Friday, December 19, 2014

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful so I'll stay in and Drink this Beer!

What a week its been for the seasonal and holiday beers. Let's get right to it, shall we?

I started out at a restaurant downtown called Rhubarb so when I saw they had a rhubarb saison on their menu I decided I really should give that a try. Saisons aren't on my list of go-to beers to it isn't often that I drink them at all.It was from a brewery called Ilkley.

Frankly, I have no idea whether or not someone would classify a rhubarb as a wintery vegetable but it isn't something I drink often so I'll call it good. This beer was out of the UK and I found it slightly sweet, not very sour, and very refreshing. I would recommend this for someone who doesn't normally drink this style of beer.

And next, we stopped at Wicked Weed, a favorite Asheville brewpub. Downstairs they have the most incredible and intimate bar set up. Met up with some friends and had a couple of drinks there.

I choose their Comet, the third in their series named for the Reindeer. However, the beer isn't really reindeer themed at all. In fact, this one is brewed with myrrh, frankincense, and gold. No, really - real gold. Here's the funny part: myrrh is probably my favorite sent. I burn myrrh incense all the time because I absolutely love the stuff. But in a beer - well, not so much. I didn't absolutely hate this but ingredients that aren't typically edible take a little getting use to.

So then I moved on to a beer called the Frai Belgian Pale. My friend modeled (or ridiculed) this beer for me. And you know what - this isn't even remotely a holiday or winter seasonal but it was so absolutely wonderful that I thought I might as well include it. It was fresh, fruity, and not all that bitter. It was also pretty and very, very drinkable. I would have had several if I hadn't been on a quest to try all the seasonal beers.

Here's the lesson, kids. There aren't really rules when it comes to drinking beer. Well, except for "drink responsibly." If you prefer pale ales, drink them all year long. You don't have to only drink dark beers just because it's wintertime.

A few days later, a friend had left this single beer in my fridge. It looked delicious and I couldn't wait to try it. I had never heard of the brewery, Barrel Trolley, which is based in New York. This Nut Brown Ale was described as having lots of natural hazelnut flavors. So, I poured it in a glass (that iron spike thing in the photo is a sweet bottle opener made by a real blacksmith who used an old railroad spike) and enjoyed.

When I say "enjoyed" I really mean it. It was a delicious, nutty and malty brown ale with just enough hops to balance out the flavors. I would drink this beer again.

So that brings us to another outing with friends. If you can't tell, I find beer exploration to be a very social activity. I love getting together with other people and talking about the different flavors and complexities. It is good to live in a town where there are thousands of other beer nerds around.

Anywho - this beer is the Oskar Blues Christmas Chub. It is based on their Old Chub Scotch Ale which is already rich and malty. The result is chocolately and cinnamony. It is apparently also brewed with spruce but I didn't taste any overwhelming pine flavors. I thought it was a perfect decadent holiday beer.

Well, I thought that the Christmas Chub was decadent, but that was before I sipped this bad boy. Terrapin, out of Athens GA, does a series called Wake n' Bake Stout every year. This one is the even more special French Toast'd Wake n' Bake! It tastes exactly like French toast, you guys! It was rich with lots of maple flavors. The coffee isn't all that overwhelming but the vanilla and cinnamon come through beautifully. There is no way I could drink these all night - at a whopping 9.4% ABV, but it was so delicious I wanted to. Seriously, if you happen to come across this one, check it out. It is so worth it.

And finally, I would like to end this extensive beer re-cap with the Anchor Christmas. This wasn't actually my beer - it was one that Matt tried. I know I've had it before so I feel okay talking about it. Plus, I had a sip to refresh my memory. It is a darker beer but the flavors reminded me of the Southern Tier 2Xmas - it was gingery and piney. It is a delicious beer and well worth it around the holiday season.

We are about to head up to Michigan for the holidays. We'll be there for 2 weeks and I am sure we'll have plenty of delicious beers to report back on. The beer culture in Michigan is fantastic so I am looking forward to some local brews this holiday season.

So - what seasonal beers did you enjoy this week?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Beers of the Week: A Winter Warmer and a Porter

This was a pretty quiet week for beers. I mean, I drank but several of the beers I enjoyed throughout the week were ones I had already showcased here on the blog. Here are two for you consideration.

When I lived in Atlanta there were only a handful of breweries to choose from. Since moving I have learned that the industry is picking up, but alas I can't get most of it here. Sweetwater Brewing, however, is available throughout Asheville but not in too many places. The pizza joint Mellow Mushroom, itself an Atlanta-based business, has tons of beers on tap including several Sweetwater choices. And this time of year that means Sweetwater Festive. It had been a while since I tasted this beer and I was surprised to find it had a little bit of a sour flavor, but I'm not entirely sure that wasn't the fault of the tap line. It isn't a terribly heavy beer for a winter warmer but it does have cinnamon flavors and lots of rich malts. I was surprised that I didn't like this as much as I had remembered.

