Friday, September 28, 2007

On Tap - Barleys, Part Deux

This is the second edition of 'On Tap', and in the first one I promised to occasionally post about what's pouring in local beer bars. Well, I haven't exactly gotten around to doing that yet, and I'm featuring the same bar that I posted about in the first one. I will eventually make it to another bar, but there were a couple of notable beers on tap at Barley's last night that I needed to share.

As I mentioned in the Brewgrass writeup, the Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse was scheduled to be tap at Barley's soon, and I am happy to report that it is pouring downstairs right now. It uses the Schneider Hefeweizen yeast, so it has some of the familiar banana and clove tastes that you would associate with a German hefe, but it is dry hopped with Amarillo and Palisades hops, giving it a citrusy aftertaste. This is bigger than your traditional hefe at 7.8% alcohol, but you can hardly tell it is there. If you are a fan of German hefeweizens I would suggest giving this unusual rendition a try. It will only be available for a limited time.

Closer to home, Pisgah's Fall seasonal, Equinox is now available upstairs. This one is not easy to classify, with Pisgah dubbing it a 'Harvest Ale'. It is amber in color, with a sweet lightly toasted malt flavor that is combined with an earthy, slightly spicy finish. A very interesting beer to say the least, which is no surprise coming from the brewers at Pisgah. Another big beer, this one clocks in at 7.5%.

Last but not least, one of my favorite regional breweries, Terrapin Beer Company out of Athens, Georgia, has brewed an 'India Brown Ale'. As the name suggests, this beer is a marriage between a hoppy IPA and a sweet brown ale, and the pairing seems to work. As with most browns, this one has a nice caramel/chocolaty sweetness, and the addition of 5 types of hops plays a wonderful contrast with its bitter finish. This will eventually find its way into bottles, but in the mean time you can head upstairs at Barley's to find it. Speaking of Terrapin bottled beer, we should also be seeing the fall release of this years version of the Big Hoppy Monster, a big, moderatley hopped 'red' ale that has some interesting malt characteristics that play well with the hops.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Brewgrass Roundup

Another Brewgrass festival has come and gone. It was a beautiful sunny day, and probably the hottest Brewgrass that I remember. The temperature reached 84, but it felt hotter with the lack of shade at the Martin Luther King ballfield. In fact, the only shade to be found was next to the port-a-johns, or the “dark caverns of plastic” as my wife referred to them. Thankfully there were plenty of bathrooms to go around this year, and I saw nary a line to speak of. The heat did not deter the crowd though, and plenty of good beer, food, and music helped to make it another successful festival.

There were a few surprises and some great beer at this years festival, several of those coming from North Carolina breweries. As mentioned in my last post, Foothills Sexual Chocolate was on tap, and the extra few months of aged have mellowed the beer a bit, making it even more drinkable. Again, one of my favorite North Carolina brewed beers. Foothills also had their Hoppyium IPA, a wonderfully hopped west coast style IPA that unfortunately has not seen too many visits to Asheville taps (it has been on at the Lobster Trap before). Duck Rabbit brought some aged Baltic Porter, one of the highest rated beers from North Carolina, and it was exceptional. Expect to see this years version coming out later in the fall. French Broad produced an easy drinking Pale Ale that will make a fine session beer. Whether it becomes a permanent addition to French Broad’s lineup will depend on how popular it becomes. The Kolsch was in such demand that it has become a mainstay for French Broad. John Stewart of Green Man Brewing debuted a Belgian Golden Ale. After a few sips, I immediately thought of Duvel, and it turns out that Stewart had that in mind when he brewed it. It might not make it to Jack of the Wood, but it should be available at Dirty Jacks. Catawba Brewing Company featured their Blackwater Uber Pale Ale, a big beer with a nice smoky malt flavor and moderate hops that defies style categorization (there is nothing pale about this beer). The Blackwater is currently on tap downstairs at Barleys. And last but not least, Highland rolled out the Imperial Kashmir IPA, and they were perhaps the most popular tent during the day. This is a huge beer, very sweet and hoppy, and should get even better with a couple more months in the bottle. I picked up a case on Sunday and hopefully there will be some available at local stores in the coming weeks. Get some while you can though, as it won’t last long.

