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Winston-Salem Taps a New Tradition

This past weekend was a great one for the beer community in North Carolina, especially the city of Winston-Salem. Brewers and beer enthusiasts from around the state (as well as many visitors from throughout the Southeast) came to enjoy two celebrations of North Carolina beer.

Olde Rabbit’s Foot Bottle Release

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, hundreds of craft beer drinkers walked through the doors of Foothills Brewing in downtown Winston-Salem for the release of Olde Rabbit’s Foot, a collaborative beer brewed by Olde Hickory Brewery, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, and Foothills Brewing. The beer is a blend of wort from each brewery’s imperial stout, brewed with honey and cacao nibs and aged in bourbon barrels. With only a limited number of bottles available and a purchase limit of 4 per person, faithful fans began lining up early Saturday morning (right around last call, not so coincidentally). Olde Rabbit’s Foot is a great example of the support that exists among local brewers and, at a little over 10% ABV, is something you can definitely keep to celebrate North Carolina beer a year or two from now. As the bottle release wrapped up, the city prepared for another event dedicated to craft beer just around the corner.

Twin City Taps

The inaugural Twin City Taps festival began at noon on Saturday inside Winston-Salem’s BB&T Ballpark. Benefiting the North Carolina Brewers Guild and featuring 23 breweries, all from within the state, Twin City Taps was truly a festival with a purpose and focus. As beer festivals have become more common (and in my opinion generally executed less exceptionally), this one really stood out. All of the elements of this festival came together to make it a real success.

The Venue: No venues are designed specifically for the purpose of a beer festival (yet), but some are definitely better-suited than others. BB&T Ballpark’s primary function as the home of the Winston-Salem Dash baseball team means that it can accommodate large crowds (as can its restrooms). The layout of the stadium allowed festival-goers to walk all the way around (so no dreaded dead-ends or brewery booths stuck at the end of a hallway).

The Setup: I realized sometime in the middle of the festival that having an all-draft lineup made the festival more enjoyable and memorable for many reasons. First, pouring samples for 4 hours from a draft system is much easier than managing bottles wading in tubs of ice. This also allowed each brewery to set up their own bar, adding to the overall branding and message displayed at each tent, which truly became an expression of each brewery’s personality.

Another great part of the event’s layout and setup was the VIP area, located in the stadium’s club level. Aside from the luxury of air conditioning, the VIP area also offered cask beer from participating breweries (stuff you couldn’t actually get at the beer store down the street, unlike some festival’s VIP areas) and a buffet.

The Breweries: Part of the great focus of this festival was that only North Carolina breweries were featured. Did I ever feel like the lineup was limited in any way, though? Absolutely not! The festival relied fully upon the diversity and quality of North Carolina breweries, and they did not disappoint. From Weeping Radish Farm Brewery, the oldest microbrewery in the state, to Mystery Brewing Company, a brewery-in-planning opening later this year, the breweries present represented a wide range of styles and personalities. Short lines and tents staffed by numerous brewery employees allowed guests to speak with the people pouring their beer (many of whom actually made the beer) and ask questions.

The Beers: This is what everyone came for after all, right? Everything from traditional styles brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot to a sour cherry porter was available for sampling. Being relatively new to the state, I really appreciated trying each brewery’s take on different styles. Some of my favorites (that are making my mouth water as I write) were:

Sorachi Ace IPA Cask (Mother Earth Brewing) – Mother Earth’s Sisters of the Moon IPA has had a near-permanent spot in my fridge since I moved earlier this summer. This cask took the well-balanced IPA and added a dash of lemony zing from the Sorachi Ace hops, a Japanese variety.

Old Town Brown w/ Earl Grey Cask (Natty Greene’s Brewing) The smooth and roasty English-style brown ale provided a nice support for the tea’s floral and citrusy notes. If I could have taken a pint home, it would’ve been perfect with herb-roasted chicken.

Mi Mei (Roth Brewing) From a brewery I was introduced to at Twin City Taps, this plum honey hefeweizen is a perfect and unexpected summer beer. The sweetness from the plum and honey really comes through, and the light wheat base helps to portray a bright but subtle flavor of ripe, juicy plums.

