Another Brewgrass festival has come and gone. It was a beautiful sunny day, and probably the hottest Brewgrass that I remember. The temperature reached 84, but it felt hotter with the lack of shade at the Martin Luther King ballfield. In fact, the only shade to be found was next to the port-a-johns, or the “dark caverns of plastic” as my wife referred to them. Thankfully there were plenty of bathrooms to go around this year, and I saw nary a line to speak of. The heat did not deter the crowd though, and plenty of good beer, food, and music helped to make it another successful festival.
There were a few surprises and some great beer at this years festival, several of those coming from North Carolina breweries. As mentioned in my last post, Foothills Sexual Chocolate was on tap, and the extra few months of aged have mellowed the beer a bit, making it even more drinkable. Again, one of my favorite North Carolina brewed beers. Foothills also had their Hoppyium IPA, a wonderfully hopped west coast style IPA that unfortunately has not seen too many visits to Asheville taps (it has been on at the Lobster Trap before). Duck Rabbit brought some aged Baltic Porter, one of the highest rated beers from North Carolina, and it was exceptional. Expect to see this years version coming out later in the fall. French Broad produced an easy drinking Pale Ale that will make a fine session beer. Whether it becomes a permanent addition to French Broad’s lineup will depend on how popular it becomes. The Kolsch was in such demand that it has become a mainstay for French Broad. John Stewart of Green Man Brewing debuted a Belgian Golden Ale. After a few sips, I immediately thought of Duvel, and it turns out that Stewart had that in mind when he brewed it. It might not make it to Jack of the Wood, but it should be available at Dirty Jacks. Catawba Brewing Company featured their Blackwater Uber Pale Ale, a big beer with a nice smoky malt flavor and moderate hops that defies style categorization (there is nothing pale about this beer). The Blackwater is currently on tap downstairs at Barleys. And last but not least, Highland rolled out the Imperial Kashmir IPA, and they were perhaps the most popular tent during the day. This is a huge beer, very sweet and hoppy, and should get even better with a couple more months in the bottle. I picked up a case on Sunday and hopefully there will be some available at local stores in the coming weeks. Get some while you can though, as it won’t last long.
There were some notable beers from outside the state as well. Brooklyn Brewery had the Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse. Another beer that is hard to put in a category, it can best be described as a hoppy weizenbock. It was created as a joint effort between Brooklyn Brewery and G. Schneider and Son brewery in Germany. Two versions were released, one a few weeks ago that was in bottles and was brewed by Schneider, and this latest version brewed here in the states using American hops. Both beers are very good. The Brooklyn version will be on tap at Barleys within the next couple of weeks if you want to try it. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came from our neighbors to the south. R.J. Rockers Brewing out of Spartanburg brought a Double IPA that was brewed in celebration of South Carolina finally popping the cap on their alcohol limit. Another South Carolina brewery had one of my favorite beers of the day. Blue Ridge Brewing in Greenville is making some great beers, and the Double Ball and Chain IPA was fantastic, a well balanced, flavorful DIPA that wasn’t too over the top. The regular Ball and Chain IPA was very good too. Head brewer Jay Simpson came up with the recipe for the original Ball and Chain for his wedding day and for his 2 year anniversary, he brewed the Double Ball and Chain. His wife should be proud, they are both excellent brews. I will definitely seek them out the next time I am in downtown Greenville. Lastly, Sweetwater Brewing Company out of Atlanta gave beer lovers their first taste of Donkey Punch barleywine. The name itself makes me cringe, but the beer was good, a bit overly hopped for the style, and may be available in bottles in the coming weeks. I just wish they didn’t have to resort to juvenile names for their beers.
Overall it was once again a wonderful festival. I do want to mention one thing about the music. This could get me run out of Asheville, but I have to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of Bluegrass music. But the one band that made me turn my attention away from the beer tents was the Carolina Chocolate Drops. They had an amazing energy and were a great closing act to the festival, bringing hundreds of onlookers to their feet. It was a great day reuniting with old friends and discovering new ones.