Saturday, March 30, 2013

Asheville Beer Week Returns

It's been a rather exciting time for Western North Carolina beer over the past year.  Oskar Blues has been brewing locally made Dales Pale Ale (and others), Sierra Nevada has been busy installing their brewing tanks, and New Belgium is preparing to start construction on their brewery in the River Arts District.  In addition, there are at least four new breweries that will make their home in Asheville in the coming year.  To celebrate all this beer goodness, The Second Annual Asheville Beer Week will be taking place from May 25th to June 1st.  There will be plenty of events during the course of the week, and it will all culminate in the Fourth Annual Beer City Festival on June 1st (tickets go on sale locally starting Monday).  Leading up to that week, a team of bloggers, including yours truly, will be writing about the beer scene here in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  I invite you to follow our blog, and join us in celebrating the great beer culture we have established.  Maybe I'll actually start posting with more regularity after its all said and done.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Brewery of a Different Sort

With so many breweries in Asheville, and more coming, it would seem that this town is infatuated with the magic of feremented beverages.  Well, some local Ashevillians want to extend our love of locally produced fermented beverages to new and exciting places.  Blue Kudzu Sake Company is a group of three people with a love of sake and a dream.  They currently are raising money to be the one of only a handful of sake brewers in the United States.

Beer, as we all know, is composed of water, grain, hops, and yeast.  It's the grains that give up their sugar to be converted to alcohol, and along with the hops and yeast they yield a variety of tastes and styles.  The most common grain is barley, and the starch in any of these grains needs to be converted into a fermentable sugar before the yeast can do its work (hence, malted barley).  While sake is not unlike beer, it uses a different grain (rice) to achieve fermentation.  The fermentation of sake is a bit more complicated, and involves a process of adding both steamed rice, and rice that has been fermented with Aspergillus oryzae, otherwise known as kijo, which is a type of mold that is used in Asian cultures to make sake and other things that you like such as soy sauce and miso.  The end result is a fermented rice beverage that tastes unlike any other.

Personally, my main experiences with sake have involved drinking it warm alongside an order of maguro, nigiri, and some sujiko (salmon roe, and yes, I had to look that up).  Well warm sake is usually low quality, with higher quality sake being served cold.  I remember having my first bottle of cold sake recently, and it was a revelation enjoying some of the more subtle flavors that are present.  I am certainly looking forward to getting more educated and would love to see sake branch out from being a drink you only have when you order sushi.

I would love to be able to have some fresh, local sake, to go along with all the good local beer that we have available.  Click here to donate.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Winner, Winner, Beer Dinner Part 2

Wednesday night of Asheville Beer Week brought another night of great food and great beer.  The event was held at the beautiful Century Room at Pack's Tavern, and was sponsored by Bruisin' Ales and the Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR).  The setup was a unique change of pace from your typical beer dinner, as each chef had a station that allowed you to pick and choose the order of the dishes and beers they were paired with.  The evening started with an introduction from Bruisin' Ales Julie Atallah, who announced the special guests for the evening, which included Brian Grossman from Sierra Nevada who will be heading up the new Sierra Nevada brewery by the airport, as well as Terence Sullivan, former brewer and current Field Educator at Sierra, and Grady Hull, Assistant Brewmaster at New Belgium. It was nice to have some beer royalty at the event, which also included an unannounced visit from Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, owners of Russian River Brewing Company out of California.

With the formalities out of the way, lets move on to the beer and food, shall we? I guess we will start off with the first course that I decided to try, which was Chef Chazzy Edwards' stuffed crab with an aioli from Bluewater Seafood that I believe was made with the beer that this dish was paired with, the Saison Dupont. This was a great start to the meal, and I can't tell you enough how much I love Saison Dupont, but I will try to do it anyway.  The Dupont is considered the quintessential example of the Saison style, which happens to be my favorite style of beer.  Saisons, or farmhouse ales, were traditionally made with a lower alcohol content to be drunk by farmhands during the harvest season (need to talk to my boss about this idea).  Today Saisons are much stronger, but they retain their origin using lighter malts and having a refreshing taste and a little bit of funk.  This was a fine pairing, not that I am an expert at pairing food and beer (I think beer tastes good with just about every meal).

