Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sam Adams Fat Jack Pumpkin Ale and Oktoberfest

Sam Adams is one of the largest craft brewers in the country. Some might argue that definition but Sam Adams does in many way fit the profile of a craft beer maker rather than a large scale macrobrewery.

The best thing about Sam Adams is that their beer is pretty good, sometimes even great, and you can get it almost anywhere. While I tend to frequent establishments that specialize in small craft beer every once in a while I find myself at a bar where they have only Bud, Bud Light, and Sam Adams Lager. I go with the Sam Adams.

The brewery also produces a few great seasonal beers. Their Winter Lager is decadent and delicious, but I'll save that review for another time.

I want to focus on two of their Autumn seasonal beers today: the Pumpkin Ale and the Oktoberfest.

I enjoyed the Fat Jack Pumpkin ale over a dinner of chicken tikka masala while sitting outside on our mountain next to a camp fire. It didn't hurt that the setting was wonderful to begin with. For fun we split the beer by pouring it into our 4 ounce beer tasters. It was delicious. It had all the spices that I love along with a sweet pumpkin flavor which complimented each other well. It was very satisfying and the pumpkin, spices, and maltiness went extremely well with the spicy cream sauce of the tikka masala.

If you aren't sure whether or not you would like a pumpkin ale, this would be a pretty good one to try out. It is rich and decadent and should give you a good profile of a well made pumpkin beer.

Along with the Fat Jack Pumpkin ale, Sam Adams also produces an easy to find Octoberfest lager.

Lagers are the most common type of beers produced by the macrobrew companies. Budweiser, Miller, and Coors are all lagers, but most craft beer enthusiasts will agree that they lack any depth or real flavor. Most are made using adjust ingredients such as rice or corn. The Germans, who kind of perfected beer centuries ago, created a beer purity law which insisted beer be made with only four things: water, hops, malt, and yeast. I do like beer with added flavors - such as pumpkin spices - but I am not too keen on rice or corn in my beer. The reason I am going into this kind of detail is because I think Sam Adams Octobefest is a good "Introduction to Craft Beer" for someone who has otherwise only experienced offerings by the major macrobreweries. It is light, crisp, and refreshing with all the richness that a traditional marzen beer should have.

I am a fan of Samuel Adams Boston Brewery. I love a lot of their seasonal beers, including their Fat Jack Pumpkin and the Octoberfest. Check them out for yourself before it is too late. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brown Beer and Autumn Hikes: Two Great Tastes that Go Great Together!

The last two weekend I've gone hiking. After these hiking trips I have enjoyed a brown ale at a local watering hole. I thought I would share those with you.

The first hike was at Laurel River near Hot Springs, NC. It was a 7 mile hike total, which was a little long for someone like me. I really wanted to give up at about the 6 mile mark but where would I go? No helicopter would come rescue me, so I had to keep hiking.

After we did finally crawl back to the car we drove into the town of Hot Springs to the Spring Creek Tavern and had a seat at the bar. It is a really nice place with great atmosphere. We haven't tried their food yet, but we plan to next time we're up in Hot Springs.

I ordered a Bell's Best Brown, a great year round brown beer brewed by Bell's in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I consider Bell's my first craft brewery even though that is a slight exaggeration. I went to college in Kalamazoo but at the time I didn't drink beer at all so I can't really claim to have been a fan in the 90s. I'm willing to jump on that band wagon now, though.

This brown ale is one of my favorites when I am in the mood for malty goodness, which I usually am about this time of year. It is well balanced with just enough hops to give it some character but not too much to draw attention away from the roasted malt flavors.

If you like traditional browns with just a hint of something extra this one is a good bet for you. It is sweet and caramel-y. It is perfect for a crisp fall afternoon or for the first beer to quench your thirst after a long and strenuous hike.

For the second hike in as many weeks, we drove down to Tallulah Gorge in North Georgia and met up with some friends from Atlanta. The hike around the gorge is pretty easy with the most difficult being over 600 steps down to a suspension bridge and 500 steps back up to the top of the gorge. It took me a while to make it up the steps. I'm not really what you would call "in shape" and I have asthma so I puffed my way up one section of stairs at a time.

After our hike we drove up to the town of Clayton, Georgia and discovered their quaint downtown area. We stopped for dinner and drinks at the Universal Joint. I was surprised to find this place in such a small town. There is also a Universal Joint in Ashevlle.

There I ordered a Duck Rabbit Brown Ale which is brewed in Farmville, North Carolina. They served it to me in a Red Hare glass, which is a brewery out of Atlanta. It seemed appropriate. Duck Rabbit specializes in dark beers and their Milk Stout is one of my very favorites of all time, which I know is a pretty bold declaration.

Duck Rabbit Brown Ale is rich with a very well played bitterness to the hops profile. It is a strong beer that can stand up on its own if you like that sort of thing. The dominating flavors for me in this one is chocolate and coffee but neither are overwhelming. They play off each other and the hoppy bitterness very well. If you want a brown beer with a little more punch than most of them check out this one.

Have you been out hiking this fall? Have you stopped for a beer afterwards to quench your thirst? What have you been drinking?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Most Astoundingly Mediochre Pumpkin Beer of the Season

When I am out with friends they often ask me what kind of beer I like.

Or they ask me what kind of beer they should like.

The divisiveness of Pumpkin Ale always stirs up an interesting conversation. Do I like this one? Do I like that one? What makes a good pumpkin ale?

