Monday, January 28, 2008

Beer of the Moment - Bell's Hopslam

While I have been professing my love for all things Belgian recently, I still consider myself a hophead, and I love a good double IPA. Thankfully, Bells has recently released this year's version of their Hopslam, a delectable double IPA that more than satiates my love for hops. Bells has been in the North Carolina market for a little over a year now, and they have proven to be quite a popular brewery, making some excellent stouts and also their Two Hearted Ale, a great hop showcase itself. But that beer only hints at the hop bomb that the Hopslam is.

The Hopslam pours a light orangish hue, and the smell only hints at the intense hop taste that explodes in your mouth upon the first sip. The hops are citrusy with tons of fresh hop flavor, but it is not as bitter as some and there is just enough malty sweetness to create some balance with the hops. This is truly one of the best Double IPA's in the country, rivaling some of the more well known West Coast versions of the beer. The beer is a whopping 10 percent alcohol, but it lacks any alcohol burn, making it surprisingly easy to drink for such a big beer.

This beer is a limited release and will likely only be available for a couple of weeks. If you love hops, I would definitely suggest picking up a six pack of this great tasting beer.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Local Beer Cures the Winter Blues

The weather outside was frightful, but a beer festival featuring local beers, food, and music sure was a delight. The first Winter Warmer Beer Fest this past Saturday was a great success. Held at The Garage at Biltmore, the four hour fest featured Highland, Green Man, French Broad, Catawba Valley, Heinzelmannchen, Pisgah, Asheville Brewing, and a surprise visit from little known Appalachian Craft Brewing. Appalachian has been around since 2003 when it started up in Rosman, and since then they have moved their brewery to Fletcher, but it has been slow going in getting past all the legal hurdles of opening a brewery. They featured three beers at the fest, Copperhead Ale, Mad Bear Stout, and an ESB, and they hope to have some taps available locally in the coming months.

Beer highlights included Green Man's Imperial Stout on cask, which takes the already delicious beer to new heights with the creamy mouthfeel added by the naturally carbonated cask. Pisgah brought along their Red Devil, which I've wrote about before and is currently on tap at Barley's. French Broad went all out and debuted two new beers for the festival. The first was an Imperial Porter, perfect for the cold temperatures outside. The other beer was a Dunkel Witte, a combination of a Belgian wheat beer and a German dark wheat. Drew's creative thinking paid off, and the beer turned out very well. Drew hopes to bottle the Dunkel Witte in the next few weeks, and I would definitely seek it out, or just drop by the French Broad tasting room.

Mark and Trish from Asheville Brews Cruise and Chris from the Garage should be commended for putting on a great festival that showcased our local brewers. It wasn't just locals that attended though, as I met people from the Triangle, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and even Alabama. In addition to the beer, a portion of the proceeds for the festival went to the Alzheimer's Association, and its great when you get to drink beer and help out a worthwhile cause. There is talk of having another event in the Spring, so keep your ears open for that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Asheville Meets Belgium

Mark your calendars boys and girls, because a week from today, Asheville gets its very own Belgian beer bar. The Thirsty Monk will open its doors on Wednesday, January 23rd, adding an entirely new dimension to the beer scene in Asheville. While I have seen the occasional Chimay tap around town, nothing compares to walking into a place and seeing 14 Belgian or Belgian style beers on tap, with over 100 bottles to complement the draft selection.

I was fortunate enough to attend the pre-opening last night, and it is everything that I could have hoped for. The draft selection was a good representation of different Belgian styles, and over half of them have not been seen in Asheville before. A particular highlight was the Kasteel Rouge, a Belgian ale that bursts with a sweet cheery flavor with nary a hint of the 8 percent alcohol content. This is a wonderful beer that would go great with chocolate and other desserts.

Every beer on tap was served with its own glassware, even the unusual Kwak glass that sits in its own wooden stand. Legend has it that the glass originated in the 18th century from coachmen who could not leave their coach and horses while they waited for their passengers. Mugs were not practical, so Pauwel Kwak had a special glass made for them to hang on their coaches, so they could enjoy his beer while they waited. Come to think of it, this may have been the very first cup holder. Of course in today's age, I personally would avoid using any taxi drivers that are drinking beers while waiting for a fare.

Another great thing about the Thirsty Monk is that they will also feature local Belgian style beers that will be served right alongside their imported counterparts. They currently have the Pisgah Solstice, but will include others in the future, including beers from the upcoming Wedge Gallery Brewery that should be opening soon.

Having a Belgian beer bar in Asheville is a great testament to the beer culture that has been fostered here over the past decade or so. To my knowledge, the only other Belgian beer bar in the south is the Brick Store Pub in Atlanta, which has a metro population that is 25 times that of Buncombe County. I truely hope that our beer community can support such a great establishment.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Beer of the Moment - Fantôme Saison

You may recall a post of mine back in October, where I talked about the Fantôme de Noel and lamented because I couldn't get beers from this brewery in Asheville. I'm proud to say that there is a new ghost in town.

I've had several Fantôme beers before, but I was never able to find their signature brew, the Saison. I certainly never expected it to be on the shelf at Bruisin' Ales on my return to North Carolina. But lo and behold, there it was, and after pinching myself several times, I quickly grabbed a couple of bottles.

First, a little bit about Saisons. Often called farmhouse ales, saisons were originally brewed for farm workers to be drank in the summertime, but thankfully for us, they are now available year round. One of the most unusual characteristics of Saisons is the high fermentation temperature that yields an often spicy, peppery finish. Up until just a few days ago, my favorite beer of this style was the Avec Les Bons Voeux, brewed by Brasserie Dupont. But I think I have a new favorite.

Fantôme's interpretation of the style is just about perfect. A melange of fruit, earth, spice, and sour combine to form a wonderfully complex taste without any one element overpowering the other. This is a fantastic beer, and my long wait to try it was not disappointing in the least. I suggest you pick up a bottle of it while it is available, because when the ghost disappears it might be a long while before you see it again.

Happy New Beer, I mean Year!!

Yes, we are already eight days into the new year, so I am a little late. I also have been very busy during the holiday season, including a long trek to Florida for Christmas. There is nothing like being able to wear shorts on Christmas Day. Of course upon my return to the mountains, I was greeted with snow and temperatures in the teens. I guess it all balances out. While in Florida I sought out the beers from a new brewery in Tarpon Springs called Saint Somewhere. They are currently brewing just two beers, both belgian styles which is indeed a rarity in the land of light lagers. If you ever head down that way, check them out, particularly the Saison.

During my month long hiatus, there have been several beer happenings of note, and my friends at Bruisin' Ales had an excellent round up of everything. First and foremost, the new Green Man Imperial Stout is a hit, and tastes really good on a cold winters evening (if it does indeed get cold again). And of course you can have your choice of local beers at Asheville's Winter Warmer Beer Fest on the 19th. I hope this becomes an annual tradition, and it truly is a local showcase of good beer, good music, and good barbecue.

It seems Asheville is adding new places to drink left and right lately. The latest place is something I never expected to see in Asheville, an honest to goodness Tiki bar. While the emphasis is on mixed drinks, the Yacht Club has about 8 or so taps of local and national craft beer for those who prefer not to have an umbrella in their drink (I went for the Celebration Ale before giving their Mai Tai a whirl). This is an interesting place that promises to be one of the most original bars in all of Asheville, and they also plan on providing food that is a step above your average pub fare. This is a trend I wholeheartedly endorse, and it is good to see the Yacht Club and the Admiral both looking beyond your typical battered and fried plates.

I'll try to be better about posting now that I have settled back down into my normal routine.