This time of year, we get a chance to take a breather and look back. I spent close to 2 months on the road this year covering conferences, sales, grower relationships and everything in between. A wild ride to say the least!
This year’s list (presented in chronological order) was driven more by experiences than by an individual pint or bottle. Let me explain…
Steinbock – Fonta Flora/Zillicoah collaboration
I waited patiently for this one to be released. I’ve gotten more into classic German styles over the last year and this Doppelbock project got my attention. Brewed with our Munich malt and boiled with hot rocks, the finished beer was loaded with dark fruit and caramel notes. The finish was balanced and the beer was remarkably drinkable for the 8% ABV.
It was a chilly February night in the Zillicoah taproom and I remember feeling a great sense of pride that our malt could help bring something like this to life. Developing new products on new equipment was a huge challenge for our team in late 2018 and the two Munichs (Light and Dark) represented a breakthrough for us in many ways. The Doppelbock style offered the perfect platform to showcase their unique flavor profile and the guys at Fonta Flora and Zillicoah knocked it out of the park!
The experience reminded me of my friend Sean Lily Wilson from Fullsteam’s quote “There are beers for conversation and beers for contemplation” this one falls squarely in the latter category.
Oenobeer – Liberati in Denver
This was a great meal. Matt and I joined one of my buddies from college for an exploration of oenobeer at Liberati in Denver. We were in town for the American Distillers Conference, giving us the opportunity to explore the city without the foot traffic associated with CBC.
Liberati specializes in wine/beer hybrids and old-world Italian cuisine. Think nut brown ales blended with Viognier grapes and stouts paired with Cabernet Sauvignon complimenting house-made mushroom fettuccine. The grape contributions ranged from a modest 10% to over 40% with varietals being sourced from every region you can imagine. We tasted through each of the 13 offerings which included classic English, Belgian, and American styles. Their current menu features a NE DIPA with Malbec grapes!
Being a weeknight, things were a bit slow and the staff started to turn up their favorite 80’s music to liven up the mood. This set the stage for a serious “name that tune” contest between the three of us, sprinkle in a few college memories and you have the makings of a perfect evening.
Cultura – Wicked Weed
A long-awaited release from the good people at Wicked Weed. I got an invite to attend a pre-release party at the Funkatorium. Cultura represents a series of three blends of spontaneously fermented beer that have been aging for over three years. Add to that three fruited variants and you have the makings of an intriguing evening!
Andrew and Jen, two of the crew that brought these lovelies into existence walked me through each of the six offerings. We compared tasting notes and reminisced about where we all were when these beers first came to life. The earliest batches were inoculated right there in the Funkatorium parking lot back in 2016. The grist for these brews featured our Pilsner, Appalachian Wheat, and NC-grown raw wheat. Simply put, these beers represent a true sense of place….a 21st century version of a (mostly) forgotten historic style.
I left with a 750ml of Blend 3 fruited with Muscadine Grapes which I paired with my smoked turkey on Thanksgiving. My family loves a good “food story” from Asheville, so I couldn’t resist sharing this one with them!
Kind of a “blissed out” cliché at this point, spend your money on experiences not things, but these memories will resonate more than any whale that I ever tracked down in my earlier days of craft beer fandom.
Hope that each of you can find similar inspiration in this industry as we enter this new decade.
Cheers to everyone for the love and support during 2019!