Really, if you like a pumpkin ale - drink it. Don't worry about what everyone else thinks.

I like many pumpkin ales. My favorite of the season so far has been the Boxcar Pumpkin Porter.

My least favorite was this one:

The New Belgium PumpKick.

I like New Belgium beers just fine. Some are better than others. Because it is widely distributed I can usually get one even in a place that only serves the macrobrewed giants and that makes them worth their weight in gold.

What I will say about the Pumpkick is that it was all around average.

Of course, one of the reasons that this pumpkin beer is not among my favorites is because it has a fruitier flavor rather than a spicy one. Give me those pie spices and that is how I know it is fall! 

If you, on the other hand, are a bigger fan of actual pumpkin flavor then this might be a reasonable choice for you.

This one should be available in bottles at most grocery stores through the fall, and New Belgium is pretty spread out these days, so if you want to give a pumpkin beer a try check this one out. See what you think.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mecktoberfest in Charlotte, NC

Earlier this month, Matt and I were invited by some friends to see the Indigo Girls play with the symphony orchestra in Charlotte. These aren't just any friends but friends from college - old roommates. One happens to live only an hour from us here in Asheville now and the other...well, he may be considering a move south some day relatively soon. This area of the country does have a certain magnetic draw to it. Once you're bit it is hard not to let it spread under your skin. As the Indigo Girls say:

When God made me born a Yankee he was teasing.
The concert was simply amazing and it was absolutely great to spend time with our friends.

But, this is a beer blog, is it not?

Yes, yes it is. And I am getting there. While in Charlotte we were able to enjoy an Autumn Seasonal beer from the area's largest beer maker, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.

The beer of choice was their fall seasonal offering Mecktoberfest. It was pretty darn good.

Here is yet another truth about beer drinking. The beer is always better if you're with people you care about and are enjoying yourself. Beer is an extremely social beverage and is meant to be enjoyed that way. If you're thinking about trying a new beer go check it out at a bar or the brewery rather than buying a six pack and drinking it at home. You can talk with the bartenders or the brewers. You can start conversations with other bar patrons who can tell you about their favorites. Invite some friends and enjoy the experience.

So, part of the reason I enjoyed the Mecktoberfest so much was because I was sharing an evening of music and friendship. I highly recommend you try this approach as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Catawba Valley King Don Pumpkin: Not as Bad as I remembered It

Brewed in Morganton, NC, not far from Asheville is Catawba Valley's annual pumpkin ale, King Don's Original Pumpkin Ale.

Shortly after I began to enjoy beer I decided to give this one a try. We we were at Barley's, a popular taproom downtown, and I spotted it on the wall.

If you're not a craft beer drinker I am here to tell you that beer is, in fact, and acquired taste. It took me forever to like any beer and when I did it was a progression from one style to the next. For example, I use to hate the taste of hops but now Pale Ales ad IPAs are some of my go-to beers. Your tastes really do change.

This first time trying Catawba Valley's King Don's Original Pumpkin Ale was...well...traumatizing. I did not like it! However, at the time I found it hard to express what I didn't like about it. It took me a while to develop the "Pumpkin vs. Pumpkin Spice" flavor profile comparison chart (patent pending!). All I knew is that whatever I just put in my mouth was revolting.

There is one other important truth to know about beer. It is subjective. While beer snobs can say that the big name macrobrews are "disgusting," clearly their sales indicate that someone likes the taste of their beers. Not all palates are created equal. For example, there are two beer trends that I am not particularly fond of: smoked beers and sour beers. But both of these are popular for a reason - because someone likes them. The same is clearly true about Catawba's pumpkin ale.

So, to make a long story short, I did not like Catawba Valley's King Don Pumpkin.

Recently, as people are learning that I am attempting to DRINK ALL THE BEER! this fall, they began to ask me about this particular, and popular, pumpkin ale.

When I saw it on tap at our regular Monday night bar, I figured it was a reasonably safe environment to give it a try. The bartender, also a friend, would gladly make fun of me for it but I knew the pain would only be temporary. I asked her for only a half pour so I didn't have to commit to a full pint.

Tenatively, I took a sip.

And it really wasn't as bad as I remembered it.

Here is the third truth of beer drinking: Go ahead and try things you though you didn't like before. If enough time goes by you may find your tastes have changed just enough to let you appreciate this beer.

I certainly wouldn't put the King Don Pumpkin at the top of my list of favorite Pumpkin beers, but it wasn't awful. There was more pumpkin spice flavor than I remembered. It was entirely drinkable. If you really love the pumpkin beers this time of year and are in the Catawba Valley Brewery distribution area, it is worth a try.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oktoberfest at Wicked Weed

On Friday, October 4th, I was feeling the need to be social. I wanted to head downtown to where all the action was...

And the action was at Wicked Weed as they kicked off their Oktoberfest season.

They brewed 3 special beers for the event and I tried two of them: the Fest Beer and the Uncle Rick's Pilsner.

Matt and I arrived around 7pm and were delighted when we discovered the downstairs/outdoor seating at Wicked Weed decorated for Oktoberfest. They had created a beer hall atmosphere with long tables and Oompah music. You can't help but tap your toes along to the tuba! I've never been to Oktoberfest in Germany, but I have been to one in Helen, Georgia, which is really the same thing, right?

I really enjoyed the Fest Beer, a traditional marzen beer. It was everything a marzen should be: dark gold, malty, and higher in alcohol than typical lagers.