There were some notable beers from outside the state as well. Brooklyn Brewery had the Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse. Another beer that is hard to put in a category, it can best be described as a hoppy weizenbock. It was created as a joint effort between Brooklyn Brewery and G. Schneider and Son brewery in Germany. Two versions were released, one a few weeks ago that was in bottles and was brewed by Schneider, and this latest version brewed here in the states using American hops. Both beers are very good. The Brooklyn version will be on tap at Barleys within the next couple of weeks if you want to try it. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came from our neighbors to the south. R.J. Rockers Brewing out of Spartanburg brought a Double IPA that was brewed in celebration of South Carolina finally popping the cap on their alcohol limit. Another South Carolina brewery had one of my favorite beers of the day. Blue Ridge Brewing in Greenville is making some great beers, and the Double Ball and Chain IPA was fantastic, a well balanced, flavorful DIPA that wasn’t too over the top. The regular Ball and Chain IPA was very good too. Head brewer Jay Simpson came up with the recipe for the original Ball and Chain for his wedding day and for his 2 year anniversary, he brewed the Double Ball and Chain. His wife should be proud, they are both excellent brews. I will definitely seek them out the next time I am in downtown Greenville. Lastly, Sweetwater Brewing Company out of Atlanta gave beer lovers their first taste of Donkey Punch barleywine. The name itself makes me cringe, but the beer was good, a bit overly hopped for the style, and may be available in bottles in the coming weeks. I just wish they didn’t have to resort to juvenile names for their beers.

Overall it was once again a wonderful festival. I do want to mention one thing about the music. This could get me run out of Asheville, but I have to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of Bluegrass music. But the one band that made me turn my attention away from the beer tents was the Carolina Chocolate Drops. They had an amazing energy and were a great closing act to the festival, bringing hundreds of onlookers to their feet. It was a great day reuniting with old friends and discovering new ones.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm too excited to sleep

The countdown to Brewgrass has begun. Tickets have been sold out for a couple of weeks now, and judging by the posts on Beer Advocate and craigslist, there hasn't been a ticket this hot since the Smashing Pumpkins played here earlier in the summer. So I hope everyone has their tickets, and if you don't, you may need to pray to the beer gods and hope that someone will be scalping them somewhere outside of MLK Park.

This year's Brewgrass has returned to its original home after meandering throughout various parts of downtown, some good (McCormick Field), and some bad (last year). Regardless of where it is held, the festival still provides an ample amount of beer, music, and camaraderie. In the past we have seen rainstorms, chilly weather, and a lack of port a johns, but that still does not deter from the fun. The most memorable Brewgrass for me was in 2001. It was four days after 9/11, and the entire country was still in a state of shock. I am glad that Doug Beatty decided not to postpone the festival, as it provided a wonderful respite from the terrible events that occurred just days before. We emerged from out in front of our TVs that day to interact with our fellow neighbors and friends over the fellowship of a cold beer.

One of the exciting aspects of a beer festival is that some brewers will often debut a new beer or offer something special for the festival, and this year will be no different. Highlighting the list will be the Imperial Kashmir IPA from Highland. You will probably want to make this tent one of your first stops, as the IKIPA will likely run out in the first hour or two of the festival, not unlike the Imperial Gaelic last year. Of course you can drag yourself out of bed the next morning to pick up a couple of cases for drinking at home. Another beer I am looking forward to is French Broad's debut of their Pale Ale, an unusual style for this brewery that has been known for its eclectic lineup.

If you like whiskey, be sure to swing by Catawba Valley's tent, as Scott Pyatt will likely have one of his barrel aged concoctions, perhaps being the only brewer to bring a barrel aged beer. The Whisky River IPA is fantastic if you like a boozy whiskey finish to your beers (I loved it). If you are a fan of Imperial Stouts, I would suggest checking out Foothills brewing early in the day. They are bringing a very limited amount of last years Sexual Chocolate, one of my favorite new beers of last year, and it should only have gotten better with a few more months of aging. I am sure there are going to be even more surprises at this year's Festival.

If you need some practice before the big day on Saturday, the folks at ratebeer are organizing an Asheville pub crawl Friday afternoon and evening. I will likely take part in the beginning of the crawl before I head on over to the Grove Arcade to shake my posterior to the grooves of Yo Mamma's Big Fat Booty Band for the last Downtown After 5.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

O'zapft is!

