Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Around Town

There was quite a crowd at Bruisin' Ale's for last nights special Avery tasting. They showcased a good selection of Avery's high gravity offerings, and Adam Avery himself was on hand for a meet and greet. It was nice being able to meet him, as well as Nate Merchant from Hart Distributing. Tony Kiss was there early to do a podcast interview with Adam, so be on the lookout for the article and podcast on

In other news, work continues on the the Wedge Gallery brewery. I spoke with Carl last night, and he is hoping to have the brewery open sometime in January, but that date is just a floating target right now. We'll just have to be patient for the return of Carl's Belgian inspired ales. When he does open, he plans on putting some of his beers in 750 ml corked bottles, which will make him the third Asheville brewery to bottle their beer, joining Highland and Pisgah, which bottles special releases intermittently.

Speaking of Pisgah, Jason Caughman was on hand at the tasting as well. Forgive me for my bad memory, but they should be releasing a special stout soon, and I am wanting to think it was a coffee stout (I need to carry around a note pad). Plans are also in the works for the second release of the Red Devil, which should be in the tanks soon. They literally ordered a ton of fruit for this one, and this should be around longer than the first time. On the horizon is the December release of the Baptista. They brewed twice as much this go around, but I still suspect that it will sell out rather quickly, so keep your ears open for the release date. That will be followed up by the Vortex III, an oak aged Belgian Strong Pale (which may pick up some darker hues from the barrels). This is already brewed, and Jason says it could be served right now, but it is destined to sit on wood for the next 3 months or so. This will should come out some around the first of the year.

Next week, the Biltmore Estate is sponsoring a Highland beer dinner on November 7th. Its great that we are seeing more beer dinners throughout town, and I will do my best to add them to the calendar. The real interesting part of this beer dinner is the debut of Cedric's Pale Ale, a special beer brewed by Highland for the Biltmore Estate. I unfortunatley do not know much information beyond the name, but I will pass along anything that I find out about it. Unbeknownst to me, the Biltmore House has already had a special beer brewed in the past for them by Highland, but I have never seen it, nor could I find any other information on that beer. Also, be on the lookout for this years Cold Mountain release, which could be released as early as next week.

French Broad has released their Altbier as a fall/winter seasonal. Altbiers are one of the few German style ales that are produced, but they still maintain some of the characteristics of their lager counterparts. Look for it at the Mellow Mushroom, Bier Garden, Stone Ridge Tavern, and Carraba's, in addition to other locations. One of my favorite French Broad brews, the Flander's Abbey Ale is being brought back to life. It is currently in the tanks and should be released some time after Thanksgiving.

Well I think that about covers it. It's a good time to be a beer drinker in Asheville.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Asheville's Beer Goddess

Asheville's own Edgy Mama is featuring a Beer of the Week. Edgy is a writer, blogger, photographer, parent, and beer lover who had a great write-up on local breweries in the Mountain Express leading up to Brewgrass, in addition to her weekly parenthood column. I surely hope that she continues her Beer of the Week video. Unfortunately (or fortunately) you will not seeing my mug on a YouTube video any time soon. As for her featured beer, I too enjoy the Roland's ESB. My favorite Asheville Brewing Company beer is the Shiva, wonderfully hopped with a restrained bitterness and very drinkable.

Odds and Suds

Some news of interest.

A once beloved beer from the now defunct Heavyweight Brewing Company is making a return. Perkuno's Hammer is a highly regarded Baltic Porter, which is sort of a hybrid between an Imperial Stout and a Dopplebock. Naturally, this style emerged in the Baltic region of Europe in the 18th century, and traditionally uses a lager yeast instead of an ale yeast, which is what gives it the dopplebock-like characteristics. The Hammer is being reborn as the Victory Baltic Thunder, and was brewed back in May. I got word from Victory that we may see this beer here in North Carolina in the early part of next year. If you don't want to wait this long, you can try the Okocim Porter, which is a geographically true Baltic since it is brewed in Poland. I have seen these at the European Market on Patton Avenue.

