Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pinch me, I must be dreaming

Whew, where do I begin? Saturday’s beer tasting was fantastic, and it was a great showcase of beers from both coasts and points in between. It is hard to pick a favorite, but I really enjoyed the Green Flash West Coast IPA, which packed a ton of grapefruity hop taste without a lot of bitterness. It was truly an excellent representation of the West Coast style of IPA's. The Port Hop 15 was the most aggressive of the bunch, and I think I can still taste the hops this morning. Sadly, these beers are only available out west, so you have to book a trip to get some, or better yet, strike up a trade with someone.

Meeting Lee Chase was a beer geek’s dream, and I tried my best not to fawn over him too much. He is a great guy who not only has a great beer palate, but also has a profound understanding of the science of brewing. Since leaving Stone Brewery, Lee has started a brewery consulting business, which allows him to travel the world helping new breweries to get up and running.

Speaking of helping breweries, Lee will be an initial consultant for a new brewery in Durham. Sean Wilson, founder of Pop the Cap and hero to craft beer drinkers throughout the state, is in the beginning stages of opening a production brewery. Fullsteam Brewery will feature a talented homebrewer, Chris Davis, with Lee Chase providing consulting work in the beginning stages. Keep an eye on this brewery, as Sean has some interesting ideas on brewing and he has a soft spot for cask and barrel aged beers.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the proceeds for the tasting went to support the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Federal money to maintain the parkway is often not enough, and that is where this organization steps in. They have a variety of programs including trail and overlook maintenance. In particular, their Save the Views program is working hard to maitain the integrity and beauty of the parkway overlooks. If you ever drive on the parkway and want to help preserve it, give some thought to donating your time or money with this excellent organization.

Following the tasting, French Broad Brewing Company hosted a dinner that included most of Asheville’s brewing community. Highland, Pisgah, French Broad, and the new Wedge Gallery Brewery were represented, as well as local beer writer Tony Kiss and Southern Brew News editor Bob Townsend. Dinner was provided by the always excellent 12 Bones, and all of the brewers brought some beers for everyone to sample, including a few special offerings. Be sure and check out the Bruisin' Ales blog for their writeup and a couple of pictures.

Here’s a summary of what’s going on with some of our local breweries:

Highland: Let’s just say that I think the Imperial Kashmir is going to be a home run. Its still a bit young, but wow, this is one big wonderful hoppy beer. There will be about twice as much of the Imperial Kashmir than there was for the Imperial Gaelic release last year. They are still working out the details on the packaging, as they are looking to avoid having to hand bottle such a large amount. Make your plans to get up early after Brewgrass to go by the brewery and pick some up. Highland is also considering a summer seasonal, possibly a wheat beer.

Pisgah: Wow, it was certainly a treat getting to sample some Baptista from last year. The beer is holding up very well, and if you are lucky enough to still have some it will be interesting to see what it tastes like in the coming months and years. This year’s Baptista has been in the tanks since June, patiently awaiting its December release. This will sell out very quickly, and I will definitely be keeping you informed when it gets close to the release date. Another great way to keep up with Pisgah is by visiting the brewery on Thursday evenings to pick up a growler and to meet the guys behind the beer.

French Broad: Drew Barton is doing a great job since he took over the brewing operations at French Broad. In addition to their standards, Drew has brewed his own recipes as well. His bock was exceptional, but unfortunately there is very little of it left. The Kolsch, another of Drew’s beers, is doing really well, and is a great summertime thirst quencher (it’s back on tap at Barleys). His newest beer is the Rosebud Porter, and he is also working on adding a Pale Ale to the lineup as well as bringing back some of the Belgian style beers from the past. I highly encourage folks to swing by the brewery to sample some of these great beers. French Broad is in good hands. In additon, this Thursday’s beer tasting at Bruisin’ Ales will be featuring French Broad.

The Wedge Gallery Brewery: Carl is hard at work, as he gets ready for the opening of the brewery in November or December. I plan on making a visit soon to check out the progress of the brewery and hopefully to get a few pictures. This will be a wonderful addition to the growing River Arts District.

Other tidbits: Plans are still in place for a new brewpub at the old T.S. Morrison’s site on Lexington Avenue. It will certainly be a while before it is up and running, and I will try to get more details as things progress. There is also another possible brewery in the works, but they are still only in the planning stages and have yet to secure a location. Also, look for a new beer/wine/homebrew shop to be opening in the next month or so on Haywood Road in West Asheville, across from Digable Pizza.