Carver (Fullsteam) I have been looking forward to trying some of Fullsteam’s beer for a couple months now. A brewery with a focus on Southern ingredients and keeping things local, Carver is a sweet potato lager. Having brewed a sweet potato porter myself and tried a couple other beers incorporating them with spices, a lager using sweet potatoes was completely different. There’s a little bit of sweetness and maybe even a bit of starchiness from the featured ingredient, but Carver is still definitely a beer, not a candied yam puree posing as one.

I encourage you to try these beers if you have the chance, and to try some North Carolina beers (or beers from your home state). As festival season is still in full-swing, check to see if there are any in your local community and go check one out. If you’re nearby next year, come and try some great North Carolina beer at the second annual Twin City Taps!

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What’s YOUR goal for craft beer?

This post is a bit different from the content I’ve previously posted. I have always welcomed feedback, but this post relies on it–the entire point is to hear (read, smartass) your thoughts on what your goals/aspirations/reasons are for your involvement in the craft beer movement/industry. Whether you’ve been in the industry for 35 years or had your first craft brew last week (or tonight, for that matter), you’ve got a perspective. Many people involved in the craft beer revolution/movement/trend/industry in America and throughout the world tout that they’re in it for “better beer” that’s authentic and what beer should be. I don’t doubt that, really I don’t. I have realized my confusion lately, though, with many of the things that have formed to support the craft beer movement. Many blogs, websites, and apps seem to seek to float the “best” beers to the top and weed out other beers. While it is my opinion, too, that some beers are made improperly and executed poorly compared to others, what’s the point of these rankings? They’re obviously completely dependent on someone’s tastes…I’m not trying to do away with individualism, but what’s the purpose, the end result of these endeavors? It seems like many review sites, blogs, and apps seek to rank beers so others only have to experience the “best”. Well, what is the “best”? Why does one beer have to be better than the other? I would read a Consumer Reports review of televisions and a Car & Driver reviews because I only want to purchase one television and one car. Do I only want to drink one beer? Stop very quickly and think…if RateBeer and Beer Advocate ratings were sophisticated enough to put one beer at the top, would you only drink it? I assume you didn’t have to think very long. Of course you wouldn’t, the one-beer drinkers are the people that are still supporting Bud-Miller-Coors (and they’re a dying breed). Now before you reply in an angry rant, I want to explain that I’m not completely debasing beer reviews. They have their place, as do restaurant and movie reviews. I question, however, their prevalence, and beer geeks’ quickness in declaring a beer inferior to another. Is it really worse than the other? Can you not enjoy both? If you can’t, isn’t your inability to narrow your consumption down to one singular beer just a display of your own inferior palate? I have tried more beers than I can count, and I would drink almost all of them again…because to me craft beer is about appreciating a well-made beer, not the “best” made beer. But now I want to know: what is craft beer about for you and what are you looking for? Thanks in advance for any comments and sharing your opinion. The best thing about the craft beer community is open discussion and debate, that can always end over a beer (but I guess that’s just my opinion, again).

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State of the Brewnion

As a resident of a college town, I’ve had the opportunity to see bar after bar over the last year and a half (read: since my 21st) add craft beer to their taps and bottle lists. Terrapin, being the local brew, has gotten its foot into the door of many bars whose glasses (or plastic pitchers, to be more precise) hadn’t seen anything but American light lagers before. An appreciation for better beer has seemed to spread quickly, and I often overhear my neighbors at the bar exchanging critiques of their beer. The demand for well-crafted beer seems to be here to stay, so what’s wrong? A bar that carries craft beer, but treats it the same as their penny power-hour beer is doing is no victory at all!

Sure, craft beer is being exposed to new audiences who can appreciate its superior flavor and character, but these masses are being introduced in the wrong way. A revolution has been underway in the food industry for quite a while now, and people have demanded food that celebrates its ingredients with careful preparation. You wouldn’t order a locally sourced Wagyu burger and accept having it handed to you in a paper wrapper. In the same way, I don’t want a $7 beer from Maine in a plastic cup (or straight from the bottle, for that matter). I’ve dealt with too many bartenders who’ve had no idea what beer I was even ordering. If they did know what beers they had on tap, then they often failed to even pour a full pint.

