Beer City USA’s first and most famous beer festival returns

The 3,500 beer lovers lucky enough to have tickets will descend on the 13th annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival this Saturday, Sept. 19, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park; hopefully on foot.

Here's some of what's new with our Western North Carolina breweries and what to expect from them at Brewgrass:

Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co., 675 Merrimon Ave. (254-1281) and 77 Coxe Ave. (255-4077 or ashevillebrewing.com). Brewer Doug Riley added the new Asheville Amber to his lineup of stellar beers this year, and the Ale will be at available at Brewgrass. APBC is starting a guest brewer program in October, where home brewers and other beer lovers can spend a day helping out in the brewery. Sign up on the brewery's Web site.

Photos by Anne Fitten Glenn.

Catawba Valley Brewing Co., 212 South Green St., Morganton (828-430-6883 or catawbavalleybrewingcompany.com). Catawba will offer their always-anticipated King Don's Pumpkin Ale at Brewgrass. The brew soon will be available in area taprooms and restaurants. At its taproom out east, Catawba now features live music on most Thursday and Friday nights.

French Broad Brewing Co., 101-D Fairview Road (277-0222 or frenchbroadbrewery.com). Over the past year, French Broad has started bottling all of its year-round beers in 22-ounce bottles and selling them throughout WNC (even at some Ingles). In addition to serving at least six of their beers at Brewgrass, French Broad will serve a barley wine brewed at last year's Brewgrass by the home-brew club, Mountain Ale and Lager Tasters (MALT).

Green Man Brewing Co., 23 Buxton Ave., Asheville (252-5502 or jackofthewood.com). Again this year, Brewer John Stewart will bring a cask to Brewgrass filled with whichever of his beers is freshest. Last year's cask of Green Man IPA was gone in less than two hours, so this is a tent to visit early in the day. He'll also be previewing Green Man Imperial Stout, which will roll out in December. 

Heinzelmännchen Brewery, 545 Mill St., Sylva (828-631-4466 or yourgnometownbrewery.com). Brewer Dieter Kuhn will be bringing his Rocktoberfest to Brewgrass. It's his interpretation of a German Octoberfest-style beer from the early 1800s. Kuhn's also regularly brewing small batches of specialty beers, including the award-winning Big Amber Gnome and the Gnome Imperial. They're available only at the brewery.

Highland Brewing Co., 12 Old Charlotte Highway (299-3370 or www.highlandbrewing.com). This year, Highland is throwing a pre-party at their tasting room on Friday, Sept. 18, from 4 to 8 p.m. The brewery is starting to feature live music, and rising folk stars Now You See Them will play from 5 to 7 p.m. There you can get a first taste of the re-released Tasgall Ale, which will also be for sale in 22-ounce bottles for $5 each. Highland will also feature the Tasgall, a Scotch ale, at Brewgrass, along with this year's winner of the 2nd annual Highland Cup: Big Butte Smoked Porter, brewed by Asheville-resident Alex Burkholdt. Highland won't have a Sunday sale again this year, citing exhaustion after the Brewgrass weekend. However, both beers will be for sale at specialty stores around town.

Pisgah Brewing Co., 150 Eastside Drive, Black Mountain (669-0190 or www.pisgahbrewing.com). Pisgah will feature the winner of their organic home-brew contest, Reinke's Wit, a Belgian White, at Brewgrass. Pisgah's expanded taproom and music venue has been hopping over the past year, and now features music at least three nights a week.

Wedge Brewing Co., 125-B Roberts St. (505-2792 or wedgebrewing.com). The Wedge celebrated its one-year anniversary in July, with a showing of the iconic locally shot film, Thunder Road. The Wedge features music on Wednesday and Sunday nights, and food on those nights from local vendors (peanuts the rest of the time). Brewer Carl Melissas will be releasing his Duppelbock at Brewgrass. Any that's left will be sold from the brewery.

