If you are following me on Twitter (@timperialstout), I’m sure that you have noticed that I have been blowing up your timeline with beer check-ins via Untappd. Sorry about that. Hopefully, you’re just a little jealous that I get to have an entire week of unencumbered liver destruction at the hands of many Eastern and Southern beers that I either very rarely get to drink or have never had before. Needless to say, I’m having a blast!
I’m pretty sure that I could be happy living in Asheville solely thanks to two establishments. First, Thirsty Monk. Thirsty Monk is one of the best beer bars I have ever been to. The owner actually lived in Seattle for a while and is a huge fan of The Stumbling Monk in Cap Hill, as well as Brouwer’s and Hale’s Ales. The Thirsty fella is much larger than the Stumbling one, and I’d venture to say that it’s more true to form in its Belgian authenticity. The layout and minimal food offerings (cheese, soft pretzels, humus plate) bring much reminiscing to my time in the true home of the Belgian Beer Bar Experience. Though, the top floor is home to all American beer taps, many of which are local. It’s the bottom floor that is the real lair of the monk. All taps in the depths are of Belgian style, though not all are imports. During my visit there were several Belgian styles on tap from American brewers such as The Bruery, North Coast and Allagash.
The best part about Thirsty Monk, other than the decor and great taplist, is that they offer taster trays (four samples) and half pints. No beer is excluded. This is very similar awesomeness to Uber Tavern’s relatively new service upgrade in allowing tasters of any beer on tap. When you order a taster tray at TM you are also given a tasting notes card and a pencil so that you can, of course, write tasting notes and have something to take home with you so that you can remember what you had and if you enjoyed it. This is especially helpful for me in my current situation…drinking beers that I very rarely if ever have, that is.
That brings us to the second establishment that would make it easy for me to permanently reside in Asheville, Bruisin’ Ales. Before I made it here I had stopped into a few local markets, wine shops and the other bottle shop in town, Hops & Vines. No one seems to compare to Bruisin’ Ales in selection, and really, that’s what you want in a bottle shop. BA has an exceptional selection of locals, regionals and Belgians (lots and lots of Belgians). They also have a great collection of glassware available and sell t-shirts with their logo on them.
The location is prime, right in the mix of it all downtown. It’s actually on the same road as Barley’s Taproom and Mellow Mushroom, two great beer bars. I found the staff to be very kind and knowledgeable. As is always the case when I’m in a new place with a huge collection of beers that are unavailable in Seattle, I was wildly overwhelmed. I decided that I should hold off on purchasing the final bounty of bottles that I will smuggle back to Seattle until later in the trip when I have a better idea of what’s good, rare, etc. I grabbed a few bottles to take back to the dwelling for late night options. These included Terrapin So Fresh & So Green fresh hop IPA, Terrapin Gamma Ray wheatwine, New Holland Blue Sunday Sour, Weyerbacher Riverva 2010 and Ska Nefarious Ten Pin imperial porter. Good times.
Some of you may be aware of the fact that Asheville, NC was named BeerCity USA 2010 in a poll organized by well-known writer and homebrew advocate Charlie Papazian. Though this is a bit silly considering that Asheville’s population is only about 75,000, it speaks to the passion of the city’s people for sumptuous suds.
Despite how you may feel about the legitimacy of that title being bestowed upon Asheville, you must admit that you’re a bit intrigued. Well, at least I can. After a series of unfortunate circumstances caused my late December vacation to Michigan to fall through, I figured that I would utilize the opportunity and the funds that I had set aside to visit this small, artistic, and surprisingly progressive southern town, and stake my own opinion about its beer destination worthiness.
The first highlight of my trip was actually found in the Atlanta Airport which was the site of my layover. I exited the plane in Terminal B, which just so happened to be the same terminal as the Sweet Water Brewing Company Draft House & Grill. I had been wanting to get a taste of Sweet Water’s brews for quite some time so the opportunity was welcomed. The place was packed. There wasn’t a single open table or stool at the bar. Most of the people had their carry-on luggage with them, so there was barely even room to walk between the tables. I eventually made my way through the wreckage and up to a tiny opening at the bar between two stools. I was quickly greeted by an attractive young lady with a southern accent. I think there was probably a pretty long pause before I was able to answer with my order, as I took in the entire scene. I eventually was able to blurt out my desire for an IPA.
