Return to Asheville, Part 4

Now, finally, we get to the meat of the weekend, so to speak: Saturday on South Slope. This was my 2nd trip to the South Slope, the eclectic roughly 10-block area that sits just down the hill from the city center, and I made it a point to largely stay away from places I had visited on my last trip. I lead off with Hi-Wire Brewing. Having recently celebrated their 5th anniversary, I really enjoyed the vibe of their downtown tap room (they also have a larger, more open location near the Historic Biltmore Village south of the city)--it is a superindustrial location, looking like their old loading dock with a bar in the back and a handful of tables sprinkled across the workfloor. But manages to have a chill and unpretentious vibe, and goes old-school with an original Super Nintendo and what I'm pretty sure was a pinball machine from Elton John's performance of "Pinball Wizard" in the movie version of the The Who's Tommy.

The vegan, gluten-free water to help the beer go down easier.

The vegan, gluten-free water to help the beer go down easier.

From left to right/1-4: their Imperial Stout (this time infused with Horchata), their version of the New England/Hazy IPA, one of their flagship IPAs, and their seasonal Hefeweisen.

From left to right/1-4: their Imperial Stout (this time infused with Horchata), their version of the New England/Hazy IPA, one of their flagship IPAs, and their seasonal Hefeweisen.

I had the flight shown above, and enjoyed everything. The Horchata 10W-40 was just a hair sweet for me. In this group, the Uprisin' Hefeweisen stood out. Amongst their core beers, I had a Bed of Nails Brown Ale with dinner another night, and found it to be fantastic. The Gose is also very good, if you're into that sort of thing.

Next was a quick trip to Asheville Brewing Company. Again, I'd visited here before, so this served as a quick lunch stop. Though, for something completely different, I tried Roland's ESB, which hit the nail right on the head: malty, slightly sweet, and smooth.

I even nailed the logo placement!

I even nailed the logo placement!

The third stop of the afternoon was Catawba Brewing Company.

Courtesy the Catawba website.

Courtesy the Catawba website.

Boasting a sleek and spacious tasting room with a funky outdoor seating area (including room for a food truck or two), I tried a few different fruit-infused versions of Friki Tiki, their try at the New England/Juicy IPA style, before settling on the Lemon-Lime variant, which I really enjoyed.

Before we go on, I did not stop at either Wicked Weed location, feeling no strong desire to support A-B InBev’s well-documented assimilation of the brand. En route to Catawba, however, I did pass by the Funkatorium taproom. It seems they are using their Evil Empire money well, as what was once a fairly small, cramped outdoor space has added a huge second tier with a stone floor and full-service beer-bar-via-container. Obviously, they’re getting the traffic to justify such an expansion, so they must continue to do well.

My final stop was Burial Beer Company, a brewery and taproom that reaches far beyond eclectic. One of the exterior walls features a mural of Tom Selleck and Sloth from “The Goonies”. The outdoor space is humorously decorated, with rusted out car seats and other oddities replacing your standard-issue benches. Winding through their outdoor area leads to a fairly standard bar, but continue through the building, and it starts to resemble some lesser demon’s inner sanctum, complete with the brewery’s SECOND Tom Selleck adornment, a velvet portrait. I promise, I wrote that last sentence correctly. I recommend their West Coast-style IPA, Surf Wax. I also really enjoyed a dark sour called Anno Domini MMXVIII. Ceremonial, their Session IPA, is okay, but I think there are multiple better IPA choices out of Burial.

Coming up next time: a few places from Sunday, plus a visit to Willy Wonka’s brewery.

Return to Asheville, Part 2

After lunch at 12 Bones on Friday, I proceeded into town. My first stop was NOT my hotel, but a brewery, of course!

Recently, several of the major craft players in the western United States have seen the craft beer boom push their capacities to or beyond their limits. Expansion plans were enacted, and for some of these breweries, it made sense to build new facilities in different parts of the country (thus, saving on shipping costs) instead of expanding old facilities. As a result, the eastern United States has become home to East Coast operations for New Belgium Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in the Asheville area, along with Stone Brewing's facility in Richmond, Virginia. I set up the Asheville big boys as the bookends of my long weekend, starting with the 1 1/2 hour tour of New Belgium Brewing Company.

