I have said it elsewhere before; I’ll say it here loudly and clearly; I’ll say it again I’m sure:
Brewgrass rocked my socks off.
I (and Mrs. Perm) have been a mostly-annual participant in the Durham, NC World Beer Festival since 2002. We have come to love it dearly (“It’s the best thing that Durham has to offer.”), have very very fond memories of festivals past spent with friends, and were sorry to realize that we wouldn’t be able to make the trek this year to attend. I can credit the WBF with introducing me to any number of then-new, now-favorite brews. I raise my glass to thee in Toast, World Beer Festival.
I can, however, unequivocally state that the Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival blows the Durham fest out of the water. Yes, it’s quite smaller. Yes, there are significantly fewer breweries — and significantly fewer brews — representing a smaller geographic spread than at the WBF. Be as that may, Brewgrass for me has successfully captured the certain je ne sais quoi of Atmosphere that a “Beer Festival” should represent. I firmly believe in the quality over quantity focus, and believe that BG has nailed that one on the head.
Where Brewgrass got it right:
* Limiting the number of attendees. Yes, it was crowded. Certainly, it could easily have been much more crowded than it was. The size of the crowd was manageable and reasonable. I hope they continue this practice.
* The Venue. MLK Park is perfect for this thing.
* Having one 7-hour session rather than two 4-hour sessions (a la Durham). Four hours is a long time to sample beers. And yet there was much less of a sense of haste with the proceedings, having those additional three hours. One could take a sample brew, return to one’s chair, take some notes, relish in the beer, savor it, and return at one’s leisure to the next brewery tent. Here’s a great example also of how fewer breweries to choose from works in your favor.
* Having the space, ability, space, permission, expectation, and, yes, space to bring a chair and use it. And sit down. Next year, we’re definitely getting closer to the stage.
* Being generally Chill about everything. Laid-back, relaxed, happy. Not that those things don’t happen at Other Beer Festivals I’ve attended. But Brewgrass really does capture that ambience beautifully. (Can we credit Asheville with this fact? Or the demeanor of those who come to this thing? I can say, I did not miss the preponderance [being one myself] of that certain demographic of Duke (graduate-) students and Triangle Yuppies.)
* Very nice souvenir tasting glasses.
* Lest we forget or overlook it: The Music. The lineup of bands was stellar and the front-and-centeredness of the stage was entirely appropriate and enjoyable.
The weather was perfect. The people were nice. And the beers were stupendous.
I began the day set to take detailed tasting notes and be all nerdy, BA-style. After about 3 or 4, though, the just-take-it-easy-and-have-fun mood got the best of me, and I decided to do just that. Enjoy the day, make mental notes of outstanding samples, and simply soak it all in.
1. Brushfire Stankgrass. We noticed how as the day went on, the bands successively got more and more “traditional” in style. The first group was barely even “Newgrass,” let alone Blue. They did have a banjo. And they were quite good, in an Avett Brothers/Carbon Leaf sort of vein.
2. The Biscuit Burners. These folks were probably my favorite. Also flirting with a “Newgrass” sound, a few of their songs had a pronounced Indian influence (was that a sitar up there?) — perfect for the Asheville-hippies.
3. Dixie Bee Liners. Yeah, I was drinking.
5. Cadillac Sky — these guys were fantastic, and really made me want to be closer to the stage.
What could have been better? A cigar vendor.
The Calm Before the Storm.
The Brewery Lineup was Stellar. 42 by my count, 30 of which were from either North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, or north Georgia. With a total of at least 175 beers or so (the guide booklet wasn’t completely accurate in its listings). Of those 42, Mrs. Perm and I managed to make it to 22 breweries and sample about 45 brews. Modest in the grand scheme, perhaps, but I, at least, have very few regrets about how I made out.
There were two or three breweries that I missed on purpose (Foothills, Big Boss, Sam Adams), but only a couple that I wanted to hit up and didn’t (Duck Rabbit, Heinzelmannchen).