I did not try the wheat beer they brewed for the occasion, but I did have the pilsner which was absolutely delightful, light, and refreshing. It had a surprising amount of flavor for a pilsner, which is known for being a very mild beer.

Oktobefest at Wicked Weed runs through this Friday, October 11th, so don't miss out!  Check out these special German style beers while you still can! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

How About Some Browns

When I started this series I suggested that classic American Brown Ales were also "Fall Beers." There is no real reason for this except my personal preference. Unlike Oktoberfests and Pumpkin ales, you can get brown beers all year round but the comforting roasty flavors of browns make me thing of the cooling weather and falling leaves so I drink them this time of year.

Here are a couple browns that I've had recently.

Sweet Josie Brown.
Lonerider Brewery out of Raleigh, North Carolina, brews a fine brown beer called Sweet Josie Brown. It is, in fact, a pretty sweet little brown ale. It is very dark and the head is thick and creamy. It has a delightful sweet chocolate malt flavor with some light hops to balance it out, but not to many to make it an overly bitter beer. This is a really great drinking brown and goes well with a lot of flavors. I admit to drinking this one other times of the year as well if the desire to have a brown ale strikes me.

(I didn't have any good props for the photo of Sweet Josie Brown)

Beer Guy Grown.
Here in Asheville there is a local beer guy named Tony Kiss. In fact, people here do call him "The Beer Guy." Asheville Brewing created a tribute beer of sorts called Beer Guy Brown that they release again from time to time. I hadn't been able to grab it on tap there...until yesterday. The Asheville Brewing location on Merrimon Rd. in North Asheville is also known as the Brew N' View where you can see $3 second run movies and order a pizza and beer at the same time. Super fun times!  This week we went to see The Wolverine when I saw the tap labeled "Beer Guy Brown." I was finally able to give this delicious beer a try. It is a really drinkable beer - what people in the know call "sessionable." This just means it would make a great afternoon sipper for leaf watching from your back patio. Or something. It went very well with my buffalo chicken salad as well.I'm not sure how long this batch of Beer Guy Brown will last at Asheville Brewing, but I highly recommend getting out to give it a try.

(As you might imagine, it is difficult to get a photo of a beer in a dark movie theater.)

What kind of brown ales do you love this time of year?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Holy Crap, this stuff's delicious... Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

I sat down at the bar at Barley's, an Asheville institution, and looked up at the chalk board above the taps. My eye was immediately drawn to the word "pumpkin." 

Then I noticed the other words around it "Starr Hill Brewing Boxcar" and then, "Porter."

A porter? What deliciousness is this?

I don't have too much experience with Starr Hill, a brewery out of Virginia. I know I've tried a few of their beers before, but they haven't stood out to me before.

Until now.

As I have mentioned before there are two types of pumpkin beers - pumpkin flavor and pumpkin spice flavor. I am firmly in the pumpkin spice camp.

This pumpkin porter was a near perfect example of the style. The dark, rich porter was an excellent base for the pie spices. Porters can be heavy beers but this one made me want to go back for more. Seriously, if you have any desire for a pumpkin spice flavored beer, this is one of the best offerings I've had in town. Get thee to Barley's before it is gone!

If you're not in Asheville, check out the Starr Hill Beer Finder here!  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bell's Oktoberfest at Jack of Hearts in Weaverville

It is so great to go to just about any bar in town and be able to find at least one or two Autumn beers on tap.

It really is Bell's, not Oskar Blues! 
Last week, at Jack of Hearts in Weaverville, I was able to enjoy a pint of Bell's Oktoberfest.

Bell's Brewery is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is where Matt and I both went to college. I like to consider Bell's my first craft brewery even though I didn't drink beer at the time. My sister still lives in the area so I get to visit there frequently.

Bell's Oktoberfest is clean, light, and refreshing. But the "refreshing-ness" might actually be its downfall. Bell's is known for its full bodied beers. Even their flagship wheat beer, Oberon, is robust, rich, and flavorful, and very different from most wheat beers. The Bell's Oktoberfest is good enough and certainly drinkable but it isn't their best brew by a long shot.

Even though Bell's is brewed in Michigan they have a pretty expansive distribution area and you should be able to find Bell's Oktoberfest in several bars around Asheville and throughout the South East. And Midwest. And, for some strange reason, Arizona. Happy Drinking! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Highland Brewery's Clawhammer Oktoberfest

Asheville has a ton of great beer. It is really hard to pick one favorite. In fact, it is so hard I rarely try to take a stand for one single beer because as soon as I do, I discover something else that blows my mind. While I was writing for a local beer blog I was often tasked with declaring the best beer at each brewery I reviewed. Highland, an Asheville staple, as the easiest for me to determine. It isn't just one beer that is their best but all of their seasonals. Throughout the year, Highland has several amazing offerings that simply make your mouth water at the very thought of them.

Highland's Autumn Seasonal is no exception.

I offer exhibit A: Clawhammer Oktoberfest.

It is only the beginning of the season but I am making sure to get my fill before it disappears. In fact, as we were out to see a Football game on Sunday the bar was already out of the Clawhammer that they had only tapped two days before. And we were ordering beers at 1pm! Trust me, it really is that good. Check it out for yourself.

Along with the clean, crisp lager taste, Clawhammer also incorporates some fall spiciness to the mix.This added personality gives it a slightly different spin on the typical Oktoberfest beer. Try it while you still can! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Green Man Brewery's Harvester

My Asheville amble of autumn ales is awesome!

See what I did there.

