A Sampling of Asheville’s Beer Week 2017
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
It’s all about BEER! Asheville Beer Week is an eight-day celebration of beer in spectacular Western North Carolina. This mountain town has thrived in the past few years to consistently be recognized as Beer City, USA. With microbreweries “popping open” each year, Asheville has plenty to celebrate. Organized by a group of regional beer industry folks and the Asheville Brewers Alliance, Asheville is the place to taste, sample, learn, and explore BEER. Activities are many including beer dinners, educational events, pint nights, and dozens of other beer-centric events, and of course the Beer City Festival. Additionally, the Asheville Brewers Alliance coordinates the making of a collaborative brew with ABA member breweries just for AVL Beer Week.
Over 30 breweries showcase their beer at Asheville’s Beer City Festival on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Checking in we get our wrist band and sampling stein (4 oz.). Control! So many breweries and so many beers! Initially, we stroll Roger McGuire Green to locate known and new breweries. Let the tasting begin! With music blaring in the park, we sample old favorites of Catawba Brewing’s King Coconut Porter, Asheville Brewing Company’s Ninja Porter, Lexington Avenue Brewing’s Brown Ale, Green Man Brewing’s ESB, Highland Brewing Company’s smooth Gaelic Ale, Pisgah Brewing Company’s Chocolate Valdez, and Burial Beer Company’s Tin Cup Camp Stout with coffee that is strong. We partake of samplings of lagers, ales and even hard ciders. With each sampling we express our likes, dislikes and favorites. Friendly owners and brewers freely chat on their processes and what distinguishes their beers. A couple of new breweries are Whistle Hop with a very nice Saison and Lazy Hiker Brewing Company’s Wesser Evil Porter that is robust. Carefully, we check out all the breweries but are selective, often asking for only a half pour, and do not finish each pour. Stopping for a couple of snacks, we find a spot to watch the crowd, relax and chill. Beer Festival is fun! A variety of brewers, beers, ciders and plenty of samplings.
We belly-up to the bar at Barley’s Taproom for Beer Flavors 101 led by Cliff Mori, a certified Cicerone and local beer Educator of Brew-Ed. Cliff states, “Beer flavors come from highlighting one of beers basic three ingredients of hops, malt and yeast.” Brewers create different flavors in beers based on the ingredient they focus on and how it is treated. Barley gives beer its color and flavor depending on the kiln process used, which creates the light to dark color. Sampling Asheville Brewing Company’s Rocket Grill Lager, we recognize the “crackery malt” flavor which comes from the malted barley. Hops, is the second main ingredient in beer acting like a kitchen spice. The different varieties of hops impact the flavor of the beers. Cascade Hops are found in Pale Ales, IPAs and Porters. In its crystal clear bright bold color of the Brevard Brewing Company’s Brevard Pilsner we definitely see and taste the difference of the hops. Yeast, the third main ingredient determines whether beer is an ale or lager. Ale has a warmer yeast while the lager has a colder yeast that takes longer to make, usually 6-8 weeks. A fruity banana clove taste is easily recognized from the yeast in the Hi-Wire Hefeweizen. Specialty malts such as a caramel malt allows brewers to make really dark beers adding flavor but not impacting the alcohol content. Asheville Brewing’s Ninja Porter boasts a caramel taste. Cliff educates us on where beer gets its flavor, how to properly taste beer and more. When sampling beers, drink lightest to darkest. Our sense of smell has a huge impact on our taste. Fittingly to get the full flavor of beer, first give a gentle swirl, take a quick whiff, next a short sniff, a long sniff, then sip and roll it around your mouth. Cheers to Cliff, the ultimate beer expert! We leave with more “beer knowledge” and a limited edition Asheville Brewers Alliance beer glass.
Now to pair beer and food! The Chestnut & Highland Brewing Co. Beer Pairing Dinner provides an excellent opportunity to learn how beer and foods complement each other. Seated in the private dining room of Chestnut, waiters bring trays of tasty appetizers of Country Ham on Mini Biscuit, a Citrus Crab on Tortilla, Flounder Tacos in Malanga shells, and Rhubarb and Fennel Bruschetta with Mascarpone. Each blends so well with the Big Briar Tart Ale, Highland’s new Seasonal Blonde Ale with hints of refreshing raspberry. Prior to dinner, Chef Brian Crowe explains his unique menu, featuring the latest beer and ale creations from Highland Brewing Company. Brian has even included beers in the preparations of some dishes. As each course is served a Highland Brewing representative describes the accompanying beer further enhancing the dining experience. The first course is a delicate, tantalizing Watercress and Fennel Salad with a light Mandarina Vinaigrette with Citrus Supremes and Orange Glazed Duck. The orange glaze is a reduction of the Highland IPA. The duck fat plays off the bitterness of the Mandarina IPA, with its orange blossom nose and zesty bitter taste. Next is succulent Seared Scallops with House Smoked Tasso, Confit Tomatoes, Pickled Ramps, Frisee Salad and Cauliflower Puree all beautifully presented. Accompanied by the Highland IPA, a new beer with more of a west coast IPA taste touting hoppy and citrus notes, the frisee salad helps with the bitterness of the IPA. Richard and I traditionally are not IPA beer fans. With the beer pairing dinner we find ourselves enjoying the IPA’s and not tasting the bitterness.
