Carolina Brewsfest and Half Marathon


I was up bright and early on the morning of May 2 preparing myself mentally for the task of completing a half marathon followed by Carolina Brewsfest, a six-hour beer fest.  Crazy, right!!?? but it was a beautiful spring day, so I made good use of it.

Let me first say that my half marathon performance was NOT pretty to say the least.  I had no idea that High Point, NC was actually ON a mountain!  I have never in my life completed such a hilly course!  This was my 4th half marathon, so I have learned a few things in my treks thus far, but I was not at all prepared for this one.  Months of bronchitis kept me from training AT ALL…literally 6 miles of running done in the six months prior to this half marathon.  I was determined to finish this race!  After all, I DID have on my Beer Vixen tank!  Thank goodness I had my bestie, Jones, with me to pull me through.

IMG_1475IMG_1474Yes…in all of our post-race glory, the Beer Vixens (AKA Casino Vixens) crossed the finish line before being picked up by the cart of shame (this is a golf cart/car/any vehicle that rides at the back of the race to pick up those who will not finish before designated cut off time).  NEVER….I’d die. After our exciting race, it was time to move on to better things….BEER!!  Home for a quick shower and back to the beer fest we went!

IMG_1460Beer fest day was also Kentucky Derby day, so we had to pay homage with our fun hats.  We arrive to the beer fest around 1, fashionably about an hour late.  To my dismay, some breweries and/or tables were already packed up or out of beer!  Really!!??

The selection of food trucks at the event was AMAZING!! I tried the Korean tacos from Bulkogi Truck.  DELICIOUS amazingness and it was quick, which was a bonus after I just trekked 13.1 miles.  Some of the food trucks had food wait times of half an hour or more.  I got mine right away.  I grabbed a table in the VIP area and dove into my amazing tacos, wholeheartedly hoping no one would shoo me away from the tables since I was not a VIP.  I then took my tiny 2 ounce

I was able to try several new brews that made me very happy. Participating breweries included: Gibb’s Hundred, Bombshell Beer Company, Hi-Wire Brewing, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Steel String Craft Brewery, Liberty Brewery, D9 Brewing Company, The Unknown Brewing Company, Fortnight Brewing Company, Frog Level Brewing Company, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Pig Pounder Brewery, BruePrint Brewing Company, Flat Top Brewing Company, Carolina Brewing, and Dirtbag Ales.

A few favorites of the day:

Bombshell Brewing Company Lemongrass Pale Ale -These ladies are awesome!! Bombshell was founded and is run by 3 lovely ladies in Holly Springs, NC. I found myself back in this line many times throughout the day.

Fortnight ESB-  Head Brewer,  Derek Garman, was kind enough (even amongst all the crowds) to talk to me a bit about the brewery and the beers.  I am looking forward to my first visit to Fortnight as well!

Frog Level Cinco Ranas Picante- Yes, I know I just talked about this beer in my last Asheville post, but I love it!  It’s spicy and as you all know, I like it HOT!  I was glad to see this beer again because I had already consumed my growler at home and thought I had seen the last of this one until my next trek West.

At the conclusion of the festival, we discovered a statue of jazz legend John Coltrane right by the parking area, so we couldn’t resist a picture with him!

IMG_1461All in all, a decent festival, great venue, great beer, and lots of fun.  The band, Disco Lemonade, was AMAZING and kept us dancing all day long.

And just when you think you’ve reached your fill of fun for the day….you spot this guy!!!  Had to snap a picture with this scary beast.  A great ending to a most FABULOUS day!

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Geeks n Taps Epic Hook-Up….Beer + Chocolate

On Monday, May 11, Geeks n Taps hosted another exciting sciencey-beer event called Epic Hookups, where 6 Foothills Brewing beers were paired with various chocolates from Black Mountain Chocolate and Twenty Degrees Chocolates. As we tasted the pairings, the “geeks” traveled from table to table entertaining and wowing participants with chocolate-related science experiments.