Dark and mysterious....
Well, anyway. I recently found myself at Green Man Brewery or, as locals like to call it, Dirty Jack's. It is called that because of their original relationship with Jack of the Wood, one of the Asheville's most popular bars. Dirty Jack's is a tucked away in an area that is now called the South Slope but use to be way off the beaten path. Because of the location it tends to be populated primarily by locals on most nights but visitors are discovering it more and more.

While I was there I stuck to my goal of trying the autumn seasonals so I ordered the Green Man Harvester. I didn't even ask what it was I just figured it would be delicious. Turns out it is an Oktoberfest and a delightful example of one, I might add.

This lager was light and refreshing but with all of the richness that I love about a good Oktoberfest. I recall having some Green Man Oktoberfest last year but this seemed different. It isn't unusual for brewers to continuously tweak their recipes from year to year. If you're in the area I definitely recommend trying this years Harvester.

Don't worry - there are tons more autumn ales and lagers for me to try before the season passes. And, if I am on a roll, I'll keep going with the winter seasonals!  I love drinking beer seasonally. It really makes me feel connected to the cycles and the community.

What Autumn Seasonals are you enjoying right now? 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Good Luck Trolley that Never Was

Here we are not getting on the trolley.
On Friday, September 13th, Matt and I headed downtown to join the Asheville Blogger Society on a special Friday The 13th trolley tour to the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard. As we neared the corner where the bloggers waited to board the big red trolley we knew there had to be a problem.

The trolley wasn't running.

Before our Friday the 13th adventure even started it was struck by bad luck.

We chalked it up to the ominous date and set about to have fun anyway.

The bloggers and our guests wandered over to Barley's Tap Room and took over the upstairs bar. There, along with some fantastic discussions, I was also able to try a few seasonal beers.
My black cat and the Oktoberfest.

  • Foothills Oktoberfest. I thought this was a beautiful example of an Oktoberfest lager. It was rich and delicious with beautiful fall color. 
  • Big Boss Harvest Time Pumpkin. As I have mentioned before, there are pumpkin beers I like and pumpkin beers that I don't like. Unfortunately, the Big Boss pumpkin feel into the "eh, not so much," category. While it had hints of pumpkin spice it lacked the body that I look for in a pumpkin ale. Your mileage may vary. 
  • Laganitas Lucky 13. Much like Sierra Nevada Flipside, this isn't a "traditional" autumn beer, based on my own completely arbitrary criteria. However, after the ill-fated Friday the 13th Beer Trolley I thought that enjoying a Lucky 13 beer would be an excellent idea. I am a huge fan of this California brewery and love most of the beers that they offer. Lucky 13 was no exception. As an imperial red it is high in alcohol and heavy to drink. The flavors are complex and there are plenty of hops and plenty of malts to please just about anyone.
Your humble narrator and the Lucky 13.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wicked Weed Off With Their Gourds! PumpkAnne Ale

I have loved Wicked Weed since it opened early this year. I was excited to read that they were doing not just one but a series of pumpkin ales this Fall.

The series is called "The Gourds are Coming" an they will be releasing each pumpkin beer throughout the season. We found ourselves at Wicked Weed and I couldn't wait to try the first installment: The PumpkAnne Ale. 

This 7.3% alcohol beer may be a perfect examples of the kind of pumpkin ale that I prefer. The taste of those pumpkin pie spices were all over the rich malty beer base in the most perfect way.

Wicked Weed specializes in relative small batches and constantly rotating taps of their own brews. I have tried many beer styles and flavors there that I would probably not try anywhere else. I am always amazed at the new selections of both hoppy and Belgian style beers available every time I go into the bar. If you never thought you would like a Pumpkin beer check out the PumpkAnne ale before it is gone. I understand the next Pumpkin installments are a smoked pumpkin beer and a sour pumpkin beer. I admit that those two particular flavors are not among my favorites but I may give those a try just to see what they are all about.

Friday, September 13, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

I love to drink beer seasonally and for me the impending Fall means Browns, Pumpkins, and Oktoberfests. Sierra Nevada's regular Fall seasonal, Tumbler, is probably my favorite brown this time of year. I've already enjoyed a few in early September.

But this year, Sierra Nevada switched things up a big but adding an "Early Fall Seasonal" to their lineup: Flipside Red IPA.

Funny story. I was out at the store the other day. I saw this on the shelves and I thought "hey, that looks good. Let's try it." So I bought a six pack.

Later that day, Matt came home from playing golf with a friend and in his hand he held...a six pack of Flipside Red IPA. Great minds think alike, as they say.

Yesterday, Matt and I got together with some friends from Minnesota on a Google+ Hangout that we like to call Thirsty Thursdays. They are super fun and you should do them with your friends from around the country and the world. Everyone grabs their favorite beverage and hops into a Hangout. It is just like going out to the bar with friends except you're on the Internet!

I popped open a couple of Flipsides to enjoy as we chatted.

For an IPA this is an extremely mild beer and not overly bitter at all. There is a great interplay between the citrusy hops and the maltiness of the well crafted red ale. As advertised it is a lovely early fall beer to prepare for the coming of the season. If you can get Sierra Nevada in your area definitely give this one a try before it is gone.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Autumn Beer with a Side of Laundry

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of The Bar of Soap on Merrimon Road in North Asheville. This Laundromat that is also a bar that is also a used book store that now also serves food is a great spot to spend an evening. You can get your clothes clean, chat with the bartenders and locals, and enjoy some amazing craft beer.

