Beer Scout: Wicked Weed Funkatorium Invitational returns

LIQUID BLISS Wicked Weed Brewing co-owner Walt Dickinson examines a glass of 2016 Red Angel barrel-aged American sour ale with raspberries. The Funkatorium Invitational, the brewery's third annual gathering of wild and sour ales from across the country, takes place July 16 at its Candler production brewery. Photo courtesy of Wicked Weed Brewing

What began as a modest celebration to christen Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium has evolved into one of the largest and most prestigious annual local beer events. Funk Asheville: A Gathering of Wild & Sour Beers debuted during Asheville Beer Week in May 2014, featuring creations from local, regional and national breweries that have earned acclaim as purveyors of those increasingly popular beer styles.

For 2015, Funk Asheville moved to Wicked Weed’s production brewery with an expanded number of colleagues pouring their liquid wares from booths lining the large, open field behind the Candler facility. Further enhanced last year by food trucks and live music, the event returns to this wooded outdoor space on Saturday, July 16, at 8 p.m. (VIP ticket holders get in a 7 p.m.) with a similar overall approach but a new name.

“We felt Funkatorium Invitational spoke more to the brand we’re building with this festival,” says Jordan Hughes, creative director for Wicked Weed. “The sour beers we brew come from the Funkatorium, so it seemed more in line with what we’re already building.”

With sours an important part of Wicked Weed’s identity, Hughes says the brewery designs the event for all beer drinkers to enjoy, “wherever they are in their experience.” And as for the handful of Asheville-area breweries asked to be part of the evening, the Funkatorium Invitational provides many exciting opportunities for growth throughout the craft beer community.

“It gives us a national platform from which to demonstrate that the Southeast and North Carolina in particular are crafting some world-class sour beers from their programs,” says Jessica Reiser, co-owner of Burial Beer Co. “It’s easy to take for granted that in Asheville we have access to much incredible beer, but events like this remind us there is a whole world out there of breweries crafting alongside us, and it’s pretty amazing to make those connections and widen our view of craft.”

Every brewery has a volunteer pouring its beer. Lists of the selections with corresponding descriptions are emailed out and posted at each station. Draft techs work the event to make sure that all the volunteers need to do is talk about the beers.

Burial will be serving Garden of Earthly Delights, a Brett-conditioned saison with cucumber, turmeric, tangerine peel and white peppercorns, plus Dull Gret, a blonde sour. Reiser says the two beers were chosen to represent what Burial is currently brewing as well as where it’s going, especially as its original South Slope facility transforms into the site for its forthcoming line of sour and wild farmhouse ales, and clean beer production moves to its new forest camp brewhouse and taproom outside Biltmore Village.

“Garden of Earthly Delights is a showcase of our love for unexpected combinations of ingredients paired with a complex Brett character, while Dull Gret is the first foeder beer to release from our brewery and a glimpse of the direction our brewery is moving toward,” Reiser says.

Weaverville-based Zebulon Artisan Ales makes its Funkatorium Invitational debut with East India Pale Ale (circa 1840), a historical re-creation of what IPA would have tasted like once it reached India. The beer is made with only floor-malted English pale malt and 140 IBUs of East Kent Goldings hops, then aged with Brettanomyces for six months. Zebulon will also offer American Sour Ale with Apricots, fermented with lactobacillus and the brewery’s house saison blend and aged with its house Brett blend for four months. Two and a half pounds of apricots per gallon are then added for another month and keg conditioned with additional Brett for complexity.

For its first Funkatorium Invitational since brewing commenced at its new East Coast production facility in the River Arts District, New Belgium Brewing Co. will pour Tart Lychee wood-aged sour ale, Love Oscar sour brown ale, Love Apple Felix (aged in apple whiskey barrels) and 2016 Transatlantique Kreik, a spontaneously fermented lambic ale made with sour cherries.

“We normally don’t see kegs of Love Oscar or Love Apple Felix outside of the brewery that often, so it should be a nice treat to have those in the lineup,” says Trey Wheeler, Asheville market manager for New Belgium. “We really enjoy hearing that people love our beers, but to see someone taste one of our sour beers for the first time is a real experience for all parties involved. Plus, this particular style of beer is an extremely strong tie-in to our Belgian roots and where our founders found inspiration.”

While these and other selections are the Funkatorium Invitational’s main draw, the event is not exclusively about beer. Wicked Weed has partnered with a nonprofit sponsor for each iteration, and for 2016, Eblen Charities takes over that role from Pints for Prostates, the beneficiary the past two years.

“Eblen Charities has been meeting any and every need that arises in our community in Asheville since 1991,” Hughes says. “Wicked Weed would not be what it is without this community, its support and the people who strive to meet its every need”.

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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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