Bruisin' Ales announced today a special beer tasting this Tuesday evening. Adam Avery, brewer and President of Avery Brewing Company, will be on hand to sample a wide variety of his bigger beers. Adam is highly regarded in the craft brew world, and it is a testament to the beer culture in Asheville that he is paying us a visit. The tasting is free, and you will get a chance to meet one of the preeminent brewers in the country. You don't want to miss it. They also are the only North Carolina beer store that is carrying the Sweetwater Donkey Punch Barleywine (cringe), so you might want to pick up a bottle while you are there.

As already covered in the Mountain Express and Citizen Times, Hops and Vines has recently opened in West Asheville on Haywood Road across from Digable Pizza. They carry a variety of craft beers as well as Pabst Blue Ribbon for your non-craft drinking friends. In addition, they also stock a nice variety of wines, and have hired a part time wine consultant who will assist in stocking the store, wine tastings, and is available for creating your own wine event (hmm.... beer consultant has a nice ring to it.) Owner Alex Buerckholtz's true love is homebrewing, and he has everything you need to get you started. He plans on having beer brewing classes, where for a fee you can learn to brew beer with a small group and then get to take home the finished product. Hops and Vines is having their official Grand Opening on November 3rd from 2-8. Their will be beer tastings from Highland and Pisgah, wine tastings, and a homebrewing demonstration.

And finally, for you science geeks, I was sent a link to a podcast by my good friend. The Naked Scientists explore several different aspects of brewing (sorry, they aren't really naked). The podcast itself covers several subjects, but there are direct links to the interviews on the lower right hand side of the page. I thought the Natural History of Beer was quite interesting.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ghost Hunting

I couldn't wait any longer. I'm currently sipping on a Fantôme de Noël, from one of the most elusive breweries in the world. Fantôme is a Belgian brewery that crafts unique farmhouse ales, most notably the Fantôme Saison. Dany Prignon started the brewery in 1988, and in the past few years they have developed a cult following for those who love funky Belgian ales brewed with a plethora of local herbs and spices. Not unlike Jolly Pumpkin that I featured in a post a few months ago, Fantôme brews their beers with an open fermentation and oak aging that allows wild yeast and bacteria to 'infect' their beers with a funky aroma and a tart flavor. The Noël showcases this type of brewing beautifully. It pours a nice deep mahogany color, and has notes of candy sugar, chocolate, spice, and that ever present dark fruit tartness. Every sip bursts with flavor.

Now onto the bad news. Why isn't this beer featured as a 'Beer of the Moment'? Because you can't get it in Asheville. I picked up my bottle at Sam's Blue Light in Durham when I was there for the World Beer Festival. The only time I have seen a Fantôme in Asheville was at Greenlife, and it was tucked away in a corner, limited in number. Alanis Morrisette wouldn't argue with the irony that this brewery is the french name for ghost. These beers are hard to get anywhere, but I hope that a local distributor can step up and procure some bottles so we can enjoy this beer here at home.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Beer of the Moment - Unibroue La Terrible

Its funny how things work. I had bought another beer with the intention of doing a 'Beer of the Moment', but then I opened up this bottle of Unibroue's La Terrible that I picked up on my trip to Durham. After one sip, I knew this was going to be the beer I was going to write about.

I have professed my love for Belgian style beers here before, and this beer hits all the right notes. There is the fruity, slightly funky aroma that is often associated with Belgian beer styles. The aroma gives just a few hints to what you are in store when you taste it. Before I go on, let me talk a little bit about Unibroue. First of all, they are not located in Belgium, but instead in the very French influenced city of Montreal. This brewery has been making Belgian style beers for nearly two decades, and they are most famous for their exceptional Belgian strong pale ale, La Fin Du Monde (and I'm feeling fine). They offer a wide variety of Belgian inspired beers, and for anyone who wants to dip their toes into Belgian beers, they are an excellent starting point.

