Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pisgah Celebrates Three Years

It seems like it has been longer, but Pisgah Brewing Company has only been around for three years (April 15th is their official anniversary). Jason Caughman and Dave Quinn moved here from South Carolina with a shared love of beer and a plan to open a small brewery, and three years later they are brewing perhaps the area's most loved beers. The first beer they rolled out was the Pisgah Pale, a fine beer in its own right, but it only hinted at what was to come. When the pop was capped on alcohol limits in North Carolina, it also seemed to pop the cap of creativity, as Pisgah has since brewed a variety of beers of different styles and strengths that have captivated the beer drinkers of Buncombe County and beyond. They are highly rated on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, and they were named one of America's top 50 breweries by BeerAdvocate back in June of last year. More recently, Pisgah was even featured in an article in USA Today about the economy.

In order to celebrate their anniversary, the folks at Pisgah held a customer appreciation day this past Sunday, inviting over 300 of their friends and customers for the affair. While the weather was a bit on the wet side, it didn't seem to dampen the spirits of those in attendance, who were enjoying the great food, great music, and great Pisgah beer. To get out of the rain, many people were hanging out in Pisgah's brand new tasting room, which can deliver up to ten taps of Pisgah goodness. One of the special beers they had was the Pisgah Pale run through a Randall, which you should recognize if you are a long time reader of this blog. For those not in the know, a Randall is basically a canister full of hops, and the beer is routed through the fresh hops right before it enters your glass. Needless to say, this was excellent, and the fresh hop taste made the Pisgah Pale soar. Another special beer on tap was the James Brown Ale, an easy drinking brown ale with just the right amount of roasted malts giving it excellent character without being either too sweet or too hoppy. Look out for the James Brown Ale around town at a special price as a gift to Asheville beer drinkers (Barleys should definitely get it).

Pisgah didn't have to throw this party, but it really shows just how much they appreciate their customers. Return the favor by visiting them at their new tasting room on Thursdays from 4-8, or by seeking out a pint, growler, or bottle at your favorite bar or beer store.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Beer of the Moment - Green Flash West Coast IPA

It looks like people are not the only things coming from California to Asheville these days. This week marked the introduction of two California breweries to the Asheville market, Lagunitas Brewing Company out of Petaluma and Green Flash Brewing out of Vista, near San Diego. San Diego has become quite the beer city over the past decade or so, and they are home to such heralded breweries as Stone, Port Brewing, and Ballast Point. Well you can add Green Flash to this list as well.

An interesting aside is how Green Flash Brewing got its name. A green flash is an optical phenomenon that occurs when the sun sets, and is best seen with a good view of the horizon on a clear day when certain atmospheric conditions are present. As seen in this picture, a hovering green 'flash' occurs just over the setting sun for a few fleeting seconds. We may not be in the right locale to see a green flash, but we are fortunate that we can drink a great San Diego export while we dream about sitting on a west coast beach at sunset.

The appropriately named West Coast IPA is an excellent example of the tradition of highly hopped beers coming from that part of the country. The beer is unfiltered, so don't be alarmed by its hazy appearance, and it has a beautiful copper color. The taste is all about the hops, and it exhibits both grapefruit and piney flavors that make for a beer that any hop head will love. The malt is slightly sweet which helps to counteract the hop bitterness. This is truly one of the best 'west coast style' IPA's that I have had, and it is an excellent addition to our growing availability of good beers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Tap - The Thirsty Monk

Time for another round of On Tap. Okay, so my other On Tap posts have never left the confines of Barleys, but this time I wanted to turn my attention to a bar that has added a whole new element to the Asheville beer drinking scene. I will admit that I have not been going to the Thirsty Monk nearly as much as I would like, but personal circumstances have limited my budget so far this year, and I have really missed going into one of Asheville's best beer bars. The Thirsty Monk seems to be doing really well, and that is a testament to the great beer drinkers in this town.

On to the beers. Upon quick glance at their beer menu, I noticed two special beers that are available for a very limited time. The first beer I tried was the Ichtegems Grand Cru, brewed by Brouwerij Strubbe in Ichtegem, Belgium. This is a Flanders Red Ale, a Flemish sour beer that is a blend of an oak aged beer with a young beer, with the intention that the taste will be both sour and sweet. This beer is much like a Duchesse de Bourgogne, with a playful mix of sweet and sour, with a slightly more dry finish. It's a beer to have your wine drinking friends taste, as the interplay of the flavors only heightens the complexity.

The second limited-time only beer was the La Rulles Triple, brewed by Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles. Belgian Triples (or Tripels) are beers that are light in malt but full of flavor, deriving their higher alcohol content from an addition of Belgian candi sugar. The taste profile of this style is often spicy and fruity, and this beer was one of the more flavorful varieties that I have tried. It has a wonderful finish that had a hint of bubblegum (in a good way), and the soft water used to brew this beer created a great mouthfeel to go with the slightly spicy, earthy finish.

