimes lots of options can really complicate things!  We narrowed it down to two local favorites: Bissell Brothers Brewery or Lone Pine Brewery. A simple flip of a coin had us heading in the direction of Lone Pine Brewery. As we were en route, I learned that one of my favorite Portland food trucks, Tacos Del Seoul, was heading for Lone Pine at the same time. Talk about a match made in heaven! Side note, Lone Pine Brewery is positioned right off the Eastern promenade and is great for dogs. My dog Ella happens to love it there, and gets tons of belly scratches from everyone we meet.

Both Guliana and I sported our Toad and Co. Swifty Vent Tanks and Sun Kissed Pull On Shorts for the afternoon’s excursion.  Let me just say, this combo has quickly become my go-to outfit of the summer.  Regardless of the low-key occasion, it’s perfect.  The high neckline of the tank covers whichever sports bra I wear and keeps my chest from getting burnt.  The stretchy, lightweight material is breathable and quick to dry – perfect for a sweaty back after biking with a backpack. And the shorts are a game-changer.  With a super stretchy wide waist band, they accommodate even my most beer-filled afternoons, and with fabric so lightweight and breathable it’s easy to forget you are wearing anything else at all.  The front pockets and zippered back pocket take these shorts from cute to useful and I don them for all kinds of summer activities from backyard barbecues, to kayaks, to tennis to biking to breweries.


We hopped on bike paths from different parts of town (Giuliana coming from Back Cove and I near the wharf at Commercial Street) and rendezvoused on the Eastern Promenade.  We swung around the tip of the Portland Peninsula to arrive at the Bayside neighborhood brewery. The Portland Trail System has a convenient digital map so you can plan your ride before hopping on one of the many trails in the Portland area. But of course, winging it is always fine too!

My partner Kaleigh met us at Lone Pine with Ella and we enjoyed some Korean style tacos and a flight of beer. Giuliana loved the Tessellation Double IPA, while Kaleigh’s favorite was the Portland Pale Ale and I preferred the Brightside IPA. When we finished our flight sampler, we decided it was time for some tacos! Kaleigh and I often joke that Mexican and Asian style foods are the best for bringing people together – whether someone is gluten free, vegetarian or has another food restriction, there is usually something for everyone.  On this particular afternoon, I was really feeling tacos but Taco Del Seoul also has really good rice bowls if you’re so inclined.  Ella loves food trucks in general – so many opportunities for unintentional scraps on the ground! With our bellies stuffed full of Korean beef and pale ale, we hefted ourselves back onto our bikes and pedaled slowly home.

It was nice to spend a leisurely afternoon at one brewery and one food truck, but there are so many options for great food and beer in the Portland area. If you’re into craft beer, add Maine Beer Co., Allagash Brewing Co., Rising Tide Brewing Co., and Foundation brewing Co to your list. Aside from Tacos Del Seoul, I would recommend El Corazon for delish mexican food, Urban Sugar for  donuts and other tasty treats, and Mami Japanese Street Food for all-time Japanese fusion cuisine.

Shop the Swifty Vent Tank Here! 

Of Mountains and Beer


What is it about hoppy beer that makes us feel a certain type of mountainous way? Maybe it’s the similar aroma of hops and pine trees, or maybe it’s the parallels between a good buzz and altitude sickness. Whatever it is, a plethora of breweries are named after mountains. Whether it’s nationwide Sierra Nevada, or Santa Barbara favorite Topa Topa, lots of our favorite suds are branded under the name of a mountain or mountain range. We’re going to start a list of our favorite breweries having to do with mountains, but were going to need your help to make this list complete. Please leave names of breweries we have missed in the comments and we will update the blog as comments come in.

Adirondack Brewery
Altamont Beer Works
Appalachian Mountain Brewery
Big Bear Mountain Brewery
Bitter Root Brewing
Blue Ridge Brewery
Cascade Brewing
Catskill Brewery  
Colorado Mountain Brewery
Denali Brewing Company
Figueroa Mountain Brewery
Grand Teton Brewing Co
Green Mountain Beer Co

Lassen Ale Works
Mount St. Helena Brewing Company
Mt. Hood Brewing Co
Mt. Rushmore Brewing Co
Rainier Beer
Rocky Mountain Brewery
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery
Sawtooth Brewery
Sierra Nevada Brewery
Siskiyou Brew Works
Smoky Mountain Brewery
St. Elias Brewing Co
Tioga Sequoia Brewery
Topa Topa Brewery
Uinta Brewing
Wind River Brewing 

Featured Image courtesy of Waterline SB. 

The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in the Twin Cities



How great is that moment of relaxation that washes over you when you sit down after a long day of tackling the trails to take your first sip of a locally brewed beer? Some might call it priceless, but most agree it’s at least worth the $5-7 price tag for a cold pint in the Twin Cities.

In addition to being a place where taphouses quadrupled (!) between 2013 and 2016, Minneapolis and St. Paul offer extensive outdoor activities. The area has taken home awards like the #1 Bike City and has been the only U.S. city on a global list of bike-friendly spots; not to mention the paddling opportunities on urban lakes and trails winding through some of the best parks in the country.

All of this adds up to one thing—you simply have to tackle a Trail to Tavern® adventure in this Minnesota metropolis the next time you have a long weekend coming up. Because the Twin Cities are just that—two cities smashed together—the area isn’t tiny, so the best way to approach a long weekend is to divide and conquer. We’ve done all the planning for you, so all you’ve gotta do is get yourself here!

Day One

Minnehaha Park is one of the oldest and most popular parks in the area.Minnehaha Park is one of the oldest and most popular parks in the area. Adam Fagen

Your first day should absolutely be spent exploring the outdoors in Minneapolis. There’s plenty to choose from, but the beauty is that they’re all doable if you start your day early enough. Luckily, each option is also great all by itself, so you’re guaranteed a good time even if you only tackle a few.

Kick off your weekend with a trip to Bogart’s Doughnut Co. for a quick and delicious donut and coffee before you head over to Minnehaha Regional Park—a must-see for waterfalls, Mississippi River overlooks, and hiking that will make you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the city. There are almost 10 miles of paved path at the park, so pick up a map when you get there and start exploring!

If you’ve got Fido in tow, there’s an excellent dog park within Minnehaha for more than six acres of off-leash glory—filled with trees, sand, and plenty of riverfront for your four-legged buddy to enjoy. (You do need to buy a permit in advance to take your dog to the dog park, though.)

When it’s time to take a break, relax on the patio or play some Skee-Ball at Pat’s Tap. This Skee-Club (yes, that’s right) and gastropub serves up squeaky cheese curds, full meals, and a wide range of drinks. With 20 beers on tap and more than 100 available in cans, you’re sure to find something to drink here (even if you need gluten-free). This south Minneapolis hot spot also welcomes dogs on its patio, so don’t feel like your pup has to stay behind.

After fueling up at Pat’s, biking the 5.5-mile Midtown Greenway is an excellent way to take a tour of the city itself while getting a few miles of cycling in. You can rent a bike from Nice Ride, the Twin Cities’ public bike sharing system, and it’s just $3 per half hour.

The Fulton Taproom is a local favorite. Photo courtesy of Fulton BeerThe Fulton Taproom is a local favorite. Photo courtesy of Fulton Beer.