The bicycle entrance arch leading to the New Belgium production facility and offices.

The bicycle entrance arch leading to the New Belgium production facility and offices.

Located in West Asheville on group of plots that once housed an auto parts facility and a cattle-holding facility, among other businesses, New Belgium worked very hard to clean up this EPA-designated brown site and worked to reuse or recycle a significant portion of the materials, whether reused in the building designs (like some 14 linear miles of lumber that was reused) or in decor throughout the site's facilities. The arch in the picture above leads to the business side of the campus, including the full production facility and business offices. The primary public area is called the Liquid Center (pic below), and features the usual merchandise area and bar/tasting room with plenty of indoor AND outdoor seating, including a beautiful deck overlooking the French Broad River and the greenway, which includes brewery land along the river that was donated back to the city of Asheville by New Belgium. Like so many breweries, a food truck or two can be found out front during most business hours.

Main arrival/entrance area to New Belgium's Liquid Center, with the requisite taco truck out front.

Main arrival/entrance area to New Belgium's Liquid Center, with the requisite taco truck out front.

The New Belgium tour runs 1 1/2 hours. I can't for certain remember my tour guide's actual name (I want to say...Mike?), but he definitely goes by Party Grandpa. So, keep an eye out for him in the Liquid Center or on a tour if you make it there. The production facility is immaculate. The tour features 3 different tasting spots and tends to utilize those spots to tell the story of the founders, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, rather than spend tons of time recapping how the beer gets made. Which, to Party Grandpa's point, tends to be a fairly universal process. It's all just a matter of scale. At one tasting point, I finally got a chance to try out The Hemporer, an HPA (Hemp Pale Ale?) which has generated a ton of buzz since it's debut recently. It wasn't bad, but the hemp notes tend to not necessarily be my favorite when they pop up in pales, and this one has those notes turned up to 11. The 4 ounce pour I had was more than sufficient. They also offered us a pour of their flagship beer Fat Tire and a choice of a Belgian Dubbel or their long-time sour offering, La Folie.

Next time: Friday night at Highland and Saturday afternoon on South Slope!

Return to Asheville, Part 1

Recently, I made my second trip to the Beer Mecca of the East Coast, Asheville, North Carolina. Despite still seemingly just scratching the surface of the region's craft beer scene, it was a heck of a beercation.

About three hours' drive from Columbia, SC, Asheville is more or less tucked in a valley surrounded by federally-protected mountainous forest land. It also serves a major highway junction, linking Interstate 26 (which, despite being an East-West highway, tends to overall travel much more North-South from Tennessee all the way to Charleston, SC) to Interstate 40 (which runs through several major cities while traversing almost the entire width of the United States).

To say that Asheville has developed an eclectic community over the years would be a significant understatement, with a rich music scene developing that has seen more mainstream exposure over the last decade from groups ranging from the Beastie Boys to the Avett Brothers.

With this eclectic community came a love of craft beer, resulting in a craft beer boom that gave Asheville the distinction of having the most breweries per capita inside its borders, with nearly two dozen breweries calling the city of Asheville itself home, to say nothing of several more in nearby areas like West Asheville and DOZENS more inhabiting the region. As I said, I just scratched the surface of the Asheville beer scene. Even on a second visit.

But before we get to the beer in the next installment, I hope you'll allow me a brief foodie moment. On the way into town, I stopped at the 12 Bones Smokehouse location south of Asheville in Arden, NC. Both of their locations (both Arden AND the one in town) are lunch-only, so I made a point to hit this before my New Belgium tour. Frankly, I could have gotten damn near anything on the menu, but settled on the special of a rib meat and Brie sandwich (ribs are a particular favorite of mine) with sides of green beans and macaroni and cheese. Again, wanting to try EVERYTHING, I also got a side of pulled pork.

12 Bones.jpg

Now, the rib meat came with their signature Blueberry Chipotle sauce. Admittedly, despite this order, I was a tad leery of the sauce, fearing it could be too sweet. I could not have been more wrong--I LOVED this sauce. It had a very subtle sweetness while also bringing a nice-but-not-overpowering heat. The pulled pork (with tomato-based BBQ sauce in the little cup) was also terrific, and the mac and cheese was just about the creamiest I've ever had, and perfectly flavored and seasoned. A very solid opening to my beercation!

