You HAVE Come a Long Way!

Now if only the rest of us could catch up!Asheville Beer Week Logo

My friend James posted this entry to kick off Asheville Beer Week, and in it, he reflects how far they have come in such a short time.

North Carolina finally popped the cap on its archaic beer laws, and the scene was set for what we have today. This past year has seen Asheville and Western North Carolina land three major craft breweries that saw what was going on in our little ol’ town and liked it. It is a testament to the brewers, beer store owners, and beer drinkers of Western North Carolina that allowed this to happen. One of the many endearing qualities that Asheville has is an emphasis on locally made and grown products, and supporting your neighbors business.

Events begin on May 24 (although I might argue that ANY day in Asheville is an event!), and wind down (again, as much as anything winds down in Asheville!) on June 3. During this 11-day event, one of the highlights is the Third Annual Beer City Festival, hosted by Asheville Brewers Alliance and showcasing the best beers brewed in the Carolinas.

If you have the opportunity, drop everything and get your mug to Asheville! If you’re already there, have a few for me, and congratulations!

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The Road to Brewgrass 2009

Julie said it all so well when she talked about the night before Brewgrass Eve.  As one Ashevegas local put it last night as she stood in line to get her BrewDog tastings, “Thursday night is ‘going out night’ in Asheville”, and there was plenty to do!

Bruisin’ Ales was just the start of a great night – the Scotland brewery was well represented with Jason and Julie talking up the seven different BrewDog beers available (I think the site lists 5, and then there were two of their Paradox beers as well – smoked and unsmoked.) Everything was really good, but I was most impressed with Dogma – a 7.8% ale brewed Scottish heather honey and a blend of guarana, poppy seeds and kola nut. Five malts and both Bramling Cross and Amarillo hops contribute to the complexity of this easy-drinking ale.

From the tasting, we headed over to the Thirsty Monk for the 7 pm tapping Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout. Just when I keep thinking, “Enjoy this – you’ll never get it again!,” the seemingly impossible happens, and someone else is serving it! The Monk also featured a cask of New Belgium Hoptober and a keg of Ballast Point Sculpin. It was great to catch up with all of our friends who came into town for the night and enjoy these three terrific beers!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other stops on our way to Asheville. It was enjoyable, as always, to make a stop off in Afton, VA at Blue Mountain Brewery where the Big DIPA was on tap, as well as the Nitro Ale Imperial Porter. We ended our enjoyable evening at Blue Mountain by sharing a bottle of Mandolin – a 9% Tripel named for the brewer’s wife (Mandi Lynn).We pulled in at the same time as Uncle Jedi and Purple Hat Joan (as planned!), so it was great to catch up with them over dinner.

That evening, we were sleeping in Blacksburg, so we decided to check out The Cellar, which had Blacksburger Pils on tap – served in the proper glass! – and also, Shooting Creek Rebel Ale. It was a quiet night in the college town, and I’m pretty sure we closed the place.

So then it was back to the hotel, where Jim shared a growler of Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale with us! I was tired, and frantically searching for my driver’s licence (which I seem to have lost or forgotten…), but kept pulling myself out of it to enjoy this Imperial Belgian Porter brewed with chocolate malt, dark candi sugar, vanilla bean, and tangerine peel, then aged on French Oak chips. This 8.7% beer boasts chocolate, tobacco, molasses, vanilla and hints of banana and clove. It was a great finish for the night!

Finally, one more stop to boast about on our way out of Blacksburg – Vintage Cellar – where we found an amazing selection of wines and an outstanding beer selection. In the hundreds of beers there, I managed to seek out the one we thought we’d missed out on…a stray six pack of Duck-Rabbit Schwarzbier!

It’s raining in Asheville this morning, so we’re making a lazy one of it, but look forward to visiting Pisgah (just ’cause we love it!), Highland (for the special release of 2009 Tasgall Scottish Ale at 4 PM today!) and Wedge, among other things we’ll do in town on Brewgrass Eve!

Brewgrass Festival – 2008

The thing about this festival is that it is so much MORE than a festival.

Yes, a huge part of being here is attending the Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festivalon the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr. ballfield, with (as parsed out by Anne Fitten Glenn at Mountain XPress) 40 craft breweries, more than 200 beers and 5 musical acts all spread over a 7 hour period. There are 3,500 people in attendance, with plenty of security and port-a-potties. And the breweries of western North Carolina are certainly the big draw.