Bar of Soap specializes in canned beer and they have almost 70 choices. Almost every week we go in they have something new to show us.

And their autumn beer selection so far is pretty awesome.

Cameo by Kenny, the Bar of Soap bartender.
The first autumn beer I tried was the Anderson Valley Fall Hornin'. This California brewery has some pretty delicious beer so I was hopeful that I would enjoy their pumpkin ale, which is an incredibly divisive beer style. The only downside to a can beer bar is that you can't have a taste before you buy the whole pint.

However, I was not at all disappointed. I have learned that there are two general types of pumpkin ale. You could say "good" and "bad" but that would be awfully subjective since not everyone enjoys the same flavors. I have found that they fall into the categories of "actually tastes like pumpkin," and "tastes like pumpkin pie." I personally enjoy the beers that have more of a pumpkin spice flavor than those that taste fruity. Among my favorites are Dogfish Head Punkin and Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin. Fall Hornin' definitely fell into the pumpkin spice category and I really enjoyed it. Since we are at Bar of Soap once a week I expect that I will be enjoying it all season, unless they bring in something else new.

Also on "tap" at Bar of Soap is the Heavy Seas AARG-toberfest. My favorite thing about Heavy Seas brewery is their commitment to their theme. All of their beers have a fabulous pirate style and would be an excellent edition to your pirate themed party...or wedding!  Don't forget International Talk Like a Pirate Day coming up on September 19th!  Oktoberfests are one of the three beer styles I equate with autumn - next to pumpkins and browns. I use to think I wasn't a big lager fan with the exception of Oktoberfests but this summer I was enjoying kolsches and pilsners so what do you know, my tastes have changed yet again. But Oktoberfests have a very rich and delicious flavor that most lagers don't have and I can't wait until the weather starts cooling down to drink them. AARG-toberfest is an excellent example of an American Oktoberfest lager.

So, if you need to get some laundry done and feel like having an fall seasonal beer while you're at it, head over to Bar of Soap and give these two a try! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Autumn Seasonal Beer Time!

Highland Clawhammer Oktoberfest 2012
Hello very neglected beer blog. I attempted to make an effort to post here more during Asheville Beer Week and only managed one post. I am a bad beer writer.

But I like to think of myself as a good beer drinker.

Beer drinking is very much a pastime that exists in the now. By that I mean while I am out enjoying the beer I think of all the wonderful things I would like to share about it but then I get back to my regularly scheduled programming and I don't think about it again. I want to share my love of beer with you, I really do.

Now that summertime is coming to an end all the craft brewers are coming out with their Fall seasonals. I love Fall seasonals. The Browns! The Pumpkins! The Oktoberfests! As the weather begins to cool down and the leaves begin to fall I want nothing more than to put on a sweater and drink these rich delicious beers.

So, readers - I would like to make a commitment to you. As I experience the Fall seasonal beers here in Asheville, NC and sold here from around the country I will share my experience with you. That is a promise! 

So stick around for an exploration of Autumn, beer style! 

If you know of any Fall seasonal releases from Asheville brewers or companies that distribute to my area, please let me know! I would love to seek them out! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Asheville Beer Week 2013: Sunday through Tuesday

This weekend kicked off the second annual Asheville Beer Week. I have been waiting 365 days for this week long, city wide event.

Matt on the Bus
A rival from Grand Rapids MI
The week started off with a bang. On Sunday afternoon we went on the LaZoom Comedy Tour which featured a special Beer Week performance by local sketch comedy group The Ferrel Chihuahuas. I will say I had no idea what to expect but it was a crazy good time. Beer was supplied on the bus by Bruisin' Ales and Asheville beer celebrity Julie Atallah was on hand for the tour. The comedy was top notch and we stopped at not one but two breweries along the way. (Wedge and Dirty Jack's, if you're keeping score.) As a side note, at the Green Man tasting room (AKA Dirty Jack's) we were able to check out their Rush Tribute Beer to celebrate the Canadian band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a lifelong Rush fan this was kind of exciting and the Red Barchetta did not disappoint. The trip was so crazy that a friend sitting on the patio of a local bar heard us drive by while we were singing the fantastic song, "A Moocher is a person in your Beer-borhood." You know the tune - from Sesame Street. Other versus included the Hipster and the Beer Snob. Fantastic. I've had the song stuck in my head for days now.

I find it hard to believe that much will top the LaZoom and Ferrel Chihuahua Comedy Beer Tour.

On Monday we took things easy and went to dinner at Jack of Hearts where we are Monday regulars.

Laundry beer
Then yesterday (Tuesday if you're keeping track) we made it to three total places. First, we had to make a stop at Bar of Soap mostly because we had to do laundry. I love their canned beer selection and a current favorite is Uinta Brewing's Sum'r ale which is easy to drink and only 4% alcohol.

In spite of the photographic evidence I do not recommend the consumption of laundry soap with your beer. Also, in case your wondering, the sock change purse is where we keep our laundry quarters. It made sense. You know, because it is a sock.

Milk Stout Float
After our Laundry was done we went right up the street to Luella's BBQ which was hosting a "Duck. Rabbit. Pig." event with Duck Rabbit Brewing out of Farmville, NC. We were able to meet the beer rep from Duck Rabbit, but unfortunately I don't not remember his name - though we did talk with him for quite a white. Luella's had prepared several small plates so we ordered one of each and they were amazing. The best being apple, bacon, and cheddar fritters with a molasses butter sauce. I would eat those every day. We also had a Duck Rabbit Milk Stout float made with the stout, of course, and Ultimate Ice Cream's salted caramel flavor ice cream. It was absolutely delicious and decadent.

