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Asheville's Microbrewery/Taproom/Pub Scene is Booming.

Microbreweries and cool little pubs and taprooms have become enormously popular, and Asheville is right in the thick of things with some of the freshest local spots that cater to all different styles, not to mention food and brew tastes, and one is more than likely going to suit your mood. If you're looking for something new that is sure to become one of your favorite haunts, check out some of these places that Asheville has to offer.

Jack of the Wood (seen in top photo), at 95 Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville, has the atmosphere of a neighborhood pub and is the home of Green Man Ales. Jack of the Wood is an outstanding Celtic-style pub, with a beautiful black walnut bar, long tavern tables and shuttered windows. Its atmosphere is warm, friendly and relaxed; service is hospitable and never rushed. Patrons often get the feeling they are welcome to linger over one of Jack's Green Man ales while reading the paper or stay even longer for a bite to eat.

The Green Man, one of those Old English or Celtic gents with vines and leaves growing out of his face, is the namesake of this great little brewery, and is somehow perfectly suited to the job.

Resident brewer Mike Duffy takes great pride in his carefully handcrafted beers, all of which are brewed onsite in a distinctly British style. Duffy knows his stuff, and brews his beers in small batches and in a very traditional way, creating three to four different types of beer that are available each week. Green Man Porter is a house bestseller; House Stout is a black, rich, full-bodied brew that is often requested during the winter months. India Pale Ale, light amber color with strong hop bitterness, is popular year-round. Green Man Pale Ale also has a light amber color, medium body and a strong hop bitterness, but a maltier finish. Light English Ale is light in color, low alcohol and has a nice hop aroma. Northern Brown Ale has a dark amber color, medium body, hints of roasted grain with caramel and malt. Green Man's ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is also a good choice, with amber color and medium body with a "hoppy" aroma. A special Anu Seasonal Ale is available only during the Christmas season; four batches were prepared this past holiday season, and quickly sold out.

For the past couple of months, Duffy has been brewing a batch of Cask Ale every week. Cask Ale, a very special brew that is matured in the container in which it is served, has less carbonation than other beers, and, therefore, has more texture. Duffy uses a dry-hopping method on this brew for greater aroma. Cask Ale is served at a warmer temperature than most, and from its own hand pump. The production of Cask Ale is part of the brewer's art that is being performed less and less; once a mainstay of a brewer's repertoire, it is becoming a thing of the past. Finding this beer anywhere is a rare event. True beer aficionados who are looking for a rare treat should call ahead or come by to make sure the Cask Ale is available on the day they plan to visit Jack of the Wood.

The food menu at Jack of the Wood includes wonderfully typical "pub fare." Fish and chips, bangers and mash (translation - mild sausages and mashed potatoes), Irish Beef and Guinness Stew, and Shepherd's Pie are served alongside burgers with zillions of toppings from which to choose, roast beef and turkey sandwiches, hummus sandwiches and appetizers, veggie burgers, salads and French Onion soup. Hot cornbread is a much-ordered appetizer, as are Wings of the Wood and Jack's Nachos.

Live music is a longstanding tradition at Jack of the Wood. Friday and Saturday night shows often feature traditional mountain music or bluegrass; shows usually start between 9:30 - 10PM. The Celtic Jam is held each Sunday, beginning at about 5PM, when musicians are invited to join in and play old Irish ballads or reels. The Old Time Jam is on Wednesdays, and gets rolling by about 9PM. Most Thursday nights will find the Bluegrass Jam getting under way at about 10PM.

Jack of the Wood is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, 11:30AM to 2AM. Sunday hours are 3PM to closing. Unusual in this type of establishment, it is interesting to note that Jack of the Wood is smoke-free.

Jack of the Wood has a terrific web site that lists, among other things, all of the musical artists that are scheduled to perform for weeks in advance. Their web site is www.jackofthewood.com. Phone is 828-252-5445.

Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, located at 42 Biltmore Avenue, is a very popular stop in the high-traffic area immediately surrounding Pack Square in downtown Asheville. Locals and visitors alike enjoy the taproom's high, pressed tin ceilings, brick walls, long bar, huge dining area and wall decorations that feature antique beer advertisements. The atmosphere is noisy and fun loving, but relaxed. During peak hours, there can be a wait for a table (reservations are not accepted), but it's worth the wait. The taproom caters to many different walks of life in Asheville, from families with babies and young children to dread-locked young adults to business people dropping in after work to seniors. There is something for almost everyone at Barley's.