The ultimate goal of the beer and chocolate pairings was to find a beer that complimented the chocolate or vice versa. Both beer and chocolate strive to balance sweetness and bitterness.  The bitterness in beer comes from the hops, while the bitterness of the chocolate comes from the cacao.  The challenge in pairing is to find the proper balance between sweetness and bitterness while finding flavor profiles that work in harmony. It is important to understand and recognize the flavors of both partners, the chocolate (or any other food) and the beer before just throwing two things together on a whim.

Prior to the tasting, a small group (including Foothill’s pub brewer, David Gonzalez, Geeks n Taps founder, Pat Phelps, Brent Peters, chocolate maker for Black Mountain Chocolates, Nikki Miller-Ka of Nik Snacks, and yours truly, the Barrel Aged Babe) tasted a variety of Foothills brews in an effort to select the best pairings for the event. This meeting of the minds produced a great list of beer and chocolate pairings for Monday’s event.

How to Taste

Yes, there is a method to the madness.  It’s not a simple as piling a bunch of chocolate candies in your mouth and washing it down with a cold brew.  There is actually a technique that will help you appreciate both flavors independently, as well as together. If you’re not handed a magical pairing pre-selected for your tasting pleasure, here are a few steps that will help!

1. Taste the beer.  REALLY taste the beer.  Appreciate and take note of the flavors you taste.  SMELL the beer–no, sniffing your glass is not reserved only for the wine-o’s. Take notice of how the beer feels in your mouth, how it starts, how it finishes, and what flavors may only be noticeable at mid-palate. Begin to recognize characteristics, such as hoppiness (bitterness), alcohol content, and amount of carbonation.  The ability to recognize and appreciate these factors will come with time and practice.  It will also come with an increased mindfulness of these characteristics.

2. Taste the chocolate.  Notice how it feels in your mouth.  Does it coat your whole mouth?  Does it feel dry? Let it melt slightly on your tongue and allow the flavors to gently cover your tongue. Determine what flavors are present in the chocolate–which can be either sweet, bitter, or include other flavors (such as salt, fruit, coffee.)

3. Discuss. If you’re tasting with friends, share your thoughts.  Someone might mention a flavor they noticed that you did not.  In that case, sample again and see if you can also pick this flavor up. Tasting should be a fun experience, so share your thoughts and observations with friends!

4. Use what you’ve learned and ENJOY!! Now that you have an idea of how the beer and chocolate taste independently and you’ve talked with friends and perhaps recognized new characteristics, it is time to taste.  First, try taking a sip of beer, then placing a small piece of chocolate in your mouth.  Notice how the flavors either compliment one another, or possibly repel one another.  Believe me…if you’ve found flavors that clash, you’ll know it!  After taking mental note of this sequence of flavors, try the reverse.  Place a small piece of chocolate in your mouth and slightly chew, then pour beer over it.  The flavors will surprisingly be a little different.  The fats in the chocolate change your mouth slightly by coating it, so you may notice the flavor pairing tastes slightly different.


Pairing 1:  Twenty Degrees OMG! + People’s Porter

Twenty Degrees OMG!, a caramel truffle topped with sea salt, was paired with Foothills People’s Porter.  Porters generally have a malty, chocolate flavor with notes of caramel and an ever-so-slight herbal bitterness.  The caramel and chocolate paired nicely with the porter, however the sea salt atop the truffle was very overpowering.  At times, I felt like I had a mouth full of salt (but keep in mind, I am not a salt lover). This pairing did not work for my palate.

Pairing 2:  Twenty Degrees Basil Orange + Hoppyum–MY FAVORITE!!

Twenty Degrees Basil Orange, a truffle with an oozy orange-basil fondant inside and topped with a small piece of candied orange peel, was paired with Foothills’ unofficial flagship beer, Hoppyum. The creaminess of the chocolate provided a nice balance to the citrusy Simcoe hop of the Hoppyum. This pairing is truly a match made in heaven!!

Fun facts about Hoppyum:

  • Hops include a blend of Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus; with a dry-hopped finish of Simcoe hops.
  • Hoppyum’s name was originally Kind IPA, however there was a dispute regarding the name, as kind is the name of an illicit bud, so….Foothills changed the name to Hopium
  • But alas, Hopium was also not an appropriate name, as the word “opium” is included in the word and lest we not mislead the public!
  • And finally, Foothills decided on the new spelling of Hoppyum.  A great name for a great beer that is both Hoppy and YUM!!