But also on this weekend, there is a release event for Highland Brewing Company. Since 2006, Highland has been releasing an imperial version of one of their regular brews at Asheville’s Brewgrass Festival, and then selling it on Sunday at the brewery. In 2006, it was Imperial Gaelic Ale, followed by Imperial Kashmir IPA in 2007. This year Imperial Black Mocha Stout is the beer, which we tasted (and tasted, and tasted, yesterday) and it is worth standing in line for today!

The brewery describes it as a “hearty stout, rich with coffee and chocolate notes, blending the velvety sweetness of specialty grains with the creaminess of a strong stout.” It will be sold in 22 oz. bottles, at $8 per bottle, and this year there are no limits on the number of purchases. They produced 476 cases, and we’re hoping to score two.

In addition to these two events, there are people and things all over town. Most of it very casusal, and some of it extremely well planned. For instance, Bruisin’ Ales held a special Friday night tasting from 5-8 PM, where Devin, the Dogfish Head rep, served up five brews by DFH including 60-Minute IPA which was run through Randall (with basil, mint and coffee), Festina Peche, Aprihop and Black & Blue. The $4 entry fee went to Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. That 60-minute through the Randall was just outstanding – full of fresh, herbal goodness and topped off with a mild coffee tang – and perfect with the berries Julie prepared on the side.

With less planning, we had fun times running around town. We found ourselves all over (but certainly not everywhere) – gatherings at The Thirsty Monk, Barleys Taproom and the new Wedge Brewing Company, a private Westy 12 tasting at John & Melissa’s house, and an evening with the brewers at the soon-to-be-open Craggie Brewing Company. We even found time on Friday to run down to Greenville for lunch at Blue Ridge Brewing Company and a “hike” to Caesar’s Head State Park for birds and a benchmark.

And then there was the festival… Beer of the day? Well, one of the leading favorites was Rye Knot Brown Ale from Coast Brewing Company. Valdez at Pisgah was certainly a leader (and we finally got our tie-dye t-shirts!), and so was Sexual Chocolate at Foothills. Crazy Train from Depot Street was a favorite among the lighter brews, and of course, Devin was there with the 60-minute through the Randall again. If there were bad beers there, I was smart enough to miss them. We did miss Heintzelmanchen – if they were there, we never saw them.

There is no time for proofreading or posting photos right now because we need to get checked out and off to Highland, but hopefully I’ll have time to do that soon – check back, okay?

I’ve got Scurvy!

Ahoy, tis’ post mid-night, which means tis’ September 19 and tis’ International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I’m celebratin’ by drinkin’ Tyranena Scurvy, brought t’ Ashe’ille compliments o’ Jim ‘n’ Joan!

We had a great afternoon / evenin’ in town, startin’ with a shoppin’ trip at Bruisin’ Ales (the best place to crawl for a salty bottle ‘o grog), followed by a few hours in the new tastin’ room at Pisgah with Dave – the man with the bloody birthday, dinner at Ed Boudreaux’s with John and Melissa, and some sour Belgians at Thirsty Monk (including Cantillon Lamnivus.)

Aye, I’m expectin’ another great day tomorrow – the actual TLPD-2008! Maybe I’ll scrawl some news ’bout that Vortex III…

Carl Melissas – An Artist at Work

Approximately 16 months ago, I had a Carl Melissas beer on the very night he left Green Man.  Prior to that it had been several years – as far back as his days at Bullfrog Brewery.  I knew he would be surfacing again, but unsure how soon.

So I was thrilled to learn details from Asheville beer friends James and Tony that Carl’s beers will be available possibly by the end of the month!  The Wedge Brewing Co. is located at 151 Roberts Street in the French Broad River Arts District of Asheville, NC and Carl has begun production on Iron Rail IPA, which will be available at the tasting room. Citizen-Times has five photos of the place.

Carl is a beer artist, and during his time at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, PA (approximately September 2002 through January 2004) he created some wonderfully creative brews, such as Organic Carob Maple Porter, Raspberry Imperial Stout and Flander’s Golden Ale. Between his years at Bullfrog and Green Man, he was brewing in Georgia. I was thrilled on my first trip to Asheville to learn that he was there, and thoroughly enjoyed his IPA on cask at Green Man in February 2006. I understand that he also brought many fabulous beers to the people of Asheville during his Green Man years (among them, the award-winning Belgian-style Merlin Tripel at 8.4% ABV and Golem – a Belgian strong ale described as “spicy and hoppy, with a sweet, pear-like flavor that finishes dry and slightly bitter” – at 8.8% ABV.)

And now Wedge Gallery owner Tim Schaller is putting his money on Carl to do great things for the Asheville beer scene.