So what’s the next step in the craft beer revolution? The quality of beer is better than ever, the distribution of beer is quick and expedited (debates on the three-tier system aside, we’re able to get an abundance of fresh beer throughout the country), but the service and consumption of craft beer must now catch up to the advances in brewing and shipping. Retailers, servers, and drinkers alike must be educated to appreciate what makes craft beer special. All the efforts and intentions of farmers and brewers can be sacrificed by improper storage or service. Initiatives such as Ray Daniels’ Cicerone Certification Program are the start, but these programs will mostly affect the professional sector, and a limited portion at that. Craft beer lovers must educate themselves and their friends, and demand proper service of craft beer. I’m not imploring you to become a beer snob (or remain one if you’re already there), but if craft beer is treated the same as that diluted adjunct-filled concoction, what’s the point?

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It’s GABF…but don’t forget the GA

With the craft beer world collectively focusing its attention on Colorado this week for the Great American Beer Festival, the recent flood of local craft beer news may have been overlooked.

Today marks the official launch of Georgia’s newest brewery Wild Heaven Craft Beers, creators of Belgian-inspired brews. The brewery is the product of Nick Purdy, founder of Paste Magazine, and Eric Johnson, founder of Athens’ own Trappeze Pub. Anyone who frequents Trappeze may have tasted Wild Heaven unknowingly in the past. Earlier this year, Trappeze unveiled two house brews concocted by Eric dubbed “Invocation” and “Benediction”. The recipes may have been tweaked since then, but Invocation, a Belgian golden ale, and Ode to Mercy, a coffee brown ale formerly known as Benediction, will be pouring around Atlanta (and in Athens exclusively at Trappeze Pub) beginning this evening. Wild Heaven Craft Beers is only the fifth brewery in the state (with more hopefully on the way), and has plans to complete a brewing facility and tasting room in Decatur, GA in 2013.

Along with a new choice for local craft beer, Atlantans now have a couple more places to order their favorite brews. Der Biergarten, an authentic German house for beer and food, is opening tonight at 300 Marietta St. The menu provided on Der Biergarten’s website is full of authentic German items and a list of better-known German beers. If American craft beers are what you crave, Deckard’s Kitchen & Kegs opens this week at 650 Ponce de Leon Ave. Deckard’s will offer a hefty 24 draft beers, along with an extensive bottle list. A food menu as equally creative and cared for, but not taken too seriously accompanies the beer.

Kicking off fall, Trappeze Pub is introducing (and re-introducing) craft beer lovers in Athens to pumpkin beers this week. With an ever-increasing number of breweries turning out pumpkin beers each year, there always seems to be a new interpretation to taste. New to Georgia this year is Southern Tier’s PumKing, on tap with many returning favorites. The weeklong celebration will end with a cask of Terrapin’s Pumpkinfest on Friday at 5pm.

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Sour in the Peach State

For the past few months, I’ve read that sour beers are an emerging trend and then seen them, myself, popping up on draft lists around the state. In an effort to constantly expand my beer repertoire, I’ve sipped nearly any sours accessible. They have ranged from mildly tart to face-puckering. As summer approaches, though, and the temperature reaches downright uncomfortable heights here in Georgia, one particular type hits home: the sour peach beer. This Monday afternoon, I found myself drinking two different sour peach offerings: New Belgium Eric’s Ale and Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. This was my second time trying Eric’s Ale, a limited part of New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, and Festina Pêche was a thirst-quenching standby last summer, but this was the first time I was able to taste the two together. They certainly shared some characteristics (they both bring tartness and peaches to the table, after all). They had nearly the same light straw color (Eric’s had a slightly more orange tint) with quickly receding white heads (although, the Festina’s foam stuck around a little longer). It was the differences between the two beers, though, that was the biggest treat. Let’s take a closer look at each:

First up was New Belgium Eric’s Ale. As I mentioned earlier, Eric’s is part of the Lips of Faith program from New Belgium, an experimental line of rotating beers. Eric’s Ale is classified as an American Wild Ale, a style that seems to be on the rise but one I can’t seem to find much information about. While I can’t find much consistent information for the specifics of the style, an American Wild Ale is usually influenced by Belgian-style ales and is exposed, in one way or another, to wild yeast or bacteria, imparting a sourness to these beers. The process of making Eric’s Ale is quite experimental, indeed. A sour beer that has been aged in oak barrels for several years is blended with another beer, sweeter and higher in alcohol content. This blend then undergoes a secondary fermentation with added peach juice. The sour tartness and ripe peach flavor certainly prevail, but many other notes picked up in the complex brewing and aging process play supporting roles. Through barrel aging, the oak imparts a subtle vanilla flavor and a dryness that compliments the tart ending. I find the balance of fruity sweetness and sourness very nice, and extremely drinkable considering the 7% ABV. An alcohol content this high is uncharacteristic of a sour or wild ale, but is likely accomplished mostly by blending in that sweeter ale to the sour beer. This beer definitely makes you pucker, but that’s what you signed up for, right? New Belgium says that this is “A sour beer for those who don’t like sour beers. And a fruit beer for those who don’t like fruit beers.” I would agree, but I like both sour and fruit beers, so I don’t seem a qualified judge for the statement’s accuracy.

