Asheville excels at both food and beer, so it’s not surprising that the two paths intersect frequently. The ever-growing web of partnerships among local chefs and artisan food producers and Western North Carolina brewers happily results in some tasty events for foodies and beer enthusiasts alike.
A good time to check some of these out is AVL Beer Week, which kicked off on Friday, May 27, and runs through Saturday, June 4. During AVL Beer Week, Ashevilleans and visitors alike can loosen their belts a notch or two and check out local brews paired with or used as an ingredient in a wide variety of eats — everything from chocolate, cupcakes and ice cream to decidedly more savory items, including barbecue, pizza, crawfish and even pig brain scrapple and bison tartare.
Venues offer some pleasant variety as well. While many events are staged at breweries and restaurants, some guests will experience their beer and bites in an outdoor setting.
One such event is a dinner collaboration on Tuesday, May 31, put together by Gaining Ground Farm, downtown restaurant Rhubarb, Green Opportunities and Catawba Brewing Co. The five-course feast will be presented at the farm in Leicester, starting with beer-infused cocktails in a 100-year-old dairy barn and finishing with dinner at a long table situated outside on a historic stagecoach trail.
Chef John Fleer of Rhubarb will work with chef Liam Luttrell-Rowland of the Green Opportunities Kitchen Ready culinary training program for low-income adults and some students from that program to prepare the meal from ingredients grown on the farm. Each of the five courses will be paired with a Catawba beer.
Fleer, who has partnered with Catawba several times since their first beer dinner collaboration during AVL Beer Week 2015, says he has developed a working knowledge of how the brewery’s products pair with various foods. The main challenge, he says, will be “centered on what’s going to be available from Gaining Ground” that particular day.
Many courses will have Catawba beer as an ingredient along with brew-related items, including hops, malted barley and beer “waste” — the spent grains from the brewing process.
Fleer, who enthusiastically describes himself as “president of the Gaining Ground fan club,” says the farm is Rhubarb’s largest supplier of produce, and he’s worked with owners Aaron and Anne Grier since he cooked his first Blind Pig Supper Club dinner at Gaining Ground’s Yesterday Spaces event facility in 2012. “Anne and Aaron have been amazing partners for Rhubarb since day one,” he says. “[Hosting the dinner at Gaining Ground Farm] just seems like a natural fit for a Beer Week farm dinner.”
A portion of the proceeds from the dinner will benefit Green Opportunities, an organization that connects low-income youth and adults with employment opportunities.
While most of the AVL Beer Week food events don’t wander quite as far from the brewery or restaurant, they find other ways to make things interesting. Buxton Hall Barbecue and Oskar Blues Brewery, for example, have decided to create an event that adds some regionally crafted whiskey to the mix. Their Swine & Swill dinner at Buxton Hall on Thursday, June 2, brings in Bostic, N.C.-based Blue Ridge Distilling Co.’s Defiant whiskey.
The five-course feast prepared by Buxton Hall chef Elliott Moss will feature dishes made using Oskar Blues brews and Defiant whiskey and cooked on Defiant oak spirals. Beer-and-whiskey cocktails will be offered throughout the evening, and each course will be paired with an Oskar Blues beer, including a special release — a combination of Mama’s Little Yella Pils and Old Chub with smoked orange, cherry and pepper aged on Defiant oak spirals. Buxton Hall bartender Kelly Vormelker describes it as “medium-bodied with a good balance of smoke, heat and citrus.”
The idea for the unusual dinner started as a suggestion from Oskar Blues sales representative Amy Rubin, and the Buxton Hall team was quick to embrace it. “We ran with the idea because we wanted to put a twist on the typical beer dinner,” explains Vormelker. “This town hosts so many beer dinners, we needed a way to differentiate ours. At Buxton Hall, we are always interested in supporting other creative, local, small businesses, so adding Defiant whiskey to the mix was an easy decision. Also, beer, whiskey and barbecue are simply such natural cohorts.”
Moss and his crew are still finalizing the menu, but Vormelker says guests can expect it to include dishes such as smoked veal cheeks, leaf lard biscuits, smoked trout and peach tarts. In addition to dinner, beer and cocktails, organizers say the event will also feature giveaways, a raffle and “a good ole time.”