Category Archives: Road Trips

Two Days In Asheville

Asheville’s history shows it has always been a place where people go to rest, relax, and refresh.  During the first weekend of the year, I decided to join that tradition. Circumstances broke in such a way that I had a 3-day weekend and took advantage by going to Asheville for a couple of days to wander about and drink beer.

First, I will say, the next time I do this, I will get a hotel room in the downtown area.  It just makes it easier if you can walk or take a short cab/Uber ride back to your hotel. I had a nice room at a place not far from downtown, but leaving my car in a parking deck for a night after taking a cab ride to the hotel sucks.

Now, onto the beer.  Upon reflection, I can say that is unlike sometimes here in Charlotte, all the brewery taprooms in Asheville have a distinct feel.  That is changing in Charlotte as the newer taprooms open and the converted warehouse feel starts to dissipate, but it is one of the ways you can tell the craft culture is older and more established in Asheville.

20160102_122753Saturday I drove up with the full intention of going to Sierra Nevada and having a little lunch and a couple of beers. As I’m driving up the driveway to the facility I noticed a lot of cars leaving.  As it was a Saturday where a lot of people were taking long weekends, I found this curious. I got out of my car in the parking lot and saw people going to the taproom doors and then turning around, it became clear why so many people were leaving.  They were closed for the weekend.

Now, the gift shop was open and they were still giving tours, but since I didn’t want a Bigfoot sweatshirt nor did I want to do the tour without a little liquid encouragement, I drove on to Asheville proper.

20160102_134536I was kind of hungry, so I parked and began to wander around downtown Asheville.  I’m walking along when I almost stumble into a tent sign along the sidewalk pointing me in the direction of One World Brewing.  Sounds good.  I turn down the alley and see a big metal door framed by a huge arch.  I open the door to more arrows pointing me down the stairs.  I go down one flight and then another and see another unremarkable door.   I open it and walk into a dark speakeasy bar with a low ceiling.  To my left, there is a small bar filled with people. I find an empty spot and order a beer.  To let you know how dark this place was, I was carded. Anyway, I ordered a Hopsplosion, a nice hoppy black IPA.

I managed to find my way to an empty couch and sat down to enjoy my drink and the ambiance.  This was a small space that was very crowded. As I sat, other weekend visitors would come in and look around and not understand how to order.  These are proper people used to going to proper bars/restaurants where someone at the door seats you and there are wait staff who brings you stuff. I don’t think many of these people have ever been to a dive bar or taproom and didn’t get that you have to go to the bar and force the issue a little bit.

Here is a quick bit of advice from The Beer Counselor, if you go to a bar/restaurant you’ve never been to that doesn’t have someone to seat you, just go to the bar and talk to the bartender.  They’ll let you know how this works.  Also, if you are at a brewery taproom, don’t just order the one beer from that brewery you’ve had.  It might not be on tap and you’ll annoy the bartender because the beers are usually written on the wall right behind their head, but you were too arrogant or stupid to take the time to read (I saw this happen more than once in more than one place).

20160102_142423Anyway, I left One World and set out to Barley’s Taproom. I was hungry and needed food and beer before going to check into my hotel room.  Apparently, me and, at least, a third of the tourists visiting Asheville had the same idea.  It was standing room only at the bar when I got there, but I found a place and had a couple of nice beers. Of particular note, was the Boojum Dark Zone Milk Stout. Since it was crowded and I was in a hurry, I just ordered some chips and salsa to tide me over to dinner.  I finished at Barley’s and to another little walk around downtown Asheville.

After checking in and taking a nap, I found an Italian place called Frank’s Roman Pizza to have a quiet dinner.  I got back to my hotel and found I was exhausted.  I dozed off with a bowl game on the television.

The next day, I again started my day at Barley’s for lunch and a couple of beers. I had an Appalachian Mountain Brewery Black Gold Porter and an old favorite the Brown Bear Ale from Catawba Brewing.  The crowd was a lot smaller and more manageable on a Sunday afternoon.  The weekend crowd was probably still on the highway or asleep.

20160103_132342I then took the short walk to Wicked Weed. It was a little more crowded, but I still found a spot at the bar.  My first beer was the French Toast Stout.  It is a nice piece of brewing.  It has the cinnamon, syrupy, and bready malt notes in it aroma and taste that definitely remind one of French toast. I then had a Pu-er Tea Saison.  It was another quality beer with aroma and taste of freshly brewed tea alongside the familiar yeasty Saison taste. While there I fell in love with one of the bartenders when she changed the Pandora station to a station that opened with The Smiths.

20160103_151221I left Wicked Weed and walked south to Green Man, which turned out to be one of my two places to drink beer in Asheville on this trip behind One World.  It has a nice English pub feel to it. I made my way to the bar and sat down right in front of a beer engine.  It had two taps one for their Porter and the other for the Buxton Hill Bitter.  My beer choices were made for me.

I love cask beers.  Their taste is little more subtle and provides a true test of a beer and a brewer.  I loved MTV’s Unplugged.  For me, it was a true test of musicians as songwriters and performers. With the songs stripped down to their elemental levels, you find out quickly if the songs are any good and if the musicians are worthy performers.  I feel similar with cask beers.  The nature of using only natural carbonation makes the subtleties of taste important.  These were two wonderful beers, and I felt like at times I had stepped into a different time and place.  Of course, then I would look up and notice the 3 televisions playing both types of football.

