French Broad Brewing (Asheville, NC)

After lunch, we returned to the Biltmore Village area seeking out French Broad Brewing Company.  We found it across the railroad tracks in a non-descript building with a small parking area.Inside we found a couple of tables and a small bar – just a few square feet of space for pints, and the rest of the visible space was for making beer.  It is a great facility, and neat to see how they convert a small part of the brewery into a music venue. 

D had a conversation with the brewer while I talked to some other patrons (who, strangely, seemed familiar to both D and I, but neither of us can place how or why we would know them.)

Knowing we would have plenty to drink later in the day, we stuck with taster glasses of the six beers on tap:

Goldenrod Pilsner 4.2%

Marzen Amber Lager 4.5% – an Ocktoberfest style

Cellar Reserve Lambic-style Beer – blackberry, aged over 3 years and blended with Grand Cru

13 Rebels ESB 4.8%

Barley Legal Barleywine 10.5%

In my humble opinion French Creek has some work to do to keep up with all the other brewpubs in
Asheville.  This was the first place we didn’t see a crowd.  People weren’t coming in to fill growlers, and the only patrons were tourists (I’m guessing the crowd grows when the music starts playing, and there was a line-up of bands!) 

The beers were simply okay.  Nothing got me really excited, and I was especially unimpressed by the lambic attempt.  The ESB was probably the best of the low-alcohol beers, and the Barleywine stood out, but nothing was pint-worthy.  I’m all about the underdog – smaller, more intimate pubs are generally my favorite places, but this place just didn’t do much for me.

Ruby’s BBQ Shack (Asheville, NC)

After a nice morning of exercise, we were ready for some ‘Que.  Someone recommended Ruby’s BBQ Shack as a place for good ‘que, and a good tap list, and they were right.

We each had a pork barbeque platter, both with red beans and rice, and mine with smashed potatoes while D got the spiced apples (better choice!)  He had a pint of the Sweetwater 420, a west-coast style pale ale (extra pale ale) with his meal.

The highlight of this meal was the sauce bar.  There were 20 varieties on the menu.  Not every one was available and additional flavors were.  They provided “taster cups”, and we narrowed it down to nine:

Memphis Red (very tomato)

Kentucky Black – apple cider-ish, authentic dark vinegar & pepper

Mississippi Mud – authentic dark vinegar & pepper, less tart than KY Black

Kansas City Hottie

Alabama White – creamy w/ lots of black (or white) pepper

Honey Mustard – – –

Sweet Mustard

Pulled Piggy

Chipotle Spicy Tomato

We liked all of them, with the exception of Honey Mustard, and once again I found myself questioning which way I really like my ‘que, and the truth is, I just can’t do it.  I loved the tasty tang of Sweet Mustard, the dark and peppery Mississippi Mud, the roasty boldness of Chipotle Spicy Tomato (reminded me of Texas), the pangs of heat from Kansas City Hottie, and the succulence of Pulled Piggy.

Biltmore Tour (NC)

On Friday morning, we took advantage of the hot breakfast at our hotel, and sales of Biltmore tickets at the desk.  We drove to Biltmore (America’s largest home – the estate of George Vanderbilt –which was completed in 1895), and arrived before the doors opened, which, even on a weekday during the off-season, was a great idea.  We were ahead of the crowd all day, which was a nice way to see the place.   I didn’t actually check my pedometer, but I estimate between the House Tour, Garden Tour and over one hour spent walking the trails, we got in at least 5 miles. 

We also took the winery tour – a self-guided trip through the former stables and cattle barn.  The winery on Biltmore Estate has a large variety of products, and most of what we tried was good to very good.  They actually started the tasting as a one-on-one with the Chateau Reserve Chardonnay – an excellent chardonnay with smooth, buttery character, which is part of their premium tasting.  After that, everyone was herded into tasting groups where the wines were explained, and we were given the opportunity to taste eight of the twenty available wines.  Between us, we tried 16 wines, and most were very good.  There were a few that we didn’t care for (mostly Rose and semi-sweet), but our objections were based in flavor preferences, not the quality. We had Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Sur Lies, American Chardonnay #21, White Century, Chenin Blanc, Limited Release Chenin Blanc, Grenache Rose, Cabernet Blanc de Noir, Pinot Noir, Cardinal’s Crest, Merlot, Limited Release Merlot, Syrah, Red Century and Cabernet Sauvignon.   