Coming up: New Belgium's beer tour, a return to Highland, and Saturday afternoon's South Slope adventures!

Event Recap: Craft and Draft 3rd Birthday Party

The following was on-track for a Wednesday publishing, when a Tuesday night thunderstorm had other plans, knocking out my cable and internet. Things finally got up and running on Friday. I apologize for the delay, and am glad to finally be able to bring you this recap. -Justin


On Saturday afternoon, I took the opportunity help celebrate the 3rd birthday of one of my favorite beer stops in Columbia, SC. Craft and Draft is not a large space, by any means, but co-founders Kellan Monroe and Andrew Johnson have gone to great lengths to make C & D the premier beer bar and bottle shop in the city of Columbia. They only have a dozen taps and a couple of stand-up coolers of cold beer to go with several shelves of take-home (room temperature) options. But you will never find a Budweiser or Coors Light here, and I find that they have set themselves apart from most of the other notable craft beer spots in the city by continually having beers and breweries that can't be found anywhere else in Columbia!


Beyond the beer selection, Craft and Draft is not your average bar--they will be closed by 10pm at the absolute latest on any given night, so it's not a "go and get hammered" kind of a place, though that isn't your typical craft beer drinker's goal, anyway. In following with their usual hours, the party ran from noon to 7pm. By 3pm, the place was pretty packed.


Again, not a large place.

In addition to a quality line-up of regional drafts inside the shop,


there were also a good variety of beers outside the store, including breweries from Gainesville, Florida, and multiple North Carolina locales. Again, Craft and Draft brought in breweries we tend to not see too much (Bhramari & Twin Leaf from Asheville and Swamp Head in Gainesville), despite the fact that virtually everything at the party was made within 200 miles of Columbia! Also outside were a number of food trucks including the local TV stars from the 2 Fat 2 Fly stuffed chicken wing truck!

In the end, this was a seemingly successful and definitely well-attended event. Craft and Draft brought a solid beer selection to the party--it's always nice to get beers from folks we don't always see here in Columbia. THAT is Craft and Draft's hallmark, and it makes the life of a craft beer adventurer like me MUCH easier! Cheers to Andrew, Kellan, and everyone at Craft and Draft! Here's hoping for many, many more years!

PRB Video: River Rat Brewery's 3rd Birthday Party!

As promised, I am glad to bring you a recap and some highlights from the 3rd birthday party of River Rat Brewery here in Columbia!

Before we get to the video, I must apologize for the two cardinal sins I committed in this video. The first is a production sin: filming vertically with my phone. I think this is the first live event for which I've actually done video, so I am learning, and will not make this mistake again. Promise. The second mistake is about midway through the video, when I refer to a beer as a "double" instead of a Dubbel. My bad.

As mentioned in the video, I tried many River Rat beers at the event, and they will be making their way to some Beers in Review posts in the not-too-distant future!

Enjoy the video! (You better--it was a pain in the butt to make!)

Video: Reflections of Southcentral Pennsylvania

Happy New Year!

I'm slowly getting back on track, and that includes the video release schedule. I don't have a review today, exactly, but I do discuss some of the places I checked out while I was up in Pennsylvania for the holidays, including Collusion Tap Works in York, PA and Troegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, PA. Check out my thoughts!

I'll see you soon with a Beers in Review blog post, and I'll resume video beer reviews on Tuesday, as scheduled. See you then!

Event Recap: Craft and Draft Octoberfest Celebration at Music Farm

Hello, friends. If you were expecting the next installment in the Octoberfest video review series, I have a bit of a curveball for you. This will formally mark the first in a new occasionally occurring series called "Event Recaps". Any beer festivals, special tastings, or other beer events I attend, I will do my best to provide either a written or video recap of the event.

The event in question is last Sunday's Octoberfest celebration curated and run by local bottle bar Craft and Draft and held at the Music Farm concert venue in Columbia. Check out my video recap:


I also have a few pictures from the event:


As an aside, I promise my video editing skills will improve.

The next video in the Octoberfest beer video series will be posted tomorrow. In that video, I will discuss the release order for the next few videos. See you then. Cheers!