From there, I made the short walk to Burial Beer. As it was my first time, I almost walked past it. It looks like an old squat warehouse with very little signage out front.  Burial had a nice friendly feel to it. The staff was quick and attentive and the other customers didn’t give that weird, “We’re regulars, why are you here” vibe you get in some places.  Also, maybe it was the later hour or maybe the distance from the other brewers, but there wasn’t a huge presence of weekend visitors. At least not as many as were in Green Man which got hit by a group of young lawyers/bankers and their girlfriends/fiancés/wives asking for beers, not on tap and trying to pay with American Express even after the bartender told the previous 3 people they don’t accept American Express.

Yet, I digress.

Burial’s interpretations of Belgian style beers was great.  I really look forward to getting to taste and sell their beers in the near future thanks to their just announced expansion.  At this point, I think my taste buds were a little worse for wear so I don’t have many notes on the beer.  The Blade & Sheath and the Thresher Coffee Saison are beers you should seek out when in Asheville.

That was the end of the trip for the most part.  I left Burial and made my way back to Barley’s for pizza and sweet tea.  I got back to my hotel room and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up, checked out, and drove out of Asheville just as the snow was starting.  Even after two days, I still have another 20 places I need to visit.  I think May or June might be a great time for my next long weekend.

Beer Counselor: Josh and Anne Wedding Addition

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I am in Richmond for the wedding of Anne Saldutti and Josh Wroniewicz this weekend, so that will make posting a little sporadic.  However, I did want to answer a question that was asked of me last week.  Josh, through his friends at Ardent Craft Ales, has brewed a wedding Oktoberfest.  That led to a mutual friend of ours to ask, “What is the best wedding beer?”

The easy answer is your favorite beer that matches the season.  For example, an Oktoberfest is the perfect beer for this wedding with it happening during the last weekend of the German Oktoberfest.  Another example of a good one for a September/October wedding would be a fresh-hop IPA. That is a more American contribution to the beer canon.  It is a fall beer because of the way it is made.  The hop harvest begins in late August and the fresh-hop IPAs are brewed using hops that are still wet from harvesting (hence the other name for them: wet-hop IPAs).

For winter, while a big stout or porter would be perfectly fine, I would go with some type of winter ale. It isn’t as heavy and would be a little easier to drink for the attendees, but if you roll big like that go for it.  You could also go with a barley wine in this instance and be perfectly fine.  Another good alternative would be a smoked style beer, but that would have to be a wedding with a lot of deeply committed craft beer drinkers.  Not everyone likes the smoky taste.  My personal choice would be a wee-heavy.  You would get a nice malt forward beer with good alcohol warmth for a cold night.

Spring screams of maibock.  This traditional German spring beer will be a little lighter and usually hoppier than traditional bocks and calls forth the coming of warmer days.  For summer, you could do a nice hefeweizen or Weiss beer. If you wanted to leave Germany you could go over to Belgium and France and go with a saison or biere de garde.  These are all beers usually brewed during the late winter and early spring for the warmer days of summer.

As with all things beer, whatever beer you choose, choose one you like.

If all goes well, I plan to come back with a couple of growlers of good Virginia craft beer.

Beer Counselor Special: South End Charlotte Brewery Tour, August 2015

Last week, I decided since I had my first Sunday off in 6 months I would use that time to do something special: Drink beer.  You may ask, “Don’t you do that every day.” Why yes, yes I do.  However, this time I wanted to make a full day of it in Charlotte (my once and future home) and do a brewery tour.

So, I texted Lankford, “What are you doing today?”

“Nothing, just cleaning house and laundry.”

“I’m going to Charlotte to drink beer, want to come along?”

“What time do you want to leave?”

“11:30”

“I’ll text you when I’m on the way.”

Thus began the South End Brewery Tour of August 2015.

20150802_131409We arrived at Olde Mecklenburg around 12:30 to an already packed house.  I decided to start off with something slow. I choose the barrel-aged Fat Boy Baltic Porter.  I say slow because this is a great sipping beer.  It’s dark, heavy, and flavorful.  You don’t want to rush a beer this good.  It is even better in a setting like OMB. The best way to describe it, to craft beer drinkers who haven’t been is a mini version of the Sierra Nevada brewery in Asheville.

20150802_133617Next, we went across the street to Sugar Creek.  This is a smaller, more intimate space.  We sat down at the bar this time and I had the Saison, which I love, and Lankford had the award winning Dubbel.  This was another pretty full house and like Olde Mecklenburg and the other places we would visit that day, there were a lot of families there.  This is one of the things I like about craft beer.  It is trying to build a community and become just a regular part of people’s everyday lives.

20150802_145555We left Sugar Creek and headed to Triple C passing by Doc Porter’s Distillery, which looks to be coming along nicely.  We settled in at Triple C and ordered up the Smoked Amber.  This is a good introduction to smoked beer.  It isn’t heavily smoky but it does have a distinct smoked presence that if you like you can expand upon with other smoked offerings out there.  There was another nice crowd at the bar and families with kids and dogs scattered throughout.

20150802_154010We were both hungry at this point so we took a quick pit stop at Fuel Pizza on South Blvd. for a couple of slices and garlic knots.

20150802_162123Our next stop was Wooden Robot.  I parked over at Craft and we walked the two blocks or so to get to another packed house.  Lankford did comment that everywhere we went there seemed to be a good crowd.  Here I had the first beer of the day I had never had before, the rye saison.  This provided an interesting taste as the rye provided an intriguing addition to the light spiciness of the saison.

We finished up at Craft where we went to hang out and harass Dana and Julio before heading back home.  It was a good relaxing day filled with beer and friends.  I need to do this more often.  The next time I’ll change up the breweries and hit Sycamore, Lenny Boy, and Unknown.