Sunday, July 22, 2007

I've got a fever

Seriously. As much as I would like this entry to be about beer, I have been sick since Thursday night, and this cold is now settling deep into my chest. Looks like I will be making a visit to the doctor in the morning. Sorry for this being off topic, but it may be a few days until I have the energy to write another beer related post. In the mean time, I implore everyone who reads this blog to have a beer or two. It will help my recovery.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Wonderful World of Beer Trading

A rather average looking cardboard box was on my porch today when I came home, but the contents were anything but average. Within the box was a Three Floyds Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Any beer geek that has perused the top rated beers at Beer Advocate or Rate Beer will know that this is a highly regarded beer that is very hard to come by. As a matter of fact, the beer is only available one day of the year at the site of the brewery, known as Dark Lord Day amongst beer enthusiasts. That day happened to coincide with my wedding anniversary this year, and although my wife loves me it would have been difficult convincing her to spend several hours in Muncie, Indiana waiting in line to get one. But thankfully I have met and traded with several people online, and I was lucky that one of my new friends was able to secure a bottle for me.

Beer trading is easier than you think. There are forums dedicated to the practice at both Beer Advocate and at Rate Beer. All you need is access to good local beer that someone in another part of the country wants to try. It may take a little coaxing if you are brand new to trading, but before long you will be trading and meeting new friends from all over the United States. I'm fortunate to have received a variety of beers, including the Westvleteren 12, considered by many to be the best beer in the world, Three Floyds Dreadnaught Double IPA, one of the finest double IPA's in the country, Alpine Beer Company's Great Ale, a strong ale aged in Jack Daniels barrels, and many others. If I tried to get these beers at their source, I would have racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles. In addition to getting great beers from far away places, it's just as rewarding to know that you can send some of our great local beers to other folks so they can see how good we stack up with the rest of the country. I have gotten great feedback from sending Highland's Tasgall and Cold Mountain Ales, as well as Pisgah's Baptista and Vortex II, in addition to some regional and East Coast beers that aren't available in other areas.

So what are you waiting for? Get your cardboard box and your bubble wrap ready, and explore the wonderful world of beer without having to go further than your nearest package store (I highly recommend Corner Post on Haywood in West Asheville).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Seeing Red

Pisgah Brewing Company is at at again. Asheville's most adventurous brewery is celebrating their 200th batch with what can best be described as a 'Cherry Blonde Ale'. Aptly called the Red Devil, this golden ale was fermented with a healthy dose of cherries and raspberries and blended with some of their Solstice Tripel. This isn't the first time that Pisgah has defied style guidelines. Their Cosmos was a Baltic Porter fermented using Belgian yeast, and they practically invented their own style with the Equinox, a 'harvest ale'. And then there was the Baptista, which combined many elements of different Belgian style beers into one fantastic tasting brew. In just a couple of years they have pushed the envelope farther than any other local brewery, ignoring convention and crafting inventive beers instead of only brewing what is expected. It seems to be working out pretty well for them.

The Red Devil was delivered yesterday to Carmel's in the Grove Arcade, and it should be arriving at Barley's sometime later today. Look for for these kegs to be tapped soon, and it's possible that this beer could find its way into a bottle.

Update: It is now on tap at both Carmel's and Barley's. Enjoy.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Session #5 - Atmosphere

For the past 5 months, beer bloggers around the globe have gotten together on the first Friday of the month to post about a specific beer style or theme. This month’s theme, chosen by the guys at Hop Talk, is atmosphere. Specifically:

Beer is about more than flavor, IBUs, and the debate over what is a craft beer and what isn’t. It’s about Life. It’s the proverbial icing on the cake.

So, we want to know about the “Atmosphere” in which you enjoy beer.
Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:


Because while life isn’t all about beer, beer is all about life”

Atmosphere can mean many things to many different people. It can be a quiet Sunday in your backyard, a lounge chair on a sunlit beach or a cabin overlooking the mountains. It can be any place that evokes a sense of calm and relaxation, where everything is right in the world.

Perhaps my favorite place I have ever had a beer is the back ‘porch’ of the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon. Sure, their beer is fantastic. The India Pelican Ale is a delight, with a lovely citrus hop finish that competes with many of the best IPA’s in the country. But the beer is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The view from the back of the brewpub is extraordinary. It sits on the Oregon coast, in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Rock outcroppings jut out of the cold Pacific Ocean, and the sandy beach awaits you. A short walk away you can scale a 60 foot sand dune, or you can explore tidal pools teeming with starfish, anemones and other sea creatures. I remember saying to my wife that I did not want to leave. Ever.