With a 10% discount on three or more bottles, and prices that were absolutely reasonable, we were happy to purchase a few bottles to take home.  What a nice visit we had at Biltmore!  I highly recommend it, but go early and go off-season!

Asheville Brewing and 51 Grill (Asheville, NC)

When we parted ways from the Bier Garden, I could have easily gone back to the hotel and collapsed, but D wanted to stop by the Asheville Brewing Company (the downtown location) to see if we could catch up with Mark at the Drinking Liberally meeting.  We sure did, and we also had a chance to try some beers we hadn’t had at the Pizza & Brewing location. 

I had a pint of the Red Light IPA – a sweeter, less hoppy beer than the Shiva – and D had a Houdini ESP.  The beers, of course, were very nice.  The appearance of the downtown pub is much more toned down than the eclectic Pizza & Brewing location.  The food menu is extremely limited, but it is a temporary condition until they get a kitchen. We enjoyed a hummus plate with chips and vegetables and some peanuts while talking to Mark, and also meeting Danny Kean – the Traveling Piano guy.

But I was still hungry, and a little beered out, so we took the advice of a local and headed out to the 51 Grill for some late-night munchies.  (Actually, we went straight to the Chili’s on Tunnel Road in hopes that Highland Brewing Company’s Cold Mountain would still be on tap, but it wasn’t…so we sought out the local recommendation for food.) 

Yes, it is connected to an Exxon, and we almost didn’t go inside.  But the 51 Grill is open until 4 AM, it’s non-smoking, and we were hungry.  This is one of the cleanest places in town (rated 100% for cleanliness, as did both Asheville Brewing locations), and has a nice menu of sandwiches.  I ordered a whole wheat veggie wrap, which contained warmed vegetables and a creamy garlic sauce.  D had a grilled corned beef sandwich.  He found a descent beer on tap a Highlands Gaelic, but I opted for the water.  As we were told, it didn’t look like much, but it was great!

Bruisin’ Ales and Bier Garden (Asheville, NC)

On Thursday, we made two visits to Brusin’ Ales at 66 Broadway in Asheville.  Our first stop was just to say hello, and our second was for the evening beer tasting.  This place is like a candy store for beer lovers!  There were rows and shelves of local and imported beers of all kinds (okay – no macros, no A-B products, but lots of things we enjoy and many unusual and generally unavailable [to us] bottled beers.)

The colors of the shop are so vibrant and warm, and one wall is lined with a wooden rack, similar to what one would expect to see at a specialty wine store, with bottles of high-end, specialty beers.  There are six pack displays, and refrigerated six packs as well. Shelf-talkers are posted, but Bruisin’ Ales owners Julie and Jason are a wealth of information, and we overheard them giving lots of good advice to customers.

In addition to selling the beers, Bruisin’ Ales has a terrific selection of collectable glassware for beer tasting, and a selection of beer literature to enhance any library.

On our first visit, we walked in while Jason and Nate were examining a bottle of Indica – a very hoppy and unfiltered beer from Lost Coast Brewery in California.  A customer returned it because it was “bad”, so they need to check it out.  Not bad at all!  Very, very good!!  I enjoyed the chance to help make that determination.

Our second visit, after an afternoon at Pisgah, was the tail-end of the scheduled tasting.  Julie was at the bar with four items to try:

+ Gaffel Kölsch (Crisp and lightly citrus; 4.8%)

Fraoch Heather Ale (a Scottish ale at 5%; possibly one of the oldest styles of beer, brewed with flowers of heather multiple times throughout the process giving it an herbal, earthy goodness – one of my favorites!)