Next up, I tried the Chinese steamed buns with shortibs and kimchi and pickles, which was paired with Bacchus Sour Ale. The dish was made by Chef James Balchak of Pack's Tavern.  James is a great friend, and also a great chef.  The sweetness of the steamed buns and the Bacchus reduction paired well with the Sour Ale, and contrasted nicely with the mildly spicy kimchi.  This was the first time I had tried the Bacchus Sour, and it won't be my last.  The style of the beer is called Flanders Oud Bruin, or "old brown", and the beers are typically aged for up to a year, yielding fruity flavors that have a refreshing sour finish.

I am in the camp that says there is no such thing as too much shortribs, so I went straight for the shortrib pastie made with Dubbel pimento cheese, Lusty Monk Mustard, and a pickled slaw made by Chef Jason Brian of Jack of the Wood.  A pastie is not what some of you may be thinking, but is actually a traditional Irish stuffed pie, and the shortrib was braised for 24 hours.  It was paired with one of our new 'local' beers, a Sierra Nevada Ovila Dubbel.  The style is named for 'double', which denoted a stronger version of the lighter beers that were typical of Trappist breweries, and it originated at Westmalle Abbey in 1856. Not unlike several other dishes, the shortrib was braised in the Dubbel, as well as the pimento cheese being made with the beer.  The Ovila Dubbel is a great American brewed version of this classic Belgian beer.

A plate that caught my eye early was a braised elk dish that was made by Chef Mauricio Abreu of Chef Mo’s.   The elk was braised in New Belgium Trippel and served along with rice and cornbread.  The New Belgium Trippel was used in just about every part of the dish.  The elk was wonderfully tender, and had a hint of earthiness from the ground achiote that coated the outside of the elk before braising.  The New Belgium Trippel is a American brewed version of a Belgian style beer that got its origins roughly eighty years ago, in what was rumored to be an ale that was meant to compete with the ever more popular pilsner style beers of the day.  Trippels are light in color, fruity, and often a little bit spicy, which was the case with New Belgium’s Trippel whose addition of coriander complimented the elk nicely.

One of the more playful dishes of the evening was the Lamb Fennel ‘Hot Dog’ that was made by Chef Greg Kilpatrick from Homegrown It more closely resembled a small pulled pork sandwich, with a spiced minced lamb that was topped with fennel which gave the dish a nice twist, along with a great homemade ketchup and a side of sweet potato chips.  The dish went well with the Omer Traditional Blonde, a Belgian Strong Pale Ale that had a fruity, slightly spicy finish that held up to the lamb without overpowering the dish.  This was my first time having the Omer, and if you like Duvel, I would suggest giving the Omer a try.

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night was the braised pig “wings” (knuckles to be exact) by Chef Michel Baudouin from Bouchon.  Once again, we see the chef incorporating the featured beer into the dish. This time the beer was The Ovila Quadrupel, and the pig knuckles were braised in the beer to tender perfection, leaving a wonderful broth behind that I wish I had more of.  Quadrupels are so full of rich, dark fruit flavors that I think they really lend themselves to being used in cooking preparations (me, I would be too tempted to drink it all).  The Ovila Quad was also one of my favorite beers of the evening, and it goes to prove that Sierra Nevada can successfully brew any style they want to.

My last course before heading to dessert was one I knew I would love before I took my first bite. Luella’s BBQ has outstanding ribs, and the ribs that were being served this night did not disappoint.  Yes, there was some great potato salad as a side, but really, this was all about the Chef Jeff Miller's ribs, which were fall-off-the-bone tender and were served with a mustardy sauce made with New Belgium’s Belgo-IPA.  The Belgo-IPA is New Belgium’s take on one of the newest styles to emerge from Belgium.  Most Belgian style beers are not known for being aggressively hoppy, but Belgian brewers began to experiment with a new style that appealed to American tastes, and the Belgian IPA was born.  It retains some characteristics of beers like the Tripel, but they incorporate more hops that play nice with the spicy character that Belgian yeasts often impart.

