Curious about the story behind Burial Beer Co.’s delightfully macabre name, the artwork on its bottles, cans and merchandise, and occasionally the names of the beers themselves? It all goes back to New Orleans.
Burial co-owners Jessica and Doug Reiser lived in the Louisiana city for three years — before, during and after Hurricane Katrina hit — and were constantly moved by the vibrancy of their community.
“During our time there, we were so struck by the celebration after a loved one’s death as a completion of a cycle and honor. As people, we tend to view death and burial as a strictly morbid occurrence, [but] the local culture [in New Orleans] views the transition of life as cause for celebration and an opportunity for rebirth — a way to celebrate life, not mourn death. We see the same cycles in brewing and building a business,” Jessica says.
What began in 2014 as a small Sunday afternoon gathering at Burial’s taproom has grown into a three-day annual Mardi Gras celebration, held this year Sunday, Feb. 26-Tuesday, Feb. 28. Each time, the key elements are NOLA-focused food, specialty beers and music from Asheville-based brass bands and jazz musicians with New Orleans roots. The new brews for 2017 are Cafe Au Lait Wit (Feb. 26), a Gin Fizz Saison (Feb. 27) and Sazerac Rye IPA (Feb. 28).
“All of these beers reflect something we miss about the city or are historical parts of the modern cocktail scene,” Jessica says. “A gin fizz is also known as a ‘New Orleans fizz’ and the Sazerac is literally the official cocktail of New Orleans.”
A portion of sales from the special Mardi Gras beers will benefit the LEAF Feather Fund, founded in 2016 by Burial and Chief Shaka Zulu and organized by LEAF International. The Feather Fund provides the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans with resources to craft their suits and masks — intricate pieces of sewn bead work and feathers that take 364 days to create for the St. Joseph’s Day parade, which is the real, original Mardi Gras. And soon, the organization will begin receiving significantly more support from the brewery.
“We plan to release a canned collaboration every year going forward the weekend of Mardi Gras, and 100 percent of the profit goes to Mardi Gras Indian Feather Fund to keep them parading, jamming and sustaining one of our greatest cultures,” says Jessica.
The 2017 release — Shallow Water, a kolsch brewed in collaboration with Shreveport, La.-based Great Raft Brewing — arrives Saturday, March 18, in North Carolina, Georgia, New York and Louisiana.
Tar Heel exclusives
Already home to some of Asheville’s best experimental beers, Hi-Wire Brewing’s Big Top Production Brewery and Taproom goes all in Saturday, March 4, from 1-5 p.m. when it hosts its inaugural N.C. Small Batch Festival.
“A lot of people really like seeking out and experiencing small-batch, one-off beers that a lot of breweries have in their taprooms,” says Hi-Wire co-owner Chris Frosaker. “So we expanded on that idea and thought, ‘Well heck, let’s make it easy on people. Let’s try to have one day where we’re serving nothing but one-off, small-batch beers they can only get there — kind of make it something really special, really unique, yet accessible at the same time.’ You don’t need to go to all 20 breweries in town to do this. You can just come to one location and try something unique and special that you’re never going to see again.”
The Hi-Wire top brass invited nearly 30 breweries from across the state to participate, a combination of their closest industry friends — brewery owners and reps with whom they regularly hang out and catch up at festivals — and breweries they otherwise like and respect. (See sidebar for complete list.) No style is off-limits, as long as the concoction is a one-off product. Exactly what each brewery is bringing — including three or four of Hi-Wire’s own creations — will remain secret for the time being, but Frosaker says to keep an eye on Hi-Wire’s social media accounts for potential updates closer to the festival. Due to the limited quantities, he also expects to run out of beer before the event’s four hours are up.
Entry is $8 and includes two beer tokens (redeemable for 4-ounce samples) and a commemorative miniature pilsner tasting glass. Additional tokens may be purchased for $2 each. Along with establishing the festival as an annual event, Frosaker sees it an an opportunity to foster stronger ties among peers as well as spotlight one of Hi-Wire’s strengths.
“The beer business is all about relationships: with your customers, with retail accounts and with other breweries, other people in the industry. We really value building on these friendships with other breweries. Whether we collaborate down the road or not, I just love mutual respect for what everybody does and hopefully that can grow a little bit,” Frosaker says. “And [we’re] definitely hoping to highlight the fact that Hi-Wire does have beers that you can’t get anywhere else in each of our taprooms. That’s always something that we’re always trying to spread the message about.”