The IPA was really solid. Not overly bitter, decent balance, massive blend of citrus and pine…very drinkable. As I sat and sipped, I came to realize that there was one beer on tap that was not on the chalkboard listing. It was pouring from the “high gravity” tap that was slightly hidden behind the bar, separate from all of the other taps. This was the Happy Ending, and boy was it ever. A dry hopped, 9% abv Imperial Stout. It was served in a chalice and it was fantastic. Insanely hoppy for a stout, but with equal parts chocolatey, roasty, sweet depth in blackness. It was a wonderful first experience in the sudsy south.
After I got all settled in at my dwelling in Asheville, I quickly realized that my liquid lunch in Atlanta didn’t quite sustain my hunger. I was starving, and of course, thirsty for a beer. I found myself at UJ aka Universal Joint. Again, the place was packed, but I quickly realized that it was a Sunday night and there was playoff football on the tele. Luckily, a table quickly became available and I was able to order a Pisgah Porter. My research lent me to believe that Pisgah Brewing was one of the more exciting Western North Carolina breweries. Their seasonals seem to hold the most hype, but I wanted to start with a regular offering of theirs and make up my own opinion. I very much enjoyed the porter and the experience made me even more excited to venture out to Black Mountain, NC to visit the brewery later in the week.
The food menu looked outstanding! It seemed as though burgers were the specialty of the Joint, but when I saw the fish reuben I about freaked and had to have it. It was absolutely delicious and my hunger was quenched. I had one more beer before heading out and it was a serious gem…Terrapin Beer Co.‘s Wake and Bake. W&B is an imperial oatmeal coffee stout and it’s about as close to drinking an iced coffee as any beer I’ve ever had. It was super bitter, but smooth and creamy. Amazing beer.
From here I stopped at a small corner grocer and picked up a bottle of RJ Rockers Black Perle, a black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale/American Black Ale/whatever the hell you want to call it, and a six-pack of Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi IPA and headed back to the dwelling. I downed a few cans of MH and passed out in a haze of jet lag and delicious, delicious beer. And that’s just day one. Much more to come in the next few days.
***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns or comments***
Enjoyed on 7/19/2010
Brewery: Big Time Brewery & Alehouse
Location: Seattle, WA
Beer: Old Sol Wheatwine Ale
Presentation: 22 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped
Vessel: Oversized Wine Glass
Recommended Serving Temp: 50 degrees
Notes From the Bottle: The labels on Big Time bottles have a very DIY feel to them. This isn’t surprising considering that they only sell the bottle in-house. The website offers the following information:
Old Sol Wheatwine Ale, our summertime barleywine style ale, introduced in 2002, Old Sol is available on tap and in bottles to go.
The 2003 Old Sol won a GOLD MEDAL at the Great American Beer Festival. This summertime version of Barleywine made with 46% wheat and Warrior, Simcoe & Amarillo hops will be a sure winner.
OG 23.6 Plato 1.100 SG 9.75% by vol. 7.75% by wt. Brewed on the Lunar New Year, tapped on the Summer Solstice.
Food Pairings: Shellfish, chicken, salad
Cheese Pairings: Gorgonzola, Limburger, Feta
Beer Advocate: A
Rate Beer: 89 (3.52)
Wheatwine is a strange animal. The style is still very new, and no one seems to know quite what to make of it. The specs, more often than not, require a malt bill that is nearly 50% wheat and an abv ranging from 9% to 14%. When it comes to competitions or indexing within beer rating websites, wheatwine is often lumped into the barleywine or strong ale category. Even though it seems that large beer festivals like GABF are permanently expanding the number of categories up for vote, wheatwine has yet to be added. Something tells me that it won’t be long until this exciting style has its day in the spotlight.
That something is the fact that wheatwines seem to be gaining trendiness by the day. More and more breweries have been making them, and if you were to take a look at some of the community run sites like beeradvocate.com or ratebeer.com, you’d probably be surprised that it didn’t catch on much earlier. Unlike ratebeer.com, beeradvocate.com actually has wheatwine as a category, and lists 70 beers. That may seem like a lot, but it really isn’t when you take into consideration that other not-so-popular styles like rye beer, old ale, and rauchbier have 322, 248, and 125 entries respectively. Also, a large percentage of the beers listed under wheatwine are variations on the same beer, one-offs, or brewery only draft specialties. But, my point that this style should have caught on earlier isn’t solely based on the fact that it’s an untapped resource. Even more so, it’s the ratings that have been acquired by the wheatwines that do exist.
There are very, very few wheatwines on beeradvocate.com that are rated lower than a B. ratebeer.com’s number system may offer a bit better of a perspective, but like I said earlier, they don’t recognize the style on its own, so it takes a bit of digging.
