With spring in full swing, I made a weekend trip down to North Carolina for some R&R. With a rental cabin in the woods of the Nantahala National Forest, we spent two and a half days hiking the Bartram Trail and some smaller waterfalls in western North Carolina. While there, we took the time to sample some brews that we just can’t get here back in Pittsburgh and visited several of Asheville’s local breweries.
Driving in late on a Wednesday, we stopped at the Libation Station in Johnson City, TN to fuel up at least for the first day. Looking for something different, I was drawn to the words “Southern Pecan”. This offering is from Mississippi’s Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. and the beer is Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale. Our second choice was Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co’s Hop Project a rotating IPA.
The Lazy Magnolia is the big winner here : the flavor has notes of candy sugar, caramel, and bananana with the nutty finish. All of these flavors are balanced well with a malt bill that is not overwhelming. Serve at room temperature to really bring out the pecan flavor.
Thursday, we hiked 14 miles along the ridge line of the Bartram trail near Highlands, N.C.. As the mist rolled away in the early afternoon, we were lucky enough to catch beautiful glimpses of the new spring greenery in the valleys of the Nantahala. Just in time for lunch, we got some some fly-bys from the local hawk population.
Friday and Saturday we enjoyed many shorter hikes among the waterfalls and relaxing in our cabin’s hot tub. We were lucky enough to come across several 6 packs of Abita Strawberry Harvest Ale. Devotees of TDY, may be familiar with this brew even though it’s nearly impossible to get here in Pennsylvania. It is quite possibly one of the best fruit beers in existence. Not nearly as over top as most entries in the genre. It has a slight hint of strawberry that still manages to taste like beer, perfect for the summertime.
We finally made it to Asheville late Saturday afternoon in time for the 4 PM brewery tour at Highland Brewing Co. Anymore, I skip the brewery tours because most of them are the same and not too informative. The Highland Brewery’s tour was probably the best tour I have ever been on. There was a good amount of free samples, but they didn’t just rush us through the brewing process. The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the brewing process and just general beer knowledge (and she wasn’t even a brewer). I learned several little tidbits and we got excellent access to the actual brewery’s equipment. We were able to try all of Highland’s year-round brews: Terese’s Pale Ale, Gaelic Ale, Kashmir IPA, Oatmeal Porter, and Mocha Stout.
The Gaelic Ale is Highland’s best seller. A balanced beer that leans a bit more to the malty side but with some nice cascade hop character. I was pleasantly surprised by the pale ale. St Terese’s does not have a tone of flavorful but is a light, drinkable pale with just a touch of dryness and hop bitterness. The Kashmir IPA is a British style IPA (read as light on the hops) and not really worth the effort for hopheads. My wife thoroughly enjoyed the Oatmeal porter which mixes the roasted oat flavor on top of sweet, malty base.
We made our way towards downtown Asheville and Green Man Brewery : a small craft brewery that fits entirely in an old gas station. On this early spring day, the garage doors are up and the pretzels are free. Green Man has a bit of an irreverent vibe and reminds me of the Lucky Lab in Portland. We went through a sampler of 4 beers : IPA, ESB, Porter, and a cask IPA. The IPA was crisp and bitter but somewhat light; a less bitter version of 60 min. IPA The scene stealer at Green Man is the Cask IPA which brings out flowery aroma and flavor of the hops. The oak aging really softens the bitterness of the IPA and makes for a much more complex flavor profile.
We wrapped up the night with pizza and a sampler at the Asheville Brewing Co. The pizza was fantastic although the beer did not blow us away. The highlights were Red Light Ale and Shiva’s IPA. On the way out of town, we stopped at Bruisin Ales to pick up several special bottles to bring back home.