City Beverage (Winston-Salem, NC)

Wednesday night of trip was littered with traffic faux pas! It took us almost twice as long to travel I-81 last night because of a minor snow storm that nearly put traffic to a crawl (we were stopped for no apparent reason for almost 30 minutes, and much of the time traveling under 20 MPH!) And today we attempted to travel on I-40, but multiple exit ramps to enter westbound were closed.  But we finally made it to Winston-Salem, and, by design, we arrive before Foothills opened.

Just a few blocks away (and one block off 4th Street) is City Beverage. With a name like that, it sure doesn’t sound special. But one walk in the door, and we were already suitably impressed. We were greeted by Spencer, who was friendly and knowledgeable, but not overbearingly attentive. There are two fairly distinct rooms – the more distant room was the beer room, and the entrance room was the wine shop (which also housed a chilled beer selection, homebrewing and wine making supplies area, and a nice selection of glassware, primarily stocked with Reidel for every liquid imaginable.

The beer area was a large room lined with polished dark wood shelves. They had an extremely complete collection, including most everything available in North Carolina (I don’t personally know the list, but it sure looked that way!) There was a great variety of American products, but also Belgian, English, German and Eastern European. The shelving layout was like a library full of beer – okay, maybe only a librarian would say that, but everything seemed to be well organized, and there were no hidden nooks in which the bottles could get lost and go bad.

There is a bar area with comfy leather couches and chairs, and tables constructed of barrels, where customers can select a pint to enjoy while shopping – and the tap list was limited to three, but three very good beers!  We did not have anything to drink there, but we spent some money on bottles!

We’re so busy with visiting friends and enjoying the area now that we’re in Asheville and I just don’t have time to post (and certainly not time to upload photos), but I’m keeping notes…  Foothills report will be next, and then as much of the amazing scene in Asheville that I can provide.

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Great Smokies Brewgrass Festival

I’m so behind on posting about this fabulous event, held back on Sept. 22.  My tardiness is based on several factors:

  1. we had such an AMAZING time over a period of five days in Asheville that I don’t even know how to begin writing about it all, who to thank, or how to fit, in all of the beer,
  2. there was no time to post during the weekend,
  3. and the days following were spent driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (so peaceful) and then back to my hectic job.

Now that I’m done whining, let me shout out my heartfelt thanks to John & Melissa for playing host to us.  They were so kind to open their home and I really enjoyed getting to know them.  They have an amazing family, and it was so nice to spend time together.  It was relaxing to be in their home, and they treated us to some fabulous beers.  I hope one day we can reciprocate.

Credit for our great weekend goes to Bruisin’ Ales, too.  Not just for having the best beer selection in the east (we shopped there EVERY DAY because every day we realized there was something else in stock we wanted to get our hands on), but also because Jason and Julie are such fun people; full of enthusiasm for great beer.  We always enjoy hanging out with these Asheville “beer-lebrities”.

We were also pleased that we got to know James and Michelle over the course of our weekend.  It is always so interesting to read everything he has to share on the Asheville Pubcrawl blog, and they are such terrific people – our weekend in Asheville ended on such a nice note enjoying brunch at Tupelo Honey with them.

Our other group of new acquaintances is almost too large to mention.  I felt like I met all of Alabama that weekend, and we spent time with many people associated with Free the Hops.  “Uncle Jedi” is one of the ringleaders – BTW, he can’t be thanked enough for sharing a 1996 Samiclaus with us (1996 was the last year it was brewed at Hürlimann) – Brent was great to chat with, and KP organized the very nice Friday pubcrawl which was a nice way to meet up with other beer lovers.  I also met another AL girl who loved IPAs and I dragged her through a few lines with me while we chatted – never did remember her name.

Yeah…so about the beers.  Really, reading posts in other blogs or at Beer Advocate and Rate Beer you’ll find more comprehensive lists and descriptions.  Asheville Beer Blog covers it well, FastFreds has great photos including D’s butt and Julie’s panties, Mountain Xpress gives a preview run-down on Asheville locations associated with the event, and I located 48-seconds of video coverage.

  • I couldn’t wait to try Sexual Chocolate from Foothills.  I had it back in February, and it was pretty young then.  It was so smooth and perfect now.  Heavy for the hot day (84F), but it just danced on my tongue.  I loved it.
  • Imperial Kashmir IPA from Highland Brewing was such a treat.  It made a debut at the festival, and sold the next day ($8 for a 22-oz bottle; 10.2% ABV) during a very sedate release event at the brewery.  The brewer of this delightful treat was on-site (he’s as cute in person as he sounds in his podcast; couldn’t find a link to that, but found the article.)
  • Duck Rabbit and Pisgah were both there, and as always, they served up some of the finest beers in North Carolina.
  • Brooklyn served up Schneider Hoffen-Wiesse (mmm, mmm, good!)
  • The controversial Sweetwater Donkey Punch was a lovely barleywine

Then there was the music.  I REALLY enjoyed Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand and enjoyed what I heard and saw of Carolina Chocolate Drops.  The event was held in a terrific venue, except it was hard to enjoy the music AND the beer AND the people all at the same time.

Well, now I have to get back to my busy life, but I feel less guilt that I’ve posted something about this weekend that I’m STILL talking about every chance I get!

Asheville Trip: Catch Up

These are the great places (let’s not even talk about the great EXPERIENCES!) I still need to blog about…

Highland Brewing Company (where we hae a wonderful time, and a wonderful tour!) Thanks to Tony Kiss for being a great host, and the people at Highland for showing off their fabulous facility!

Highland Brewing Crew

Green Man Brewing at Dirty Jack’s

Green Man / Dirty Jacks

Heinzelmannchen in Sylva, NC

Henzelmannchen

Westville Pub (where we met up with Mark and Jean – this was the start of a great night out on the town!)

Westville Pub

Root Bar Number One

Root Bar Number One

Depot Street in Tennesee

Depot Street

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.

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.