Anything But the Blues in this Brewgrass
From noon to seven last Saturday, beer and bluegrass lovers from across the country descended upon craft beer’s favorite child at the moment—Asheville, NC—to enjoy the sixteenth annual Brewgrass festival. Though the event lasted for the good part of a day, eight minutes is the amount of time that it took to sell out of the 3,000 online tickets this year. And if the long entry line of happily waiting people or the group of friends that traveled from Massachusetts solely for the festival were any indication, those eight minutes were worth the entire day…and then some.
Hundreds, if not quite a thousand people stood in line before the gates opened at noon outside Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which is a short walk from downtown Asheville. After securing spots for their camping chairs and blankets in front of stage at one end of the grass field, beer enthusiasts flocked to the beer tents lining the outer perimeter of the city park.
The majority of the approximately forty breweries pouring were from within North Carolina and included hometown favorites Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co., Craggie Brewing Co., French Broad Brewing Co., Green Man Brewing Co., Highland Brewing Co., Lexington Avenue Brewery, Oyster House Brewing Co., Pisgah Brewing Co. and Wedge Brewing Co. Brewgrass is still one of the few times that Wedge owner Tim Schaller lets his Iron Rail IPA, or any of his fantastic beers, outside of his taproom in the River Arts District.
Wicked Weed Brewing Co., an Asheville brewpub-in-planning, received the biggest pre-festival buzz, and the resulting, yet deserved line in front of its tent showed for it. In addition to its Cucumber Cooler, a 5 percent ABV American golden ale with cucumber, basil and juniper berries, brothers Walt and Luke Dickinson (who recently finished his last day at Dogfish Head), along with their third partner, Ryan Guthy, poured their popular Freak double IPA and Transgressor West Coast imperial red. They commented the following day that at one point, over 175 people were in line for their beers. (Though my time in the line that snaked across the middle of the park was minimal, I never heard a single complaint from beer lovers anxious to try one of Asheville’s newest up-and-comers.)
Located an hour outside of the city in Morganton, NC, Catawba Valley Brewing Co. was also the talk of the festival. Among some of its other beers, the brewery brought its Loretta, a 7 percent ABV Belgian strong ale brewed with fresh cantaloupe and cayenne pepper, and its Arlo’s PB&J brown ale with roasted peanuts and raspberries. Like Funky Buddha’s No Crusts that I sampled at Brewvival in February, Arlo’s reminded me of my mom neatly slicing my sandwich into pillow-like triangles before school started for the day. Look for this beer at the Great American Beer Festival next month in Denver.
Brewing beer just south of the Tarheel State, South Carolina’s Holy City Brewing Co.’s Smoked Märzen also seemed to be a standout of Brewgrass. By adding smoked malt to a traditional German Märzen recipe, the brewery crafted a sweet, amber lager at 6.5 percent ABV with just enough campfire character to let you know that fall had arrived, even though the temperature reached 80 degrees on Saturday and left this beer writer with a red nose (from that fire ball in the sky, mind you).
Other than the wonderful beer and foot-stomping live music, perhaps what makes this festival special every year is how much fun everyone has. And I’m not just talking about attendees. Brewers, brewery owners and brewery representatives have the longest days at beer festivals, often having to serve the entire time to people who eventually end up asking for “your choice” or “whatever has the highest alcohol.” At the end of this day (and actually well into the next morning), however, all that personnel from a certain brewery building a rather large facility in the area had to say was how much fun they had pouring for their fans.