Back to the beer. The taste is sublime. It pours a dark, nearly black color, with an effervescent head that tests your patience as it settles. As it hits your tongue, you can taste a little anise, a bit of caramel, and some fig like notes, which all come together in a very pleasant aftertaste that leaves you begging for another sip. This is one of those beers where I immediately wished that I had another one in the fridge. Run, do not walk, to your nearest specialty beer store to see if they have it in stock. I know for sure that it is at Bruisin' Ales, and this is a beer that should not be missed, and goes well with the cool nights that we are finally experiencing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

World Beer Festival Roundup

Two beer festivals in two weeks. I've been spoiled. This was my first trip to the World Beer Festival in Durham, and I must say I was quite impressed. It was another hot day, but the clouds, the tents, and the beer made for a wonderful afternoon. The WBF is a bit different than our hometown Brewgrass Festival, with a more national and international flair. Breweries from Oregon to Sri Lanka were represented, but there was also a large contingent of North Carolina brews as well. Another difference from Brewgrass is that the WBF is seperated into two four hour sessions. I do like the extra time allotted at Brewgrass, but four hours was still plenty of time to soak in most of the beer offerings. I'm not sure, but I think there was music there as well.

As for the highlights, first and foremost was the Cask and Barrel Tent run by Pop The Cap. There was an additional one dollar charge per sample, but the money raised will go further to help raise the beer culture in North Carolina. It was great getting to try the Wee Heavier on cask, but what had me most excited was getting to have some 2004 Ommegang Three Philosphers. The age really deepened the flavors on an already tasty beer. The other great thing about the Cask Tent was that it was air conditioned, which provided a nice respite from the summer like weather outside. At the end of the evening, our very own Drew Barton of French Broad was pouring samples of the Wee Heavier for the masses (picture by Sean Wilson of Pop the Cap, and you can see the rest of his photos here, where you can find yours truly in one of the pictures).

Two breweries from Michigan really stood out at the festival. Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, located in a suburb of Detroit, really went out of there way to bring some rare treats down south. Their Creme Brulee Java Stout was divine. You could really taste the carmelized sugar and that paired well with the chocolate and coffee flavors and it all added up to a unique and wonderful stout. Another unusual beer that was being served on the down low was the Tenacious Cassis, a black currant dessert beer that was sweet and fruity, with an unbelievable aroma. At fifteen percent it was a sipper, but I could see myself enjoying a good amount of it with its excellent drinkability. They also featured the Simcoe Silly, a belgian ale hopped with American Simcoe, and a Double Rice IPA, with the rice lending an interesting crispness, putting a twist on the Double IPA style. I would return to next year's festival based on this brewery alone. Alas, they only distribute locally, and it will be years before we might see them make their way to North Carolina.

The other brewery from Michigan that I really liked was Founders Brewing Company. They offer a solid lineup of beers, ranging from their Centennial IPA, a nicely balanced beer with plenty of citrusy hops, to their Red's Rye Ale, a moderately hopped amber with a spciy finish complements of the rye. The beer that I salivated for was the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, a hearty Imperial Stout that has been aged in Bourbon barrels. The bourbon finish really takes this beer to another level. The good news is that Founders is looking to expand to North Carolina sometime early next year. The bad news is that it will be awhile longer before we see any special releases like the Kentucky Breakfast. So do your part and drink some of their beers when they come out, and hopefully we will get a chance to see some of their more interesting seasonals.

I hesitate to post this because I don't want to let the secret out, but the best place to stay if you want to go to the WBF in Durham next year is the Duke Tower and Condominiums. Each room is a suite, with a kitchen, living room, and a seperate bedroom (bring extra pans if you plan on cooking though). They also have a nice pool to relax at, and it is a ten minute walk to the festival. I definitely plan on staying there again next year (see picture on the right).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Odds and Suds

Just a quick roundup of beer tidbits.

Pisgah Brewing had three beers featured in the Beer Review section of Beer Advocate magazine this month. I was disappointed to see that the Baptista scored a C+, even though the review itself had very little negative to say about the beer. It is one of my favorite beers brewed in North Carolina and stands up to many of the best from across the country. Pisgah also received a B+ for their Cosmos and an A- for their Vortex II. A sample from the Vortex II review reads, "The rolling smoothness from its deep crisp carbonation is unlike any beer we've ever tried". I do hope that Pisgah considers brewing this again. Pisgah was also featured in the most recent edition of Southern Brew News with an article written by our own Tony Kiss. You can check these magazines out at Bruisin' Ales, Barleys, and a few other locations in town.