Moosbacher Kellerbier (a dark, amber German lager at 5.4%), and

+ Orkney Skullsplitter (a Scottish ale at 8.5% ABV; named for Thorfinn Hausakluif (SkullSplitter), the Seventh Viking Earl of Orkney)

Only the Kellerbier was new to both of us.

The store closes at 7 PM on Thursdays, so Julie and Jason were available to go grab a pint afterward at The Bier Garden on Haywood Street.  We certainly didn’t get to take the place in fully – it was crowded inside, so we sat out in the “mall” area – but it looked like a fun place to hang out anytime. The beer menu included a nice selection of draft and bottled beers.   I decided to have something new-to-me (Redstone Black Raspberry Nectar – a mead), and D had an old favorite from the bottle, which we’ve never seen on tap before (Urthel Hop-It.)  Jason and Julie both had Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, which we understand will soon be discontinued.

It was a lot of fun chatting with them about their store and how they came to be in the business.  We had plenty to talk about with these folks, who got their beer-drinking start in Pennsylvania, and the next day, when I listened to their podcast with Tony Kiss, it was clear he captured their enthusiasm.  They are extremely dedicated to the industry and running a professional operation.

Pisgah Brewing Company (Black Mountain, NC)

A pleasant drive into the country brought us to the industrial complex where, at the end of a long, sterile-looking hall, we found a dog and some brewing equipment (and soon, lots and lots of people!)

Pisgah Brewing Company is a remarkable operation, and the brewers, Dave and Jason, are making some flavorsome craft brewed beers.  They are joined by two friendly canines – Savannah (a German shepherd who can’t get enough playtime with a simple plastic lid) and Sampson (a barrel-shaped black lab who couldn’t possibly be more happy!), and on Thursdays between 4 and 7 PM, people pour into the brewery for growler fills.  Meanwhile, pints are passed for the guests. Friends catch up, people meet and conversation abounds.

I spent quite a bit of time chatting with a “local” named Tom, who told me quite a bit about the natural aspects of the area (hiking, flora, fauna, etc.) 

I had just enjoyed the Vortex 1 at Barley’s, and then on site we tasted three things:

+ Pale Ale – nothing exceptional; lacked the hoppy and malty aspects I look for in a pale ale;
+ Stout – this was magnificent and so easy to drink because it was so roasty and creamy;
+ Solstice (a tripel) – so delicious and light with a very banana flavor.

It is important to note that all Pisgah beers are certified organic.

We brought the gift of Troegs Nugget Nectar for the guys at Pisgah after they specifically mentioned the brewery when we called and told them where we were coming from (Troegs is our hometown brewer), and in return, they let us keep our pint glasses (with a sharp slogan: “We all drink downstream.”)

It was fun to hang out there for a bit, but we were excited about getting back to town for a tasting at Bruisin’ Ales, hosted by Julie and Jason (the owners) and Nate Merchant of Hart Distributing

Barley’s Taproom (Asheville, NC)

We had some time to kill before we could get into our hotel, so we headed downtown to Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria.  It was easy to find parking in the lot just down the hill, which has designated spaces for the public, and a ticket machine to pay for the space with coins, dollars or credit card.  Barley’s is in a 1920’s appliance store – a large open space on the first floor with beautiful old wood, and a terrific large bar.  There are 45 taps total (25 taps on the main level; an additional 20 in the smoky upstairs billiard area), and there are only a few repeats. Barley’s charges no cover for music, and is non-smoking until 10:00 PM. 

We had a very friendly staff member at the bar, who allowed us small tastes of a few things before making our choices, and when we ordered our glasses, we enjoyed the following:

Catawba Valley Whiskey Brown (7% ABV; from Glen Alpine, NC), which had the obvious flavor of whisky coming through, but I also tasted “tootsie roll” and cinnamon, and found it was a reminiscent of Old Chub.  This brown ale is barrel-aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels for six months and cask conditioned for secondary fermentation, then blended with younger beer.