Pairing 3:  Black Mountain Milk Chocolate + Foothills Doppelbock

The Black Mountain Milk Chocolate, which is made from goat milk and 70% Cacao Dominican chocolate, was paired with Foothills seasonal Doppelbock, part of their High Gravity Lager series. At a hefty 8%, the Doppelbock was an excellent match for the creamy and slightly bitter milk chocolate.  The creamy, mouthcoating taste of the milk chocolate paved the way for the malty Doppelbock.  This pairing was a very close second for my favorite!

Pairing 4:  Black Mountain Milk Chocolate + Foothills Strawberry Blonde Ale

The Black Mountain Milk Chocolate, which is made from goat milk and 70% Cacao Dominican chocolate, was paired with Foothills Strawberry Blonde Ale, a crisp cream ale with pureed strawberry added.  Milk chocolate and strawberries…a match made in heaven, right!!??  OR NOT!  This pairing was selected to demonstrate the cacophony of flavors that can exist when things seem like they might go together, or the pairing is not well thought out. If you would like to taste an example of what NOT to do, go for it.  Your taste buds will not be happy!

Pairing 5:  Black Mountain Dark Chocolate + Foothills Maibock

Black Mountain’s Dark Chocolate, made from 70% cacao, was paired with Foothills Maibock. Maibock is Foothills’ spring seasonal brew and has floral, lemony notes with toasted-bread maltiness to balance the flavors. Another excellent complimentary pairing!

Pairing 5:  Black Mountain Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt + Foothills Hoppy Medium

Black Mountain’s Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, made from 70% cacao, was paired with Foothills Hoppy Medium.  The sea salt in the chocolate was subtle, so it did not overpower the chocolate or the pairing. Hoppy Medium, another seasonal brew from Foothills, is an Imperial Brown Ale which is exactly as it sounds–a hoppy medium between an IPA and brown ale.  This unique beer paired alongside the dark chocolate with sea salt created a harmonious blend of malty and bitter goodness.

M&M Science Experiment:  What happens when you place an M&M of each color in a Petri dish and cover with water?


One M&M of each color was added to a Petri dish of water and our table made predictions as to what would happen.  Hypotheses included:  colors will all mix together, the color will stay on M&M, and the M&Ms will melt.

After about a minute…the colors began to migrate to each side of the M&M.

6After about 4 minutes, the colors formed their own barriers to one another.  The sugar (AKA color) from the M&Ms dissociated from their chocolaty centers.  The osmotic pressure exerted from each sugar (color) met the pressure from its neighboring sugar (color) until the osmotic pressure equalized.  Once the pressure equalized, the colors no longer needed to move in order to reach equilibrium.

7And just for fun, we also tossed a few M&Ms into a cup of water where they were completely submerged.  After about 15 minutes…

1The M floated to the top of the water.  This is due to the composition of the M itself. It is made of cocoa butter, which caused it to float to the top based on the relative densities of the water and fat.

Chocolate Nucleation Experiment:

In order to learn more about the make-up of chocolate, we dropped a few chocolate squares into a glass of beer.

3As the squares settled into the beer, bubbles began to form on the exterior of the squares.  The bubbles that escaped from the chocolate were gas bubbles trapped in the chocolate.  The bubbles continued to grow larger until eventually all the gas was released and the chocolate square floated to the top.  The dark chocolate squares took longer to float because dark chocolate is more dense than the milk chocolate.

2Which chocolate will melt first–white, milk, or dark chocolate?

In order to determine which chocolate would melt first, we placed one piece of each chocolate atop a heating pad.

8The table predicted that the white chocolate would melt first because white chocolate is not chocolate at all (MYTH debunked below); however the milk chocolate melted first. The faster melting point was based on the makeup of the milk chocolate and amount of fat contained in milk chocolate.

FACT:  White chocolate DOES exist!  I was lucky enough to share a table with Black Mountain Chocolate’s Chocolatier, Megan Peters.  She is an amazingly talented and knowledgeable pastry-chef-turned-chocolatier and daughter of chocolate maker, Brent Peters.  Megan informed the table that white chocolate really DOES exist, however it is extremely rare to find real white chocolate.  The hunt is now on!  Challenge accepted!

