‘Twas a warm Winter Warmer

I was about to leave the Founders’ booth with my pour of Boltcutter when I ran into Dave Engbers, the co-founder of Founders. We talked for a few minutes about our mutual love of Asheville. Then we spotted two men dressed as women getting in line. “Beer festivals can get weird,” said Engbers. As if to back up that statement, I rounded the corner and found Brian Grossman of Sierra Nevada talking about zombies with Kelly and Andy Cubbin of Southern Appalachian Brewery. (Pictured: Brian Grossman and Andy Cubbin)

While the conversations changed, most booths had one thing in common: They were about more than beer. People weren’t running around slamming samples at an all-you-can drink buffet. (Or at least, the people that did mostly kept out of the way.) Brewery owners, brewery employees and fans took time to talk, and the time to enjoy great beer together. That helped Winter Warmer continue on as a bigger festival without losing its small-festival feel. Of course, there was also plenty of unique beer.

There was Smoke:
Aviator Brewing brought a selection of their beers over from the triangle. Folks seemed to like the unique aroma of Frostnipper, a winter seasonal with a campfire smell thanks to smoked malt. Cigar City, who doesn’t distribute in North Carolina, brought fans a rare taste of their beer. The big hits included Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout. Mark Hebbard, a homebrewer at the festival, said of Zhukov’s, “it’s like a dark espresso and charred wood elixir.”

And Fire:
Birdsong Brewing out of Charlotte tried to convince attendees to try their Lazy Bird Brown. But most in line preferred to fight the chill of winter with their Jalepeno Pale. Just a few samples away from mine, the keg kicked. M.A.L.T., the local homebrew club, also ran out of a pepper beer, Rich Pettus’s Chipotle Smoked Porter. In fact, they ran out of all their beer and had to put up a sign, “Sold Out, Like a Boss.”

And Some Funk:
Southern Appalachian Brewery brought one of their pilot Belgians served in a keg conditioned with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast. Highland Brewing’s crowd rivaled any other all day thanks in part to special editions of their flagships, including a soured St. Therese. And Wicked Weed also drew a big crowd, though according to owner Luke Dickinson, the sour beer wasn’t the draw at their booth. “Everyone wants hoppy, everyone wants the Freak,” he said, referring to their imperial IPA.

No surprises there. It was an Asheville beer festival, after all.


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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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