Vortex 1 I3PA from Pisgah Brewing Company (10.8% ABV; 133 IBUs – served in a 10 oz glass), which had the nose of Tang (instant orange beverage), and a nice dry flavor.  There was not a hint of citrus/grapefruit to this beer, made with Chinook and Nugget hops (one pound of dry hops per barrel.)

Catawba Valley Firewater IPA (5.6% ABV), which I don’t recall having much to say about other than, “Hmmm…that’s good.”  It had a memorable copper color and flavor that would make it “almost” a session beer were it not for the alcohol content; it had five varieties of malt and six hop additions.

While finishing off our pints, we overheard a couple asking for “the new beer store”, which we quickly determined was Bruisin’ Ales.  We gave them directions (just down the street), and I shared my digital photos so they would know what to look for.  When they left, we noticed that Nate Merchant (of Hart Distributing) was sitting at the bar doing some work, and we invited him to come down.  It was great to chat with him for just a few minutes and learn about the import, premium and craft brewed beers that can be found in North Carolina, as well as the process of getting them there.  We really appreciated the time he took to explain it all – with the changing laws from state to state, and so many tricks to the industry, it’s sometimes difficult to make sense of it all.

Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. (Asheville, NC)

We arrived in Asheville just in time to enjoy lunch at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company (ABC.)  What a funky façade, which continued straight to the interior.  This brewpub includes a theatre (showing Eragon this week!) and game room, as well as lots of fun little things to see and experience inside (some of my favorites…we sat in the “Ancient & Dreamy” silo (a turret with a mystical castle look to it; there was also a library silo), fun tiles and paintings everywhere, collage art, cup holders in the restroom stalls, restrooms designated as “indoor plumbing”, and one of my favorite features was the sign at the door to seat yourself that designated the non-smoking section as any direction.

We sat at the William Shatner table, and quickly noticed that EVERYONE was at the ABC for their lunch buffet (and probably the good beer, too!)  The bar featured 6 or 9 different types of pizza, two soups (I loved the vegetarian chili), a very nice salad bar with mixed baby greens, feta cheese, and lots of other fresh ingredients. It also had a dessert section with ice cream and a signature chocolate cake that went so very well with the stout.

We had pints of three of the eight beers (Red Light IPA was not available, and we didn’t try the Houdini ESP, Rook Porter, Scottish Ale and Looking Glass):

+ Shiva IPA – this had a nice hop flavor with nothing overpowering; it’s apparently the only thing our waiter drinks (and he said 2 out of the 3 brewers drink this exclusively.) 

+ Scout Stout – nice, roasty and dark with a rich flavor; I liked it from the first sip, but I especially enjoyed with the chocolate cake!

+ Roland’s ESB – this had great head retention, and was creamy and smooth.

In addition to the other beers made at ABC, there were a few guest taps available.  I tried not to look to goofy walking around checking out the amazing décor and taking snapshots, but there is just so much character to this place that I wanted to soak it all in.

Foothills Brewing Company (Winston-Salem, NC)

A major accident closing I-81 caused us to reroute our trip, and instead we took the slower but more beautiful trip on US 29 to I-40 into Winston-Salem.  D made our lodging arrangements in advance, so we checked in and quickly headed off to dinner at Foothills Brewing Company (we were pleased to learn that the kitchen remained open until 11, and the place would be open until 2 AM with live music.

Foothills was easily located under the towering GMAC building, and right next to a lunch counter with antique pretzel cans (many from locations near our home) lining the window.  Inside, Foothills, which opened on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004, was a large, open space – very warehouse in appearance with a large brick wall, and lots of open seating.  The bar and band area is tucked toward the back, and with the lower ceiling design, the noise, joyful as it may be, was contained to that area.  We were greeted by an extremely friendly fellow named Ben, who we later learned works in distributing to many areas, including Asheville. Our waiter, Che, was an extremely pleasant and helpful fellow.  We didn’t get to meet the Jamie, the brewer, because he’d gone to
Florida.