9Megan LOVES her Cacao Beans!

Other Fun Chocolate Tidbits

Brent Peters, chocolate maker for Black Mountain Chocolates, gave us a Cliffs-notes version of the process of chocolate making as we tasted.  I learned several new facts about chocolate and the cacao seed.  When first harvested, the cacao seed actually tastes more like an olive than chocolate.


Long ago, Cacao seeds were very valuable assets and were actually used as a form of currency. Then…..Brent laid it on us….CHOCOLATE AND BEER ARE COUSINS!! He explained this familial connection by explaining the process of beer making alongside the process of chocolate making.  There were several parallels in the two processes.  Yeast is used in the processing of both chocolate and beer.  Yeast creates the heat necessary for fermentation.  The fermentation process of chocolate turns the olive flavor of the cacao to the chocolate flavor we know and love.

If this sounds like fun to you, come out to the next Geeks n Taps event!

Beer + Science = FUN!!

The Marriage of Food and Beer

Do you consider which beer to drink with an everyday dinner? If not, you could be missing out on the ULTIMATE palate pleaser!  With the growth of the craft beer market and the farm to table movement, there are more options than ever to combine the intricate flavor profiles of craft brews with amazing menus featuring local produce and fresh herbs.  Pairing beer with food is much like pairing wine and food.  It is important to consider the flavor profiles of both the food and the beer–factors such as spice, fruit, and weight are important when thinking about the meal and the accompanying beverage.  You brew of choice should compliment, not overpower, the meal.

I paired a bourbon glazed meatloaf with a Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad with cherries a few months ago.  This was an amazing combination!  See more about this pairing on my National Spicy Food Day post.

photoI always try to keep a good variety of beer in my beer collection, and I appreciate all beer styles.  This makes it easy for me to consider a recipe, consider beer styles, and choose a perfect pairing.

Mongolian Chicken + Left Hand Brewing Good JuJu Ginger Spice Ale

I was in the mood for Chinese, so I pulled out a recipe from my GIGANTIC binder-o-recipes and selected a Mongolian Chicken recipe for dinner.  I am a big fan of Mongolian beef, so I decided to give the chicken a whirl.  The recipe was super easy, which is always a plus!  It also gave me a chance to grab some ginger and green onions from the local farmers market.  I was planning to use both of these to propagate my own ginger root plant and green onion supply at home.  I will keep you posted on my ginger growing as it progresses. I chose Good Juju to pair with this dish because they both contain ginger.  Ginger can be a powerful spice at times and overpower both a beer or a meal, but in this case, the amount of ginger in both was well-balanced.


The dish did turn out a little salty, so in the future, I will use low-sodium soy instead of regular sodium.  If you like salt, use the regular soy, however be aware that it may overpower your dish.  The Good Juju was a great balance, with a slight malt and fresh, subtle hops–definitely a great spring beer!


Left Hand Brewing also just released Great JuJu, which is… guessed it!  An Imperial Ginger.  This beer boasts an ABV of 7.2% and is equally well-balanced as its younger sibling, Good JuJu. Great JuJu is a little heavier in body, so take this into consideration when enjoying it with a meal. I paired this beer with Orange Balsamic Grilled Chicken Thighs and some spring veggies from the Jamestown Farmers Market.  Using dark meat chicken was a great idea with this beer, as it was able to hold up to the slightly heavier body of this Imperial.  The spice of the orange balsamic glaze (influenced by the addition of crushed red pepper) was a perfect compliment for the spicy ginger in the Great JuJu.  Another great match!


Epic Hookups with Geeks-n-Taps

Monday,May 11,  I will be attending Geeks-n-Taps Epic Hookup event at Foothills Brewery. The event will feature 6 beer and chocolate pairings, along with several cool science experiments involving chocolate and beer. If you haven’t gotten your ticket yet, click HERE and use code YUM to get $7 off.  This is an event you won’t want to miss!!  I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of the inner circle of geeks and geniuses who created these pairings.  I’m pretty proud of our pairings.  You’ll never look at chocolate and beer the same!



