Letter writer: Local breweries, please give us the ‘liquid gold’

Graphic by Lori Deaton

“How’s your beer?” “It’s not bad.”

Anyone else tired of this answer? Where did beer take such a bad turn? Our palates seem to have been tricked and swindled by the microbrew explosion. Oatmeal stout, pumpkin ale, any fruit imaginable, triple IPA, bacon beer! Are you covering up bad ingredients? Is capitalism the culprit?

Just beer: lager so pure and crisp that you crave it with breakfast. Pork shoulder with Pilsner makes sense any time of day in Prague. Many European establishments take the decision mechanism away with one beer on the menu. The system only works if you’re serving liquid gold, an easy lager. Indulging in a triple chocolate imperial stout with my omelet feels dirty and immoral.

I’m in an Asheville brewery offering 14 types of ale: not a single lager. The indirect explanation from a superfriendly staff member: “Money!” Brewing ale is chemically aggressive, taking about two weeks. Pilsner, the ultimate in lager, takes a minimum of four weeks and colder storage. A much gentler brewing leaves you with a smooth, clean beer. The quick turnaround in ale means more money now.

Let us not be told that our demand is driving this travesty. Greater demand could only be in ignorance; collectively, we don’t know better. It doesn’t help that most American microlagers are barely drinkable; containing an unexpected “bite” in comparison to the European masters.

Geography isn’t to blame, as we’ve done it beautifully on American soil: Trumer Pils (Berkeley, Calf.), Prost Pils (Denver), New Belgium Blue Paddle Pilsener (Fort Collins, Colo.).

I’m certainly not here to support the big boys of the industry. But have a look at what’s dominating the globe: lager. Mass-produced, lacking in patience, flavor and quality ingredients — yet lagers nonetheless. It has and will stand the test of time. Lager is forever.

How many more times can we lie to each other about “how good this beer is” while taste buds freak out, blanketed in a layer of residual sugar.

Of course, capitalism doesn’t correspond with patience. It’s hard to have a slow, gentle beer dominating your tank space. But we know you’re out of red figures! Facilities are expanding, becoming glamorous. You’ve fooled us long enough.

We love to support local. I don’t want to leave “Beer City USA” markets with a German six-pack in hand! If you brew it, they will come (they being return locals as well as the drunk bus tours). Please give us the gold!

— Mike Peterson

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21 thoughts on “Letter writer: Local breweries, please give us the ‘liquid gold’

  1. Don

    Mike makes some valid points here (and a few just a little off the mark as well…. oh well… he means well ;) Anyway, I’ve found it deliciously ironic that one of the best breweries in WNC -that specializes in supremely well crafted and unhurried lagers and pilsners- is NOT in Asheville and is contentedly well below the radar. What??? Beer City USA!! (it’s embarrassing…. no?) The hipster over-hopped beer Mecca of the southeast… if not the planet dude ;) !! Yep. Make the trek out to Brevard (no… we’re not talking about that other hipster requisite, Oskar Blues) and just down the street from the courthouse is Brevard Brewing. Trust me… WELL worth the trek! (the hiking is great out that way too ….so it’s easy to make it a Saturday outing :)

  2. The Real World

    YES! Thanks for writing this article, it was needed. I enjoy an IPA once in a while but much prefer lagers / pilsners. And they are hard to come by from the local brewers (Sierra Nevada has a good one: Nooner).

    Also, my stomach gets bothered by IPA’s. I believe the reason is the type of yeast used. Was talking to a brewer about it and he said, indeed, the lagers use a cleaner, more pure yeast. Whereas the IPA’s use a more complex one.

    I know others who don’t prefer IPA’s (probably for the gastro-intestinal reasons) and will drink Pabst (ick) at a restaurant/brewery if only IPA’s and Stouts are available.

    Time for more lagers in Beer City!!

