Yoga is well-known for being good for limbering up the body and mind. Beer, too, has a reputation for loosening people up — so why not squeeze the two together into something everyone can enjoy?
That’s exactly what Cameron Gunter did when she launched Bend and Brew three years ago, partnering with local breweries and taprooms to introduce yoga to beer lovers. Now under the ownership of Amah Mitchell and Michael St. Cole, Bend and Brew is stretching into its third season.
“[Gunter] saw it as Beer City meets Yoga Town,” says Mitchell. “The whole idea that Asheville is growing, and it’s these two simultaneous trunks of the tree growing side by side — beer and yoga. She wanted to find a way to incorporate the two.”
For some traditionalists, the idea of combining beer with yoga might seem a little strange, but the popularity of Bend and Brew is proof of the concept’s success.
“[People think of] yogis … meditating in their caves all day and beer people in their vats all day, but, in the real world, yogis drink beer, and beer people do yoga,” says St. Cole. “Asheville is the meeting of all the worlds together.”
Bend and Brew is partnering with Catawba Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Oskar Blues Brewery, Bhramari Brewhouse and Urban Orchard Cider Co. this year to bring the yoga experience to more beer drinkers. And the company is actively looking for more breweries to partner with.
A 45- to 60-minute yoga class costs $18 and is followed by tastings in the breweries and socializing with the instructors and other participants. “After the class, when we sit down and share the tastings, we talk about them,” says St. Cole. “We get to share the joy of yoga and we get to share the beer. … We create conversations around that.”
Mitchell says the tasting is definitely a big part of the experience. “There’s a certain intimacy when you share a beer tasting with a bunch of strangers,” she says. “Because then you’re not strangers anymore.”
But Bend and Brew is about more than just yoga and beer sampling, say the owners. It’s “community-building around beer and yoga,” and there’s no place like Asheville for such a melding of cultures. “There’s no better beer anywhere,” says Mitchell.
St. Cole says every style of yoga is represented somewhere in Asheville, along with every style of beer, so it seemed a natural fit with infinite options. “I came here as a yogi and wound up a beer drinker,” St. Cole laughs. “Every place has this bountiful harvest of something unique.
“I’ve become a total beer snob,” he adds. “I grew up an upstate New York hillbilly. We had Genesee and Bud Light, so I didn’t drink beer … until I finally tasted what you can really do with it. It’s truly a joy.” Conversely, and representative of the two cultures, Mitchell jokes that she came here as a beer drinker and wound up a yogi.
Bend and Brew hired a team of local yoga instructors to teach classes in an effort to stay close with the community, as well as allow the owners to step into different roles. “We love teaching,” say Mitchell and St. Cole. “But it’s a beautiful blessing to be able to offer it to somebody else.”
Of course, Bend and Brew isn’t the only beer and yoga offering to be found in the area. Twin Leaf offers monthly beer and yoga sessions, Sanctuary Brewing in Hendersonville offers yoga with cats in the brewery, and other breweries have done one-off or intermittent events experimenting with the combination.
“[It’s a] way of being reverent of the world and, at the same time, living in 2016, where sometimes you just need to chill out and imbibe the sacred beverage with your friends,” says Mitchell.