Local beer lovers, rejoice! Yes, Highland Brewing’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale is out and about. The first batch (there will be two this year) is hitting stores now in one-liter and 22-ounce bottles (find it at Green Life, Bruisin’ Ales, Hops & Vines, Earth Fare, Appalachian Vinters, Asheville Wine Market, and Weinhaus — to name a few retail locales).
Kegs of the nectar are being loaded at the brewery today and taken to Skyland Distributing, in hopes of the brew being on tap locally by this weekend. Some spots may have a keg tapped as early as Thursday! Check your usual watering holes — Barley’s Taproom, Bier Garden, and Thirsty Monk are all good bets for having new kegs tapped quickly.
During the week of Nov. 16, the ale will be released in 12-ounce bottles, available as a 12-pack. Although Cold Mountain has sold out within days in past years, with 600 total barrels being brewed (that’s 18,600 gallons of beer), there should be plenty to go around. (That’s 33 percent more than last year, though I’ll probably buy a case today, just in case).
Try to guess the flavorings in this year’s Cold Mountain, which change some from year to year. Here’s what Steve Schwartz, Highland sales rep, says about the 2009 vintage: “The spices are a closely guarded secret. I have had people ask me how we get the marshmallows or the cherries in there. I can assure you we do not use either. What I can tell you is there are some very obvious flavors going on in this beer, some new and some old. We’ll let you be the judge.”
I can taste cinnamon and some raspberry in the 2009 Cold Mountain. What can you taste?
I have bottles from the past three years of the brew stored in my basement, so we’ll be doing a taste test soon to decide which flavorings we like best. Note that many beers don’t age well — they’re meant to be consumed while fresh. But spiced ales, such as the Cold Mountain, can mature in a delicious way when aged for a year or two (more on beer maturation and storage in a later column. Just remember, light is evil — as is lite, in my opinion).
Also released this week, for the first time ever, was Asheville Brewing Company’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam White Ale. The beer is available at Green Life Grocery, Bruisin’ Ales, Asheville Brewing Company and The Orange Peel exclusively through Nov. 8. After that, the beer will be on tap in restaurants and sold elsewhere around town. Like Jam tickets, this beer probably will go fast, so I recommend buying it when you see it.
There are five (now four) golden caps on the Christmas Jam Beer (yes, inspired by Willy Wonka’s golden ticketed chocolate bars. Now try to get that song out of your head: “I have a golden ticket!”)
Check under your Christmas Jam caps and you could win two tickets to the Pre-Jam Show AND two tickets to the Jam. Thursday night, the first winners came forward: Jeff Pigman and his wife bought five bottles of the ale, and opened one a night since Sunday. Their final bottle was a winner! Congrats to the Pigmans. Four more golden caps are out there!
Remember, too, that all profits from the beer’s sales will go to the W&S Charitable Foundation, which partners with Habitat for Humanity to provide housing for area residents. You can drink beer and save the world at the same time!
In other local brews news, the Wee Heavy-est Belgian Scotch Ale will be released on Nov. 19 by French Broad Brewing Company. This brew’s based on their Wee Heavy Scotch Ale recipe, but “with a little more-er alcohol,” according to the brewery’s Web site (7 percent alcohol by volume).
Given all this, here’s my Thanksgiving Day beer plan: Christmas Jam Ale with cheese plate appetizer; Wee Heavy-est with turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes; Cold Mountain with pecan pie; nap. I wish I could invite you all to join me, but I’ll be transporting these wonderful local brews to Atlanta for the holiday (and transporting myself, plus two pounds of extra fat, back to Asheville afterward).