  3. Chris

    Nooner pils is about as far as it gets from how it’s supposed to be done. Very harsh … But that goes hand in hand with most off the stuff Sierra puts out. Boy do they have the world fooled with that 100 million dollar plant!

    I’d love to step through all the piss poor lagers in Asheville but they are mostly small operations. Maybe one day someone will brew a real beer

  4. Tim Weber

    It sounds to me like you may just be visiting the wrong breweries.

    Stop by Twin Leaf. I typically have a lager on. I have a 1850s style lager now and an Oktoberfest/Marzen that I believe is excellent. I also have a roasted butternut squash lager and hoppy lager available. Also look for my German Pilsner and Vienna lager which I brew often.

    Hi-Wire’s lager is great if you are looking for bottles. Brevard brewing is also excellent.

    Also please keep in mind lager refers to a category of beers and not a specific style. A double bock is a very sweet strong in alcohol lager and a Schwartzbeer is a black lager.

    I often will brew what my customers ask for. Your voice is heard! :-)

    Owner/Head Brewer
    Twin Leaf Brewery

  5. Mike

    The real problem – I was ordering pizza at great local spot. My beer options – milk stout, oatmeal porter, and white winter ale. Do you know how good a well done lager goes with pizza?!? (And most any other food).

    This wouldn’t be a huge deal if they were keeping it in their tasting rooms only. But this stuff is infiltrating all restaraunts, bars and markets – leaving less room for the goods.

  6. Lorne Malec

    I’m guessing you didn’t get to Hi-Wire or Brevard Brewing?

  7. Mike Peterson

    Thanks for all the replies and recommendations. I really want to avoid singling out particular breweries around town. It’s not just a matter of quantity. There are lagers being brewed around Asheville, they just aren’t very smooth. Too much flavor – perhaps in Hops.

    Tim – I know America is obsessed with options. We want ‘more’…we want ‘flavors’!!! But butternut squash lager is exactly why I decided to write this article. Good beer doesn’t need fruit or veg on top! I am aware of the different style of lager you mention. What I’m after is traditional golden lager (Pils typically being the cleanest). Beer that you can actually quench a thirst with. Beer that doesn’t leave any hop/film/bite in the mouth once it’s down the hatch.

    Here is the general idea of just ‘Beer’. All of which would not interfere with the meal you are eating. Some of these are Good, and some are bad – but i’m still ordering them all before a milk stout or triple IPA:
    ** Heini, Bud, Session Lager (Red not Black), Trumer Pils, Blue Paddle, Lucky Buddha Beer – and the other Asian style lagers, Bitburger – Germany, PBR, Jever Pils, Estrella lager, Peroni, Prost Pils (Denver), Becks………..

  8. Bob Smith

    I am so thankful for someone who actually echoed my sentiments regarding the new “craze” in micro brewing. Currently, I am living in Knoxville and experiencing the same problem. We have a pub chain here that has dozens of beer on tap and every single offering is Pumpkin this, or butternut that, or double chocolate, or some other flavored acidic ale or IPA. You correctly point out the absence of beer produced domestically that tastes like what you find in Belgium or Prague. I’m guessing you have to produce what the customers demand, but what happened to the centuries old technique of true beer? I hope this new fad will die out soon and we return full circle to the original gold. In the meantime, I’ll pass on the pumpkin piss and drink my fruit in the form of wine.

  9. Connected

    Hey Mike, stop being a crybaby. I really feel bad that you can’t find the perfect breakfast beer to go with your perfect European breakfast.