In an update of a previous blog entry, to no one's surprise, the half million dollar bid on an 1852 bottle of Allsopp's Arctic ale fizzled. The bottle is now sitting in a safety deposit box and it has yet to go back on sale. While the seller claims that the bidder retracted his bid and he may 'donate the bottle to charity', I suspect that he was in on the shenanigans to begin with. Another buyer helped to drive up the cost, and if it was worth so much he would have surely sold it the next highest bidder. Anything for a little bit of publicity I guess.

If you didn't get a chance to pick up some Highland Imperial Kashmir IPA at the brewery a couple of weeks ago, you now have a second chance. Bruisin' Ales should be have some available today. I have already had 2 of my allotment, and while it is a fantastic beer, I think it will be even better in about 3-6 months of being in the bottle. Again, this beer is limited, so don't wait too long to buy some.

I failed to mention in my post about fresh hop ales that Barleys in SOUTH CAROLINA is having a Hop Harvest celebration on the 24th, featuring the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Rogue Hop Heaven, and Victory Hop Whallop (this one is not a true harvest ale). I'm happy for the folks in Greenville, but why in the heck is this not happening here in Asheville? Do I have to issue another challenge to our local beer bars?

Rumor has it that the Thirsty Monk, Asheville's first Belgian beer bar will be opening in the next few weeks. Anybody with any additional information on this, please shoot me an email. I would love to be there for opening day.

And last but not least, tomorrow I am heading for Durham to attend the World Beer Festival. This is heralded as the premier Beer Festival in the Southeast, and it will be the first time I have attended. I am especially looking forward to the Cask and Barrel tent, which I am proud to say will feature two Asheville brews on cask, the Highland Gaelic Ale and the French Broad Wee Heavier (kudos to Green Man's John Stuart for loaning the cask equipment to French Broad, you gotta love the cooperative spirit of our local brewers).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Beer of the Moment - Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

A quick aside before I move on to the beer. Every time I sit down to write a Beer of the Moment, I inevitably start singing it to the tune of Asia's oh so catchy 80's super hit, Heat of the Moment. And now you can do the same. Maybe I can work up an entire song. "It was the beer of the moment, telling me what those hops meant". Well that's all I got so far.

Speaking of hops, (segue!) this moment's featured beer is a showcase of fresh hop taste. Eleven years ago, the folks at Sierra Nevada decided to brew a pale ale with 'wet' hops. How is this different you ask? Beers are traditionally brewed with dried hops that have been kilned to remove the moisture so that they can be preserved for use at a later date. This works out very well, but the drying process removes some of the natural resin and oil that is present. By brewing with freshly picked, or wet hops, you are able to retain the full flavor profile of the hop, which gives the beer a fresher, more oily hop taste. This is not an easy process, as hops begin to degrade as soon as they are picked. In order to retain the freshness of the hops, they are picked and shipped to the brewery where they must be ready to use the hops immediately. In Sierra Nevada's case, they get their hops from Yakima, Washington, which in turn are loaded on a truck that drives straight to Chico, California where they are unloaded and added to the boil, and all this usually happens within 48 hours. A few other brewers have followed suit, but there is obviously a catch. You have to be within close proximity to the hop source, so most fresh hop beers are produced by west coast breweries where a majority of the hops are grown.

Sierra has traditionally only released their Harvest Ale in kegs, but this year they decided to brew enough so that they could bottle it and distribute it nationally. Fortunately, we here in Asheville can pick up the special 24 ounce bottles, which are currently available at Bruisin' Ales and may be available elsewhere in limited quantities. The beer itself is a great testament to fresh hop taste. This is not a 'hop bomb', so those expecting some huge IPA may be disappointed. However, this beer is not lacking in hop flavor, and displays a wonderful herbal and grassy aroma. The hops dance on the tongue with an ever so slight bitterness, and a mild oily finish. This is a well balanced beer, and the malts provide a nice backbone to complement the hop flavor. Unlike some other beers, this is not meant to be laid down for any length of time. Drink this one as soon as possible, as the fresh hop taste will degrade over time. I have also seen this on tap in years past at both Barley's and Westville Pub, but this year you don't have to leave the house to try this wonderful beer.

Here is a direct link to Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale page, and if you scroll down you can watch a video that talks about the history of the beer. I am only aware of one other fresh hop beer that we will see here in Asheville, Great Divide's Fresh Hop Pale Ale, which should be available in the next couple of weeks.