This Old English pub-style establishment features an amazing 42 taps, with great local brews from the Highland Brewing Company (Barley's downstairs neighbor) and the French Broad Brewery, along with beers from across the US, Belgium, England, Germany and Ireland as well. North Carolina breweries also figure prominently at Barley's, with many on tap from breweries in western North Carolina, along with Catawba Valley Beers and Carolina Blonde further east. Barley's has a "Featured Brewery of the Month;" February's choice is Wild Goose Brewery from Fredericksburg, Maryland. Wild Goose brews include their India Pale Ale, Porter and Amber. In March, Cottonwood Brewery gets the nod, and three to four of their beers will be on tap for patrons to sample and enjoy. Bottled beer and some wines are available, too, but the obvious big draw is the huge selection on tap. In addition to its myriad other beers, Barley's has just recently started serving Kind Ale, a new ale brewed in Asheville that is made from only organic ingredients.

The dining area on the main floor is where all the young couples and families with children hang out, but the second floor at Barley's is a haven for adults who want a respite from kids underfoot. Limited to patrons 21 and older, upstairs at Barley's is a great place to slow down, enjoy a beer and the company of friends, play a game of pool on one of their 9-foot tables or try your hand at darts. The room has a great view of the bustling street below and the mountains off to the west. All the same beers are served upstairs, as they are downstairs.

Every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday night, Barley's turns off the jukebox and airs it out with some of the best local music to be found in town. Sunday night features jazz artists, Tuesday is bluegrass night and Thursday lights up with rock or blues musicians. The live music usually gets under way at about 9PM and lasts to about midnight; there is never a cover charge.

The food at Barley's is good; a wide array of toppings is available for pizza by the slice or a whole pie. The menu also includes a jerk chicken sandwich, several wraps and calzones. Salads and a number of appetizers round out the menu.

Barley's is open for lunch and dinner daily. They can be found on the web at www.barleys-taproom.com; phone is 828-255-0504.

Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company, located at 675 Merrimon Avenue, has found its niche in the market with good (and cheap) movies showing every day of the week. Any movie, any time, is a mere $2. They make their own beer on site, with barrels of brew fermenting just out of sight of customers. Brew selections include Shiva IPA, Rook Porter, Houdini ESP, Scout Stout and Roland's ESP. They also have a "guest tap," and feature an ever-changing beer selection for patrons who are looking to try something different.

The "Brew and View," as Asheville Pizza and Brewing regulars like to call it, is a loud, fun, family-oriented place; the mammoth King Kong on front of the building gives newcomers a hint of what is to come inside the doors. The building includes a large eating area in the front and a movie theatre and game room in the rear. The rocking chair theatre seats have tables set up in front of them, so food and drink is easy to bring in and enjoy with the movie. The game room features lots of arcade-type games, pool tables and dartboards; picnic tables in the game room give patrons a place to eat when taking a break from the games. Every Tuesday night at 5:30PM is Kids Night, when they run a G-Rated movie for the younger crowd; Mom and Dad can grab a quick and early dinner while the kids enjoy the same with a movie, too.

The food at Asheville Pizza & Brewing is good and plentiful. Build-Your-Own pizzas offer every imaginable topping, from commonly requested ingredients such as cheese, tomatoes and pepperoni, to more exotic items like sesame seeds, walnuts, portabella mushrooms, pesto sauce - even Spam - yes, that's right, Spam! While they serve a large number of chicken and beef appetizers and entrees, they feature a strong vegetarian selection and serve only fresh ingredients; nothing is canned. Even the names of the menu items are fun and "movie-like," with the Popeye Spinach Burger, King Kong Wings and Jalapeno Jedi Poppers being popular selections. The $5 pizza buffet is a good value for a quick and tasty stop at lunchtime.

Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company is open for lunch and dinner daily; they can be found on the Internet at www.ashevillepizza.com; phone is 828-254-1281.

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