And finally it was time for dessert, which was made for us by Chef Anthony Cerrato of the new downtown restaurant Strada Poor Chef Serrato had little to do while most of the people at the dinner made their way through the seven other food stations.  But before long, people needed to get their sweet on, and he did not disappoint.  A natural given his Italian cooking roots, Chef Seratto made a wonderful tiramisu, consisting of cream, and I am guessing marscapone, coffee, and ladyfingers (I can never tire of saying or writing the word ladyfingers).  This was paired with a Kasteel Rouge a Belgian fruit beer that is flavored with cherries.  Unfortunately, this was not my favorite pairing.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the tiramisu and would gladly order it at Strada.  I just did not think it went well with the sweet and sour cherry goodness that is Kasteel Rouge, which I also love.  Others that I talked to liked the pairing fine, so what do I know.  I think some sort of dark chocolate dessert would have matched better.

I hope you are still awake after this long post.  Two nights in a row of great food, great beer , and great people.  If you haven’t been to a beer dinner before, I suggest keeping your eyes and ears open for the next event.  Beer and food go great together, but more important to me was having a shared experience with old and new friends alike.

 Thanks Sue.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Winner, Winner, Beer Dinner Part 1

This week I have felt like royalty.  I was lucky enough to attend two beer dinners on consecutive nights that were part of Asheville Beer Week, and they both were outstanding events.

First up was the Thirsty Monk and Curáte dinner on Tuesday night.  The evening started at the Thirsty Monk with the Spanish beer Estrella Damm Inedit, a witbier that was developed in cooperation with Ferran Adria, former head of the world famous Spanish restaurant El Bulli.  It was quite an appropriate first beer, since Curáte's chef Katie Button interned at El Bulli before opening her Tapas restaurant here in Asheville.  The Estrella was paired with a red snapper and shrimp ceviche and a chicken mousselline with orange and fennel on a crustini, with both dishes prepared by the Chef Todd Mallin at the Thirsty Monk.

After a couple of beers, the group walked down to Curáte for the main attraction.  There is a nice private room downstairs, and every beer was paired with three courses that were shared family style, with the last beer that was plated with dessert.  First up was the Westmalle Tripel.  Westmalle was one of my first introductions to Belgian beer, and it has been awhile since I have had their Tripel, and it is such a great beer.  The first three courses were toasted bread with tomato and olive oil, cod and potato puree, and the oh so delicious spanish ham.  If you have not had the ham at Curáte, I suggest going there to try it.  Right now.  You can finish reading this blog when you get back.

The second course featured Orval, one of my favorite beers by the trappist breweries.  The interesting thing about Orval is the addition of brettanomyces, which gives the beer a slightly funky (in a good way) aftertaste. The taste of the beer changes over time, ensuring that every time you have an Orval it is a unique experience.  The food in this course was amazing.  First off was a green salad with sunchoke, carrot, peas, and a sherry brown butter vinaigrette that made the whole dish sing.  This was followed by a shrimp and garlic dish that had a wonderful broth for dipping your bread into.  Lastly, we were served asparagus with romesco sauce, which is similar to a pesto but with red pepper instead of basil.

Course number three included the Chimay Grande Reserve (or Chimay Blue), which is a Belgian Quadrupel.  Quads are wonderful beers that are high in alcohol and great in flavor.  The high alcohol comes from the addition of dark candi sugar, and that combined with using belgian yeast strains yields a beer that is rich with notes of fig, date, and raisins.  While enjoying this beer, we were served lamb skewers with Moroccan-like spices, mushrooms sauteed with sherry, and the last course was fried eggplant drizzled with wild mountain honey.  All the courses were delicious.

The final course was a dessert that was made especially for the dinner that was introduced to us by Chef Katie Button.  The beer for this course was the Rochefort 10, another quad style belgian beer and is considered to be one of the best beers in the world.  The beer was paired with a take on a turrón, which is a spanish style confection that resembled a creamy nougat and also had carmelized almonds.  The taste reminded me of one of my favorite childhood cereals, Sugar Smacks (Dig-em!).  In addition to the nougat was an apricot sorbet, and it all went together surprisingly well considering all the contrasting flavors.

