Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: This Week in Beer

This year Matt and I hosted Thanksgiving here in Asheville. Matt's mom came down from Michigan and on Wednesday, before the holiday, we took her to a great local spot called King James Public House.We got a bunch of small plates and shared them and they were amazing. King James is really a cocktail bar so we couldn't pass up a couple of delicious mixed drinks. But they also serve great beer both on tap and in the bottle.

Their new winter offering was a bottle of Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome ale. Sam Smith was one of the first beers I liked before I was able to get my hands on many craft brews. This quintessential English beer is frequently imported in bottles. When I was visiting London in October of this year I was able to get my hands on cask drawn Sam Smith  which is, as you might imagine, significantly better. This is because it is fresher if nothing else. The Winter Ale was okay. It seemed a little ordinary to me. It is a simple bitter ale so it didn't have a lot of the spices or rich flavors that I prefer for my winter ales. I think I am biased towards darker beers this time of year. That being said it wasn't undrinkable and it worked well with the rich food that we were eating.

Then came Thanksgiving dinner.

We hosted it here in Asheville which was a wonderful change. We always travel for Thanksgiving and it was really nice to have it in our own house. Our friends Reid and Erika joined us as well so we had 5 for dinner. The meal consisted of a 21-pound smoked turkey from a local barbecue restaurant. It was amazing and there is no way we could have a made a bird that tasted as good!  Instead we concentrated on the sides: a pierogi casserole in place of mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, stuffing in the crock pot, and a spinach salad with goat cheese, pecans, and dried cranberries. For dessert, Erika brought cherry pie and I made chocolate pumpkin cupcakes with caramel cream filling and caramel glaze. Oh, and we had Oreo pumpkin ice cream from Ultimate Ice Cream.

Thanksgiving table with Autumn Maple Beer.
Of course, with all that food we needed the perfect beer. Enter The Bruery's Autumn Maple. Yum yum! Technically you could call this an autumn seasonal but it was brewed specifically to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of a pumpkin base they choose yams and brewed it with all the traditional autumn spices, molasses, and maple. It is a Belgian style ale and has a slight sour component to it but not in an unpleasant way. It went really well with the whole thanksgiving dinner. I had bought some additional, different beer for dessert but I just had some more of this instead. I'll save the other beer for a different blog post.

This Thanksgiving was a success - and it still isn't over. Today we are going out for dinner with friends and then checking out some local holiday lights. Tomorrow, Matt's mom is helping us put up our tree and decorate the house. I am certain there will be more winter seasonal beers to explore in the coming week.

What kind of beer did you have with your Thanksgiving dinner?

Friday, November 21, 2014

November 21, 2014: This Week in Winter Beer

This week in winter beer was strong right out of the gate.

The season kicked off for me at the Highland Brewing Cold Mountain Release party. Cold Mountain is the seasonal offering from Highland Brewing right here in Asheville. The recipe starts with the same base but each year they change up the flavoring agents. And this year they've hit it out of the ball park. The release party spanned three days last week - Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Matt and I hit the Friday event and enjoyed a regular pint of Cold Mountain and two of their flavor infusions: coconut and chocolate. From what we understand the brewery ran out of Cold Mountain on tap by mid-day Saturday. Some locals consider the hype to be overkill. Once the beer hits store shelves people go a little crazy to get their hands on it. But this year especially the hype is well-deserved. (I have a couple 22oz bottles in my fridge and I was able to get some on tap at King James Public House the instant they tapped their keg). If you have never tried Cold Mountain before I think this is the year.

Later this week I found myself at a local bar where two winter seasonals were on tap. Since "Winter Seasonal" isn't a specific style many breweries are just making any old beer and slapping a wintery name on them to sell more this time of year. That is how I feel about New Belgium's Accumulation White IPA. The kicker is that New Belgium has made a number of really good winter seasonals in the past that are no longer in production. Accumulation was available last year at least and maybe the year before so I was hoping they would have a new offering this year. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I found it lacking in much flavor that would differentiate it from anything else. I knew I wasn't going to like it but in an effort to make this blog as content rich as possible I thought I should give it another try. It was slightly watery and lacked body. However, if you like IPAs you may enjoy this one.

That same night I also drank this year's batch of Sierra Nevada's Celebration. Now here is a winter IPA I can get behind. It was rich, well balance, and a gorgeous holiday red color. Sierra Nevada, who recently opened a facility near Asheville, is known for their IPAs so it makes a lot of sense that they would concentrate on this flavor profile for their holiday beer. Several of the people I was with ordered more than one pint of this beer which I believe speaks to its drinkability. If you do like IPAs I would advise drinking this rather than Accumulation.

But then, the most amazing thing happen. Just yesterday I found myself at the local spot called Asheville Brewing. It is a relatively small scale brewery that seems very focused on maintaining their local status. They put out really good beers but most of them can only be found on tap at the brewery itself (they have three locations in town). They can a few of their flagship beers but the specialty brews are draft only. We were at the movie theater in the back of the restaurant, known as the Brew n' View, for another event all together. Some friends (ZaPow Gallery) had been featured in a PBS series called Start Up and they were screening the episode. What I wasn't expecting to find when I got there was my current favorite winter seasonal. Seriously, I just wanted to drink all kinds of it. The best part - it's called Ninjabread Porter. It is based on their popular Ninja Porter, which has won several awards around the country, but there was added ginger, raisins and some other stuff the bartender-guy said that I don't remember. Seriously, they had me at Ninjabread! I definitely plan on getting more of this while it lasts. So seriously, leave me some! 

I believe that Ninjabread is the perfect antidote for the people who believe that Cold Mountain is over-hyped.

That's my winter beer list for this week. I'm going to try to update every Friday - though with the holiday next week it may not happen as planned. However, I am specifically going on a beer hunt this weekend to find some great seasonals to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. If you have any suggestions please feel free to make them in the comments - including where to find them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Winter Beers of 2014: Let's Make this Happen!

*tap tap tap*
Is this thing on?

Wow, it has been over a year since I did anything with this dusty old beer blog. It isn't that I haven't been drinking beer - in fact, I've been drinking plenty of beer. It is more that I get going on it and then something else shiny distracts me.

But since I did a series on Fall beers in 2013 I thought I would take some time this winter to talk about some yummy beers for the coldest season. Its already snowed a few times here in Asheville so I am ready! 

Highland's Cold Mountain (Winter Seasonal) from 2012
I'm going to try to update once a month and catalog the beers I like and the beers I don't and the reasons why. I hope it can help a few people make informed decisions about beers for the season.

Winter beer is a very broad category. For the purposes of this blog I am going to try to focus on beers brewed specifically for the winter or holiday season. I may also include some other darker beers from time to time like a good hearty stout or porter because that is what I crave this time of year.

If you wan to know more about seasonal beers and dark beers, check out my book How to Drink Craft Beer: A Beginner's Guide. It is meant to be a guide you can take with you as you explore new beer flavors and learn what you love. It would make a great holiday present for the beginner beer drinker in your life.