After Luella's we walked up to the Asheville Brewing Company's Brew and View on Merrimon. We wanted to try their special Beer Week release of the Perfect Day IPA. It was very hoppy and quite refreshing. At this point I had forgotten I was trying to take photos so you're just going to have to imagine it.

There are more events for the rest of the week - including the Beer City Festival on Saturday. Stick around and I'll share more about our fun times.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Best Beer You Can't Get in Asheville

As you might have noticed, I am a fan or broadly sweeping statements. I thought I might share with you my favorite regional beer from somewhere other than North Carolina.

The key statement here is that this beer is not available in North Carolina. Sure, there are a lot of great beers from around the country that I could have mentioned but this one is particularly special to me. Also, breweries like Founders from Grand Rapids, MI and several offerings from Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee are distributed here so they don't count.

I want to share the magnificent beer called Southern Pecan from Lazy Magnolia Brewery on the southern coast of Mississippi.

According to their website they are available in most of the states surrounding us but they have yet to make it across the North Carolina border.

I first had Southern Pecan on a trip to New Orleans several years ago. We flew to New Orleans to meet some friends to go to see the Detroit Lions play the New Orleans Saints. This was the opening game of the 2009 season. The reason that is significant is because the Lions had just come off of their 0-16 season. The only team in NFL history to accomplish 16 consecutive losses in one season.

So for all the bad football we were about to watch, Matt and I wanted to discover beer that was better than the two for one happy hour macro-brews served at most of the local bars.

We discovered a place called Beer Fest in the French Quarter. Like many of the bars along Bourbon Street, Beer Fest was kind of dark and gross but they had some really interesting and incredibly expensive beers on tap. This selection included beers from a brewery we had never heard of - Lazy Magnolia.

So we tried the nut brown ale, Southern Pecan. At the time, nut brown ales were probably my favorite style and this beer did not disappoint. I found it a smooth and creamy beverage with just a hint of sweetness. We had just discovered our New Orleans beer experience.

Several years later, while we were living in Atlanta, Lazy Magnolia started distributing to Georgia so we were able to get this beer at our favorite local beer bar.

I don't miss much living here in Asheville - the beer scene is so great and there are a lot of wonderful beers distributed into our city - but I did miss Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan. (I also miss one brewery out of Atlanta that I'll tell you about sometime...)

Last week, Matt was in New Orleans for Jazz Fest and he returned with a 12 pack of Southern Pecan just for me. Isn't he sweet?

So if you find yourself in New Orleans - or Mississippi for that matter - check out this nut brown beer.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Beer City USA Poll Open Until Friday, May 10th

Taps at Green Man Brewery, AKA Dirty Jack's, in Asheville
There are just a couple of day left to vote for Beer City USA. Check out the poll here if you haven't voted yet.

I cast my vote on Monday. I voted for Asheville, of course. There are 22 cities on the list and I am extremely proud to live in one of them.

I am extremely happy to live in a city where there is such an amazing beer culture. I love that I can walk between several top notch breweries within the downtown area. I am excited that more will be opening their doors.

I decided on Monday that I was only going to drink Asheville beer until the voting was closed. Not that it would do anything to influence the vote. I just love Asheville beer. I just decided that for one week I want to support the local brewers only. It is for me more than them.

Wall o' beer at Bell's Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo
Asheville has been Beer City USA for four years in a row, tying last year with Grand Rapids, Michigan. I think we have some great competition this year. I was surprised to see three Michigan cities on the list (Along with Grand Rapids are Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor). My fear is that this will split the Michigan vote. Out of the three, I personally prefer Kalamazoo - home of Bell's Brewery - because I went to college there and I love the beer.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter who wins the most unscientific internet poll. What I do know is that Asheville has a fantastic beer culture and we like to share it with the rest of the country. Want to see what it is all about? Then come on down to Asheville.

Asheville beer week starts on May 25th, eventually culminating with Beer City Fest on June 1st. We will be at various events around town so we hope to see you there.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spring is a Time for Hops

As I've mentioned before, I love to drink beer seasonally. There is something about the taste of exactly the right beer at the right time that is beyond satisfying. 

Highland Brewery here in Asheville is a master when it comes to designing great seasonal beers. As the wheel of the year turns I rely on Highland to faithfully release delicious beers the evoke tastes of the very changes I feel all around me.

Asheville had a particularly long and cold winter this year. On top of that it never really snowed. We're all fine with winter in the mountains but at least we want some white stuff to show for it. Instead it was gray and 35 degrees well into March. Then one day the earth shifted and 85 degree temperatures blossomed along with the trees.

That was the moment that Highland Brewing Company released their spring seasonal Little Hump

Everything about this beer screams Springtime. This award winning beer was also declared one of the staff's favorites from last year and everyone was eagerly anticipating the new release. As it turns out the release party was on my birthday. We made our way to the brewery and enjoyed the first Little Hump of the season on tap.

Even though I understand the science and chemistry that goes into creating specific flavors in beer it always feels like magic when that first splash of a well crafted beer hits my tongue. The specific blend of  strong but light Simcoe® hops and dry hopped Amarillo® and Cascade create a crisp and sharp flavor that tastes bright and exhilarating. It as though Highland was able to distill not just the flavors of the season but also the essence of the bright yellow daffodils, the tall waving grasses, the cloudless blue sky, and the feel of the spring breeze on your skin.

