Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Beer B-Ashe-ville

If you remember back to "(Insert Witty Title Here)" Kriddy and I went to the wedding for our friends. If you remember back to "The May Beer Crawl 9-10" we got the presents from that reception.

Well, after a week of chauffeuring those gifts around in the car; we finally drove to Asheville. We left on Friday morning around 845, and pulled in around 630 or so (with the time change it took about 8-9 hours or so). The drive itself was uneventful; but somewhat saddish. The route to Asheville from Champaign Urbana goes from here, to Indianapolis, to Louisville, to Lexington, to Knoxville, to Asheville.

My car was full of stuff. In Indy there's several liquor stores, Lexington has the Liquor Barn... we drove past some great places and didn't have any room for more beer :(

We had to get there at a decent time too, as the groom was making steaks on the grill; so we couldn't stop for extended layovers for sampling either.

We got there on Friday and delivered the goods (also was thrown in a congratulatory Dark Lord 2008). After eating, we got into the car and headed into downtown Asheville to a place called the "Thirsty Monk". This place is nice. It's hard to miss, it's the big purple building, with a monk drawn on the side. (Note: I'll make two or more postings today; this one will be the rundown of what happened and stuff, so if you are here for the fun exploits, then this is the blog for you; if you are here for beer reviews, then you'll just haveta wait, cuz I haven't written that yet). The bar has Belgian beers, lots and lots of Belgian beers and belgian style beers too. As you walk down into the place, on the left side of the walkway is a variety of empty beer bottles affixed to the wall. I noticed a bottle of Oud Beersel Gueze and pointed it out to Kriddy as we had just had it on May 3. According to the menu there are 14 beers on tap. Several are popular belgian beers, Delirium Tremens and Noctrnum; Kasteel Rouge; they also had a trappist, Chimay White on draft; in addition to a local Pisgah Solstice; and some national brews, Brooklyn Blanche de Brooklyn; and Brother Thelonius.

Kriddy of course wanted a stout, so I got her a De Dolle Extra Export Stout; Dana wanted one of the Delirium's and Frank and I split a St. Bernardus Abt. 12 60th anniversary. After we finished that (reviews to follow) we shared a La Chouffe McChouffe.

A very nice aspect of the Thirsty Monk, is that they seem to have appropriate glasses for every drink. Not just that they have an assortment of appropriate style glasses; they have the brewery glasses. Dana's Delirium came in a delirium glass; our beers were both served in brewery glasses (La Chouffe and St. Bernardus). Other people were drinking from Kasteel glasses and there was a huge selection of glassware behind the counter. The glass selection itself would probably make beer OCD people jealous. Before presenting each glass they were rinsed in sight to ensure the best presentation for the beers. (Kriddys stout was given a plain tulip:( ).

For going out to have a beer, this is a fine spot in Asheville to do it. For going out to have a Belgian or Belgian style beer, this is probably one of the best places in the U.S. to do it.

After we finished up there, we headed out to find a different place to have some beer. We walked past Greenman Ales and found a bar that didn't have a cover charge. It also didn't have a great selection. I got the Pisgah Pale, which was served in a plastic Miller Lite pint glass. Also people were smoking inside (it's allowed because it's a pool hall too, or something like that). Mix the smoking with the plastic glass, and it wasn't a great place to be. We didn't stay there long, and it didn't leave enough of a good impression for me to remember (or even write down) the name.

We then headed back towards our hosts place, but stopped off at a bar, which I believe was named "Pub". Right next to the flea market area. Inside, I had an O Pale Ale. Everyone else had something too, but nothing too spectacular.

Frank and Dana don't have a great pint glass selection, heck, they only had 2 glasses. Both from the Brews Cruise that they took with some friends previously. So while at the pub, we talked the waitress into letting us lift some glasses from her. So we added 2 glasses to their collection. They weren't standard pint glasses, but they were nice to look at. I don't remember exactly what they were, but Frank asked how they got into his dishwasher on Saturday morning. We finished up at "pub" and went back and crashed.

After we woke up we headed down to the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company. It was there, that we would meet up with the Asheville Brews Cruise. While we were waiting, I shared the ABC Scout Stout with Kriddy while frank and Dana had the Ninja Porter. When we did meet up with Mark (the driver for the day) he presented us with a gift bag containing an itinerary, some mints, some Cheezits (that seemed popular) and some other schwag with info about Asheville. On the tour was us 4 and two other people who were kind of local, the Thomas'.

We then headed out to our first brewery, Highland Brewing Company. Now, I've been to many breweries and brewpubs this year, mostly it was just to have the sampler platter, and had a quick look at their brewing setup. At Three Floyds Dark Lord was distributed in the warehouse, and you walked past the brewing area. The brews cruise is AWESOME. Mark has contacts with the local brewers and you spend time with actual beer people. It's like beer class. When we were at Highland, the brewery was shown to us by Paul, the assistant brewer.