The dinner was a great showcase of the talent and diversity of Asheville’s brewers. We are fast becoming one of the best beer destinations in the country.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Coming Attractions

First of all, I had a great time last night meeting the folks from Foothills Brewery and drinking their Oktoberfest. It was a great beer, and it was interesting to compare the cask and the draft versions. The draft version is on tap downstairs at Barley if you want to try some yourself.

Forgive me for mentioning this again, but I just want to stress how great this Saturday's event at Bruisin' Ales is going to be. For ten dollars advanced (15 at the door) you get to sample a wonderful variety of beers from both coasts. Lee Chase is bringing along a couple of extra beers from the West Coast that were recently added to the beer list. I am particularly looking forward to trying Port Brewing Hop 15 Double IPA. What does the 15 mean? Thats the amount of different kinds of hops that were used to make the beer. The Green Flash West Coast IPA and the Ballast Point DIPA were also recently added to the beer list, both of which are only available out west. One last reason to go on Saturday: Its a fundraiser that benefits the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. So you get to drink good beer and feel good doing it. Not that you wouldn't feel good anyway.

If that isn't enough beer for you, Bruisin' Ales is also hosting a beer dinner on Monday night. Dogfish Days of Summer celebrates one of the best craft brewers in the country. The menu showcases their versatile lineup, beginning with the Festina Peche, a slightly tart peach ale that is quite refreshing and finishing with a 'mystery beer'. It is a very intriguing menu, and Bruisin' Ales has been doing an excellent job in helping to open peoples eyes about beer and food pairings (pairings aren't just for wine drinkers anymore).

Hopefully we will see you out at the event tomorrow. Happy drinking.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Beer of the Moment - Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Stout

Belgium. Germany. England. The United States. Each of these countries can arguably lay claim to be being one of the best beer regions in the world. But Scandinavia? Well something is brewing in the land of fjords, and it isn’t just socialized medicine. There is a craft beer movement afoot, one that would make Aegir, the Norse god of brewing, proud.

Would anyone have guessed that the number one rated beer on would be from Sweden? The Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter has gotten rave reviews for both its complexity and balance. Unfortunately, this is not available in the states. But there are a couple of other Scandanavian breweries that have made their way across the Atlantic, and they are available here in Asheville. Nøgne Ø is brewed in Lillesand, Norway, and has adopted several American beer styles into its repertoire (check this blog to read up on the Norwegian beer scene). I have seen their pale ale on the shelf at Bruisin’ Ales, but I have yet to pick one up. However, I was able to grab another beer from Scandinavia that has whetted my appetite for more beers from Northern Europe.

Mikkeller is a Danish brewery, the name being an amalgamation of the names of the homebrewers who started the brewery, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller. Within a year of brewing, they were named Brewery of the Year by the Danish Beer Enthusiasts, and after having a few sips of their Beer Geek Breakfast Stout, I can see why. The initial smell alone tells you what you are in for, with a coffee aroma that will definitely perk up your nose, and eventually your taste buds. This stout is as well crafted as any American Imperial Stout that I have come across. The coffee taste is prominent, but not overwhelming, and is complemented by hints of dark chocolate and toasted malt. This is a fine brew, and I hope to see more of Mikkeller’s offerings come to the states. The Beer Geek Breakfast Stout is available at Brusin’ Ales and Greenlife.

A friendly reminder to look at my calendar to the right to see what beer events are happening in the area. I will be attending both the Foothills Oktoberfest on Thursday night at Barleys, and the West meets East beer tasting event at Bruisin’ Ales on Saturday. If you see a bespectacled, tall, hairy blonde guy, be sure and say hello.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Looking into my crystal ball

Last Monday was the two year anniversary of North Carolina getting rid of its archaic 6 percent limit on beers, and since then we have seen a great influx of new breweries that have never distributed here before. But there are still plenty of interesting breweries that have yet to step foot in our state. Here is a trio of breweries that I think we might be seeing in the next year or so. My personal wish list would include a few more choices, but breweries like Russian River and Lost Abbey are not likely to be making their way here any time soon.

Stone Brewing Company

Just reading the label on their flagship brew, Arrogant Bastard, tells you everything you need to know about this brewery:

“This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory -- maybe something with a multi-billion dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it's made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. perhaps you think that multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you are mouthing your words as you read this.”

