Having just celebrated its third birthday, Asheville Beer Week is still a collective experiment: It’s a week-long series of events that will continue to evolve based on what we choose to attend. So perhaps it’s no surprise that in a town as creative as Asheville, we’re starting to see a slew of more creative offerings, where each year has topped the last. Sure, there are still run-of-the-mill events that wouldn’t be out of place on a normal week. But there are also breweries and venues pushing Beer Week forward. Here are the standouts for 2014:
Burial Beer’s Events
Not long ago, Burial showed that it’s as adept at events as it is at brewing when it hosted the first Sharpen the Blades saison festival. During Beer Week, the brewery proved the saison fest was not a fluke. Events like Skillet Six Ways gave Burial regulars a pay-as-you-go option that celebrated a taproom favorite. The brewers spiked Skillet Stout with everything from coconut to peanut butter and you could order by the half-pint or flight to try them all. You could also pair them with French Broad Chocolate Lounge truffles. True, its beer dinner cost $65. However, it took place at Bull & Beggar, where one could easily spend that much on a normal dinner with a bottle of wine. The brewers and chefs delivered course after course that showed they put some thought into how the beer and the food interacted, matching dishes like savory rabbit with Belgian strong ale. And Burial’s three owners didn’t just dryly introduce beers; they mingled and poured samples of beers you can no longer find at the taproom in between courses. They enjoyed the dinner and might even have been a little tipsy by the end. It was exactly the kind of experience you hope for when you sign up for a beer dinner.
Thirsty Monk’s New Ideas
With Just Brew It, Beer City and two other festivals already on the schedule, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a little when Thirsty Monk announced it was throwing two festivals of its own. However, it turned out that the Monk was doing its festivals a little differently. Its North Carolina Belgian Beer fest was essentially a bargain deal on a flight — a great way to sample a bunch of rare beers and share the experience without wristbands. Monk’s other festival, the Not So Big BIG Beer Festival, took all the highly sought-after beers of a large festival and served them in a smaller setting. Knowledgeable folks were pouring, there were guaranteed short lines and the price tag was just $25 (a $10 gift card to Thirsty Monk came with the $35 ticket). Oh, and Monk’s premier non-festival event was one of the most creative of the week: a blindfolded tasting guided by Sierra Nevada’s Bill Manley that was equally popular with extreme brew nerds and those new to beer.
Wicked Weed’s Funk Asheville
There was plenty of online (and offline) grumbling about an event with $80 tickets, but Wicked Weed stuck to its guns and put on an event that felt like it was worth it. It brought in beer from out-of-market breweries that could only be found at the event, like Crooked Stave, Cascade and Perennial. It unveiled a brand-new location that isn’t open to the public yet and decorated the place with massive art installations from R. Brooke Priddy and Parker J. Pfister. It hired Marley Carroll to DJ. It served complimentary small bites instead of pretzels. It provided Belgian tulips for the tasting glasses. Then, when people weren’t exactly leaving at the end, nobody got kicked out. Instead, after making sure everyone working the event was fine with it, the owners extended the event for at least another hour. While it would be a sad day if every beer festival in Asheville was $80, Wicked Weed proved that we do have room on the festival schedule for at least one of them.
Catawba Brewing’s Enthusiasm
While many of Asheville’s established breweries took part in just one or two Beer Week events, Catawba went for it every day of the week. The brewery gave some love to the east side with a pint night and beer dinner at Creekside Taphouse, then hosted another beer dinner at its Biltmore Village neighbor, Fig. It threw a luau with a pig roast at its new tasting room to celebrate its 15th anniversary. It brewed the Asheville Beer Week collaboration beer. It hosted the first post-Beer City Festival funk jam. And it partnered on a handful of smaller events as well, with companies like Asheville Sandwich Co. and Asheville Growler. Catawba’s excitement to finally have a home in Asheville was noticeable, and it gave the week an injection of energy.