We ate well, and we drank well.  I had a beautiful salad of greens topped with soft, fried, cashew-encrusted chevre cheese and garnished with oranges, snow peas on a layer of citrus vinaigrette with rosemary.  I should have stopped there, but I also ordered a cup of chili (very thick and meaty…more than my liking, but oh, so nicely spiced!) and unfortunately for my waistline, helped D with this mountain of beer-battered onion rings.  They were thick and creamy – the kind that just melt in your mouth – and served with homemade catsup.  Additionally, he had a wonderful plate of shrimp and grits.  The shrimp was done in a lovely tomato-based sauce, and the grits were creamed with cheese.  It was a spicy yet succulent dish.

Foothills offers a sample tray of the six regular brews, but I knew I didn’t want anything “golden” or a pilsner when there was a double IPA and imperial stout on the menu.  So I created my own sample tray of four ales (IPA, Stout, Porter and Festive (IBA)), then had a 10 oz of the Seeing Double IPA. D had a pint of the ESB, followed by a 10 oz of the Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout (specifics on the beers follow this posting.)

Everything we had at Foothills was enjoyable.  Everything was well done, and the overall experience at this brewpub was notable.  One of my favorite observations was the staff.  Ben and Che were both attentive and knowledgeable wait staff, but it was after we left our table and went to the bar that they really impressed me. 

They don’t just work at Foothills – they are patrons of the place, and enjoy hanging out drinking the local brew after hours.  And knowing we were out-of-towners, they took additional time to come talk to us about the beers, the town and advise us on the next few days of our trip.  They made us feel welcome, not just as new customers, but as new friends to the area.  And it was obvious that they many of the people were good friends and good customers.

The music was pleasant (single guy with acoustic guitar and vocals), the beers were satisfying (Seeing Double was excellent; Hoppyum was worthy of a shirt purchase for me, while D chose the Total Eclipse Stout shirt for the bird/beer combination artwork.)

Hoppyum IPA    6.75%
Total Eclipse Stout    7.0%;  44 IBUs
Rainbow Trout ESB   4.5%;  38 IBUs
Porter – bitterness from roasted malt
Festive IBA   7% – bitterness from hops
Seeing Double IPA   9.5%; 110 IBUs
Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout  10.5% – aroma is flammable!  This beer is smooth with chocolate, but not ovepowering.

Queen City Brewing (Staunton, VA)

Just off Interstate I-81 is the historic little town of Staunton, VA.  Brick sidewalks line the rolling hills of the downtown area, and old buildings appear to be restored into useful locations for the locals.  And tucked off on the north-west side of town is a great little spot called Queen City Brewing, which is Staunton’s first brewery since Prohibition.  We found it on Wednesday afternoon, and it’s taken me this long to post about it.

This place has a fabulous set-up for both brew-your-own and vint-your-own.  One wall was lined with the large glass bottles of wine in the making…it was so pretty to see all of the different colors with gentle back-lighting, and reminded me of the days when my father used to create his own homemade wines.

The brewing area was most fascinating – set-up like one of those supper kitchens (where busy working people can pay to create meals for the family that are easy to heat and eat). Just like finding all of the ingredients chopped and ready, this place has multiple barrels of malt, multiple brew kettles ready with mash paddles all lined up, water lines…pretty much anything a person would need at each workstation.  On our visit, there were two parties bottling, and the process appeared to be going very smoothly.  One couple was working together – this was her Christmas present to him.

Wade, the head brewer (and one would assume owner and creator, although we never confirmed that information) offered us each three samples in little plastic cups.  There were twelve styles, and we tried the following:
+ Bavarian Bock
+ Scotch Ale
+ King Rabbit
(an IPA/Tripple hybrid at 9% ABV)
+ Brass Rabbit IPA (very Brittish in style – made with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, and dry-hopped with Cascade)
+ Queen’s Milk Stout (this was a thin…)
+ Imperial Stout (increased malt and hop flavor)

We made a mixed six-pack of 12 oz bottles containing Brass Rabbit IPA, Imperial Stout, King Rabbit, Scotch Ale and White Rabbit Apricot Wheat, then headed out of town.