ASHEVILLE N.C.— Last week was celebration time for four Western North Carolina breweries that won medals at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo.
Asheville’s Wedge Brewing Co. and Hillman Beer both claimed medals, as did Currahee Brewing Co. of Franklin and BearWaters Brewing of Canton. The winning beers were all still available at the breweries last week, though some were in short supply.
Winning at GABF isn’t easy and only a handful of area breweries have previously taken medals. In the 2017 event, 7,923 beers were entered from 2,217 breweries in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, according to the Brewers Association craft beer trade group. The annual festival was held Oct. 5-7.
The wins are more proof of the high quality of local beer, says Kendra Penland, executive director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance, an organization representing the area’s booming craft brewing industry and associated businesses. All the winning breweries are alliance members.
“This doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Penland says. ‘We have a really high level of beer here in Western North Carolina.”
Wedge, which has two locations in the River Arts District, claimed a gold for its Oktoberfest. Only a small amount of the beer was still on tap last week and a steady parade of customers have been trekking to the two Wedge taprooms to enjoy it, says brewery owner Tim Schaller.
The beer was made by brewer Carl Melissas. Because the lager requires months to produce, Schaller says it won’t be made again until 2018. “We will put some of it in crowlers and have it around a little bit longer,” he says, adding that the win is “an honor for the brewery and an honor for Carl.”
Currahee won a bronze for its Kawi Coffee Milk Stout, and brewer Taylor Yates says the wining batch is still available in cans. “We brewed the exact same stout as a winter seasonal, and it will be out in a few weeks,” he said. He hopes the medal will help “get our name out.”
Hillman Beer took a bronze for its Belgian-style quad called Four Fat Baby. The beer is available at the Hillman tasting room, according to brewer and co-owner Brad Hillman. “I made the beer nine years ago as a homebrewer for a friend’s Mardi Gras party,” he says. The name comes from the baby figurines found in Mardi Gras king cakes. “We still have plenty [of the winning batch] left, and I’m brewing it again,” he says.
Lastly, BearWaters took a bronze for its Belgian-style dark strong ale called Smells Like Money, which is also still available at the brewery. The name is from an expression some Canton residents use to describe the town’s paper mill, notes brewery owner Kevin Sandefur. “[The medal is] incredible and has been a goal of mine,” he says. “It helps gives us a lot of street cred.”