Smuttynose Brewing out of Portsmouth, NH makes, most likely, the longest standing, most widely known wheatwine in the States. In fact, other than the beer reviewed here tonight (and one mentioned later in this article), the entire Beer Blotter collective has only ever had one wheatwine…that of Smutty. Smuttynose Wheat Wine is a 95 on ratebeer.com. The much talked about collaboration Oatgoop, between Three Floyds Brewing of Munster, IN and Mikkeller of Denmark, recieved a 98 on ratebeer.com. General stalwarts of the style, New Holland Pilgrim’s Dole and Terrapin Gamma Ray are rated 91 and 90 respectively. Point being, the people like the wheatwine.
Just a year ago, it seems to me that it would have been very safe to say that there was only a handful of breweries in America making the style. Most likely, a good percentage of the craft beer lovers out there are not all that different from us, and have only tried one or two different wheatwines in total. In the last few months, more and more brews have been popping up in the style. Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City, MO just recently added a wheatwine to the Smokestack Series called Harvest Dance. It received a 97 on ratebeer.com. Locally, Black Raven Brewing of Redmond, WA just made a wheatwine for Malt and Vine‘s (a Redmond based bottle shop) third anniversary. Only three ratings exist so far on ratebeer.com. – not enough for a score, but I can tell you first hand, it’s delicious. I was lucky enough to taste this little gem the day it was released. The 9% brew was enhanced with the addition of California orange peel, black pepper corns, local nettles, and a distinct sour quality. Quite possibly, Black Raven is so far ahead of the game that they are already throwing curve balls at the competition.
Just today (yesterday as you read this), there was a report on the front page of beernews.org that Duclaw Brewing out of Baltimore, MD will be releasing a wheatwine called Misery. They just keep coming and coming. You won’t get any complaints from me.
Enough about the rest, lets talk about the best…well, for tonight at least. The beer on the menu this evening is brought to you by Bill Jenkins of Big Time Brewery. ***Attention all, this is a name that you need to memorize.*** This guy can brew a beer! Yes, Bill is a celebrity in my eyes. I dare you to make a list of the best breweries in WA that doesn’t include Big Time. Yes I know, it is nearly impossible to get their beer outside of the University District brewpub, but that’s the charm of it, right?
Lets gather in the experience of Old Sol.
Old Sol fills the glass with a beautiful, clearly filtered, orange-tinged amber that looks ever so inviting. The carbonation is clearly minimal here, and the head, or lack there of, is right inline. What foam does develop on the pour is stark white and leaves a faint bit of lacing on the inside of the glass after each sip. A ring of white persists, in conjunction with the slightest cirrus cloud of a wisp.
The odor is very fruity, sweet, and boozy. Belgian style ales come to mind immediately. Notes of mango, nectarine, peach, banana… where it not for the malty scents at the core I’d sense this was a fruit juice before me. The malts are light and biscuity with a dash of caramel and vanilla. The wheat is doing things that I’m not entirely used to it doing, and I like it. So many of my experiences with wheat beers have been with unfiltered beers. Most often these brews are jammed up with suspended yeast that, inevitably, steals a lot of the subtle fragrances of the wheat itself. I finally feel like I am spinning, arms outstretched, through the great wheat fields that dominate the Mid-Western states of this great country, and it’s a good feeling. This thought may be just what sparks thoughts of a barnyard scent lingering deep within the nose.
The most elegant characteristic of this beer, and for that matter – this style, is the mouthfeel. “Velvety” seems to be the word of choice in the style guidelines, and I’d have to agree. The carbonation and alcohol seem to hibernate all the way until the swallow, which leaves only the viscous, sugary, syrupy, mouth-coating, wheaty goodness at the forefront for ultimate enjoyment. I’d be lying if I said it was hard to swallow, but sometimes I just want to revel in the moment and let the fluid glide around my mouth for ages.
Honestly, as odd as it sounds, the taste of this beer is the least exciting. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it by no means takes away from the marvelous and unique experience that this beer provides.. What can I say, wheat is subtle. I’m also a tea drinker, so I know and respect subtle. The Belgian thoughts creep back, but then quickly subside when the wheat strikes. Infused sugars dominate, with a bit of spice and banana essence that seems to be a constant extract of the malt in question, or possibly the yeast. With great warmth, some bubblegum flavors make their presence known. There is another bizarre attribute found post-swallow – the flavors remain but the sweetness if so dominant that a dryness competes. I want more but I don’t need more. Confused, I’m fearful of a hangover, but I’ll take it in stride. All for the joy of sipping down the next big thing in craft brewing.
If you like Big Time Brewery & Alehouse Old Sol Wheatwine Ale, you should try…
Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard-earned money at a local bottle shop, and aged to perfection by yours truly.