I credit Carl (or at least the results of his work) for helping me get through one of the more painful times in my life – frequent long drives from Harrisburg to Williamsport and back to visit my dying grandfather were comforted by his inventive offerings. Some nights I just stopped in for a half-pint, other times I would dine with my family or bring home a growler. I’ve heard negative commentary on his personal appearance and his business sense, but I have never heard an adverse criticism on his ability to create fabulous beer.

Congratulations to Carl and to Asheville. I look forward to seeing how things go, and hope we can visit soon!

Too Long (?) in Asheville

What was supposed to be a travel day turned out to be a day with friends instead and we ALMOST stayed another night!

After my post this morning, we said our good-byes with our hosts, and drove into town for brunch, where we were greeted by James and Michelle. A tasty smoked trout and goat cheese omelet and a strong cup of organic coffee was my choice at Over Easy Cafe. It was delectable! Everyone seemed to enjoy their food, and the company was engrossing, so we stayed together for a few more hours.

As predicted, we walked up to Bruisin’ Ales for some shopping, and then back down to Barley’s for a glass of Valdez, which turned out to be glasses of Pisgah India Pale Ale, Pisgah Valdez, Pisgah Red Devil and Foothills Sexual Chocolate (BTW- anyone wondering where this name comes from should check out this video) – shared, of course. Can you tell that we like the Pisgah just a little bit?

On our way into town I mentioned to D that we visited most every place we could over the course of our three Asheville jaunts (Catawba was a miss, but I did meet brewer Scott Pyatt on Thursday at Barley’s), and while we’ve had Green Man brews at the Tasting Room, we’ve never been to Jack of the Wood. In talking with James and Michelle, we were reminded that this is one of their favorite places to go, and it wasn’t hard talking them into escorting us there.

Our short stop ended up lasting us all afternoon and into the evening. The atmosphere at Jack of the Wood was so captivating. In addition to spending hours talking to our friends, unexpectedly being joined by Philip (to whom we said our good-byes on Saturday night at the party, and again on Sunday a Bruisin’ Ales) and listening to an Irish jam session (featuring the sqeezebox, tin whistle, bodhran, fiddle, mandolin and others), we just really liked the place a lot. The beer line-up includes all Green Man products (ESB, Pale Ale, IPA, Porter and Imperial Stout) and a nice list of guest taps. (I particularly liked the chalkboards on the ladies room wall, where we could scratch notes to each other, and the hidden “Dora the Explorer” figurine; the staff were also pleasant, friendly and attentive.)

Finally, around 7 PM or so (and reluctantly because the bagpipes had just joined the jam session), we headed out of town with  a short stop at Earth Fare for some parting groceries and a vegan dinner of chickpea salad (imitation tuna salad) and a live green salad, along with some not-so-vegan spicy tuna and avocado sushi and a yogurt for the road.

So here we are outside Bristol, crashing for the night, and reflecting on how wonderful Asheville was. Yes, we stayed too late to reach our target of Horniblows Taproom in Raleigh, but today was much more fulfilling! Thanks, old and new Asheville friends (Melissa, John, Joey, John, Michelle, James, Julie, Jason, Philip, Chris, Trish, Mark, Terri, Jason…I’m forgetting names, which means I need some sleep) for making this a memorable trip!

Oh, What a Night!

We can’t thank the Kledis family enough – really for ALL of their hospitality, but also for putting on a great gathering last night. It was so much fun to join with people we met last year, and make a few new friends, during this major tasting. Everyone brought something great either to eat or to drink (or both), and I believe there were five cases of beer in total. We didn’t drink all of it, thank goodness, but we put a dent in the collection.

Here is the list that D came up with from his notes and I will back up with photographs.  They appear in no particular order, as we weren’t exactly careful about that:

  • Westvleteren 12
  • Southern Tier Gemini
  • Southern Tier Choklat
  • Voodoo Brewing Voodoo Love Child
  • New Glarus Belgian Red
  • New Glarus Raspberry Tart
  • New Glarus Copper Kettle Weiss
  • Mikkeller Black Stout
  • Sprecher Abbey Tripel
  • Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
  • Dogfish Head Palo Santo
  • Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine
  • Catawba Valley Whiskey River Stout
  • AleSmith Speedway Stout
  • AleSmith Yule Tide
  • Lost Abbey Lost and Found
  • Lagunitas Under Cover Shut Down Brown
  • Pisgah Cosmos
  • Pisgah Baptista 2006
  • Pisgah Baptista 2007
  • Pike Old Bawdy Barleywine
  • Fonteinen Oak Aged Kriek 2005
  • Pizza Port Old Viscosity
  • Pizza Port Santa’s Little Helper
  • Alaskan Barleywine 2007
  • Old Dominion Oak Aged Millenium Barleywine 2006
  • DeSchutes Abyss 2007
  • Saint Somewhere Saison Athene
  • Jolly Pumpkin Bier de Mars
  • Atlantic Brewing Company Cadillac Mt. Stout
  • Fantome Chocolate
  • Abbey de Saint Bon Chien 2005
  • Three Floyd’s Dark Lord
  • New Holland Dragon’s Milk
  • Moylans Hopsickle
  • Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock
  • Surly Furious
  • Lakefront Fuel Cafe
  • Brutal Deluxe Dark IPA