Stone concentrates on making big, assertive beers including their hop loaded Ruination IPA, the fantastic Russian Imperial Stout, and their annual Anniversary Ale which changes each year. An excellent opportunity to try some Stone is coming up next week at the West Meets East event at Bruisin’ Ales (this is a ticketed event). If you can’t make it then, you can always drive an hour to Johnson City and pay a visit to One Stop Discount Wines and Liquors just off the interstate, where they have the Arrogant Bastard, Ruinitation IPA, Stone IPA, and occasionally some of Stone’s special releases.

I think we stand a pretty good chance of Stone moving into our market sometime in 2008.

Stoudt’s Brewing Company

Located in eastern Pennsylvania, this brewery recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary. They brew a wide variety of styles, everything from a Pilsner to an Imperial Oatmeal Stout. I personally have tried their Double IPA in Florida of all places, and it was a great and different take on the style, with a big malt backbone that took center stage away from the hops. There were rumblings a few months back that Stoudt’s would be down here this year, but that has not happened yet. We are on their radar, and they already distribute to Virginia, Florida, and Georgia, so I suspect we will see this beer soon.

Lagunitas Brewing Company

This northern California brewery does not shy away from controversy or from brewing big aggressive beers. Like most west coast breweries, hops are often center stage, and Lagunitas has a wide variety of beers that showcase them, including their regular IPA and IPA Maximus. One of their most interesting releases was the Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. This beer was brewed to honor their 20 day suspension, a result of a marijuana bust at their brewery. They are definitely not afraid to push some buttons. One of my personal favorite Lagunitas beers is a seasonal release called Brown Sugga, a barleywine style beer with a lovely sweet sugary finish. Currently Lagunitas can be found in Virginia and Georgia. I have not heard anything about them possibly coming to North Carolina, but given our burgeoning craft beer scent I would not be surprised if we were high on their list of places to expand.

There are certainly plenty of other breweries that may find their way to our state soon. A good idea to get some of these beers here is to email the breweries to let them know that you love their beer and you would like to see their beer on our shelves.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Would you pay half a million for a bottle of beer?

I'm a man of modest means, and sometimes I cringe when I pay over ten dollars for a bottle of beer, even when that is a deal compared to expensive bottles of wine. Well, ten dollars is certainly a bargain compared to this $500,000 bottle of beer sold recently on ebay. Of course the skeptic in me thinks this may not be a real bid, but the bottle is certainly special. Allsopp's Arctic Ale was brewed in 1852 for an arctic expedition by the same brewery that is partially credited for brewing the first IPA's, beers strong enough to last the long harsh travel conditions to India from the British Isles (incidentally, beer blogger and author Pete Brown is recreating this trip for a new book). The beer must have been huge, both high in alcohol and with enough hops to survive the long trek (although certainly not as highly hopped as todays West Coast IPA's). A small brewery in England even went so far as to try and recreate the beer, and it went on to be a Champion Beer at the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival.

I am sure that the person who bought this bottle is a collector, but I have to wonder what the beer would taste like. It would not be the first time such an old beer was sampled. Last year, an 1869 Ratcliff Ale was discovered among a few other old beers found at a brewery in England. That beer was opened, poured into a glass, and the beer tasted "absolutely amazing". Now that was a once in a lifetime sip of beer. I wonder if our big spender will do the same?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Beer(s) of the Moment

I can't promise a regularly scheduled beer review column, so I have aptly titled this post as 'Beer of the Moment'. I am hoping to occasionally post on beers available in the area that are worth taking a look at. So without further ado, on to the beers.

Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 27th Anniversary this year. It is amazing to think about how long they have been going at it, and their Pale Ale is partially responsible for the craft beer revolution we are experiencing today. Its nice to know that if I step foot into any town in America, it is likely that I can find a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale amongst the Bud, Miller, and Coors offerings that are so ubiquitous in grocery stores and gas stations everywhere. To celebrate their anniversary, they have released their Anniversary Ale, a highly hopped IPA that showcases the Cascade hop that Sierra Nevada has utilized for years. This is not an over the top IPA, but it shines with the fresh taste of the citrusy Cascade hops that has defined the West Coast style of beers for the past decade or so. At just under 6 percent alcohol, it is sessionable and tasty as well. I was able to pick up a 6 pack at Earthfare, but I imagine it could be found at most of the good beer stores in town over the next several weeks.