When the sun starts to set, keep the day going by hitting up another of the city’s many amazing breweries. The Fulton Taproom is a local favorite (you have to try the Lonely Blonde) and Lakes and Legends is another super pup-friendly spot that has a variety of games like hammerschlagen—a German game that entails hitting a nail into a piece of wood with the narrow end of a hammer. Bauhaus in Northeast (or Nordeast if you ask a local) has one of the best patios in the city and a solid rotation of local food trucks to supplement their brews.

For those that are less into beer, head on over to recently opened Twin Spirits, the first one-woman owned distillery in the entire state. You can tour the distillery on Wednesdays or Saturdays, and be sure to taste Mamma’s Moonshine, which is more of a mead made with Minnesota honey instead of the traditional white corn whiskey.

Where to Stay

Like any big city, Minneapolis has many chain and boutique hotels. A couple of good options are the Nicolette Island Inn on an island in the Mississippi and the Alma Hotel and Cafe along the banks of the river. If you brought a four-legged companion, try the pet-friendly Kimpton Grand.

If Airbnb is more your style, look for something in South Minneapolis for a residential feel or Uptown (Lyndale / Lake area) to be close to all the nightlife action.

Day Two

Paddling around the Lake of the Isles can be a peaceful experience.Paddling around the Lake of the Isles can be a peaceful experience. Michael Hicks

Start your second day at Al’s Breakfast, located in the heart of Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. This gem is counter service only, and is the go-to spot for traditional morning favorites like scrambled eggs and strong coffee. Then it’s off to the city’s signature lakes.

There’s a reason that the Chain of Lakes is one of the pride and joys of the Twin Cities—not many places can boast four major, connected lakes within their boundaries. Found near the bustling Uptown neighborhood, Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake offer endless outdoor fun all year long. During the summer the lakes are filled with swimmers, beachgoers, and paddlers of all kinds, but even in the winter there are ways to enjoy the lakes. Ice fishing is popular, as is simply taking a walk across the frozen wonderland that the lakes become when they freeze over. There’s also an annual lantern festival, the Luminary Loppet held on Lake of the Isles, that is an incredibly unique event designed to celebrate Minnesota’s most extreme season: winter.

Paddling is a great way to spend your day at the lakes. One option is to put-in at Lake of the Isles Park and paddle through a tree-lined canal down to Lake Calhoun, a popular spot for windsurfing. From Lake of the Isles, you can also paddle up to Cedar Lake, where you’ll find a little beach. You can also put-in at Lynnhurst Park just south of Lake Harriet and paddle Minnehaha Creek east to Minnehaha Falls (it’s about six miles). For a real adventure, skip the lakes and head about half an hour west to Lake Minnetonka and take Minnehaha Creek all the way to the falls (this trip is about 22 miles).

Because the lakes are smack-dab in the middle of the city, there are plenty of options nearby for grabbing a quick lunch after building up an appetite. Bread & Pickle near Harriet Lake (only open from May until Labor Day) offers sandwiches, salads, and ice cream, using locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. If you find yourself at the northern lakes, try Namaste Cafe for a great selection of vegetarian fare, or Stella’s Fish Cafe & Prestige Oyster Bar for tuna poke or blackened fish tacos. Stella’s also offers a handful of beers on tap and in bottles.

After you’ve had your fill of the water and your feet start to itch for solid ground, the lakes are also the perfect place to go for an afternoon run. Each lake is encircled by a fully paved running and biking path and they all connect for about 15 miles of trails, which means you can run or bike for exactly as long as you want.

Once you get cleaned up and are ready to explore the nightlife, Uptown is full of great places to hang with the locals. LynLake Brewery is located just a few blocks from the lakes in the heart of uptown. It has a rooftop complete with a fire pit and a view of the city to rival the rest. For the gamers in your group, Up-Down is a top notch spot filled with giant Jenga and Connect Four, craft beer, and a variety of video games like Mario Kart and Frogger in addition to 90s TV shows like Rugrats and Ah! Real Monsters on repeat. Bryant-Lake Bowl is the place to go to drink, eat, and bowl until 2 am. The best part? The bowling is totally free (as long as you’re buying a drink).

Day Three

There are some excellent trails to discover at Fort Snelling State Park.There are some excellent trails to discover at Fort Snelling State Park. Jeanne W

On your third and final day, make your way across the river to the less-explored St. Paul side of the Twin Cities. Here you’ll find fewer hipsters, but just as many outdoor opportunities and local beer options. The Minnesota River Trail is an expansive, 318-mile water trail that stretches from Big Stone Lake in the northern part of the state to where it meets the mighty Mississippi River near St. Paul’s Fort Snelling State Park. Here, you can take off for an exploration of the last few miles of the massive river trail or trot along any of the historic fort’s 18 miles of hiking trails.

If you’ve been dying to get some time on your mountain bike, continue east to Battle Creek Regional Park. The trail system here has 4.5 miles of singletrack and 3.3 miles of multi-use trails with rolling hills and steep climbs through the forest.

For lunch, catch a food truck and a pint at Bad Weather Brewing Company, a local favorite that prides itself on crafting beer that is “untethered and unpredictable, just like the weather here in Minnesota.” As such, their brews are always in flux, constantly offering something new to their loyal band of followers. If none of the seasonal options tickle your fancy, try one of the popular flagship brews, like the hoppy Windvane Red IPA or the citrusy Hopcromancer American IPA.

Post-feast, put in a solid climbing session at Vertical Endeavors, one of the largest indoor gyms in the country. They have a location in Minneapolis, too, but the one on Phalen Boulevard and Arcade Street/U.S. 61 is just a few miles from Bad Weather. With more than 18,000 feet of climbing space, offering top-roping, two bouldering spaces, an auto-belay device, and lead-climbing routes, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon. The gym also features a Nicros A.R.T.Wall™, made from molds of real rock for a natural look and feel.

Finish your weekend at the Summit Brewing Company, the source of the national favorite, or the Wabasha Brewing Company. You can’t go wrong with either, but the latter is “just a stone’s throw” from the Wabasha Street Caves—one of the most fun and well-kept secrets in the Twin Cities.

With so much to do, this itinerary is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to adventure in the Twin Cities, and that’s not even touching the Great Lakes (a mere 2.5-hour drive away). As you can see, there is plenty to keep you busy for weeks, months, or even years, so you may want to carve out a few long weekends to visit this northern state.

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by PunkToad

The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in Seattle


It’s hard to say what Seattleites love more: getting outside or drinking locally crafted beer. Luckily, in this Trail to Tavern® city, you don’t have to choose just one. With more than 40 breweries and tons of ways to get outside (hiking, trail running, cycling, and paddle boarding, to name a few), Seattle certainly has plenty of opportunities to squeeze in visits to both trails and taverns. Here’s our guide for how to make the most of your three-day weekend in the Emerald City.

Day One

Discovery Park is the largest public park in the city. Samantha LarsonDiscovery Park is the largest public park in the city. Samantha Larson.

Start your first day with a lap around one of Seattle’s most popular spots: Discovery Park. Whether you are driving up I-5 or coming in from the airport, take a detour to stop at Cherry Street Coffee House. There are 10 locations around Seattle, and each one has a unique store design. Grab a coffee or tea and a bagel (or housemade quiche!) and continue to the largest park in the city, covering more than 500 acres on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound.

The 2.8-mile Discovery Park Loop (there’s also a four-mile option) weaves through forests and meadows, past sea cliffs and sandy beaches, while offering stellar views of Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound. With steep hills that are sure to get your heart pumping, running through Discovery Park is an equally delicious way to wake up as sipping on a handcrafted latte—and here in Seattle, that’s saying something.