Our dinner continues with a savory Hop-smoked Rack of Lamb with a Sequatchie Cove Blue Cheese Crust over Spring Onion Colcannon with Local Mushroom Demi-glace and Pear Crisp. Chef carefully prepared the lamb over a dry hop smoke combining hops and hickory chips for the smoking. Highland’s Oatmeal Porter is a wonderful accompaniment to the lamb. The Oatmeal Porter is just a wee bit different. It is not a stout, but more of an English style brown ale with hints of flaked oats and chocolate notes. An enchanting dessert is the Honeyed Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Sesame Carmel Sauce and Big Briar Reduction. Utilizing the Big Briar Tart Ale (our first beer) it was carefully reduced low and slow with brown sugar, creating a magnificent Sesame Carmel Sauce for the Cheesecake. Highland’s only year round lager, the Highland Pilsner with 100% Pilsner malt from Germany and hops of a lush grass fruit, pairs so smoothly with the Cheesecake and Caramel Sauce. The event was extra special as the owner and founder of Highland Brewing, Oscar Wong attended the beer pairing dinner. Oscar shared how Highland Brewing actually started in the same building that now houses Chestnut. The Beer Pairing Dinner is fantastic and is highly recommended. A truly unique and delightful upscale experience.
Our final event to experience “Beer” during Beer Week is another sampling of beer and foods. The Catawba Beer, Cheese & Chocolate Pairing educates us on pairing different beers with the distinctive flavors of cheese or chocolate. Taking the lead in this event, in the Rickhouse, at Catawba Brewing South Slope, Crawford of French Broad Chocolates educates us on tasting and pairings explaining we use all five senses in tastings. Per Crawford, “Tasting success is an experience of intellectual challenge to think and develop the palette to use memory to identify smell and taste.” Silas from Spinning Spider Creamery and Leah from Catawba Brewing, each carefully walk us through each pairing, explaining the cheese’s uniqueness, the beer’s flavors and Crawford shares the complexity of the chocolates. We had four pairings of beers with cheese & chocolate. First is a mild creamy goat cheese Lemon Chevre, a Strawberry Balsamic Chocolate Truffle with an ENO Pilsner, a light beer with a nice balance of hops. Beer with cheese seemed natural but beer with chocolate might be a stretch. Tasting the first pairing we immediately recognize how smoothly beer can pair with chocolate. Next up was the Chevre that is similar to a French style brie, a Hazelnut Crunch Truffle is a dark chocolate with caramelized hazelnut. Pairing these with the CLT IPA is excellent as the mild beer compliments the Chevre and the rich flavors of the dark chocolate. Moving on to the Stackhouse cheese with Applewood ash, a Coconut Porter Truffle (which has the beer in it too) that each bring out the flavors of Catawba King Coconut Porter. The finale is a Liesel with a Swiss cheese taste, the Peanut IPA Caramel chocolate that used a reduced IPA, paired nicely with the California Common a small batch lager. We are amazed at how each beer paired so well with not only cheese but the rich qualities of chocolate. This is a great event and is held at various times throughout the year. Be sure to watch for it and plan to attend.
Beer lovers check your calendar and definitely plan to attend Asheville Beer Week. There are so many different options of things to do from the Beer Festival to Beer Dinner Pairings to beer classes to classes on how to make beer and more. As we did, decide what fits your interest and join into to a fun, educational and exciting time during Asheville’s Beer Week. Cheers!
If you go:
Asheville Brewers Alliance
Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 36 Montford Ave., Asheville, NC 28801
Brew-Ed, Cliff Mori (We did the Brew-Ed Brewery and History Tour with Cliff a previously and it was excellent!)
Catawba Brewing, 32 Banks Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801
Chestnut, 48 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801(Chestnut serves an excellent lunch and dinner, which we highly recommend. Their sister restaurant, The Corner Kitchen, in Biltmore Village is terrific, too.)
French Broad Chocolates, 21 Buxton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Highland Brewing, 12 Old Charlotte Hwy. Ste 200, Asheville, NC 28803
Spinning Spider Creamery, 4717 E. Fork Rd., Marshall, NC 2875