Has anybody noticed the slight change in the weather over the past couple of days? Fall is almost here, and low temperatures this weekend are going to approach 50. It is time to dig into the closet for the long sleeve shirts and jackets, and also to explore some seasonal beers. No other beer style says fall to me like Oktoberfest lagers.

Oktoberfest is a nearly two century German tradition, dating back to an 1810 celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig (later to be King) and Princess Therese. While it was certainly a part of the celebration, beer would not play a prominent role for several decades. Spaten is credited with brewing the first Oktoberfest beer in 1872, a Vienna style red lager with its characteristic caramel malt and crisp finish. As the festival grew, many other breweries joined the fray with their own special Oktoberfest releases. Today the festival is associated more with beer than it is with King Ludwig, and every September breweries in Germany and beyond still brew a seasonal beer to commemorate the festival and the onset of Fall. This years festival, held annually in Munich, begins on September 22 with the traditional cheer of O'zapft is! (It’s tapped!). It is definitely on my short list of things to do before I die.

The good thing is that you don’t have to fly to Germany to experience this great traditional beer style. Several offerings are available here in Asheville, both from German brewers and brewers here at home. I’ve spent the last week or two trying to sample as many Oktoberfest style beers as possible. Seasonal beers are a great way to branch out from your normal purchases, and you are almost always guaranteed a fresh beer.

If you want an authentic Oktoberfest beer, there is no better way than to go to the source. My personal favorite so far is from Ayinger, who not so coincidentally also brews one of my favorite dopplebocks. Their version is crisp, slightly sweet and almost nutty, and eminently drinkable. Other German versions to look out for are the aforementioned Spaten and Paulaner.

American brewers have also taken a stab at the style. I have had the Samuel Adams Octoberfest, the Brooklyn Oktoberfest and the Victory Fest beer, and they all do a pretty good job with the style. If you are adventurous, you might look into trying Avery’s The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, which is a regular Oktoberfest on steroids. Honestly, I thought it was a bit too much and it strayed away from the subtle balance that I normally expect from the style, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good beer. You should also seek out our own local version of Oktoberfest beer from French Broad, which offers a more hoppy but still wonderful tasting version of the beer.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Beer of the Moment - Pannepøt

If I had to be confined to drinking beers from one particular country, I would probably choose Belgium. Now granted, the U.S. is a very close second, as we have a much larger variety of beer styles to choose from. But there is a complexity and depth of flavor that I experience with Belgian beers that is rarely reproduced in this country, with a few exceptions of course.

America's love for Belgian beers can be traced back to one person. Michael Jackson single handedly helped foster a love for Belgian beer in the states. Of course we are not talking about the one-gloved pop singer, but the English born beer writer whose books, the World Guide to Beer and The Great Beers of Belgium introduced the American drinking public to a whole new array of beer styles and tastes. He once called Belgium the 'Disneyland of beer', and having had many a Belgian ale I cannot disagree with him. Unfortunately, Michael Jackson passed away last Thursday, and his contributions to beer culture cannot be quantified.

I believe that if Michael Jackson had not written about the great beers of Belgium, I may not be sitting here drinking this wonderful Belgian strong ale today. Pannepøt is brewed by de Struise Brouwers, a relatively new brewery in Belgium, but the taste is reminiscent of other, more established Belgian breweries. The beer could be labeled a Quadrupel, which is a strong Belgian ale brewed with dark candied sugar, spices, and Belgian yeast. There is definitely an element of dark fruit to go along with the sweet sugar and a subtle but nice alcohol burn that is often associated with this style. At ten percent, it is a sipping beer, one to be savored with a good meal or a cool autumn night, which I hope will be here shortly. There are two versions of this beer, the Pannepot and the Pannepøt. The only difference on the bottle is the 'ø', which was especially brewed for the Danish market, but can be found here in the states. There are differences between the two beers, and the one with the regular 'o' is one of the highest rated beers on Beer Advocate and on Rate Beer, and from reading the reviews they are very similar in taste.

I hope that everyone will tip a glass of beer to Michael Jackson, who was instrumental in opening our eyes to great beers from around the globe.