Overall it was a fantastic meal.  I love the pacing of a long beer dinner, and while I was tired at work the next day it was well worth the experience.  The good news is that many of the dishes that were served with this dinner are available on Curáte's Spring Tasting Menu (small menu, large menu), which will not be available long.

Thanks mom, and Caroline, Barry and Donita.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Guide to Asheville Beer Week

Asheville Beer Week kicked off in great fashion last night at Highland Brewery, which held a fundraiser for the family of Ben Harris, who tragically died in a freak accident at Red Hook Brewery in New Hampshire.  There were kegs from just about every brewery in Western North Carolina on tap, as well as an auction, and all the proceeds went to help Ben Harris's surviving family.  It's a sobering thought that one could lose their life doing what they love, and it shows just how precious life is.  It also shows the spirit of Asheville Beer Week, which is raising money for various causes over the course of the next week.  If you didn't make it to Highland and want to contribute, they are accepting donations at the following address:

The Alysha Miller Harris Baby Fund c/o TD Bank,
20 International Drive, Portsmouth, NH, 03801

Since I am on a blogging roll this week, I thought I would highlight a few of the events this week that I am either attending, or hope to.  There are many more events that I unfortunately cannot make.  Have they perfected human cloning yet?

Green Man Brewing Session Beer Fest - All Week

The great thing about this 'fest' is that it is going on all week, so you can drop in anytime to see what's on tap.  I was able to try a Czech lager last night, and they have many different beer styles that will be available over the coming week.  The great thing about session beers is that you can sit down and have a few and still make it home safely.  This fest also shows that 'lighter' beers do not have to lack in flavor.  Speaking of flavor, get to Green Man quickly to try their Funk #49, their American Red Sour Ale.  It will not last long.

Bruisin' Ale's presents: Stone Brewing EPIC Vertical Tasting - May 29

First of all, you can't go wrong when Stone Brewing is involved.  This tasting features an assortment of Stone Brewing's beers, both old and new including four years of the oh so delicious Double Bastard.  Even better than having great beer from Stone, the proceeds go to local resident and musician Debrissa McKinney to help with her healthcare costs.  Asheville Beer Week is bigger than just beer.

Thirsty Monk and Curate Beer Dinner - May 29

Trappist ales?  Curate?  Do I need to write anything else?  If you haven't been to Curate, you must go, as they have brought world class Spanish Tapas to Asheville, with a celebrated chef who worked at the famous El Bulli restaurant in Spain.  That, combined with having great Belgian beer should be enough to convince anyone to attend this great dinner.

Bruisin' Ales, Pack's Tavern and Air present: Beerchef! - May 30

What do you get when you combine some of the most talented local chefs with Belgian style beers and guest appearances from representatives of our newest 'local' breweries, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium?  An awesome evening, if I do say so myself.  I love that this event showcases some of the local culinary talents of our great city, and it will be great to see what ideas the chefs have to pair with the variety of Belgian style beers.  There are eight, yes eight courses, so you ought to leave satiated with a grin on your face.  I am so looking forward to this.

Bruisin' Ales and Zambra presents: Beer Cocktails and Tapas - May 31

Beer cocktails you say?  Yes, part of me is a little scared.  But the mixologists at Zambra's, the original tapas restaurant in Asheville know what they are doing.  They are featuring spirits made by New Holland, Rogue, and Dogfish Head, in what is a growing craft distillery market.  The other good thing about this event is that it is a la carte, so you can spend as little or as much as you want.

Thirsty Monk Presents: Brux with Brian Grossman of Sierra Nevada and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River - May 31

Russian River.  The first time I had one of their sour beers was a revelation.  Beer that to me is as complicated and exquisite as any wine, I have always cherished anytime I was lucky enough to come across a bottle of their beer.  Sierra Nevada and Russian river collaborated on a wild ale called Brux, which will be sampled at this event.  Not to mention that Vinnie Cilurzo, the founder of Russian River will be there.  I am hoping, praying, begging that one day they will distribute their beer here in North Carolina.  I will also be broke if that happens. Broke and happy.