If you’ve got some energy left, stop by for a quick session at Vertical World, America’s first climbing gym, which is about a mile to the east. Bring a towel, and you’ll be able to take a hot shower here before getting on with your day, too.

Grab a flight at the Pike Brewing Company.Grab a flight at the Pike Brewing Company. +Russ

From here, make your way downtown for lunch at another classic Seattle site: Pike’s Place Market. Jump in the long line to get a frappuccino from the original Starbucks and grab a sandwich, falafel, or hom bow from one of the outdoor food vendors. Don’t miss the famous fish throwing spectacle, then head over to the Pike Brewing Company for the 3 pm tour and tasting, where you’ll learn about the art of brewing and try out some samples. This family-owned establishment was founded in 1989 by Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, who dedicated themselves to brewing after falling in love with beer while traveling in Europe. From Belgian lambics to English ales, they wanted to bring these flavors back to the Pacific Northwest. The brewery really took off when they concocted the Pike IPA in 1990, which is still one of their most popular drinks.

After a tasting at Pike, spend some time exploring the market, the waterfront, and maybe take a ride or two on Seattle’s Great Wheel for picturesque views of the city and the Puget Sound.

Finish the night with dinner back at Pike’s Place Market at one of Seattle’s newest breweries, the Old Stove Brewing Co. Just because the brewery is the new kid in town, don’t think that Scott Barron, the head brewer, is a greenhorn: he came to Old Stove after stints at three other local breweries. If you like a bold tasting beer, try the Touch Too Much IPA (though we think it’s just the right amount of hops), or the Streaker Citra Ale for something a little lighter and brighter. Pair either option with a Fresh Dip sandwich and you’ll be set.

** Where to Stay**

Get some sleep in a uniquely Seattle abode by renting a houseboat or a sailboat on Airbnb. If you would rather stay on dry land, Hotel Max is a solid alternative—and they offer free craft beer during happy hour (what more could you ask for?).

Day Two

The route to Colchuck Lake makes for a wonderful day hike.The route to Colchuck Lake makes for a wonderful day hike. laffertyryan

For day two, get out of the city and into the wilderness by taking a trip to Leavenworth, a Bavarian-themed village nestled in the Central Cascades. But don’t be fooled by this quirky tourist town—it’s the gateway to some of Washington’s best outdoor adventures. At 2.5 hours away, it’s a bit of a drive from Seattle, but well worth it. Get an early start and book it to Pioneer Coffee Roasting Company along I-90 in North Bend for breakfast and cup of joe before continuing on.

Since you’ll likely want to eat lunch on-the-go, swing by family-owned Good Mood Food once you get to Leavenworth for snacks and a sandwich, and then let the adventure begin.

The Enchantments have been called an alpine paradise, and as soon as you find yourself surrounded by granite boulders and blue alpine lakes (maybe even mountain goats!), you’ll understand why. You could spend a lifetime exploring the area, but the eight-mile out-and-back hike to Colchuck Lake is a great option if you only have a day. You’ll hike through the forest and across several streams before tackling a series of switchbacks. After more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Dragontail Peak, Colchuck Peak, and the Colchuck Glacier.

Leavenworth is also home to one of the best climbing areas in the state, with a high concentration of sweet boulder problems, trad routes, and sport climbs. The Washington Climbers Coalition is an excellent resource for information on the climbing here.

After a day filled with adventure, stop by Leavenworth’s Icicle Brewing Company for a bite to eat and a drink before hitting the road. Try their Colchuck Raspberry Wheat, fermented with Willamette Valley raspberries, with a turkey sandwich or salad.

Once you get back to Seattle, celebrate the day with a cold one (or two!) from Two Beers Brewing Company in Seattle’s Industrial District. After spending several years perfecting the art of homebrewing from his kitchen, Joel VandenBrink decided to take the craft even further and founded the company in 2007. The brewery now produces almost 6,000 barrels every year. The Day Hike, a light and crisp lemony summer session ale, is the perfect way to top off the day’s activities.

Day Three

The Burke-Gilman Trail is part of 90 miles of biking trails in Seattle.The Burke-Gilman Trail is part of 90 miles of biking trails in Seattle. Seattle Parks

Ease into day three with brunch in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. A good place to start is with a Belgian-style street waffle with sweet or savory toppings from Sweet Iron Waffles or a traditional Syrian breakfast at Mamnoon. Then grab a bike from a local rental shop and head north for a leisurely ride along the Burke-Gilman Trail, a paved bike path that hugs the shores of Lake Washington, Lake Union, and the Ship Canal. The greenery lining the trail is, in part, thanks to the tree-planting efforts of organizations like the local conservation group Forterra.

Check out the salmon ladder at the Ballard Locks as you ride to the end of the Burke to Golden Gardens, a beach on Puget Sound with magnificent views of the Olympic Mountains on a clear day. Rent a paddleboard or kayak and take the easy, two-mile trip out to the Discovery Park Lighthouse. (Keep your eyes peeled for jellyfish below and seals frolicking in the water around you!)

The Burke also offers excellent access to some of the best breweries in town, so get ready for a little brewery hopping on the return trip as you wrap up your weekend in Seattle. Stoup Brewing is the product of a scientist and self-proclaimed beer geek, with a goal to brew the best beer scientifically possible. Just a block away is Reuben’s Brews, whose beers have won awards both nationally and internationally. If you order a pie from Zeeks or Ballard Pizza, you will not only get a discount, but you can also take it into Reuben’s with you.

The family-owned Maritime Pacific Brewing Company’s seafaring theme and traditional recipes are a hat-tip to the Ballard neighborhood’s roots as a fishing town. Try the Old Seattle Lager, made with Cascade hops, or the Flagship Red, both available year round. And just a little farther away is Hale’s Ales Brewery & Pub and the Fremont Brewing Company.

Did we mention that Seattle has a lot of breweries?

But don’t worry about hitting them all in this trip—you need a reason to start planning your next visit, right?

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by David Herrera

The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in Philadelphia



Philadelphia might be best known for cheesesteaks and ‘Brotherly Love’, but this trail to tavern city is working hard to earn a new nickname: America’s Best Beer City. Philadelphians love drinking and brewing beer so much that they’ve dedicated an entire week to the craft each year. For outdoor enthusiasts looking to pair ales with hiking trails, America’s 5th biggest city has a ton to offer—if you know where to find it. From trekking on the Appalachian Trail to exploring the wilds of the Wissahickon, you can spend time in nature without even leaving the city limits. Follow this long-weekend itinerary for some of the best outdoor activities (and the best beer!) that the city has to offer.

Day One

No visit to the America’s birthplace is complete without seeing a landmark steeped in history. Kickoff your day at Valley Forge National Historical Park, where General George Washington’s Continental Army set up camp during the original British Invasion in 1777. Take some time to tour Washington’s headquarters then go forth to conquer Mount Misery and Mount Joy. It’s just over 4 miles (if you climb both) of lush, wooded trails. You’ll pass a dilapidated, old bottling plant, a covered bridge from the 1800s and eventually pop out at the summit of Mount Joy. America the beautiful, indeed!

On your way back from Valley Forge, grab a beer in the Philly neighborhood of Manayunk. Its vibrant Main Street is home to more than 60 funky shops and restaurants, and the most scenic spot for lunch is Manayunk Brewing Company. Order a flight and hang out on the massive riverside deck overlooking the Schuylkill River.

