Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two lumps, no cream

Coffee. Its a staple of my morning diet, and now it can be added to my evening diet as well. The fine folks at Pisgah Brewing Company have created another interesting concoction. In celebration of their 300th batch, they have released a Coffee Stout. If you are a fan of strong coffee and good beer, be sure to head on over to Barley's to try their latest release. And you can drink with a clear conscious knowing that it is free trade coffee that went into the recipe. The wonderful bitterness of a good cup of coffee dominates the taste, and this is another in a long line of their special releases which displays their willingness to push their beers to the edge.

And with that, I bid you all a good Thanksgiving. I'm headed back to the great state of Alabama, and I look forward to a few more special releases as the holidays come upon us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beer of the Moment - French Broad Wee Heavy-est

Yes, this is Bruisin Ale's Beer of the Month. And yes, I have already mentioned it before in a previous post. But I wanted to spotlight a local brew in this installment of Beer of the Moment, and what better way to do that then to highlight French Broad's first ever bottled brew.

First, I have some history with the Wee Heavy. This beer originated long ago at Jack of the Wood, when Jonas Rembert was the head brewer. When I moved here in 1997, JOTW was in its infancy, less than 6 months old. My wife and I were visiting to make plans for a possible move, and a long Saturday night at Jack of the Wood drinking Wee Heavys helped to seal the deal. This was a time when a handful of people would be at Jack on a Saturday night, a far cry from the much busier nights nowadays.

Well Jonas left Jack of the Wood in 2000, and he reintroduced the Wee Heavy after founding the French Broad Brewing Company. The beer has since seen a slight reformulation since North Carolina popped the 6 percent cap and it was renamed the Wee Heavy-er. And now, Drew Barton has put his own spin on the recipe with the latest incarnation of the beer, the Wee Heavy-est. This beer has even more malty goodness packed into it, and it appropriately weighs in at a hefty 9 percent. But that doesn't mean that this beer isn't drinkable. It retains its roots in taste to the original, but what really sets this beer in a different direction is the addition of belgian yeast, which adds a whole new level of complexity to the beer. I think it goes quite well with the rich caramel malts, and the yeast adds some fruitiness as well as some spice. This is a limited release, so be sure to get some as it won't last long. Drew also might surprise us with another bottled beer by the end of the year.

More Thoughts on Hops, and a Humorous Aside

I've been doing a lot of reading on the impending hop shortage, and it looks like it could be a rough ride for small brewers. There was a lively discussion on hops over at Lew Bryson's blog, and it looks like the next couple of years are going to be interesting. My worry is that small brewers here in Asheville who may not have contracts with hop brokers could find themselves without the necessary hops to make certain styles. Cascade hops are one of the most important hops in IPA's and Pale Ales, and even our own Asheville Brewing Company is feeling the sting of the shortage. This could also spell trouble for our two new breweries that are on the horizon, as both the Wedge Gallery Brewery and the brewery at the old T.S. Morrisons are going to be entering into a barren hop market. Hopefully they can make do, and perhaps concentrate on less hoppy beers to tide them over until this is all straightened out, which may not be until 2010. We're just going to have to keep our fingers crossed.

In lighter news, the Asheville Disclaimer recently poked fun at beer geeks in their latest edition in the Mountain Express. An excerpt from their 'beer review':

"It has just a wispy rumor of blueberry, as if an angel made of blueberries descended from blueberry heaven, alighted upon the rim of my pint glass and cut a big blueberry fart. It reminds me especially of other beers you’ve never heard of."

Who wouldn't enjoy an angelic blueberry fart?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Craft Beer Crisis?

In Weyerbacher's latest newsletter, owner Dan Weirback writes about the impending rise in costs of both barley and hops, and asks us craft beer drinkers to help weather the storm. Barley prices are on the rise because it is now more profitable for farmers to plant corn for ethanol production than it is to plant barley. Hops have increased in demand, and hop growers are having trouble keeping up. Brewers that do not have long term contracts may find themselves unable to purchase specific types of hops. This could be the biggest hurdle for the craft beer industry since it first began to blossom over three decades ago. There was an initial craft boom in the early nineties, but unfortunately the market become flooded with people who were more interested in the bottom line than they were in good beer, and the craft beer scene slowed considerably until its recent rise again over the past ten years or so. How will the craft beer industry cope with this latest crisis?

Well the answer is pretty simple. Keep buying craft beer. In relation to wine, craft beer is still a heck of a deal. A good bottle of wine can cost 20 dollars and up for a 750 ml bottle (roughly 25 ounces). A six pack of your favorite craft beer is still going to be well worth the possible 2 dollar or so price hike. If the upward trend in craft beer is to continue, consumers are going to have to be willing to pay a higher price point. I would argue that it is worth it. Craft brewers are artists, chefs, and scientists. They take pride in the recipes they create, and it is an historic tradition that dates back several millennia. As craft brewers face escalating costs it is even more important that you show your support, especially with local brewers who are your neighbors, your friends, and tax paying businesses. They need your support now more than ever. Can you imagine going back to a beer scene that is solely dominated by 3 multinational brewers? I shudder at the thought. So, if you walk into your favorite beer store and notice a price increase, I implore you to say to yourself, 'it is worth it'. Because it is.

Home Sweet Home

It's good to be home. Thankfully my mother-in-law is doing well, and I am back in the land of good beer. All was not lost in Alabama though. I was able to have a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with lunch, and a Samuel Adams at the bar my brother-in-law works at. I did encounter a beer crisis however, as I wanted to pick up a six pack in the evening, and I made the fateful mistake of pulling into a convenience store. I scanned the beer coolers, and there was not a craft brew in sight. We have it lucky here, as most convenience stores stock Highland, Sierra Nevada, and even Ommegang if you happen into the BP on Patton at the intersection of Haywood Road. But in Bynum, Alabama, I did not have that luxury. Instead I did something that I haven't done in years. I bought an Anheuser Busch product. At one time, Michelob was considered a premium beer, but those days are long gone. Or are they? Anheuser Busch has converted the Michelob recipe back to using all malts without any adjuncts, and this presented a unique opportunity for me to try it. While I certainly won't be reaching for it again in the foreseeable future, the beer was actually not that bad, a definite step up in flavor from its rice and corn laden cousins. Still, the flavors were muted compared to the more full bodied craft lagers that I am used to.

In local news, be sure to be on the lookout for French Broad Brewing Company's first bottled beer, the Wee-Heaviest. This special beer uses belgian yeast which should go well with a beer that is already rich in malt flavors, and should lend a bit of fruitiness to the taste. You can try it yourself at Bruisin Ale's tomorrow night (Thursday, Novemeber 15).

A little birdie (my wife) also informed me that Highland's Cold Mountain Ale has been tapped at Barley's and should be there for a month or so. Get some while you can.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A banjo on my knee

We got the unfortunate news that my mother-in-law has broken her hip, so we are traveling to Alabama tomorrow for a visit, so the beer posts will have to wait a bit. To make this post beer related, Alabama is one of the last remaining states that has a low limit on the percentage of alcohol in beer, in addition to having container size restrictions that keep other good beers out. Free the Hops is an organization that is fighting to remove those archaic laws, and I encourage you to check out their site and support them any way you can. Needless to say I won't be breaking the bank on beer purchases while I am down there.

I was able to find out a bit more information on the Cedric's Pale Ale that will be available at the Biltmore Estate. It is indeed the beer that was talked about in this post on beerinator that I linked in the previous post. The beer will be on draft only and will be exclusive to the Biltmore Estate. Looks like I will need to make a visit there to check it out.