I'm not sure if you can ever call a single beer the most perfect, but Little Hump is perfect at least in this moment of time.

What are your favorite spring beers from Asheville and beyond?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beer and There - Beyond Asheville: Flagstaff, Arizona

I just got back from a week's vacation in the southwest. We started out visiting some friends in Albuquerque and ended up visiting some friends in Phoenix and in between we enjoyed time in Flagstaff, Sedona, and Jerome.

As you might imagine Matt and I checked out some breweries along the way. In Albuquerque, our friend took us to several and most of them were quite good. There was only one we really didn't like. It was a great time.

Our next stop was Flagstaff, AZ. We knew nothing about the town before driving across the desert toward an impossible mountain and it turns out that it is an awesome little mountain/college town not entirely unlike Asheville.

We stayed at a quirky hotel right on Route 66. I would have liked it to be quirkier but it was just fine. We were also walking distance to all four of the breweries in the small town. We tried three out of the four. I'm not really sure why we never made it to the fourth because it was right next to the sushi place where we had dinner but I think we were tired and the time zone difference was finally catching up to us.

We had a favorite, though. Since it was right on the walk between our hotel and downtown we stopped there more than once in our two nights in Flagstaff. It is called Mother Road Brewing. Their tasting room has a sweet warehouse feel and the staff was awesome. We sat at the bar the first night and talked with the bartenders. They only had four beers on tap but the quality was outstanding. I love a place that concentrates on making a few beers extremely well than trying to make hundreds of styles that each taste average. My two favorites were their Gold Road Kolsch, which went down very easy, and the Lost Highway Imperial Black IPA. Gold Road was crisp and refreshing but had enough body that it didn't taste like a corporate beer. Lost Highway was super hoppy but with chocolate malts that enhanced the experience.

I do want to give an honorable mention to the little town of Jerome, Arizona. We were at Bar of Soap here in town doing laundry before our trip and a couple people recommended that we check it out. It is pretty crazy. There is one tee-tiny road going up a very steep mountain and it is the only way up and back. Because it looked over the desert you could see Mount Elden by Flagstaff in the distance. The reason it was recommended was because Caduceus Wine Cellar is there - owned by Maynard from the band Tool. On the plane out west we watched the movie Blood Into Wine about the winery. Very good movie.

We enjoyed the winery as well and while we don't often drink wine we enjoyed the tasting that we had. Caduceus uses all Italian grapes for their wines which we know we like and they are all very robust and flavorful. We might have brought some back with us.

I love that Asheville as such a rich beer culture. I also love that this whole country has such a rich beer culture. No matter where you go you can find amazing craft brew places.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Drink Seasonaly: Devil's Britches from Highland Brewing

Yesterday someone asked me the question:

"What is your favorite beer?"

How in the world does someone answer that question? I guess a lot of people have a go-to beer or a favorite style. For me it seemed like trying to pick a favorite child.

I thought about it for a minute but I didn't really have a definitive answer I could provide. So I answered the only way I could.

"I like seasonal beers."

Seasonal beers, for those who aren't familiar with the term, are batches of beer breweries make that are only available for a limited time. Typically these are styles that fit the current weather or are brewed for holiday seasons.

Many of the local Asheville breweries create seasonal beers throughout the year, but the one I think has nailed it is Highland Brewery. Arguably Asheville's biggest brewery, at least before some of the big guys move in, Highland does brew some of the area's beer staples. Their St. Therese's Pale Ale is a refreshing beer that is available year round. Gaelic Ale is also an easy drinking red that you can get just about anywhere. But I believe Highland's best work is their seasonals.

Anticipation is palpable as far away as Atlanta for the release of the popular winter beer Cold Mountain. I also love their Oktoberfest, Clawhammer. Last year, in late spring, Highland introduced an amazing pale ale with hops that tasted like sunshine called Little Hump. I honestly couldn't get enough of the stuff. I bought bottles from the store and ordered pint after pint in any bar I found it in. I have been assured that it is going to be back this year and that it was a staff favorite last year. Turns out it was also award winning last year.

Highland has done it again with their late winter/early spring seasonal available right now called Devil's Britches. Like all of their beers, this one is named after local mountain. Devil's Britches is a rich red IPA brewed with a couple of hops varieties that I had never heard of - but both are named for Greek Mythology (Apollo and Calypso) so I can't find anything wrong with them. The result is a malty beer with hops that don't try to knock your taste buds off your tongue with each sip.

And yes, when I realized that I wanted to blog about it, I went and got a bottle out of the recycling bin to get a photo of it. These are the sacrifices I make for my art.

Because it is a seasonal this beer won't be around for ever. I'm finding myself ordering it out at every chance I can get knowing that might be my last opportunity. If you like malty beers with a little kick of hops but not too much, you might want to check it out for yourself before it is gone.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Second Best Beer in Asheville

There is one small problem with declaring The Best Beer in Asheville. It is that the next time you have something as delicious you feel as though you are cheating on the other beer.

I didn't mean to, Heresy Brown. It just happened. I'm sorry.

Last summer, we spent a lot of time at Wedge Brewery. It is such an easy summer place to be. The old warehouse in the river arts district right on the bank of the French Broad is the perfect place to enjoy a cold beer on a hot day. We would sit on the patio and be all carefree. I would wear my hippie skirts and tank tops and think to myself "I belong in a place like this." 