After a cold drink, make your way to Center City and grab lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. This farmer’s market has all kinds of restaurants, ranging from Thai food to burger joints, but it’s pretty much a requirement to get yourself a cheesesteak when in Philly. By George! Pizza, Pasta and Cheesesteaks is one of the best. It’s also a good option to pick up a slice of pizza if cheesesteaks aren’t your thing.

After filling up at the market, take it easy and rent a bike from Philadelphia’s Indego bike share. Saddle up and cruise on one of America’s best urban trails: the Schuylkill River Trail. Take in views of the Philadelphia skyline as you ride along the water, and continue up the riverfront to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Movie aficionado or not, channel your inner Rocky Balboa as you ascend the steps. And if you throw up your arms in celebration at the top, we won’t judge.

To get a true education on Philadelphia’s beer scene, head straight to the source. Tucked down a dark, inconspicuous alley in the heart of the city, you’ll find McGillin’s Olde Ale House. As Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operating bar, the beer’s been flowing here since 1860 and hasn’t stopped since – not even during Prohibition (hence the dark, inconspicuous alley). McGillin’s is still the rowdiest ale house in town, but they’re serious about great beer. You’ll find 30 beers on tap, with a focus on eastern Pennsylvania breweries and three signature brews: McGillin’s Real Ale, McGillin’s Genuine Lager, and McGillin’s 1860 IPA.

McGillin’s has typical bar fare (think nachos and mozzarella sticks), but also has a full menu with everything from pizza and salad to full-on entrees like chicken parm, meatloaf, and a German sausage platter.

Where to Stay

After a long day, head to the revitalized Fishtown neighborhood to get a good night’s sleep. This up-and-coming neighborhood currently has just one hotel—a four-room boutique called Wm. Mulherin’s Sons. Housed in a restored 1800s whiskey distillery that bore the same name, Muhlerin’s shares its space with one of the city’s best restaurants and is walking distance from the best breweries and taphouses around.

Day Two

After a potentially long night at McGillan’s, you may need a little pick-me-up to start day two. Luckily, just a couple blocks from the hotel is the Gryphon Coffee Company. Check out the local art on display while you sip your latte and then head out to escape the city’s hustle and bustle with a mountain bike ride or trail run in Wissahickon Valley Park.

Just beyond the city’s art museums, this forest haven is technically within city limits but feels worlds apart. Out of eye and earshot of Philadelphia, explore some of the 50 miles of rugged trails winding through the gorge. Look for remnants of the old milling industry: crumbling dams, preserved homes and roadhouses, and the only covered bridge left in Philadelphia.

Despite the name, Forbidden Drive is one of the easiest trails at the park, with a gentle grade and wide gravel path. The 5.35-mile route follows the Wissahickon Creek from one end of the park to the other, and is popular for biking or an easy trail run. For more of a challenge, try the 4.39-mile White Trail. You’ll find technical singletrack with some steep sections along the eastern side of the park.

Once you’ve worked up a sweat, head to Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood for a free tour and tasting at Philadelphia Brewing Company. Every Saturday, this local brewery opens their doors to the public from 12-3 p.m., and the vibe is totally casual—no reservations necessary. You’ll learn about the brewing process and they say you might even pick up a few useful tidbits of information as well. Try year-round classics like the Kenzinger, a crisp, light golden beer that you’ll find all over town or the PHL Session IPA if you like it hoppy.

From Philadelphia Brewing Company, grab another Indego bike and head down Christopher Columbus Blvd. to Spruce Street Harbor Park on the Delaware River Waterfont. Grab a bite to eat at one of the vendors or at the floating (that’s right, floating) restaurant, and then hang out in one of the colorful handmade hammocks. You can also take a walk along the boardwalk, play one of the many games available (bocce ball, life-sized chess or Connect Four), or play traditional boardwalk games housed in converted shipping containers. This pop-up park is open from May – September.

From the park, go about three miles north for a drink at the Evil Genius Beer Company, an old auto body shop turned innovative beer lab. The ridiculous names and unique flavor combinations make for a memorable pit-stop. Try the Purple Monkey Dishwasher, a chocolate peanut butter porter, or the I Love Lamp, a pineapple Hefeweizen. And if you need a 90’s video game fix, a vintage Sega Genesis is calling your name (that’s the actual game console, not a beer, FYI). They’ve got a kitchen too, so stock up on hoagies and sloppy joes, too.

The night doesn’t have to end there: less than a half-mile walk from Evil Genius, get a taste of Germany on Fishtown’s bustling Frankford Avenue. The massive indoor-outdoor beer garden at Frankford Hall is the place to challenge your friends to a round of Jenga or foosball. Go big and order a giant one-liter stein of German (or local) beer, and pair it was a Bavarian soft pretzel the size of your face.

Day Three

For your last day, we’ve got one more hike for you, and it’s a toughie. Drive 90 mins to the town of Hamburg and jump on the 8.7-mile Appalachian Trail circuit to the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock. The high point of the AT in Pennsylvania, Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock’s expansive vistas make this steep, rocky trek worthwhile.

Another Option

If you want to get a different perspective on the city, head back over to the Schuylkill River and rent a kayak or paddle board from Hidden River Outfitters. Located at the Walnut Street Dock, Hidden River also runs tours a couple days a week during the summer. Paddlers of all levels will feel comfortable on the waterway, and the outfitter offers moonlight kayak tours and movie nights if you end up staying for one more night.

Top off an adventure-filled weekend than one last pint at Yards Brewing, a Philadelphia mainstay since 1994. Rent an Indego bike and follow the paved East Coast Greenway to this riverside brewery. Free tours are offered from 12-4 p.m. and you should take it. You’ll learn why Philadelphia water is tops for beer production and how Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale is made (hint: it’s a historically accurate beer made from the original recipe that ol’ TJ brewed at Monticello).

When it comes to food, Yards has you covered – they feature a different local food truck every Saturday, while Oink & Moo BBQ is there every Sunday. You can also load up a bowl of homemade bison and beef chili, nachos, or a sandwich to fill your stomach before calling it a weekend. Just make sure you get there before last call (usually around 7 p.m.).

Don’t say we didn’t warn you: it only takes a couple days to fall in love with a place like Philadelphia. Between the tasty beer, extensive trail network, and historical landmarks, the city of Brotherly Love offers something for everyone. Don’t be surprised if you start planning your next trip on the ride home.

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by Montgomery County Planning Commision

The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in Golden



Golden might be the best little Trail to Tavern® town in Colorado. It’s only about 15 miles from the heart of Denver, but somehow has that sleepy mountain town feel. North and South Table Mountains keep it hidden from the plains, and Clear Creek Canyon offers access to endless paddling, climbing, hiking, and mountain biking opportunities. The name fits, too—it was established during the mid-19th century Pikes Peak Gold Rush. Golden’s quaint main drag, Washington Avenue, sums up the friendly town’s attitude with a sign that reads “Howdy Folks!”

If you’re not already sold on Golden, consider its biggest export—craft beer. The town’s best-known resident is the Coors Brewery, but it’s not just big beer that’s brewed here. Golden is home to several excellent craft breweries, all gathering places for adventurers fresh off a bike ride at North Table Mountain or a paddle in Clear Creek. Make the most of a three-day weekend in Golden with this trail-to-tavern itinerary.

