09/06/2012 10:14 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

Asheville: The New Craft Beer Capital Of America?

A sizable craft brewery in search of a new home needs a couple of non-negotiable resources: space to build the kind of facility that can produce tens of thousands of barrels of beer a year, plus access to railways and roads for quickly shipping the stuff to discerning customers who expect to drink it while it's fresh. Also, water. Water is a very big deal in the brewing business. Asheville, North Carolina, has fostered one of the fastest growing beer scenes on the East Coast since the mid-1990s in part thanks to the 20,000-acre protected watershed outside of town in the Great Smoky Mountains. Local development official Ben Teague swears that at some points during the winter, you can drink straight from streams there with a cup. (He also puts it this way for the more visually inclined: Those arena scenes in the Hunger Games movie? They were filmed in Asheville's pristine watershed.)

But for all that beer-friendly infrastructure, the Asheville area recently lured to town the country's second and third largest craft breweries--California's Sierra Nevada and Colorado-based New Belgium--for reasons that were, first and foremost, much more intangible.

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