Then we went away for the winter. We spent two months bundled in layers of clothes as we enjoyed the company of friends and family for the holidays. By the time we got back, I had kinda forgotten about Wedge. 

The other day, Matt reminded me. It was a really cool day. Both cool as in awesome and cool as in cold. We spent some time visiting with Joe of Tennessee Tiny Homes while he was in Asheville on his tri-state tour. Besides beer, tiny houses are my other favorite thing. We were there for about an hour and half talking with Joe and another local tiny house enthusiast. We started to get hungry, though, and Matt said "Lets go down to Wedge." 

I was all like, "I totally forgot about Wedge on a count of it being winter and everything."
My goofy grin and an Iron Rail last summer.

So we said our goodbyes and headed down to the RAD to enjoy some beer.

It was freezing cold that day and not at all the kind of day that would bring someone out to the riverfront. The place wasn't packed but it had a fair amount of business for a cold February day. We bellied up to the bar and ordered "Two Iron Rails, Please." 

And that was when I remembered. This beer is SO delicious. Kind of Heresy Brown delicious...but I forgot about Iron Rail when I declared that Heresy Brown was the best beer in all of Asheville. Oh no!  

By the way, Iron Rail is an IPA. It is hoppy but not painfully so. It is really easy to drink. 

I felt caught. Like I was committing a horrible sin. I can't possibly say one beer is the best in the whole city when this other beer makes me feel so joyful at the same time. Can someone be PolyBeerMorous? Can I really love both of them at the same time? 

Asheville kind of makes us a little PolyBeerMorous. There is so much great beer in this town and new ones coming every day. By the way, I made that word up: PolyBeerMorous. You won't find it if you Google it. I know, I tried. 

So I want to raise a glass to ALL of the great beer in Asheville. Or, alternately, I want to raise a glass OF all of the great beer in Asheville. Don't worry, I'll call a cab.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sweeping Declaration: I know the Best Beer in Asheville

Okay, okay...I know. Beer taste is entirely subjective. You might prefer stouts or you might like hyper-hoppy double IPAs. That means making a sweeping declaration like The Best Beer in Asheville is really completely meaningless. That isn't going to stop me from saying it.

A couple weeks ago, Wicked Weed was unleashed on a pretty saturated Asheville beer scene. A couple of things could have happened. Either it wasn't all it was cracked up to be and would become a footnote on the pages of Asheville Beer History, or it would be awesome.

Spoiler - it's awesome.

The restaurant and casual bar upstairs is a great place to grab a pint and eat some delicious food. I might recommend the Caesar Salad which is made with Napa cabbage instead of romaine lettuce which makes it so much better that your average Caesar Salad. Downstairs is the practically steampunk themed bar serving half pints of some more experimental brews. After 4pm the place starts to get mega-crowded both upstairs and down so get there early if you can.

Which brings me to my Sweeping Declaration.

I am about to say it. Buckle up.

The best beer in all of Asheville is Heresy Brown Ale from Wicked Weed Brewery. 

You really need to try this beer. It is a dry hopped brown ale and the blend of malty goodness and the perfectly balanced hops is exquisite.

There is no other shoe to drop, either. Try anything else at Wicked Weed and you will likely be impressed. Most of the things they brew and serve are delicious. In fact, I shouldn't say most. I haven't had a beer there that I didn't like. I even had to admit that some of the styles that I don't normally like were very well done. If you want something more like a Trappist beer try the Abigail Dubbel. If you want an easy drinking beer with a surprising amount of complexity try their lowest alcohol offering; Sir Ryan the Pounder. But if you want something really special and you like hops and malt, seriously consider the Heresy Brown Ale. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Oskar Blues in Brevard

Oskar Blues Brewery, out of Colorado, has recently opened a facility near Asheville in Brevard, NC.

The coolest part - they offer a TROLLEY that picks you up in downtown Asheville and takes you all the way to the brewery then brings you back to town as soon as the brewery closes. What awesomeness is that. They are doing this on Saturdays and it leaves from behind Thirsty Monk off of Coxe at 5pm. Drops you off in the same spot.

So it is pretty awesome to get a ride out to the brewery and not have to drive but on top of that their beers are delicious. My favorite was the G'Knight, an imperial red ale. Yum.

I started drinking it before I remembered to take a photo of it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Beer and Now: The Future!

Hello Beer and Now readers! I'm sorry there hasn't been much content here lately. I have big plans for the site though, so stay tuned.

I'm afraid I have been spending quite a bit of time focusing on tiny houses. See, I started writing for two tiny house blogs and I have my first book due out in March. You can check out my other site, for more information about that.

However, I intend to revive this blog a bit not only writing about beer making, which I will be doing again soon, but also about the Asheville beer scene. There is so much awesome beer and related beer culture in this city that I should be writing about here. I hope to be able to pay some attention to this blog even while everything with the tiny house writing is going on.

In the meantime, here are some beer related photos for your viewing pleasure.

Delicious Dogfish Head beers from a pint night at Thirsty Monk in May.
A tiny taste of Asheville Brewing's Summer beer, District 12 back in May. Look at my tiny orange! 
And then the Asheville Summer Beer Festival
Mmm... bacon and beer.
And we went to the Oktoberfest celebration downtown. It was Fall and I could finally wear my beer hat! 
And Matt got this tiny beer at Thirsty Monk.
And, finally, I had this delicious Cold Mountain while sitting on the patio of the Grove Park Inn overlooking Asheville.
I'm glad you've stuck around. Be prepared for some new content and possibly big changes here at Beer and Now!