My last beer there was not a limited release, and is a beer I hope to see as a regular in their rotation. The Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel is an amalgam of beer styles, combining the aforementioned Tripel style with an American double IPA. The result is a heavily hopped Belgian ale that perfectly melds the pioneering spirit of both American and Belgian style beers. This is definitely a beer to seek out if you are a hop lover, a Belgian beer lover, or both.

I'm hoping my next visit to the Thirsty Monk is sooner rather than later, and you should hope that too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mark Your Calendars

Its never too early to start planning for the Brewgrass Festival, Asheville's annual seven hour ode to bluegrass and beer. This year's festival will be held on September 20th, and tickets are already on sale at the Brewgrass website. Yes, I know it is early, but tickets for this event will sell out well ahead of time, so its not a bad idea to make your purchase early this year. For those of you that go for the music, three acts have already been announced, including local favorites The Biscuit Burners and Grammy Award winning Jim Lauderdale. We'll see you there in five months.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bottom of the Barrel

I love barrel aged beers. One of my first forays into barrel aged beers was on a trip to Kentucky, where I got to sample the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, and upon the first taste of vanilla and bourbon I was hooked. Beer has been aged in barrels for centuries, but it is only recently that brewers have decided to select used barrels from various fermented and distilled beverages to lend an extra layer of complexity and taste. Bourbon barrels seem to be the most commonly used, but any barrel will do, from plain old oak barrels to wine barrels and more.

One of the more interesting barrel aged beers available right now is the t' Smisje Calva Reserva, given to me by my good friends at Bruisin' Ales. This is a fascinating beer, a Belgian Strong Ale that has been aged in Calvados barrels for six months. What is Calvados? It's French Apple Brandy, having been distilled in France for almost 500 years. The beer certainly has hints of Apple Brandy, and some vanilla that is picked up from the oak barrels. It is a big beer at 12 percent, but it is well hidden behind a wall of taste including dark fruits and candi sugar. This is one to definitely seek out for a special purchase.

Speaking of special purchases, one of the finest examples of barrel aged beers that I have tasted recently was just released in the past month, and it is definitely a treat. The Scottish brewery Harviestoun has released a series of ales that are a marriage of an already fine beer, the Old Engine Oil, with the drink that most people associate with Scotland, which is naturally Scotch Whiskey. The three beers in the series where aged in 12, 16, and 30 year old Highland Park Scotch barrels, producing a superb beer that is complex and begs to be paired with hearty foods, strong cheeses, or a nice cigar. I have had both the 12 and the 30, and they both were fantastic beers, and it is interesting to see the differences. The 30 year does seem to be more complex, but both beers have quite a bit of Scotch Whiskey presence, that goes really well with the chocolaty roasted malts of the Old Engine Oil. The Scotch makes it presence known with a taste of vanilla, some peat, and a hint of spiciness. This beer is on the expensive side, but if you like Scotch and beer, or you just want to try something unique, I suggest breaking open the piggy bank to sample one of them.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Long Time No See

Yes, I am still here. After getting called out by the Bruisin' Ales blog and the Mountain Express, it is high time I made another post or two. Here's a quick summary of the beer happenings around town.

Highland is going to be releasing seasonal beers throughout the year, and the first one on tap is the Shining Rock Lager, a Bock that will be Highlands first ever lager. I am a great fan of lagers and am looking forward to trying this out. It will be followed by the Cattail Peak Wheat in the summer, and the Clawhammer Oktoberfest in the fall. The Tasgall is taking a backseat for now, but may be available as a seasonal release at a later time. You can sample the new lager at Bruisin' Ales beer tasting on May 1st. In other Highland news, the Highland Cup homebrewing competition happened over the weekend. In a promotion similar to the Samuel Adams Longshot beers, the winner will have his beer brewed and sold by Highland. This year's winner was a cream ale brewed by Aaron Schenk, and the beer should be available this August.

Pisgah will be unleashing some new bottle offerings shortly, as both the Solstice and the Hellbender barleywine will be available soon. The Solstice will be a year round offering, and I am really excited to finally get to try the Hellbender, as I always seem to miss it when it comes around. The Hellbender is on tap at Barleys right now if you want a chance to try it.

Green Man brewing has released an Abbey Ale that is on tap at Jack of the Wood, and probably at Dirty Jack's as well. It is inspired by the Chimay Grande Reserve (the one with the blue label), and it is an excellent interpretation of the style. This is a limited release so be sure to swing by to try one.

Word on the street is that the Wedge Gallery brewery should be opening soon, hopefully this month. As soon as it opens I will write a full report on it.

So, goodbye for now. I promise my next post won't be a month from now.