Paul was a great guy to get information from (and seemed like a nice guy too), all you had to do was ask the right questions, and he could talk for quite a long time on the subject. At first, I was probably the "kid in class" that everyone hates because he never stops asking questions. Eventually, (I think) the others there were happy I was with them.

Sure, I asked how the hop shortage was going to/ or had affected them, and Paul talked about their contracts and that it shouldn't be too bad this year, but next year, might be trouble. He told us about where they got their malt (Wisconsin) and also talked about their yeast. After he told us about the worldwide hop shortage, he talked about their Imperial Kashmir IPA. This beer was made with more than 200 pounds of hops. The last few remaining bottles are at the brewery and are for sale at $10 each (22 oz bomber). Frank and I each got one, so I'm not sure how many more are left.

Paul showed us around the brewery and it was very hands on, you could touch the outside of everything, if you wanted. We saw the entire area from their Mash tun to the bottling line to cold storage, and everything else in between. (An interesting thing they do, not sure how many other places do; is their hot wort, as it is chilled, the warm temperature is transferred to the next water that will be going into the brewpot, which saves energy; the cold from the new water is transferred to the wort, while the heat from the wort is transferred to the new water). Also interesting is that because most of their beers are similar styled as scottish ales, they use the same yeast in most of their beers.

While we were going through the tour, I asked if Paul did any home brewing, he said not really, they do their experimenting at the brewery, and he showed us their small scale setup. Then he took us in the cooler, where he had a beer they might do in a small cask, so we got lucky to try the unnamed (but I called it) Paul's Imperial Stout. It was a hopped up version of their Black Mocha Porter.

The brews cruise isn't just a museum visit, it's a beer filled museum visit. While inside the breweries, Mark made sure our glasses were never quite empty. In addition to Paul's imperial, we also got Gaelic, Kashmir, Oatmeal Porter, Black Mocha and their newest spring/summer offering Shining Rock Lager.

As I'd never done the "tour" of a brewery, it was nice to actually go through with it. Once is probably enough to get how it's done everywhere, except for the factories, but I don't really want to go on a tour of a factory that makes beer.

Our next stop was French Broad Brewery. I didn't get the name of the brewmaster, but he was the one who explained his beers over pretzels to us. A great guy, and produced some damn good beers too. His operation was a whole lot smaller than Highlands. While Highland (with a name like Highland) specialized in Scottish style ales. French Broad seemed to specialize in lighter beers. Their Kolsch (style) would be awesome to drink after mowing. But plan ahead, as their beers aren't bottled. Go get a growler before you start your yard work.

We were lucky to get to drink a brewmaster test run of a belgian stout-ish beer. It was good, Frank wanted a growler of it to go, but we finished off the rest of the 5 gallon, so there was no to go cups. However we were given the recipe. (Email me, if you are interested).

Our final stop was back where we started at Asheville Pizza. There we ate and sampled the Shiva IPA, Scottish ale, Ninja Porter and Scout Stout. We were shown around the place, which is very neat. They have a huge game room, and a movie theater. Movie and beer, WHOO HOO. I had the Reuben, which was pretty good. Kriddy hadda pizza, which she seemed to enjoy.

The entire time on the Brews Cruise was about 3-4 hours, it cost $35 a person (out of town rate) and the glasses stay full. We were also given pint glasses at the end (you don't want to be worried about those while walking around).

The last part of the cruise is sometimes a stop at Bruisin' Ales. They have a good selection of stuff that isn't available in Illinois. Also, since we were on the cruise, we got to have a beer while we were perusing the store. I picked out Dale's Pale Ale from Oscar Blues. I'm drawing a blank as to what Frank picked. As we'd already had many local beers I didn't get any Highlands. I did get a 4 pack of Dogfish Palo Santo Marron, and a 6er of Duck Rabbit RIS. Meat has been looking for Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen for a few months or so, so when I saw it, I got the two last bottles in stock. Also got a 4 pack of Kwak that came with a half yard (or is it a foot).

Bruisin Ales has a Big monk thing that if you open it up has beer in it. We got one of the Single and Triple ales from it.
The guy behind the counter was great, and since we spent $147, he offered us a free glass, so we got a Chimay glass.

After that, we headed back to our host's for a nap.

After freshening up we headed out to Pomodoros (if that's how you spell tomato in Italian or is it greek?) for evening meal. I had the calamari (which wasn't quite as good as the calamari at ShoreLine up in Michigan City) and washed it down with an Alfa Helenic Beer which wasn't that great (it seems to have bad reviews all around).

After that we headed to an ice cream place, where I got to watch everyone else enjoy some ice cream. Kriddy and Dana had some ice cream made with Highland Black Mocha Stout; they both seemed to like it. After that, around 10, we headed back to get ready for Sunday.