Another Round of Asheville….and the Outskirts

Last weekend, I took another jaunt to Asheville to visit another few breweries and restaurants because….well, I love to drink beer and eat!  Friday on the way into town, I braved the trek across Highway 321 over to Lenoir, NC to visit what I hoped would be 2 breweries.  My first scheduled stop was Loe’s Brewing Company. which, judging by the name, should have been a brewery, right!!? Much to my disappointment, this brewery and gastropub, which has been open since 2010, did not have any of their own beer.  REALLY??!!!  Of course, they will have some next week…  Very convenient for those who have traveled almost an hour off the beaten path to visit the little town of Lenoir.


Luckily Howard Brewing, just around the corner, was open AND had beer. Howard offered 7 unique beers, ranging from an Apple Ale, brewed with apples from a local orchard, to a beer that was made from a recipe dating back to 1795 handwritten by General Lenoir himself.

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My favorite of the day was Dubbel Secret Probation, a beer brewed in the style of a Belgian Dubbel, but hopped like an American IPA via El Dorado hops. Dubbel Secret Probation was brewed in collaboration with Ivory Tower Brewing, a brewery and teaching facility at Appalachian State University. Highly recommend this one if you’re near Lenoir.

A few helpful hints if you’re visiting Howard…they serve half pours, in case a sample is what you seek.  Also, there is an open room above the brewery, so be aware that it could be very noisy.  In my case, an entire roomful of children were running around above us, so it sounded like a herd of elephants stampeding back and forth above the taproom. Aside from that distraction, the staff were friendly and inviting the beers were good.

Juicy Lucy’s Burger Bar and Grill


Next up….dinner at Juicy Lucy’s Burger Bar and Grill in Asheville, NC.  This burger joint is almost always packed, and rightfully so!  This was my second visit to this amazing restaurant and I have been pleased each time.  This time, I selected the “It’s So Gouda I Can Hardly Stand It,” a juicy burger topped with generous amounts of melted smoked Gouda cheese, crisp Applewood smoked bacon, and screamin’ sauce, a Juicy Lucy’s original sauce.  Huge, crisp onion rings with a side of chipotle ranch made a perfect partner for my burger. Juicy Lucy’s also has an extensive selection of craft beers that are reasonably priced.  If you’re in Asheville and want a great burger, go try Juicy Lucy’s!

I also want to give a quick shout out to Keenan Kulp, a guy I met randomly while shopping the beer section of Ingles Friday evening.  We talked about beer and he asked my opinion on a few. As we talked, I learned that he has a hot sauce company in Asheville, Fire on the Mountain.  Of course, you know I’m a sucker for hot sauces…especially homemade ones from local ingredients.  Keenan’s Sweet Heat sauce can be found at many local restaurants, co-ops and markets, so look for his sauces around town.

Saturday Road Trip

On Saturday, I had every intention of driving to the furthest brewery in Western North Carolina, but an extended trip to the Goodwill in Asheville put a bit of a time crunch in my schedule, so I decided that Sylva, NC was the furthest West I would traverse.  Although I have visited Innovation Brewing in Sylva before, I love the brewery and wanted to revisit.



As always, Innovation had a board full of interesting and delicious beer.  On this occasion, I tasted the Double IPA, Honey Lavendar Saison, Ginger Pale Ale, Soulvation IPA, Spaceman Pale, Blackberry Wheat, Grand Cru, Sour Blonde Ale, and Sour Red Ale. I was especially looking forward to the honey lavendar saison, made from local honey and lavendar–sounded like a match made in heaven and perfect for spring. It was bright and refreshing with well-balanced notes of floral and honey.  I’ll have to say my favorite of the day was the Sour Blonde Ale.


Although I LOVE sours, this one is mild enough to be approachable for the masses who might be afraid of a sour, and also has very nice oaky notes.  I do like my beers a bit more sour, but this was excellent!