The second sour: Dogfish Head Festina Pêche

Following Eric’s Ale was a pint of Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. This is the Delaware brewery’s summer seasonal, considered a “neo-BerlinerWeisse”. The Berliner-Weisse style is a wheat ale that incorporates Lactobacillus, creating a sour taste from the formation of lactic acid. Traditionally, these are then mixed with fruit syrups upon serving to help cut into the sourness. Instead, Dogfish Head added pureed peaches to the beer prior to fermentation. While I haven’t had a traditional Berliner-Weisse with syrup, I have to imagine that the fruit being fermented in the beer must create more of a fruit flavor throughout, allowing the peach to take on more than a single note. The first notable difference here, compared to Eric’s Ale, is the presence of wheat. The wheat shows up in the aroma and taste, but I sense the biggest difference in mouthfeel (think of the palatable cloudiness you get from your favorite Hefeweizen). Both beers finish refreshingly dry as a result of the tartness, but the wheat also helps to coat your tongue and leave a bit of lingering sweetness. As I noted earlier, I have had this beer many times before, most often from a bottle, but tasting it on tap this time seemed a little less tart than I had remembered from my last time. This could be due to a slight recipe alteration this year, my taste buds being a little numb after the New Belgium, or simply my mind failing to accurately remember my last Festina Pêche. In any regard, the bite from the tartness (even the one a little stronger in my mind) seems more subdued than Eric’s Ale. Also a bit more tame than the Eric’s Ale is the ABV at 4.5%. One last pleasant surprise in this beer isn’t about what’s there, but what’s not: hops. There is no detectable hop flavor or aroma in this beer (true to the style). My brain and mouth were initially confused to see the fish on the pint glass but never feel the alpha acids of hops stripping the enamel from my teeth, but it’s so nice to see Dogfish Head restrain its love of those bitter buds to put a different twist on a traditional style.

Overall, both of these beers are very refreshing and perfect for the summer. The Eric’s Ale tends to bite a little harder and would serve to wake up my mind after a long summer day. It’s Festina Pêche’s sour and wheat that will have me continuing to reach for it when I seek shelter from the hot sun. They would be great before a light summer dinner or alongside a great salad. They are also something I will surely be trying to incorporate into some of recipes using Georgia peaches (I’ll update you on this later). The familiarity of fruit in these can help bridge the gap for anyone making their foray into the world of sour beers. Next time you want a nice refreshing brew, but are a bit burnt out on bitter, give one of these a try.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

For those of you stumbling across this blog a little confused and with feelings of déjà vu, let me try to explain. I first started a blog focusing on craft beer in and around Athens, Georgia about 6 months ago. After a little lapse in posts in the midst of a very busy end to my senior year of college, I decided the blog needed to adopt a new identity before continuing. While I will be fortunate enough to enjoy one more year in the town I have grown to love over the past four years, I realized that being tied to Athens by name would only make sense for so long. A year from now, I will find myself out of Athens and would have then had to abandon or alter my blog. Since my passion for craft beer won’t be dying out anytime soon, I decided that now was the best time to convert to a more universal and thus easily relocatable title.

The name change will also probably help eliminate any confusion between my blog (previously named Classic City Craft) and the Classic City Brew Fest, an annual Athens event highlighting craft beer, run for over 15 years by Owen Ogletree. There are numerous “Classic City” entities here, referencing the city’s nickname, but with its notoriety reaching far beyond Athens, I wanted to make sure Classic City Brew Fest’s name is not diluted or wrongly associated with my opinions.

Thus, the blog has a new name. Along with the name, why not a new domain name, look, and some tweaked features? Hopefully, all the changes are for the better. As always, I welcome your feedback and any opinions or help you may offer.

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