Woke up, headed to Bristol for NHRA. It was overcast and dreary. Not hot, so if they ran, it'd be good times. We found our seats after I about crapped my pants several times, due to them testing the rebuilt engines. Even if I'm braced for it, I'm still a very jumpy person. When they hit that nitro methane button, I always jump. We watched the first round of Top Fuel, then the rain started. Each rain delay at drag racing, is a wait for the rain to stop, and then a wait for drying the track. We watched 3 or 4 rain delays before we finally left, which was right at the end of Funny car. We didn't see any pro stock. We did manage to get through 4 rounds of beer at $20 a shot, for fizzy yellow water, so that was great... (wheres my thumbs up emoticon?) We headed out to try to find Depot Street Brewing, but it's in Tennessee, so they were closed on Sunday.

Went back and ate at the Wild Wing Cafe, they had shirts that said "Beer, It's not just for breakfast anymore". With that kind of advertising, I expected a huge beer list, but was very disappointed. There were about as many hot sauce varieties (33) as beers. After we finished there, went back to the house and Frank opened his bottle of the Highland Imperial Kashmir IPA, it was outstanding. Even though it was an "older" IPA, it still had a strong hops smell to it. (You'll get that from 200 pounds). It wasn't very bitter (although it probably was technically bitter) but had most of the hops flavors in it... depending on what you looked for. Spicy, piney, grassy, they were all in there, at some form or another.

After we finished that off, we watched the end of NHRA on ESPN2, where they carried the finish of Funny Car, live, at 1030. That would have been a REALLY long day, had we stayed.

Went to bed, and prepped for the ride home.

Left Asheville around 645, and around noon, pulled up towards Louisville. Kriddy was getting hungry so she looked on the GPS for a brewpub. I couldn't remember the name of it, but knew it was BB something, so when she pulled up the list, and there was Bluegrass Brewing Company, we were set.

Walked in and the bastard love child of Bruce Vilanch and Brian Posehn was tending bar. Sat down, order the sampler. Last year, I had 4 of their beers, and I got to add 7 more to my list. So that was nice. All their beer were good. After he gave us the first 7 samples, I looked at the tap handles and wondered where the rest were (there were way more than 7 taps). So he brought us out three other samples, Gross Batard, Raspberry Meade and Frambozen. I was especially impressed with the Raspberry Meade, it was probably the best meade I've had.

I ordered the fish platter, which was a HUGE FRIGGIN piece of fish. Kriddy got an Italian beef sammich. The fish was outstanding. Remember how I mentioned Gordon Biersch had bad fish. That was just chunks of fish that weren't done properly. This slab of fish was over a foot long and about an inch thick in the middle. It was completely cooked all the way through, all of it was flaky. The batter wasn't burned, but was the color of a belgian triple. I saved up the nutbrown sample to drink with the fish, and it went well with it. Kriddy had the stout (of course) and that went pretty good with the sammich.

We told Jeff (the love child) about going on the brews cruise, and he thought it'd be a great idea to start one up around Louisville. We told him we were heading up towards indy on the way home, and he said for us to stop at Oaken Barrel, and mentioned another place, that I just can't remember now (Brass Monkey in Kokomo? Half Moon?) Dang, I need to write more things down.

After we headed back north on I 65, we stopped at Parti Pak Liquors and got about $100 worth of beer, or so it seemed. Then headed up the road to Crown Liquors. Crown seems to be the little hole in the wall place that everyone ignores. You'd expect Partipak to be that place, but Partipak has a reputation among beer aficionados (it's rated A+ on Beer Advocate) . Crown Liquors doesn't seem to have that cult following. Either crown restocks the shelves after each customer, or they don't have as many people go through. Either way, doesn't matter to me, I'm stopping there every trip I take to Indy. (It's right off U.S. 31 on the south of Indy). Crown has a wide range of Stone, Three Floyds, Mikkeller, Bells and a bunch of other stuff, and it's almost always in stock. I took their last two 6 packs of Bells Hopslam (and will be selling one of them to Meat). The guy working asked me about the Brewdog line (I had just gotten a few down the street) so I asked about the Paradox line, and he showed me where he had some. So I got a bottle of the 8. Crapola, I thought I had previously got the 4,5 and 9, but I got the 5,8,and 9 (back in C-bus) so now I've got another bottle of 8, which I'll just add to Meat's bill.

As I was pretty much grabbing everything in Crown that I hadn't had, and/or wanted, I was ringing up a hefty bill. So the guy working took my email was was going to pass it to their beer guy, to see if I wanted to do any trading. Also, for "special" customers, he had a bottle (or maybe two) of Darklord that he would sell, I mentioned I had 19 of them at home, and didn't really need any more. So we spent over $100 there too.

The GF is now a huge fan of the bourbon aged beers (just not the GIBCS so much, but that one gets better with age). She really liked the BBC Jeffs Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout, so we picked up a pack of that somewhere. We also got her a bottle of the Barley Island Bourbon Barrel Oatmeal (bourbon barrel oatmeal stout, this will probably be her favoritest beer in the world) and a bottle of Stone Smoked Porter as she really liked the O'fallon whiskey aged smoked porter.

It was a great time. All weekend went well, not too many bad beers, (except the coors light at the race). Next trip there will be for Bele Chere. Hopefully we'll be able to get Mark to take us to some of the other breweries, and also to the new ones.

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