Editor Note: Timperial is apparently moving to Asheville after writing this slander. Stone him at will, Seattle.
When I was in Asheville, NC last week I had the great fortune to attend the Winter Warmer Beer Fest. It was held in the Civic Center right downtown and it was a blast!
Lately, I’ve been a bit disillusioned with Washington beers fests. I feel that they are overpriced and mostly underwhelming in most cases. I feel like there is rarely a lot of new and/or exciting beers to try. Most local breweries that attend these festivals seem to be inconvenienced and just show up to show up. Most times, I feel that our breweries only provide one or two options and in many cases, those options are standard offerings that we have all had many times before or that we could acquire, outside of the event, with little effort.
Even at some of WA’s finest beer fests like Washington Brewers Festival, the only way that you can get the extreme beers that are available is by being a WABL member or by paying extra and seeking out the ever elusive Buzz Cart. Does this not seem ridiculous to you? Why are we hiding the best beers of our state? If I owned a brewery I would want to knock the socks off of everyone in the crowd and gather up some hype about my product. I’d want people to have access to my best and most exciting products at these festivals. That’s what the festivals are really about anyway – creating new customers.
Washington can learn a lot about how it should be done by checking out how the South does it. The Winter Warmer Beer Fest cost $35 to get in. Yes, I’ll admit, initially, that is pretty expensive. There is a huge “but” though. Once you get in the door, you will only have to spend more money if you choose to purchase merchandise from the vendors or breweries. You get 2, yes 2, meal tickets with entrance. There was 2 separate lines for food that you could get in to use your meal tickets. The first offered an entire plate of h’orderves and antipasto. The second was more of a “meal” and offered salad and meat and pasta. I’m not sure if I mentioned this but the 2 (!) meals are included in the $35 entrance fee. Wow!
Some breweries in the room only had 3 offerings, but most had 4 and several had up to 7 options. Nearly every brewery had at least 1 special brew. Many had rotating specialties, where they would post a schedule at their booth of when what brews would be tapped. There were probably around 6 Belgian sours, 10+ barrel aged beers, many imperials and specialty beers… it was insane. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Oh, speaking of, did I not mention that the tasting glass that we received upon entrance could hold 8oz and that you could drink as much beer as you wanted? Yeah, that’s right. There’s no such thing as tasting tickets or tokens at this fest. You drink as many samples as you want. You determine how much they fill your glass. I’ll stop now and allow you to ponder this further on your own.
Washington, get your shit together!
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.