So, while a porter isn't exactly a winter seasonal it is a style of beer (along with stouts) that I crave this time of year. There are several local porters that are my go-to beers around town but there is also another North Carolina beer from another part of the state that I always forget about. Foothills Brewery is located in Winston Salem and they have several beers available all around Asheville. So when faced with a choice I decided to follow the path less traveled and have a People's Porter, which I never otherwise order. This is a version of a traditional English brown porter and it stays true to its style. I tasted some coffee notes along with the chocolate malt.

I expect that there will be more opportunities for some winter seasonals this coming week and throughout the holidays as we travel to Michigan to visit family over Christmas and New Year's. I am looking forward to some of their great beer choices as well since that state's craft beer scene is pretty epic.

Friday, December 5, 2014

More Adventures in Winter Beer

I've been a lot of places since Thanksgiving. At at most of those places I have consumed delicious seasonal beers. Let's get right to it.

On the day after Thanksgiving we found ourselves at Bar of Soap enjoying a can of one of their new winter beers. This is Unita Brewing's Yard Sale winter lager. While I enjoyed this beer I found it rather un-wintery. I mean, it is a richer, more malty lager than many of the light lagers we're use to, but it didn't have a lot of personality. That being said it was tasty and I would drink more than one in a sitting. The primary flavors would be best described as toasty, vanilla, and caramel.

I have found most of Unita's beers to be hit or miss. I like many of them quite a bit but the rest seem very middle-of-the-road. It is rare that I absolutely hate it.

On Saturday we decorated our house for [insert winter holiday here]. I love this time of year. I love the decorations, the celebrations, the food, and most especially the beer. So to get into the spirit of putting up our tree and dusting off those old holiday nick-knacks, we purchased Kasteel's Belgian Winter beer. Its brewed with real Belgian chocolate, you guys!  Seriously, what could be better. And it was exactly what I wanted out of this beer. The rich, dark beer has roasty and chocolate aromas which translated directly to the flavor. It is 11% alcohol, so don't take this one lightly. Drink with caution. It was absolutely perfect for a fun night at home setting up and decorating the tree.

Then earlier this week we went on a little adventure. Three places, three different seasonal beers. Our first stop was Hi Wire Brewing in downtown Asheville. This is such a great little out of the way brewery. They have several fantastic year-found beers as well as great seasonal offerings. Right now the Strongman Coffee Stout is on tap. I'll be the first to admit that coffee isn't one of my favorite things but beer like this might convince me otherwise. It isn't pretending or just playing around. This is serious coffee flavor. It is a creamy beer to begin with which blends well with the dark, rich, coffee flavor. While this isn't a holiday beer it certainly is a great seasonal. Because it is dark and comforting it fits in the winter warmer category. And, as it turns out, it is only 5.2% ABV which actually makes it a pretty responsible choice.

Then we wandered next door to Ben's Tune Up, a local Asian fusion restaurant. There we ate raman and miso and yummy fish tacos. But we also enjoyed Southern Tier's holiday beer, 2XMas. The bar area, where we ate, is dark which is great for atmosphere but bad for photographs so this is the best we could do. Their other "2X" beers are generally very hoppy so that is what I expected when I took my first sip. I was mistaken. 2XMas has plenty of hops but the hops they use are piney so the beer takes like Christmas trees instead. Plus lot of ginger. Like, a ton of ginger. Turns out there are other spices in there too, but mostly I tasted the ginger If you don't like ginger this may not be the beer for you. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Turns out Southern Tier makes a number of holiday beers including one called Krampus which I must now find.

Finally we ended our beer exploration at Catawba Brewing located in the Biltmore Village area of town. Catawba's seasonal beer offering comes in the form of King Winterbolt, It is an English style brown (or porter?) ale with some Englishy hops. I drank quite of bit of it last year as well. Kind of like Uinta's Yard Sale, I found King Winterbolt to be underwhelming but drinkable. It is a really really good beer, but it doesn't really have any flavor profiles that scream "holiday" or "winter" to me. I suppose when I declare my favorite beer of the season is a specialty brew with ginger and raisins you probably can't expect me to go ga-ga over something super basic. It is a really good beer but I think I would love to see some infusions to give it some kick for the holidays. It would taste great with cinnamon, chocolate, dates, or other flavors of the season. I'll be watching to see if they release any specialty versions of King Winterbolt over the next month or two.

What beers did you discover this week? What have been your favorites that you keep going back to?