So, on the way out of town, we will stop off at Over Easy for brunch with the Raiford’s, Bruisin’ Ales for one last purchase (yes, we always think of something more, and that store is so awesome, it’s hard to pass up a visit!), and Barley’s for a final glass of Pisgah Valdez.

Asheville – so much to do, so little time to blog

In case I really never do catch up with posting my travel notes for this trip, I at least feel obligated to my mother to post where I’ve been.  And now that I know Kramer (is that your name, or your hometown?) is reading daily, I feel even more obligated! I’ll list it all here with links to the places, and if I post later, I’ll link to my posts.  And then there are photos just waiting on my camera…ugh.

Thursday night in the Asheville area:

  • Pisgah for the weekly Thursday night growler fill and tasting (hey, mom and dad, we got your something special, and it’s called Valdez…nothing to do with the oil spill or the peninsula…you’re gonna’ love it!)
  • Bruisin’ Ales for the weekly Thursday evening tasting (this week with Sweetwater!)
  • Barley’s in Asheville for dinner on Thursday night

Friday, starting with a foggy drive to Greenville, SC and ending with a pubcrawl in Asheville (designated driver included):

  • Barley’s in Greenville for lunch, hoping to score a cask ale, but no such luck
  • Blue Ridge Brewing Company for a taste of their products
  • Thomas Creek Brewing Company for a tour and tasting with the owner
  • Green’s Discount Beverage Store – because you can’t get it all in North Carolina!
  • Back in Asheville at Bruisin’ Ales to do some big-time beer shopping (this is a daily trend)
  • Dinner at Ed Boudreaux’s Bayou Bar-B-Que (can you believe I skipped the beer? not D…)
  • Barley’s in Asheville for shared glasses of Valdez and Sexual Chocolate (this will become a daily trend for this particular trip!)
  • Green Man, hoping to score Imperial Stout on cask, but finding it to be Porter
  • Thirsty Monk for the “wow – what a great new beer place in town!” experience

Saturday:

  • A drive to Dillsboro Smokehouse for barbeque
  • Growler fill at Heinzelmännchen Brewery
  • Bruisin’ Ales to do some little-time beer shopping (did I mention this is a daily trend when we come to Asheville?)
  • Barley’s in Asheville for shared glasses of Valdez and Sexual Chocolate (I said daily!)

And now I better get myself downstairs, as all of the fun people in Asheville are coming to a party! (PS – even though my WordPress timeclock says it’s midnight, it’s not…it’s only 7 PM!)

Foothills (Winston-Salem, NC)

I’ve found some time to post more notes from Thursday, so here is my report from our lunch at Foothills Brewing Company. There hasn’t been a whole lot of change since our last visit, so I won’t ramble on here about it. As expected, the draft selection was fabulous, but to start our day off slowly:

  • I only had one – the Seeing Double IPA(9.5%; 110 IBUs), which is just a wonderful example of a double IPA. Nothing overpowers (other than the fact that it is a double IPA!); it’s just a warm, sweet nectar. It is served in a 10 oz glass, and the deep copper color is just beautiful. It has a light citrus aroma, and a pine hop bite. Cloudiness in the glass adds to the mystery of this double IPA.
  • D had the Hoppyum IPA(6.75% ABV) to start, while his Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout had time to warm. This is so different from the Seeing Double IPA. It is a clear copper color with a crisp finish. Simply a pleasant American IPA.
  • The Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout (10.5% ABV) was so much better than last February. Last year it was really hot – really to the point that I couldn’t drink it – it ruined my taste buds. This year, it still has an obvious high alcohol burn, but the rich flavors of chocolate and roasted malts, and the sweetness of dark fruits come through well. This beverage has a strong alcohol burn, which will mellow out over time. I believe last year I called the aroma flammable, but this year’s brew is sweet to the nose.

The best thing about our visit was that we got to meet Jamie Bartholomaus, the owner and brewer of Foothills, and a Pennsylvania native. It was so kind of his wife, Sarah, to stop by and check on our table. She talked with us a bit, and picked up on the fact that we were interested in meeting him. He was able to sit down, taking time to chat for awhile.