My second featured beer is Ommegedon, brewed by Ommegang, perhaps the best American example of Belgian style ales. This is a Belgian Pale Ale, not unlike a Duvel, but with a twist. It was bottled with a dose of Brettanomyces giving it an ever so slightly sour and funky finish that complements the subtle spices and candied sugar. The Brett is in the background now, but with a month or two of aging it should give this beer a more earthy finish. This is a limited release, so get it while you can. I bought mine at Bruisin' Ales.

I have added a calendar to the right side of the blog, and I hope to keep it updated with beer related events in the area.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Au revoir

I haven't posted in awhile because I've been running back and forth to and from Little Rock, Arkansas, where I'll be moving later this week. It's a career advancement decision, not one I made lightly. So, this is it for my posts here. Kilgore Trout came aboard as co-blogger several weeks ago and has done an outstanding job. He's been taking the blog into areas I had envisioned when starting out, but never really found the time to do right. So I wish him the best. I'll still be reading regularly to keep up on the local beer scene. With family in the Greenville, SC area, we'll be passing through a couple of times a year. I look forward to all the developments in the works, such as the Wedge Gallery brewery, the brewpub in the former TS Morrison building, and new pubs in West Asheville, not to mention new brews from existing breweries.

Please give KG your support, and feel free to contact me if you ever pass through Little Rock and want to grab a beer.

P.S. If anyone would like to take over my Asheville Pubcrawl website please send a note to hiker33 (at)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Imperial Kashmir IPA

This is probably old news already for those of you who peruse the great blog at Bruisin' Ales, but I did want to pass along the news that Highland Brewing Company is planning a special release for the day after Brewgrass Festival. Many folks will recall the special release last year of the Imperial Gaelic Ale, a ramped up version of their flagship beer that was released in limited quantities at the brewery in one liter swing top bottles. I picked up 6 of these myself, and they were wonderful. I wish they would have made it a full time offering, or at least an annual seasonal. Well this year, they are giving the same treatment to the Kashmir IPA, which I am really looking forward too. The beer will be available Sunday at noon on September 23rd. Considering the large crowd that gathered last year, I would suggest going at the very least about an hour or so early. One can only hope that an Imperial Black Mocha Stout will be their special release in 2008.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Random Notes

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I was able to recover from my illness enough to go to Bele Chere over the weekend though. Thank (insert deity of your choice here) for the local beer tent. It was nice being able to walk around Bele Chere with a Shiva IPA instead of a Red Hook, or worse, a Budweiser. I was also lucky enough to get a Duvel to go from Picholine on Haywood to enjoy while listening to the Laura Blackley Band. The emphasis on local musicians this year was a nice change from years past. Bele Chere is still a love it or hate it event, but drinking good beer and listening to good music will always get a thumbs up from me.

Speaking of drinking good beer, tickets are on sale right now for the Brewgrass Festival, and they always sell out. With the work being done at Pack Place, this years festival is being held at the ballfield at Martin Luther King Park on September 22nd. I was out there for Shindig on the Green earlier this year, and it should make for pretty good venue, although there won't be a lot of shade to go around. I think it will be better than the tight fit last year on Market Street in the Block. I really enjoyed it two years ago when it was held at McCormick Field, but the powers that be decided we were a bit too hard on the outfield grass. Regardless of where it is, the Brewgrass Festival is always a good time, and I suggest ordering tickets as soon as possible.

If you are feeling adventurous, another great beer event is the World Beer Festival in Durham on October 6th. This will be the 12th one held in Durham, and it is arguably one of the best beer festivals in the Southeast. I am embarrassed to say that I have yet to attend, but I did go to its sister festival this spring held in Raleigh, and they had a great lineup of beers, quite a few of which are not available in our area. Tickets went on sale today, and they also sell out well before the day of the festival.

Another mini beer event of note will be occurring at Barleys on the 23rd of this month (August, for those of you who aren't near a calendar). If you recall an earlier post of mine, I was lamenting the lack of beer related events here at the local beer bars, and I specifically mentioned cask ale. Well, Foothills Brewing out of Winston-Salem will be rolling into town with the release of their Oktoberfest lager. Not only will they be featuring this beer on regular draft, but they will also be bringing a cask version. I have never had the pleasure of drinking a cask lager, so I am definitely looking forward to trying it out.

I'm going to be in Tampa next week for work. Not necessarily a beer mecca, but at least I get to see my folks. I had originally been scheduled to go to San Francisco, where I would have regaled you with stories of highly hopped west coast beers, but alas, those plans fell through. But looking at the next couple of months, there should be plenty of good beer to be had here in North Carolina.