"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

After the Beer Bloggers Conference: Part 1

The Beer Bloggers Conference had concluded but that didn’t mean we were headed home.  More beer was calling so, shunning the setting sun, we took I-65 South towards our next destination: Asheville, North Carolina.  There was, however, more fun to be had en route.

Windy Corner
Our first stop after Indianapolis was the Windy Corner Market in Lexington, Kentucky.  An old, rustic shack surrounded by gardens, situated at the intersection of two country roads, nary another building in sight; this place—the epitome of quaint—belongs in a bygone century.  Gazing out its windows, my eye saw nothing but impossibly green pastures, rock walls straight out of an Irish postcard, and grazing thoroughbreds retired from or preparing for the Kentucky Derby.  The food’s good, too; I indulged in a pulled pork sandwich which was delish and washed it down with an IPA from local West Sixth Brewing.

West Sixth IPA
We kept driving south until we crossed the Tennessee border.  There, we camped at Indian Mountain State Park and rested for the next day’s adventure at Dollywood.

Those who know me know I have two great, geeky passions: craft beer (obviously) and roller coasters.  You know from reading this blog how much I love beer and how much beer trivia I’ve crammed in my brain.  Now, transpose the subject matter to roller coasters and I’ll be just as enthusiastic.  Roller coasters and beer are similar, really; almost everybody likes beer and roller coasters (maybe not at the same time) but beer geeks and coaster freaks take their passions to whole new levels. 

This isn’t an amusement park blog, though, and due to the risk of losing my audience, I’ll get back to beer shortly.  It should be noted, though, that I count each individual roller coaster I ride and Dollywood boosted me to 252.  Nicole’s only at 65 but she’s a relative newcomer to the world of coasters.

Indian Mountain State Park
After getting our ride on, we drove over a slightly hilly road the locals claimed—I assume jokingly—was a “mountain pass,” and, before long, we were in Asheville. 

Before I go further, I’ve got a bone to pick.  Asheville is considered the craft beer hotspot of the East and, now that I’ve been there, I can see why accolades come so freely; breweries are abundant and they produce great suds.  However, I’m dubious of the fact that Asheville’s won Charlie Papazian’s BeerCity USA Poll four times in a row.

By Papazian’s admission, “BeerCity USA is about showcasing what is really driving the American craft beer phenomenon we are all enjoying. It’s about the view on main street, grass roots, community support; it’s not about mainstream data, averages and statistics.”  Thus, it’s anything but scientific; it’s based on opinion and that, honestly, is fine.  The problem, as I see it, is that beer cities with big populations will always defeat beer cities with small populations.  This year, Grand Rapids tied for first with Asheville and Michigan and North Carolina composed the highest voter turnout: 10,560 and 8,164.  The population of those respective states: 9,876,187 and 9,656,401.  The population of Colorado is 5,116,796; we’re competing against states with nearly twice our population!

The Rocky Mountains may not boast as many residents as the Blue Ridge Mountains but we do boast a lot of heart.  This year, the beer geeks of North Carolina decided to nominate three cities: Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh.  Colorado put four—four!—in the race!  In fact, Colorado put more cities in the poll than any other state including famous craft beer meccas Oregon and California.  We’re isolated, we’ve just a handful of people, but the community support for local craft beer is strong enough to overcome such hurdles.   

That community support may well be Colorado’s downfall: with so many nominations in so close proximity, votes get split.  In Asheville, the closest competition is Charlotte (129.94 miles by road), Raleigh (246.5 miles), and the next closest contender is Cincinnati.  Denver, on the other hand, is 29.26 miles from Boulder and 63.85 from Fort Collins; throw a baseball in downtown Denver and you’ll hit another BeerCity USA hopeful.  Plus, Durango was thrown into the mix this year.  They raked in mountain-town votes that would have otherwise gone to a Front Range city. 

Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins (maybe Durango, too; they’ve only four breweries but that’s a lot for a town of its size) are all deserving of the top spot but how does a Colorado beer geek choose?  I voted for Denver because it’s where I live but, if home was equidistant from each city, I’d have a much harder time deciding.  Other cities clump together and share votes (e.g. San Francisco/Oakland – Bay Area, Phoenix – Tempe – Scottsdale…etc.) but Colorado is divided and conquered.  If we were nominated as “Front Range, Colorado,” we’d have it in the bag. 

There are crippling faults in the BeerCity USA system resulting in wild inaccuracies.  Colorado can never win because we have too many beer-y cities and not enough people to give them the votes they deserve.  We have passion and community support in spades but we don't have the logistics.  For that reason, no city should feel bad for not winning and no city should brag too hard if they do win (hell, no city should feel bad if they fail to be nominated; I claim Indianapolis as a top ten beer city but it wasn’t even an option this year).  Personally, due to its erroneous nature, I vote we do away with the poll altogether.  Let’s all just be great beer cities and not worry about who’s “best.”  

Now that I’ve cruelly diminished Asheville’s achievements, let’s begin rebuilding our relationship with me saying I do believe that Asheville kicks some serious ass when it comes to craft beer.  Nicole and I visited a lot of local breweries and loved them all; it’s a fantastic place to grab a pint and it's the place to drink on the East Coast.  There, now don’t storm my house with torches and pitchforks, North Carolina. 

Gateway Kӧlsch

The first order of business after a lengthy drive was to visit Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria to stuff our faces and enjoy handcrafted beer.  I ordered the Gateway Kӧlsch from French Broad Brewery (tee-hee, "French Broad").  It’s a clear and effervescent beer featuring a thin, barely-there head.  It looks like dark champagne and showcases a yeast-forward, bready, dough-like aroma.  The flavor’s bright and lively—great for quenching thirsts on a sweaty, July day.  Like the aroma, the flavor is all about yeast but with the lightest imaginable level of hop bitterness.

Sufficiently sated, we travelled to our next destination: Wedge Brewing Company.  

Wedge is on the banks of the French Broad River (tee-hee, again) and many parallels can be drawn between Wedge and Denver’s Strange Brewing Company.  When driving south on I-25, one can look to the right and say “Hey, there’s Strange!  Wait, how the hell do I get there?”  Same with Wedge; you can see it when you’re crossing the Haywood Road bridge but I’ll be darned if anyone can figure out how to get their car to the front door.  Both breweries are in funky, industrial settings; neither brewery is in a high-end suburb, beer geeks have to travel less-worn trails when seeking either out.  Lastly, both have unpolished beer gardens situated next to train tracks.  The overall impression from both Wedge and Strange is that of a secret craft beer clubhouse: locals and stumble-upon tourists only!

Wedge is, well, wedged in at the bottom of a three-floor brick building that looks like it might have been a factory at one time.  Asheville is known for being artistic and Wedge’s neighborhood is exceptionally so—just above it are galleries and across the street is a glass-blowing studio.  This free-living Bohemian philosophy is reflected in the taproom—words that come to mind when at Wedge are “underground,” “indie,” “hip,” and “coffeehouse.”  I ordered Golem (9% ABV), a hopped-up Belgian strong ale, and took a seat on the equally avant-garde patio.

Golem is cloudy and the same color of orange as the homonymic fruit.  It’s topped with a thick but not mousse-like head—the foam isn’t malleable.  The smell of this beer is resplendent with quintessential Belgian yeast complexity: fruit and spice.  In this instance, the fruit is apple.  The flavor is big on orange zest both in its citrus and bitter qualities but the bitterness, while prominent, is not overbearing.  Coriander spice warms the mouth and a dry, yeasty aftertaste finishes off Golem.

I’m not through with you yet, Asheville!  Stay tuned for more from North Carolina.


I love Wedge's concert backdrop 

Artsy wall by Wedge

Inside Wedge

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