Day One

Rocky Mountain National Park is about 90 minutes away from Golden, and has tons of hiking and bouldering opportunities.Rocky Mountain National Park is about 90 minutes away from Golden, and has tons of hiking and bouldering opportunities. Miguel Vieira

Start your first day with a delicious breakfast burrito at the family-owned La Casa del Sabor, and then kick off your weekend with an adventure into the Wild West. From downtown Golden, head west towards Clear Creek Canyon on the bike path. Keep an eye out for a small sign marking the start of the Chimney Gulch Trail, which makes for a lung buster of a mountain bike ride up technical singletrack. Follow Chimney Gulch to the Windy Saddle area (a good place to stop for killer views of the canyon), then follow the road to the top of Lookout Mountain.

The Lookout summit is chock full of history: it’s not only the final resting place of the legendary Buffalo Bill, but you’ll also find a museum here dedicated to his life. Spend some time checking out the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, then head back down the mountain. The trip will be about seven miles when it’s all said and done, and keep your eyes peeled for the giant “M” on the east face of Mount Zion—a symbol of the local Colorado School of Mines that has been around since the early 1900s.

Follow the bike path back to Washington Avenue, the Main Street of Golden. After your trip up Lookout Mountain you’ll probably be on the verge of hangry, so pick one of the many restaurants for a bite to eat—like the Buffalo Rose Saloon that dates back to 1858 or the Old Capitol Grill with its old Western atmosphere. After that, take your time looking at the shops (make sure you check out the new Toad&Co store!) and old buildings along Washington Avenue. Learn about the history of mountaineering at the museum in the American Mountaineering Center, or head to the other side of the highway to see the Colorado Railroad Museum, with a 15-acre rail yard and artifacts from the days of Buffalo Bill.

Top off the afternoon with a stop at Golden City Brewery, historically the second-largest brewery in Golden, and enjoy a Lookout Stout or a Clear Creek Gold Pale Ale. Like most of Golden’s breweries, you’ll find a food truck at GCB most nights.

Where to stay: Table Mountain Inn is the perfect base camp for your Golden adventures. It’s right on Washington Avenue, so you’re steps away from all the action. You can’t miss it: the adobe-style hotel stands out and brings just the right amount of Southwestern charm. Also, they have a great happy hour (think $6 margaritas the size of your head), and a restaurant with Southwestern-inspired meals.

Day Two

New Belgium Brewing is known around the country for their tasty beer.New Belgium Brewing is known around the country for their tasty beer. +Russ

Golden has tons of breweries per capita, but its northerly neighbor is home to the Colorado’s best-known brewery, so we’re heading to Fort Collins for day two. Before you set out, though, walk about a block from your hotel to get a cup of coffee or chai from Cafe 13. Offering homemade pastries, bagels, and eggs to order, Cafe 13 will set you up for a day of adventure.

Hop in the car and get on I-25 north to Fort Collins, home of 100% employee-owned New Belgium Brewing. New Belgium is among the country’s largest craft breweries, and it’s not hard to see why their beer can be found all over the country—you’re probably already familiar with beloved brews like the Fat Tire Amber Ale and the Ranger IPA. Take a 90-minute tour of their brewing facility, which includes beer tastings (score!). Tours fill quickly, especially on weekends, so you’ll want to reserve your tickets online in advance. The brewery offers several tours daily between 11:30 AM and 4:30 PM. (Local tip: If you get up to FoCo before your tour starts, stop at Lucile’s Creole Cafe for a homemade, New Orleans-style beignet.)

After your tour, get a real Colorado-style mountain pie at Beau Jo’s. Order your pizza by the pound—one, two, three, or five—and then load it up with fresh toppings. The crust around the edges is super thick to hold all that flavor in, and you’ll see locals dipping the crust in honey to finish it off.

Horsetooth Reservoir is another great spot for trail running or for throwing down a crash pad and bouldering a bit.Horsetooth Reservoir is another great spot for trail running or for throwing down a crash pad and bouldering a bit. Angelika Boyko

Next up on the agenda is hitting the trails at nearby Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. Its namesake reservoir was created by four separate earthen dams, each built in 1949. Today, Horsetooth is a recreational playground. Bring a crash pad to check out the excellent bouldering (there are tons of moderates here) or lace up your trail shoes to go for a run on the park’s many well-maintained trails.

Bonus: Feeling ambitious? Include a side trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in your day. It’s about an hour and a half drive west of Fort Collins, but has tons of hiking and bouldering. Lots of park roads are closed during the snowy winter months, but after Memorial Day, drive up Trail Ridge Road for panoramic views of the Rockies.

Whenever you’re ready, drive back down I-25 to Golden and get some sleep before your last day.

Day Three

Holidaily Brewing Company is the only dedicated gluten-free brewery in Colorado.Holidaily Brewing Company is the only dedicated gluten-free brewery in Colorado. Holidaily Brewing Co.

Thanks to its location at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills, Golden offers access to tons of high-quality trails, all of which are walkable from downtown. This also means it’s entirely possible to do a pub crawl using the trails right out your back door.

Start your tour de brew with a trail run or bike ride on North Table Mountain. Take the 7.5-mile North Table Loop around this spectacular mesa, or mix-and-match the many trails that criss-cross its plateau. The steep, half-mile fire road from the west side parking lot to the top of the mesa also accesses some of Golden’s best single-pitch trad climbing.

If you have been searching far and wide for gluten-free beer, look no further than Holidaily Brewing Company. The only dedicated gluten-free brewery in the state, their beers are well-loved by everyone, gluten sensitivity or not. Just down the road, you can pop into Cannonball Creek Brewing Company, where you’ll find anywhere from 8-14 beers on tap at any given time, including many that have been awarded medals at the Great American Beer Festival.

Running right through downtown Golden, Clear Creek offers tubing and whitewater paddling, as well as a lovely trail that is perfect for biking or walking.Running right through downtown Golden, Clear Creek offers tubing and whitewater paddling, as well as a lovely trail that is perfect for biking or walking. Grant Bishop

If you’ve been itching to get out on the water, you’ll love the Clear Creek Whitewater Park. Designed for more experienced paddlers, this free, quarter-mile course includes boulders, drops, pools, and eddies. If tubing is more your speed, the best place for this is right around downtown, where the water will be the calmest. (Locals recommend not starting any higher than Tunnel 1 on Route 6.) Check in with Golden River Sports on Washington Avenue if you need any information before heading out.

After getting your water fix, stop by Mountain Toad Brewing Company, a local favorite that’s just two blocks away from Clear Creek on Washington. Depending on the day, sip a sour, stout, or saison out on the patio.

Finish up the weekend with a jaunt to the top of the aptly-named Castle Rock on South Table Mountain, which boasts the best views in Golden. Take the Golden Summit Trail from the dead end at 19th and Belvedere Streets, and get ready to go up. The trail is short (only about two miles round trip) and not as steep as the Sleeping Elk Trail, but will still be a decent workout.

Round out the brew crawl with a stop at Barrels & Bottles Brewery, where you’ll find an assortment of drinks from beer to wine slushies to kombucha on tap. Before heading home, play a few board games with your friends or family as you recount your amazing Colorado adventure (and plan your next one).

Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by Ken Lund

The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in San Francisco

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San Francisco may be the ultimate Trail to Tavern® city. With sprawling public parks and wild seashores, exploring this peninsula is both rigorous and rewarding. Notorious hills offer stunning views of the greater Bay Area and a bustling beer culture gives you good reason to raise a glass. This three-day trail to tavern itinerary is a sample of San Francisco’s best brew spots and most impressive experiences. Stick to our suggestions or cut your own path – you really can’t go wrong in the City by the Bay.

Day 1

The Clift Hotel is close to Union Square and has an artsy vibe.The Clift Hotel is close to Union Square and has an artsy vibe. Thomas Hawk

Union Square is one of the most popular areas of San Francisco so it makes a great homebase for your weekend. Kick off the first morning with a crepe and coffee at Honey Honey Cafe & Crepery on the corner of Post and Taylor Streets. Obviously the crepes are the bee’s knees, but the omelettes, French toast, and Belgian waffles aren’t too shabby either.

Another option is to dive right in at HOGWASH Swine and Swill on Sutter Street. Snack on their signature fried pickles or Indian-inspired curry fries while you mull over the eclectic beer menu. They’ve got 30 beers on tap, including a solid collection of West Coast IPA’s and beers from around the world. No judgement if you go here for breakfast (you’re on holiday, remember?)

From HOGWASH, embark on a roughly one-mile urban trek through the heart of San Francisco. Head east on Sutter Street and turn left on Grant Avenue into Chinatown, a must-see feast for the senses. (Don’t forget to grab a photo under Dragon’s Gate as you walk in!) Spend some time picking up souvenirs and sampling traditional teas and pastries as you navigate the packed sidewalks. If you need a destination, Good Mong Kok bakery has excellent Dim Sum at an excellent price. You can fill up on pork buns and wontons for less than $2.

Rogue Ales Public House has a wide selection of craft beers from Rogue ales and lagers to other independent breweries.Rogue Ales Public House has a wide selection of craft beers from Rogue ales and lagers to other independent breweries. Alberto Cruz

At the intersection of Broadway and Columbus, you’ll move into the iconic North Beach neighborhood with its line-up of Italian restaurants, cozy coffee shops, and lively bars. Your next stop is Rogue Ales Public House, with an outdoor patio and more than 40 taps serving their own “Rogue Nation” beers and other brews. Sample six beers and get a half-growler to-go of your favorite beer. You’ll want it when you catch the sunset later.

After getting your fill at Rogue, get ready to work it off. One of the most exhilarating spots in all of SF, Coit Tower is the city’s 210-ft, art deco pillar sitting atop Telegraph Hill. It’s only about half a mile from Rogue (following Filbert St. from Washington Park), but the last part is straight uphill. Like we said, you’re gonna earn this view. But the views can’t be beat and the 27 frescos displayed in the tower’s ground floor offer a beautiful look at life in San Francisco during the 1920s and 30s. Art with a view? We’ll take it.

Where to Stay

Get settled into the glamorous Clift Hotel, conveniently located two blocks from Union Square. Even though most of your time will be spent exploring the city’s streetscapes and landscapes, you’ll appreciate the Clift’s artsy, upbeat vibe. There’s a quirky bar if you’re up for a nightcap and end-of-day people watching.

Day 2

The Muir Beach Loop Trail is a solid workout with amazing views on clear days, including the San Francisco and part of the Golden Gate Bridge.The Muir Beach Loop Trail is a solid workout with amazing views on clear days, including the San Francisco and part of the Golden Gate Bridge. David Abercrombie

As tempting as it might be to stay in the city the whole weekend, you don’t want to miss crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin. Home to Muir Woods’ towering redwoods and the region’s highest peak (Mt. Tamalpais, “Mount Tam” to the locals), Marin is a magical corner of Northern California just half an hour from downtown SF. It could very well be heaven on earth for hikers, with miles of trails crisscrossing the rugged landscape and dipping into verdant, eucalyptus-scented valleys.

The 4.3-mile Muir Beach Loop Trail—comprised of Green Gulch Trail, Coyote Ridge Trail, and the Coastal Fire Road and Trail—packs a lot in the span of just a few hours. This moderately strenuous hike has phenomenal views, a small beach nestled in a hidden cove, and a tavern straight from the English countryside. You’ll start near the Muir Beach parking lot and walk through an organic garden. After the garden, conquer a steep climb through low brush and be rewarded with a heart-stopping panorama of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, the San Francisco skyline, and dramatic coastal cliffs. Get those cameras out! With the ocean at your side, the trail eventually leads down to Muir Beach and back to the parking lot. The trail is also open to mountain biking if you prefer your exercise on two wheels.

The perfect end to a perfect hike can be found just steps from Muir Beach at the charming Pelican Inn, a 16th-century-inspired English tavern. Overnight guests and visitors can indulge in traditional pub fare like bangers and mash and Yorkshire pudding, as well as a changing menu of fine ales, draught beers, stouts, and pilsners. On a warm day, you can order a pint from the bar and take it out to the Inn’s sprawling lawn or back patio.

Back in San Francisco, spend the rest of your day in the vibrant Mission neighborhood, which balances its strong Latino roots and artsy vibe with San Francisco’s tech elite. Make your way to the famous Mission Dolores Park, covering almost 16 acres. It’s a great place to spread out a blanket and take a nap, toss a frisbee, or join a pickup game of basketball or soccer. There are tons of festivals and cultural celebrations at the park, so you might stumble upon a truly unique experience. You may also stumble upon a pack of nude sunbathers. This is San Francisco, after all.

Do not leave Monk’s Kettle without trying the macaroni and cheese.Do not leave Monk’s Kettle without trying the macaroni and cheese. Daniel Hartwig

You’ve worked up an appetite so head over to the Mission’s Monk’s Kettle, a gastropub with 200 rotating beers and friendly staff. Try their daily “off the menu” dish—a sandwich or entrée that is made using whatever local ingredients they have in abundance that day. The mac ‘n cheese with lobster and jalapeños is the stuff legends are made of.

Day 3

Lands End is a great place for a hike near the city.Lands End is a great place for a hike near the city. Adam Fagen

For your final day, you’ll experience a whole other side of San Francisco: Lands End. Located in the northwest corner, crowded avenues give way to broad stretches of sand and magnificent bluffs. It’s raw, craggy nature at it’s finest and one of the most beautiful places in the city.

Fuel up with classic breakfast fare at the 50s-themed Lori’s Diner then drive or take SF Muni’s 38 Geary bus to the ocean. You’ll get off at Point Lobos and 48th, leaving you with just a short walk to the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center (and parking lot, if you decide to drive). From here you’ll access wind-swept coastal trails with postcard views of the Golden Gate Bridge and maybe even a shipwreck or two.

To truly see what this spot has to offer, take the four-mile out-and-back Lands End Trail, starting with a walk down to the Sutro Baths ruins. This saltwater pool was built in 1896 as the world’s largest indoor swimming complex. It burned down it the 60s and all that’s left is the ruins you see today. Continue on the trail along the rugged cliffs and after about a mile, you’ll come to a spur trail leading to Mile Rock Beach and the off-the-beaten-path stone labyrinth. Return to Lookout Point from here or go another mile to scenic Eagle’s Point before turning back.

For a longer hike, continue on the California Coastal Trail, a 9.1-mile round trip trek from Lands End to the Golden Gate Bridge and back. You’ll pass many beaches along the way if you want to take a break. It’s surprisingly less crowded than some of the other trails in the area so really take your time and soak it all in. If you’re feeling super intrepid, tack on a couple more miles by jumping on the Batteries-to-Bluffs Loop at the Presidio (part of the loop overlaps with the Coastal Trail).