We learned his interesting history in brewing, and one of his former brewing experiences was at Olde Hickory Brewing Company, and the former brewing facility (now more of a restaurant and small batch brewing facility) was on the way out of town.  We confirmed our suspicion that the Sexual Chocolate was brewed a little earlier this year (October) and tweaked just enough to make it more enjoyable in February (in time for the bottle release, although our bottles will certainly sit for awhile longer!) It sounds like it will be easy to find a glass in Asheville (and other locations for anyone not visiting Asheville!), but he held back at least 12 kegs for aging and release throughout the year. Naturally, Foothills will be at Brewgrass, but also he mentioned a food/beer pairing he’ll be attending called Savor in DC. He gave us a sample of the People’s Porter as well. It would have been lovely to stay longer and drink a whole glass, but we needed to move on.

But I would be remiss in ending this post without talking about the food. Our waiter, Stephen, was quite conscientious despite the busy lunch crowd. He talked to us about some of the menu changes (they dropped the salad with chevre, oranges and snow peas that I loved so much!), but he made other recommendations. I had the Greek salad made with romaine and spinach, topped with balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and feta. The green goddess dressing (made with cream cheese) was a bit too thick for my taste, so I had the balsamic vinaigrette. Along with it, I enjoyed a cup of the creamy She Crab Soup, which had a little zip to it, and small pieces of shell, just so you know it’s authentic! D had the Cuban sandwich, which came with some terrific fries and a wonderful garlic dill pickle spear.

It’s hard not to enjoy yourself at Foothills, but do take quarters for the meter (only 25-cents an hour) and keep it fed!

Olde Hickory at Amos Howard’s (Hickory, NC)

Amos Howard’s Restaurant & Brew Works is located at the former brewing facility for Olde Hickory. The new Olde Hickory Brewing Company facility opened in 2000 and does no serving; the Olde Hickory Taproom was already established, so the OLD Olde Hickory was renamed Amos Howard’s in 2002, and provides Olde Hickory beers as well as a small brewing facility that is sometimes used. Confused?

We stopped by after lunch at Foothills – it is close enough to be on the way to Asheville, but far enough that I could take a nap on the way there. We actually passed it, and I was pleased to learn that our friend Dave did, too, on his visit. Once found, it looks very plain on the outside (almost abandoned!), and inside it is on the verge of being just another smoky North Carolina dive bar.

We entered by walking through a great big barrel to the hostess station and giggled a little about the barrel booths (chintzy and unique!) We chose seating at the bar, which was also a unique shape. Instead of being one straight line, three “mini bars” branch out from the main bar, allowing patrons to sit together and talk face to face in small groups. Marilyn Manson was playing loudly on the jukebox, and combine with the cigarette smoke, I was thinking that maybe beer wasn’t even in order here.

But we ordered. D had a Weizenbock, and tasters of the Poor Richard’s Ale and the Sinatra Barley Wine (12.5% ABV.) I had the Hickory Stick Stout. Pints here are 20 oz, but our bartender offered to pour me a half (which really looked more like 2/3, but I appreciate the effort. Eleven house taps were on at Amos Howard’s:

  • Piedmont Pilsner
  • Brown Mountain Light
  • Ruby Lager
  • Poor Richard’s
  • Crawdad Red
  • Table Rock Pale Ale
  • Hickory Stick Stout
  • Hefeweizen
  • Weizenbock (8% ABV)
  • Nessie’s Scotch Ale (8% ABV)
  • Sinatra Barleywine (12.5% ABV)

Once the music stopped playing, the beers were enjoyable. I didn’t take the time to take notes, as nothing was outstanding on the good or bad side. 

The staff were friendly and attentive, and told us that some – very little, but some – of the brewing is still done here. In the brewing room window, we noticed 5 liter mini kegs of five different beers. That’s kind of unique for such a small place. And the bottle selection at Amos Howard’s was very nice – sure beats running into W-S to City Beverage every time you want something unique! Unfortunately, many of the other customers were not looking for unique. There was a LOT of Budweiser being consumed and put on to cool for the evening crowd.

One thing I noticed is that their website says, “Here at OHB we are proud to offer something you can get nowhere else around town, or in NC for that matter. Our Cask-Conditioned Ale, served off a real British Beer Engine, the way it was meant to be, Real Ale.” As a lover of cask ale, I was downhearted to learn there was nothing on cask. Also, I need to point out that Foothills does cask ales (they just did Seeing Double!), and so do Green Man and Big Boss (and probably others if I took time to do the research.)