Beer Scout: Asheville beer and cider industry notables reflect on 2019

APPALACHIAN ACCOLADES: In looking back at the best beers of 2019, Wicked Weed Brewing founder Walt Dickinson, left, is fond of Fonta Flora Brewery's Lake James lager series; Bruisin' Ales co-owner Jason Atallah (not pictured) singles out Catawba Brewing Co.'s easy-drinking breakfast stout; and Appalachian Vintner co-owner Geoff Alexander, right, is thrilled to see Botanist & Barrel can a delicious cider. Photo of Dickinson courtesy of Wicked Weed Brewing; photos of beers courtesy of the breweries; photo of Alexander by Luke Van Hine

Beer Scout asked three representatives of Western North Carolina’s craft beverage industry to reflect on 2019. Here’s what they said:

Geoff Alexander, Appalachian Vintner, co-owner

Favorite new Asheville-area beer from 2019: Zillicoah Beer Co.’s Open Ferment Helles Lager. Lager is life and, well, this lager was sort of like soul food. Insane levels of delicious tradition. Very happy to see local breweries taking the time to produce clean, classic styles like this and do an amazing job to boot.

Favorite new beer from 2019 not made in Western North Carolina: [Cedar Grove, N.C.-based] Botanist & Barrel Farmhouse Seriously Dry Cider cans. It’s rare you find a true can-conditioned, unrefined, unfiltered, unpasteurized, natural cider that is literally just straight-fermented, cold-pressed apples. More like a natural wine than most ciders — and now in cans!

Favorite beer-related moment or local industry accomplishment from 2019: Eurisko Beer Co. announcing their expansion. Adding new distribution areas, canning, etc., is exactly what they needed. They are already making world-class beer, and this will allow them to get it to more people in Asheville as well as other markets. Superexcited for this group of dedicated folks, especially for our upcoming barrel-aged stout collaboration.

Jason Atallah, Bruisin’ Ales, co-owner

Favorite new Asheville-area beer or cider from 2019: 1) Catawba Brewing Co.’s Honey Combed Breakfast Stout: A fairly rare low-ABV (which I appreciate) and not-barrel-aged example of the style that still has all the rich, roasty coffee flavor I love. A soft touch with the honey and milk sugar gives it hints of all those flavors without being too sweet and allows the coffee flavor to come through.

2) Zebulon Artisan Ales’ The Devil & Me No. 2: A bit less breakfast-y in its ingredients than some of my other picks. A big, dry, roasty imperial stout with just enough coffee and vanilla to know they’re there and fill your nose on the finish. Like all of [brewer/owner] Mike [Karnowski]’s stuff, just perfectly executed.

Favorite new beer from 2019 not made in Western North Carolina: I really love what Newgrass Brewing Co. [in Shelby, N.C.] and Heist Brewery [in Charlotte] have been doing this year. And while their hazy IPAs have been most popular, these stouts really stood out to me: 1) Newgrass Bridges of Woe: Double Fudge Imperial Stout with cocoa nibs from French Broad Chocolate Factory. Need I say more? 2) Heist Leafer Season: Imperial Stout with maple syrup and Madagascar vanilla beans. Maybe a bit too much maple for some (not me), but once your tongue gets used to the sweetness, it’s a great sipper on a cold, damp day.

Favorite beer-related moment or local industry accomplishment from 2019: On a random spontaneous brewery crawl — maybe in late spring or early summer — [some friends and I] went to four or five breweries (I think Zillicoah, Burial Beer Co., Green Man Brewery, Catawba and Twin Leaf Brewery), and every one had either a dunkel lager or schwarzbier on tap. Besides being styles that I love, it showed me that our breweries, despite all their diversity and experimentation with the latest styles and obscure ingredients, are still interested in executing classic traditional styles. It really reminded how much I appreciate our beer scene.

Walt Dickinson, Wicked Weed Brewing, co-founder

Favorite new Asheville-area beer from 2019: 2019 Fonta Flora Brewery Lake James Series — Rind, Lime, Lite and Life. Fonta Flora has always made world-class beers, and I really enjoyed them bringing that same intention and integrity to a fun, light-drinking lager. I loved being able to pick a lime, watermelon or a lite, and the low ABV is just perfect for me right now. I’m excited to see what new releases [brewmaster] Todd [Boera] and his crew bring in 2020.

Favorite new beer from 2019 not made in Western North Carolina: Flying Machine Brewing Co.’s Electronic Fog Hazy IPA and Berliner Weisse series. I got to meet the Flying Machine team this year and fell in love with their beers. The Berliner Weisse series is superfun and spot on. They have a bunch of different fruit additions and just a perfect series for summers in Wilmington [N.C.] — or really anywhere. Electronic Fog is one of the best hazy IPAs that I have had all year — fruit forward, superbright and a solid midrange ABV.

Favorite beer-related moment or local industry accomplishment from 2019: Chow-Chow 2019 was so impressive this year. Katie Button and the entire Chow-Chow board worked extremely hard to organize a culinary experience that would stand alone from all other food festivals — and they accomplished that goal, without a doubt. The logistics to be able to successfully execute an event at this level are simply unbelievable. There are so many ins and outs to coordinate with the city while hosting thousands of folks visiting Asheville, many for the first time. Katie and the board were phenomenal on all levels and have set up Chow-Chow 2020 to be a tremendous success by evolving the culinary experiences and continuing to blow minds and expectations.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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