After hiking for hours, kick back at the bustling Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant, less than half a mile from the Lookout Center. Across the street from Ocean Beach, this joint offers prime sunset viewing (assuming the fog hasn’t rolled in), solid American fare, and a nice selection of locally handcrafted ales. Start with the sample set of eight house made brews or try their flagship blonde V.F.W. Golden Ale.

Social Kitchen & Brewery is a just a couple blocks from Golden Gate Park.Social Kitchen & Brewery is a just a couple blocks from Golden Gate Park. Photo courtesy of Social Kitchen & Brewery

On your way back to Union Square, swing by Social Kitchen & Brewery for a killer happy hour. You’ll find a wide variety of both traditional craft brews (think Belgian-style pale ales and imperial stouts) to more unique flavors like the wine grape saison and Belgian Brett Triple with jasmine rice. The spot looks contemporary on the outside, but with high ceilings and exposed beams on the inside, you get a spacious yet cozy feel.

After dinner, mosey on back to your hotel with an urban hike through the iconic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The birthplace of the “Summer of Love,” the Haight is known for it’s surreal murals and lively locals. Pop into any bar that catches your eye as you continue back to Union Square and end your trail to tavern weekend in San Francisco. Whether you leave your heart here or not, you’ll be back before you know it.

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Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by Photo courtesy of Social Kitchen & Brewery

The Ultimate Trail to Tavern 3-Day Weekend in Asheville

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Here’s a secret about the craft beer scene in Asheville, North Carolina: you can’t go wrong. With so much competition, each brewery has got to be at the top of its game in order to keep the doors open. Same is true for the outdoor exploration: whether you’re scouting singletrack, craving an airy mountain summit, or going in search of waterfalls, the Blue Ridge is brimming with big mountain adventure.

Still, when you’re aiming to experience the crème-de-la-crème of what this mountain town has to offer, it’s always best to ask. This three-day itinerary of trail to tavern activities in Western Carolina was brewed up by an Asheville local who excels in the fine art of pairing stout adventure with hoppy refreshment.

Day One

Paddling on the French Broad River near the Biltmore Estate.Paddling on the French Broad River near the Biltmore Estate. anoldent

Begin your long weekend with a drive along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest linear park. Half an hour from downtown Asheville, at milepost 364.6, you’ll find yourself at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center. A brilliant section of the Great Craggy Mountain Range, the Gardens are characterized by steep rocky slopes, mile-high views, and high altitude meadows that blush pink with rhododendron in the summer.

Get your blood pumping with a hike to the top of the Craggy Pinnacle via the 1.5-mile round trip Craggy Pinnacle Trail. Twisted, altitude-stunted mountain ash, birch, and beech trees give way to a summit of exposed rock, a beautiful and fragile habitat for many rare plants. From there, the panoramic views of distant Appalachian peaks are sure to wet your appetite for more exploration to come.

As the morning rolls into afternoon, travel from the rugged mountaintops to the meticulous grounds of the Biltmore Estate, surrounded by thousands of acres of rolling meadows and wooded hillsides. Cruise alongside the peaceful banks of the French Broad River on a rented bike or wander along the extensive network of hiking trails to discover quiet fields, secluded forest groves and elaborate gardens.

It’s hard to believe that such pastoral beauty is only a four-minute drive from downtown Asheville, but when you’re done at the Biltmore, it’s time to head back. Allow yourself an hour just to wander through the bustling streets, browsing the local bookstores, cafés, chocolate shops and peruse the many art galleries.

For dinner, head over to Wicked Weed Brewery. You’ll recognize it by the crowds on the patio—a swarm of adventure-types nursing pints of Pernicious IPA around the fire pits. This insanely popular craft beer hotspot, housed inside a refurbished hardware store, was created by local climber turned award-winning brewmaster. The menu features ‘elevated pub gastronomy’ like a short rib burger and fried chicken sandwich, with an à la carte selection of classic southern sides.

Just south of downtown, the industrial buildings and former warehouses of the South Slope District (also known as Asheville’s Brewery District) have been chicly restored into restaurants, coffee shops, and no less than eight distinguished microbreweries. It’s hard to believe that this entire neighborhood claims only a couple of city blocks.

From the exclusively sour beers of the Funkatorium to the cult-following of Catawba’s Peanut Butter Jellytime Ale and Burial’s silky-dark donut skillet stout, each establishment in the Brewery District offers something fresh and tantalizing. Greenman is where the old-timers go, although its newly minted taproom is pretty hip, and Asheville Brewing Company’s lauded Ninja Porter is devastatingly delicious. Take our word for it—in one weekend, even the world’s thirstiest beer enthusiast could only scratch the surface of the illustrious South Slope.

Where to Sleep While there are plenty of hotels in the area, from the swanky downtown A-Loft and the Grove Park Inn to cheaper options on the outskirts, we recommend finding accommodation that’s more grounded in the local culture. A cursory search of Glamping Hub or Airbnb reveals a wealth of convenient, affordable, and off-beat lodging options in the Asheville area. Book a private cabin on the French Broad with Riverside Escapesor reserve a cozy cottage close to downtown at The Pines. Camping areas such as Montreat Family Campground and Big Creek Campground are quiet and entrenched in the wilderness, but will require a bit of driving.

Day 2

Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres. Jeff BartlettPisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres. Jeff Bartlett

Less than an hour outside of Asheville, the mountain town of Brevard is the jumping off point to some of the Southeast’s most popular outdoor recreation activities. Situated alongside the waterfall-studded DuPont State Recreational Forest, as well as the 500,000 acres of nearby Pisgah National Forest, you’ll have your pick of singletrack, multi-pitches, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.

One of North Carolina’s most sought-after mountain biking trails, the seven-mile Ridgeline Loop Trail in DuPont State Recreational Forest is pure joy. It begins with a sustained, roundabout climb that never gets too steep or technical, unlike most of the trails in the area. The downhill is a flowing, curving plunge that gets delivered all in one shot. You’ll be tempted to lap it again and again, but try and pace yourself, the day is young.

Next, lace up your trail runners and throw a couple of extra power bars into your backpack—the journey to the top of Looking Glass Rock is a powerhouse. The trail, which totals 6.5 miles round trip, climbs 1,700 vertical feet over a series of serpentine switchbacks. At almost 4,000 feet above sea level, the summit is a rolling granite dome with unbroken views unfurling in every direction.

After a long day of adventure, it’s time to kick back and relax. Never before has craft beer and outdoor culture found such a perfect coexistence than at the Oskar Blues Reeb Ranch. Located just outside Brevard, the Ranch is a conglomeration of all things good: biking trails, a farmhouse-turned bed and breakfast, beer, food trucks. A daily pass to the Reeb Ranch Bike Park includes access to the Pump Track, Dual Slalom and two Jump Lines. It’s like summer camp for adults, and you’ll walk away wishing every brewery would invest in something equally awesome.

Perfectly positioned between Asheville and Brevard, the dazzling, castle-like campus of Sierra Nevada Brewery is the Hogwarts of breweries. Guided tours (available by reservation) offer a glimpse into the history, evolving tastes, and eco-friendly engineering of this extraordinary establishment. The small-plate menu takes a tapas approach to creative pub fare, with a seasonally rotating selection to match the growing season. As for the beer, don’t you dare invest in a full pour until you taste a flight or two!