Unfortunately, I live some 2500 miles away from that beer paradise, so I have to get my atmosphere closer to home. In my opinion, there is no better place in Asheville to have a beer than in front of Jack of the Wood. Granted, the benches in front are not for everyone. Since the bar is non-smoking, you will definitely encounter your share of smokers which could potentially ruin your ideal atmosphere. But I think the pros outweigh the cons. You have a front row seat to the city, and on a nice leisurely afternoon you can watch the world, or more specifically, Asheville go by. By far the greatest benefit of sitting outside is that it practically forces you to interact with the people around you. Unlike sitting at a table or even at the bar, the benches, with their open seating arrangement, invite conversations with strangers. I have met all kinds of great people there. One night, an older couple from Ireland was in town for their son’s wedding, and we spent a couple of hours talking international politics, culture, food, and of course, beer. Another night my wife and I met a couple on their seventh wedding anniversary, and we got to live vicariously through their celebratory evening. While I certainly appreciate nights with close friends and family, there is something totally unique about meeting a friendly person for the first time that is from across the street or across the pond. It reminds you that human beings are a pretty good lot for the most part.

So I hope all of you have a special place to enjoy a pint of beer and fellowship, and take a moment to think about how special those times are.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Challenge to Asheville Beer Bars

I have been contemplating making a public challenge to Asheville beer bars when I came across some news today. It’s not that we don’t have some fine places to drink. Barleys, Bier Garden, Hannah Flannagans, and others offer plenty of taps to choose from, not to mention our brewpubs. However, I have been disappointed in the lack of variety in their Belgian draft offerings. Well it looks like my dreams have come true. The Thirsty Monk is set to open in September at the current site of Hookah Joes, and they will be offering 8 Belgians on tap, and a large variety of bottled Belgians. To say that I am excited is an understatement of epic proportions. I have been to the Brick Store Pub near Atlanta which was a heavenly experience. They had a variety of Belgians on tap to choose from, such as St. Bernardus Abt 12, Saison Dupont, Cantillon Gueze, La Chouffe, and others, all served in their respective glassware. Let's hope that the Thirsty Monk is able to match the variety that I saw while at the Brick Store. My only concern about our new pub is that they will be serving only Belgians and not other beers. I'm crossing my fingers that there will be enough people like me to appreciate it.

And while I’m on the subject of challenging our local beer bars, I would love to see more beer events. We have the Brewgrass Festival, and Bruisin’ Ales has brought us beer tastings and beer dinners. But what I don’t see are beer themed nights at any of our pubs. There are bars in other places like Durham and even Greenville, SC that have special nights devoted to a beer or brewery. Tyler’s in Durham has a weekly pint night, where you get to try a new brew and take home a glass. Barley’s in Greenville has been having the occasional Freaking Firkin Friday, which features a cask ale from a selected brewery (I could probably start an entire new post on the need for more cask beer in Asheville). I would also love to see special nights for our local and regional brewers when they come out with a new or limited release. It’s these kinds of events that foster and perpetuate the growing beer culture here in Asheville.

Jolly Pumpkin

Brettanomyces. The word alone will send shivers through any winemaker. But what is considered a mistake in wine, with beer it can yield some fantastic results. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Dexter, Michigan is taking the use of this so called pest to new heights. Russian River, Lost Abbey, and other brewers are experimenting with this wonderful, complex yeast and giving beer lovers an entirely new taste sensation. Here in Asheville, the availability of Jolly Pumpkin opens the door to a whole new world of sour, funky goodness.

Jolly Pumpkin is one of the few brewers in the United States that ferments their beer in the open. This allows any number of wild yeasts to help in the fermentation process, including our friend Brettanomyces (which can also be found growing on the inside of the oak barrels that Jolly Pumpkin uses for aging). While this may seem experimental, it actually harkens to the way beer used to be brewed for centuries. When most people think of beer, they think of hops and malt, but the yeast can impart all sorts of interesting flavors. Open fermented beers, or wild ales as they are called, are often sour, earthy, spicy and full of funk.

Thanks to our good friends at Bruisin' Ales, Jolly Pumpkin is now available in the Asheville area. If you are looking for something unusual and different, be sure to give them a try. Feel the funk.