Thirsty Monk Presents: Surly Brewing tasting and Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity fundraiser - June 1

Surly Brewing Company is known for their aggressive great tasting beers and they were one of the first craft breweries to embrace the wonderful beer delivery device known as the can.  This is a great opportunity to try a brewery that does not distribute to North Carolina, and support a great cause at the same time.

In what is my longest post ever, I still have not highlighted all the other great events happening during Asheville Beer Week.  For more information on the all the events, please click here.  Asheville, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and celebrate Beer City.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Festivals for the Rest of Us

Another year has gone by, and once again, Brewgrass tickets have sold out quicker than Keanu Reeves driving a city bus.  Yet during Asheville Beer Week, there are two beer festivals occurring, and tickets are still available to both.
First, coming up this Saturday is the Just Brew It Homebrew Festival being held at the Wedge Brewery as part of Asheville Beer Week.  I went to this festival last year, and it was the best bang for the buck fest I have ever been too.  Sixteen dollars gets you three hours of drinking many different varieties of beer. And this isn’t just any beer that you can pick up at the store or your local brewery.  These beers have all been handcrafted by local homebrewers, so you are likely to see a variety of original, and often whimsical styles that you would not see a bigger brewer take a chance on.  Tickets are on sale through Friday.
And the big event on the last weekend of Asheville Beer Week is the Beer City Festival.  I recall many people last year, and some this year as well complaining about not getting Brewgrass tickets, but we have this great festival celebrating local and regional craft brewing and somehow there are still tickets left.  I would argue that Beer City Fest is in a better location in the heart of downtown, and has a greater variety of music (come on people, Yo Mamma’s Big Fat Booty Band is playing).  Tickets are available at Barley's, Bruisin' Ales, and some local breweries through the end of the day Thursday, and there may be some tickets at the fest on June 2nd.
Wondering how to get to these festivals?  Asheville has revamped their bus system, with an increased frequency in heavily used corridors, night service in more areas, and the buses are free until June 8th.  I plan on taking advantage of this myself, and I hope many of you will do the same.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We've come a long way, baby

So in just a couple of days, Asheville will be celebrating its ascendance to being one of the top places in the country for beer lovers with a week and a half long coronation of sorts, including beer dinners, special keg releases and beer tastings, and some excellent beer dinners.  It is a well deserved commemoration of how far Asheville has come.  

When I moved to Asheville in 1997, Highland Brewing Company, Asheville's true beer pioneers, was just about the only local beer in town.  Jack of the Wood (Green Man) had opened just a couple of months prior, and their Wee-Heavy had me hooked on getting fresh, local, good beer, and I never could have imagined how far it would go.  As more breweries began to open up, North Carolina finally popped the cap on its archaic beer laws, and the scene was set for what we have today.  This past year has seen Asheville and Western North Carolina land three major craft breweries that saw what was going on in our little ol' town and liked it.  It is a testament to the brewers, beer store owners, and beer drinkers of Western North Carolina that allowed this to happen.  One of the many endearing qualities that Asheville has is an emphasis on locally made and grown products, and supporting your neighbors business.  This quality is the main reason we are able to have such a great event like Asheville Beer Week.

So please, if you can, get out there and support Asheville Beer by attending one of the many events that will be taking place over the next couple of weeks.  Here's hoping that Asheville Beer Week is a smashing success, and an event that will last at least until the sun decides to grow into a red giant, at which point we will have to move the event elsewhere.

As an aside, yes, this is my annual post to the beer blog.  When I took over this blog, one of main reasons I did so was to promote the local beer scene.  Well, it no longer needs promoting from me, and it speaks for itself.  Twitter has become the go to source for beer news in the area, so it is really hard to write about anything that hasn't already been said (same goes for this post).  It has been great seeing all the growth in this industry, and I look forward to what lies ahead.  As for me, I may occasionally post here, and I have contemplated starting another blog that is not limited to one subject (of course I have been having that thought for at least a year).