Day 3

The New Belgium Brewery is a bright and airy space to enjoy a pint.The New Belgium Brewery is a bright and airy space to enjoy a pint. Kevin Stewart Photography.

Begin your final morning with a southbound cruise on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Your destination is Black Balsam Knob, whose lush, rolling scenery is the stuff of Appalachian daydreams. This high altitude meadow is a particularly gorgeous example of a mountain bald, a unique geological feature of the Southern Appalachians. Just under a half-mile on the Art Loeb Trail will lead you above the trees and onto an airy summit of wildflowers and waving grasses. For a longer hike, continue on the Art Loeb Trail towards the Shining Rock Wilderness.

As you follow the parkway back into town, you will pass the parking area to Graveyard Fields on the left (milepost 418.8) This mile-high valley, encompassed by 6,000-foot peaks, is home to two dramatic waterfalls and a number of wooden boardwalks. The area is popular for hunting wildflowers in the summer and wild blueberries in the fall. The best way to explore this unique landscape is by following the 3.2-mile Graveyard Fields Loop Trail.

Once you get back to town, it’s worth spending some time exploring Asheville’s River Arts District (RAD), a lively collection of art studios, pottery shops, and cafés on the banks of the French Broad River. Slick new eco-construction and crumbling brick warehouses comprise this eclectic neighborhood, brazenly decorated with street art, murals and statues.

Nothing exemplifies Asheville’s artistic, counterculture vibe quite like the Wedge Brewing Co. in the RAD. Order a pitcher of Iron Rail IPA and dig into a bucket of free salty peanuts. The RAD is filled with pizza shops and gastropubs, but we recommend eating dinner as the locals do—from one of the onsite food trucks like Melt Your Heart (grilled cheese) or El Kimchi, the beloved Mexican/Korean hybrid. In the age of renovated garages and art-deco interiors, the Wedge’s quirky aesthetics are a refreshing taste of authentic, old-school Asheville.

Across the French Broad River from the Wedge sits the gleaming campus of New Belgium. The tasting room, known as the Liquid Center, is bright and clean surrounded by bright garage door windows. It is a beautiful space to sit back, sip a cold pint of Fat Tire or Sunshine Wheat, and reminisce on the weekend’s many highlights. On a warm evening, sit outside on the deck to watch the French Broad flow lazily past, and begin planning your next visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.

Featured image provided by Melina Coogan, Wild and Bright Photography

How to Have an Awesome Microbrew Tour in Jackson County

Innovation Brewery


Loaded with more microbreweries than any other southeastern state, North Carolina is rightfully recognized as one of the country’s booming bastions of craft beer. While Asheville’s heavily concentrated collection of microbreweries may have made the town North Carolina’s capital of craft beer, one of the state’s most singular beer trails is just west of the city, in mountain-rippled, stream-laced Jackson County.

Jackson County features an eclectic trio of breweries around Sylva.
Jackson County features an eclectic trio of breweries around Sylva. Photo Courtesy of JCTDA.

The Jackson County Ale Trail makes for a compact, craft-brew loaded pub crawl. The scenic, mile-long route winds through picturesque Sylva, showcasing the town’s closely concentrated but eclectic trio of breweries—including Heinzelmännchen Brewing, Innovation Brewing, and the newly opened Sneak E Squirrel. The trail’s taprooms serve everything from time-tested classic ales, to outdoor-inspired seasonal brews, to experimental flavor fusions with limited release, guaranteeing Sylva’s collection of craft breweries will proffer a pints sure to satisfy even the pickiest palates.

The ale trail’s first stop is the Sneak E Squirrel, the most recent arrival to Sylva’s craft brewing scene, opening last year in a creatively repurposed car dealership. The tap list at the newly minted microbrewery is largely driven by inspired interpretations of classic European-style ales, punctuated with inventive fusions like the Pepper Squirrel Habanero IPA.

The Sneak E Squirrel features creative interpretations on classic European-style ales.
The Sneak E Squirrel features creative interpretations on classic European-style ales. JCTDA.

The Sneak E Squirrel’s breadth of beers includes options like the 221 Sneak E, a traditional English bitter; the Clockwork Zombie, a Belgian wit style beer infused with hints of cherry and pomegranate; and the full-bodied Parrot Porter. The whimsical hangout includes barroom treasures like billiards and ping pong, and you’ll find the place scattered with assorted board games, including rarities like Star Trek Catan. The brewery also dishes up an imaginative menu, with elevated munchies like fried green tomatoes and truffle fries. Specials include the likes of Riblettes served with Bananas Foster and playful plates like the Pork Belly BLT and the Fat Elvis—a sandwich loaded with bacon, peanut butter and fried bananas. Best of all, the menu even includes suggested beer pairings for every dish.

For artsy ale enthusiasts, the Sneak E Squirrel is also the perfect place to pick up an original work. The brewery showcases the work of local artists—offering an array of unique pieces for sale, with displays changing every two weeks to highlight different contributors.

After the Sneak E Squirrel, mosey along to the Heinzelmännchen Brewery in downtown Sylva, the second stop on the ale trail, and the town’s longest-standing microbrewery. Heinzelmännchen’s German-born brewmaster Dieter Kuhn has been crafting Bavarian-inspired beers at the location since 2004, alongside his wife and brewery co-owner Sheryl Rudd.

Heinzelmännchen is Sylva's oldest microbrewery.
Heinzelmannchen is Sylva’s oldest microbrewery. Photo Courtesy of JCTDA.

The brewery’s cozy and casual taproom serves well-rounded collection of ales, with offerings like the Ancient Days Honey Blonde Ale, a crisp, pilsner-style beer infused with locally harvested honey; the rich Black Forest Stout, flavored with notes of roasted coffee and caramel; or the hearty but highly drinkable Middleworld Brown Ale, with a flavor profile distinguished with slight traces of toffee.

Heinzelmännchen’s beers can also be interspersed with samples of the brewery’s nostalgia- inducing offerings—non-alcoholic root beer and autumn red birch beer, also available both by half-gallon or the keg. To round out the authentic Bavarian beer hall experience, the brewery offers locally made soft pretzels served with Asheville-produced Lusty Monk mustard.

Behind the scenes at Innovation Brewing.
Behind the scenes at Innovation Brewing. Photo Courtesy of JCTDA.

Finally, cap off the Jackson County brewery crawl at the ale trail’s third stop, Innovation Brewing. Boasting the lengthiest beer list of Sylva’s three breweries, Innovation Brewing has more than 30 different options on tap, pouring everything from beloved year-round mainstay brews to experimental ales and rotating seasonal options. The extensive beer selection at the three-year-old brewery includes constants like the Afternoon Delight Blonde Ale, the Hoppy Camper IPA, and the Nitro Irish Stout, mingled with rarities and seasonal brews like the Nitro Coffee Blonde, the Orange Berlinerweiss, and the Beet and Basil Pale Ale.

Aside from the beers, the beloved Sylva-based food truck Cosmic Carryout is also reliably anchored in the brewery’s outdoor beer garden on a daily basis. The laidback location also regularly hosts live music, featuring shows on Saturday nights. Earlier this year, the environmentally conscious brewery also took an ambitious step to reduce the location’s energy footprint by mounting 100 solar panels on the location’s rooftop.

Originally written by RootsRated for Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. Featured image provided by Nick Breedlove.