Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Asheville Breweries: Part I

Wicked Weed had 25 beers on draft the day we visited Asheville.

By Dathan Kazsuk | April 23, 2014
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Beer. It’s what makes men tick. Creating or drinking it … it can be a driving force. Do you strive for that ultimate combination of ingredients that puts your brewery on the map? Or are you a traditionalist who doesn’t want to stray far from the four basic ingredients: water, yeast, malts and hops?

I consider myself a little of both. But probably sway more towards the experimental side in my beer drinking. This past weekend, Jen and I decided to take a very short trip to Asheville to do some research on several of the breweries around town. It was pretty much 24-hours in the city. It should have been longer – but unfortunately it wasn’t.

The research is for the wine and beer club that we conduct in north Raleigh. We’re coming up on our 1-year anniversary, and recently concluded a winery tour of the Yadkin Valley, which saw members visit nine different wineries over the course of a perfect sunny weekend.

Now, it’s time to plan ahead for a tour of Asheville.

We arrived in town around noon and after passing the Biltmore and the Grand Bohemian Hotel, I finally got my bearings and arrived at our first destination, Wicked Weed. This was our first time at Wicked Weed and my first impression was, “Wow! Cool!” Upstairs the restaurant served up dishes such as fish & chips, middle neck clams, fried chicken and a kimchi sandwich, as well as a bison burger with blue cheese coleslaw.

But on this day we made our way directly downstairs to the tasting room. The room was filled, but we found two spots at the end of the bar. Taylor was our bartender for the day, and he helped guide us along sample after sample. A sample here. A 10-oz. pour there. Another sample or two. Then a couple more 10-oz. pours. Favorites included the Black Angel Cherry Sour, Freak of Nature DIPA, Le Peche Blanc, Coffee Saison and Dark Age Bourbon Stout (Jen absolutely loved this one).

Next we walked over to Burial Beer Co. down the road – but when a Raleigh couple next to us mentioned Burial was going to have a Saison festival later that day, we decided to check out the Lexington Avenue Brewery instead.

LAB is a little bit of everything. A Brewery. A Restaurant. A music venue. Being on a “beer mission” we ordered a flight to share. The flight of six contained the following: 1st Gear (Cream Ale); LAB American Pale; Waves of Grain (Amber); Eleanor’s Rye (Red Ale); Buck Mild (Experimental) and Three Threads (Porter).

Each beer had its distinct taste, and for $8.75 a flight, it wasn't a wallet breaker. Our personal favorite was the Buck Mild, with its notes of toasted coconut and a lingering taste of cayenne peppers that hits the back of your throat at just the right time. By this time we decided to head over to Burial and take part in the festival.

On our way to Burial we walked right past Greenman Brewery (we’ll hit you guys up next time). At Burial, the raindrops began to fall, so we quickly made our way inside, but so many others had that same idea, and the room was packed. So we decided to head back outside, where the Sharpen the Blades Saison festival was happening.

Burial had several different saison beers lined up, and featured others by breweries such as Fullsteam, Greenman, Hi-Wire, Wedge, Pisgah and many more. We were standing in line when we met Larry with Charlotte’s The Unknown Brewing Co. There he did a great job at promoting his special keg saison – the Lemon Drop. Instead of using the candied sugar that is used in saison beers, this Charlotte brewery used the fun-loving candy that all us growing up in the 80s have had before – Lemonheads. So of course we had to try it, and we were not disappointed. We also tried Burial’s Southeast Saison, which was also a good beer.

Next to report on is Asheville Brewing Co. on Coxe Avenue. Another brewpub, Asheville Brewing Co. features some well-known pub food in the likes of wings, fries, chicken fingers, nachos and around 15 different sandwiches on its menu. Again, on a mission for beer, we ordered a flight which featured their Escape Artist (ESP); Rocket Girl (lager); Ninja Porter and Love Ninja (Raspberry Porter) and Scout Stout. With well-priced beer and food and a nice bar atmosphere, there’s a good chance we’ll be back here again.

Other breweries we tried to visit before our ride home was Hi-Wine, Greenman and Wedge on Saturday afternoon ... but we wanted to hit the road by 2 pm, and pretty much all opened at 2 or 3 pm on Saturdays. Maybe next time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wine club visits the Swan Creek Vineyards

By Jennifer Primrose | April 21, 2014
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

With spring now beginning to bloom, the Falls River Wine & Beer Club took their April tasting event on the road to visit the Vineyards of Swan Creek in the Yadkin Valley to attend its annual Herb Festival. Four couples joined in the fun as five wineries were visited, each offering a 1-oz wine tasting paired with a food sample made with an assigned herb per winery. Each couple also returned home with a 4" potted herb from each of the visited wineries. In addition to the Herb Festival itself, the wine club also joined in on some of the regular tastings the wineries each offer.

The tour began at Laurel Gray Vineyards with the full wine tasting which included Unoaked Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and some fun sweet wines. What makes Laurel Gray stand out are the additional pairings with their sauces, such as the Artisan Vinaigrette, Crazy 'Bout Butts BBQ sauce, Chocolate Cabernet wine sauce and Caramel Chardonnay wine sauce. The Herb Fest part of this winery included a pairing of pasta salad made with Basil and paired with their Scarlet Mountain, described as rich ripe, red cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and buttered toast.

Next was Raffaldini, the most picturesque of all five wineries with the Blue Ridge Mountains beckoning in the background. Raffaldini is known for its Italian style wines and is known as "Chianti in the Carolinas." This winery produces such varietals as Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano. While some enjoyed the full tasting at this stop, others opted to just enjoy a glass out on the patio. Raffaldini paired a Rosemary White Mac-and-Cheese with a sample of Sangiovese.

Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery                 Photo by Dathan Kazsuk

Back down the road was Dobbins Creek Vineyard, the third winery where members sampled a lavender muffin paired with their Chardonnay. Dobbins Creek also offers beautiful views where on a clear day the top of Grandfather Mountain is visible. Dobbins Creek currently produces varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Hemric Mtn Rd and Hemric Mtn Blush. The group once again all took advantage of the full tasting at this winery.

Next stop, Windsor Run Cellars, is the only winery in North Carolina with a working distillery. This winery was originally named Buck Shoals but later sold to the owners of Shadow Springs and changed its name to Windsor Run, named after the road it resides on. The pairings for Herb Fest at this winery was what they called "Redneck Cavier" paired with a Rose' wine. Some in the group opted for the full tasting that included six wines plus three fortified wines while others chose to enjoy the beautiful day outside on the patio.

                                                                       Photo by Dathan Kazsuk
Lastly, our Falls River Wine & Beer club's official Herb Fest tour ended at Shadow Springs Vineyard. Shadow Springs is another family-owned vineyard, founded in 2005. Here they paired a dill pastie with a Chardonnay. By this time, however, the group chose to forgo the tasting and head out to the patio for a picnic lunch. The perfect way to end our 2014 1st "Annual" Wine Tasting Trip!

All in all, this was a wonderful way to celebrate Spring and try out some of the wineries that North Carolina has to offer! Additional wineries visited on this trip, but not part of Herb Fest, were Shelton Vineyards, Sanders Ridge Winery, Ragapple Lassie and Hanover Park Vineyard.