  10. WAVL

    While I can respect that the LW is trying to say, in so many words: I dig well done lagers (especially pilsners); he betrays quite a bit of ignorance regarding beer/brewing and his characterization of a lot of the great beers on tap in this town is crotchety at best. For one, a big part of the explosion of different styles and flavors in the world of craft brewing is a direct response to state of beer in the 20th Century, which had become basically all mass produced, flavorless, and indistinguishable pale lager. True, others (especially Europeans) have been doing this style much better than BMC, but the idea that pale lager is “the one true form of beer” ignores the entire history of brewing. This type of beer really didn’t take off until the Industrial Revolution, and isn’t typical of traditionally brewed beer you might find in Germany, and certainly not in Belgium. I also doubt that brewers are making Ales because they are cheaper to produce, and especially not IPA’s, as hops are quite expensive. Finally, as many have pointed out – it doesn’t take much looking to find great examples of pilsners, pale lagers, and other subtle refreshing style at any number of local breweries. And I’ll have one from time to time, but I’m also going to keep enjoying the hell out of the great, flavorful, and varied offerings this great town has to offer.

    • Nick

      You say….”it doesn’t take much looking to find great examples of pilsners, pale lagers, and other subtle refreshing style” . I would strongly disagree. Just because there are a few beers labeled “lager/pilsner”, doesn’t mean a thing. Most “lagers” around Asheville would be more satisfying poured in the sink. They are so incredibly off. (It’s worth a taste test comparing any local “Pils” vs a Jever or Bitburger mentioned above). You mention enjoying all the flavors around town, well it would be nice if one or two of the hundreds being brewed, weren’t so flavored! (Good beer doesn’t need such a strong taste!)

      And while the hops may be expensive, they are still turning Ales over in half the time. Which usually means more money.

      I will agree that this town is Great!

      • WAVL

        Asheville Brewing – Rocket Girl Lager
        Brevard Brewing – Almost everything they brew is a lager
        Oskar Blues – Mama’s Little Yella Pils
        Hi-Wire – Lager, not to mention Octoberfest
        Sierra Nevada – Nooner, Octoberfest, other seasonally available one off lagers and a summer ale
        Burial – Has a straightforward pilsner on tap most of the time
        Catawba – Farmer Ted’s (A cream ale yes but as not strong tasting as you can get)
        French Broad – Kolsch (a super straightforward refreshing cross between an ale and lager which is cold-stored)
        Pisgah – German Pilsner, Mexican Lager, San Francisco Lager and the summer ale which is tame and refreshing as can be
        Twin Leaf – everything mentioned above
        New Belgium (coming soon) – Blue Paddle
        It’s true that neither Greenman or Highland regularly feature lagers, but these are both British Isles styled breweries and they’re offerings reflect that. If you love German Beers Wicked Weed currently has a Gose, a Marzen, and a Pilsner on draft. And I’m pretty sure there is a brewery in Sylva that does nothing but German-style beer.

        • Nick

          Thank you so much for the list. I am really hoping not to single out any of the beers above. But speaking to 90% of what you’ve mentioned, they are simply not good beers. Some even embarrassingly bad. Again, please try a Jever for a reference point. -Nothing sugary/sweet, not hoppy, thirst quenching, goes with all food, dry, crisp, can have more than 2 without getting overwhelmed, delicious yet not “flavored”, amazing, great, etc etc

          *Blue Paddle, though truly incredible, is not going to be brewed in Asheville.

  11. Nick

    WAVL – I completely see both sides here. There is no right/wrong. But your comment about “memorable” is exactly the American mentality. We want to be remembered, we want to win contests, we want lots of Flavors, plenty of options, fireworks and parades.

    My love for simple beer comes from a purist mentality. I don’t need my ears blown back. I want my beer to blend in with the other things happening in my life; not to challenge my palette. And I have all but given up on this over hyped micro beer explosion. Once the ‘cool’ factor runs out – you’ll understand what I mean.

    *If you took a random 12 pack sampler from Asheville – and delivered it to a roomful of working class people in the Eastern World – you would be laughed out of the room. This is a hard concept to explain – but I’m trying my best and not trying to be rude!