Appalachian Craft Brewery, Fletcher (684-1235 or acbrewery.com). Appalachian is WNC's smallest brewery and the only one not open to the public, but that's going to change, says brewer/owner Andy Cubbin. He wants to open a tasting room, although not in Asheville, but elsewhere in WNC. Appalachian will try out a new IPA and a Belgian Golden Ale at Brewgrass.

• Coming soon:

Craggie Brewing Company is slated to open in October at 197 Hilliard Ave. and recently announced Alex Sacui as the winner of its mural contest (to be painted on the outside of the brewery's building). Lexington Avenue Brewery will open sometime this year as well at 39 N. Lexington Ave, where the former T.S. Morrison's used to be.

Anne Fitten Glenn is an Asheville-based freelance writer. Send your beer news to her at edgymama@gmail.com.

who: The Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festival, sold out for the fifth year in a row
where: Martin Luther King Jr. Park
when: Saturday, Sept.19 (12 to 7 p.m. Lineup features DejaBlue Grass, Jim Lauderdale, The Black Lillies, Blue Ground Undergrass, Dehlia Low, plus beers from 42 regional craft brewers)
why: Good to know: Bring your I.D. and ticket printout. Event is held rain or shine. No one under 18 without parent. No coolers or pets.

Last spring saw the fastest sell out in the festival's history — tickets went on sale March 1 and were gone by mid-April. Their speedy disappearance sparked anger and despair among local Brewgrass fans who weren't quick enough, says festival founder and organizer Jimi Rentz.

If you're one of the folks who missed out, don't be too sad —  there are plans for a spring beer festival next year, hosted by the Asheville Brewers Alliance with support from Brewgrass organizers (see side box for details).

To prevent a repeat of the angst over the sell-out for 2009 Brewgrass tickets, only 2,500 tickets will be sold online next year. The remaining 1,000 will be sold to locals from Rentz' downtown business, Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria. Rentz and former business partner Doug Beatty founded Brewgrass in 1997. Rentz now runs the festival with co-organizers Danny McClinton and Eddie Dewey.

Tickets will be sold later in the year as well (March was too early, Rentz admits), though a date hasn't been set. He encourages Brewgrass fans to register their e-mail addresses on the festival Web site to receive information on future ticket sales.

If you are lucky enough to have tickets, this year's Brewgrass will offer tastes of more than 120 different beers from at least 42 breweries from around the country. That total includes at least 30 beers crafted in Western North Carolina.

And it's not all about beer. There's also the grass part: bluegrass, and lots of it.

Other stuff to know: The festival will have a big shade tent, five local food vendors and 48 portable toilets. Some years it's hot at Brewgrass, some years it's cold, and some years, like last year, it's a beautiful fall day. Prepare accordingly.

And it's all for a good cause. Last year's Brewgrass raised $13,000 for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Carolina.

If you didn't get tickets to Brewgrass 2009, remember that on any given day in Beer City, USA, 40 to 50 different beers are crafted at our area breweries. So there's plenty of good beer to go around.

Cheers! Salud! A votre santé! Skal! Ooogy Wawa!

Second beer festival date announced for spring

If you missed out on Brewgrass tickets, you may have the chance to attend another locally run beer festival this spring.

The Asheville Brewers Alliance has committed to hosting a spring beer festival, according to Mike Rangel, Alliance spokesman.

The festival will be similar in scale to Brewgrass, but with a slightly different slant, Rangel says. Entertainment will consist of local rock bands and comedy acts. More beer "education" tents, hosted by local groups such as the Mountain Ale and Lager Tasters, will be on hand as well.

"We want it to have more of a carnival feel," Rangel says.

Brewgrass organizer Rentz says he wanted to offer two annual beer festivals, but he didn't want to have to organize more than one such event per year without significant help. So the Alliance stepped in to partner with Brewgrass organizers.

"The Brewgrass guys have got the knowledge of how to run a beer festival down to a science," Rangel says. "We'll be learning a lot from them."

Other than the entertainment, the two festivals will be similar, featuring 40 or more craft brewers from around the country, including all the local breweries and several local food vendors.

The festival will be Saturday, May 29, and the location will be announced soon.

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