Carolina Beer Guy: Zillicoah’s Session Fest celebrates low-ABV brews

Photo by Darrell Cassell/Rowella Creative

In these dog days of summer, a lower-ABV “session” beer is mighty inviting. Plenty of them will be on tap at Zillicoah Beer Co.’s second yearly Session Fest on Saturday, Aug. 24, noon-8 p.m.

The festival features beverages clocking in at under 5% ABV from 30 breweries — nearly all of which are outside the Carolinas. They’ll be brought in from Richmond and Virginia Beach, Va.; St. Augustine, Fla.; and as far away as Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio and Oregon.

Event organizers learned a lot about beer festival rules from last year’s inaugural event, according to Jeremy Chassner, who owns Zillicoah with his brother Jonathan Chassner and Jonathan Parks. “It helped show us the ropes,” he says. “We’re rolling into this year with a better understanding from compliance [with state laws].”

Chassner says the Zillicoah team “has a special place in our hearts for session beers” and wanted to build a festival around them. “As beer lovers, something that we love to do is dispel the notion that a beer cannot be full-bodied or full-flavored if it’s lower in alcohol,” he says. “Session beers let you hang out with friends and catch up.”

With a growing number of beer festivals in the area, narrowing the concept also helps Session Fest stand out, as does bringing in peers beyond the usual Asheville suspects.

“We want to showcase their beers to our community and to showcase our community to them,” Chassner says. “Our hope is that local brewers here in Asheville will take the day off and come hang out. Who knows what might come of that? Maybe some awesome collaborations.”

As part of the 2019 edition’s backyard cookout theme, Session Fest will feature live music throughout the day, plus food from Buxton Hall Barbecue. Usually, the Zillicoah taproom is open to children and pets. But for Session Fest, it’s limited to attendees ages 21 and older — and leave the critters at home.

Tickets for Session Fest are available at two levels. General admission is $15, which includes two 6-ounce beer pours. Additional beer tokens may be purchased for $3 each.

The VIP ticket is $75, which includes access to an exclusive VIP area (where complimentary servings of whole roasted pig and sides from Buxton Hall will be available 2:30-5:30 p.m.); a bottle of yet-to-be-released beer from Zillicoah; two beer tokens; and one complimentary 4-ounce pour of a hard-to-find wild fermentation or sour beer every half hour from 12:30-5 p.m. In the words of the event description, “That’s 40 ounces of beer you’d have to be a magician to get your hands on otherwise.” Tickets can be ordered online.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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