    • WAVL

      But wasn’t the whole concept of the original letter that he wanted “memorable” beer? It was just the particular beer style he was remembering. The whole problem before craft beer was that all beer was bland and indistinguishable, you can still buy that. I personally think Weihenstephaner Original is pretty memorable, and it certainly is a traditional beer (oldest brewery in Germany.) Trappist beer is ancient and very memorable. And the standard pub beer in Europe is changing too!
      I think if you took your preferences and explained them to a bartender at any decent Asheville brewery, (and were willing to stretch past expecting exactly a Jever) they would recommend something you enjoyed.
      Anyway, didn’t mean to come off so snarky in my previous comment. Hope you keep drinking beer!

  12. Don

    I have to weigh in again…. hoping I wouldn’t have too…. but…… Nick is on spot here. The list that WAVL proffers is a complete listing of lagers -SO CALLED LAGERS- by all the fine breweries in Asheville…. thanks for that accurate accounting. In fact, 90% of them wouldn’t be recognized as lagers outside of Asheville…. certainly not in Europe. That, and they just are [again] almost uniformly over-hopped and bitter to the point of undrinkable. This isn’t rocket science…. this is brewing 101. Brevard Brewing has figured it out so I’m quite sure other breweries in WNC can as well. I’ve yet to try Twin Leaf but am going to make it a point to do so after reading Tim Weber’s letter in this thread… it’s been a longtime since I’ve even come close to enjoying the same Schwartzbier you can find in Germany and the Czech Republic.

  13. Don

    ….sorry, that should have read…. Nick is SPOT ON here….. typing, ugh ;) Anyway, I think WAVL is being a bit unnecessarily snarky when he suggests that Nick give up on American craft beer altogether. What Nick and the rest of us are giving up on is -hipsters raised on fruit loops- beer. In fact, we can’t get enough of well conceived and executed American craft beer! We appreciate everyone efforts here in Asheville… just voicing our thoughts and personal opinions. Sorry that is so very insulting to you there WAVL…. got that bro???

    • WAVL

      Perhaps my comment read as a bit snarky, I apologize – and I’m certainly not a hipster, or anyone’s “bro.” My listing of local lagers was far from complete, just off the top of my head, but dismissing 90% of them as bad is just, well, dismissive. I think the notion that American craft beer lovers (or should I say lovers of American-style craft beer) are just in it for the “cool” factor really misses the boat, as the movement has basically revitalized brewing and beer drinking all over the world. I thought the intent of the original letter writer was to decry the lack of lagers in Asheville, so I pointed out that many exist. But now it seems that the general argument from supporting opinions has been “we like one style of beer and everyone who is brewing or enjoying other styles of beer (or providing any variation to our one preferred style) doesn’t understand beer and are drinking ‘flavored’ beers that are expensive equivalents to Bud Lite Lime.” The whole basis for the explosion of craft beer are styles like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (a west coast hop take on an English-style and Sam Adams (a hoppy lager.) So if you really only enjoy German and Czech made pilsners (which should be moderately hoppy, btw, but just using noble hops), it does seems like you’re rejecting the notion of American craft beer. I’ve been brewing for years, drinking beer for understandably longer, and have travelled and had beer in plenty of other continents – and yes, I love the beer in this town and get a little amped up defending it.

    • WAVL

      Also, as the brewer from Twin Leaf pointed out, lager refers to all beers brewed with lager yeast, and not to any style. So I don’t know what a “SO CALLED LAGER” is…

  14. Don

    Lot’s of good points WAVL. I think in the end we are on the same page basically (we…. Nick, Mike and the rest of the commenters who do sincerely appreciate the efforts of the innovative brewers here in WNC; same page…. we all enjoy and are grateful for well crafted highly sessionable beers). And you are correct… it is way more than about just one style of beer here in Asheville and in the American craft beer movement…. thankfully. Those of us who really enjoy and are constantly in search of carefully and intentionally crafted European style lagers -that we would like to see more of made here in WNC by our local talented brewers- have made our point. (and sure…. we’re in a rut… albeit a delicious one ;) Let’s move on…. and all have a beer together sometime over at Twin Leaf. Thanks for the informative and civil reply…. much appreciated. Peace, brother!

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