At first I was slightly bummed that there were not free water bottles (Durham does do this, or at least used to), but once we discovered the preponderance of jugs o’ water at the brewery booths (ostensibly for cleaning out your tasting glass), my complaints washed away. Plus, the $2 we did spend on water bottles went to Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Asheville.
Highlights of the brew tastings:
* Dogfish Head and their Randall. 60-Minute IPA filtered through basil, mint, and coffee. YOWZA! Their Festina Peche was also a highlight.
* Highland’s limited-release Imperial Black Mocha Stout. Definitely in my Top 3 of the day.
* Pisgah Valdez — another strong coffee stout, this one with organic, fair-trade coffee beans.
* French Broad’s Saison. American breweries often struggle with making a successful farmhouse ale. French Broad nailed it. The Altbier was also a winner.
* Green Man had their ESB in a hand-pump cask. It was heavenly.
* Magic Hat Jinx. Strong ale brewed with peat-smoked whisky malt.
* Outer Banks Slap Happy Abbey.
Thomas Creek’s Vanilla Cream Ale — surprising!
Great Divide Wild Berry.
* Rogue (OR) Brewing’s Old Crustacean Barleywine. I don’t know how they get off calling that a barleywine. I also don’t know the story behind the naming of this one, but “Old Crustacean” pretty much tastes like the name suggests that it might.
* Triangle Brewing (NC)’s Xtra Pale Ale. As Homer Simpson might say, “Bo-ring!”
Here’s a list of what we tried. I’ll have a review of a few of them forthcoming. This posting is already long enough.
Asheville Brewing Co. Old School Pale Ale, Ninja Porter.
Brooklyn Brewery. Post Road Pumpkin Ale.
Catawba Valley Brewing (NC). King Don Pumpkin Ale.
Coast Brewing (Charleston, SC). Hopart IPA, ALTerior Motive Altbier.
Dogfish Head Brewing. Festina Peche (a “Neo-Berliner Weisse”), 60-Minute IPA (Randallised!)
French Broad Brewing Co. (NC) Wee Heavier Scotch Ale, Altbier, Gateway Kolsch, 13 Rebels ESB, Saison.
Green Man Brewing (NC). Pale Ale, Cask-conditioned ESB, Porter.
Highland Brewing. Gaelic Ale, Imperial Black Mocha Stout.
Magic Hat. Lucky Kat IPA, Number 9, Jinx.
Moon River Brewing (GA). Wild Wacky Wit, Swamp Fox IPA, Captain’s Porter.
Outer Banks Brewing (NC). Slap Happy Abbey.
Pisgah Brewing (NC). Valdez, Endless Summer.
Rogue Brewing. Old Crustacean Barleywine.
Sierra Nevada (CA). Anniversary Ale.
Terrapin Beer Co. (GA). India Style Brown Ale, Big Hoppy Monster Imperial Red Ale.
Tommyknocker Brewery (CO). English Style Pale Ale (dry hopped with Kent Goldings & Fuggles)
Thomas Creek Brewing (SC). Doppelbock, Vanilla Cream Ale.
Triangle Brewing (NC). Belgian Style Golden Ale, Xtra Pale Ale.
Victory Brewing (PA). Prima Pils, Hop Devil IPA
Yazoo Brewing (TN). Hefeweizen.
Great Divide (CO.) Wild Berry Ale.
A local brewing favorite. Find the Hasid look-alike?
The scene of pure magic — Imperial Black Mocha Stout.
And, lest we forget, the food was great — Doc Chey’s Noodle House (the fried gyoza dumplings were DELICIOUS), Barley’s Taproom pizzas, and amazing organic bratwurst from Greenlife Grocery’s deli (with equally amazing “Lusty Monk” mustard).
Running into old friends makes a good day into a Great one.
‘Tis the season…
I can’t tell you how many comments I got from this shirt. I think I’ll have to wear it again next year.
A final parting shot. There’s that cute tasting glass again. Filled with Moon River Wit, by the way. That’s a good wit.