Frog Level Brewing, Waynesville, NC


After leaving Sylva, I headed east to the cozy town of Waynesville.  There are 4 breweries in this small town, however I only visited three this trip, since I had already visited Tipping Point.  As soon as I walked into Frog Level, I immediately fell in love.  The brewery had open back doors leading to a huge deck and an amazing view of the water.  Next door is a coffee shop, Panacea, that serves sandwiches, salads, and local ice cream from Ultimate in Asheville.



Of the 7 beers on tap, my favorite was Cinco Ranas Picante (5 Frogs) because I like my beer with some heat.  Another great seasonal currently on tap is Popsmoke Pilsner, a pilsner with a great smoky flavor. I loved the Cinco so much, I had to bring a growler of it home!  I can’t wait to have this alongside a juicy burger topped with jalapenos!


Boojum Brewing Company, Waynesville, NC

In the quaint little downtown area of Waynesville, a gem of a brewery and taproom can be found–Boojum Brewing Company.  In case you’re wondering (because I did), “What in the world is a Boojum?” you’re in luck….owners Woody and Corrine Baker took the time to sit with me while I enjoyed my flight and tell me the legend of the Boojum.

IMG_5766The Boojum, described as a cross between a bigfoot and a mountain man, is a legendary creature who inhabited the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina in the early 1800s. The Boojum, at almost 9 feet tall, was rumored to live in a huge cave, was known for consuming large amounts of Pert’nin juice (a mountain brew) and stealing gems from local miners.  The Boojum hid his treasures in jugs all along the mountainside, for fear they would be taken while he was out drinking or looting. According to legend, many people sought the Boojum’s gems–some were lucky enough to find a treasure-filled jug, while others were not so fortunate and met up with the Boojum face-to-face.

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After many years, the tales of the Boojum faded and he remained a Smoky Mountain legend.  Now, you can visit Boojum and enjoy several great mountain brews in downtown Waynesville, NC. While you’re in, please speak to the Bakers!  They were very warm and genuine hosts!

My favorite beers from Boojum included the Raspberry Saison and the Belgian IPA.


Bearwaters Brewing Company, Waynesville, NC


My final stop in Waynesville was Bearwaters Brewing Company, where I tasted all 9 brews available.  Of the 9 beers, several of them seemed weak and watered down, but I did enjoy the Mango Lager and the Bearded Bear (Stout on Nitro).

IMG_1404After the tour of Western North Carolina, it was time for some dinner in Asheville.  I decided to try White Duck Taco Shop, upon several recommendations.  I was VERY pleased with this choice!.

White Duck Taco Shop, Asheville, NC

First of all, they boasted their watermelon sangria as “world famous,” so of course I had to try!! Don’t judge, but I ordered SEVERAL tacos because I could not just pick one.


I ordered the Mole’ Roasted Duck, Steak and Cheese, Jerk Chicken, Bangkok Shrimp, and Korean Beef Bulgogi. My favorite, hands down, was the Mole’ Roasted Duck. Note:  you will get 2 tortillas for each taco and there is MORE than enough goodies inside to make 2 tacos from 1, so plan for that when you order.  Although the line was out the door when I arrived, I was served quickly and the food came out fast.

After dinner, it was time to explore more of Asheville, so off to Thirsty Monk!

Thirsty Monk Pub and Brewery, Asheville, NC

Thirsty Monk has an upstairs and downstairs bar with different offerings at each bar. They have a great selection of beer, as well as several brews of their own.  While at the Monk, I tasted the Cherry Gose, Easy Gose, CocoNorm (coconut porter), and St. Norm Hopped Tripel.  I enjoyed all these beers, but the Cherry Gose was my favorite of Thirsty Monk’s offerings, with CocoNorm at a close second.


One World Brewing, Asheville, NC

One World Brewing is located down an alleyway between Farm Burger (one of my favorites) and Salsa’s Mexican Caribbean. Before entering, you must pass through this door, with a cute little peephole, just like one you may see at a speakeasy.  If they’re not at capacity, you are invited to walk downstairs into the dimly lit brewery.

One World offers ten beers on tap.  Since this was not my first visit to One World, I only had a beer instead of my usual flight of everything.  I decided on the To the Head Red IPA and moved on after one.  While at One World, I gave the bouncer a hard time about his serious face, which resulted in this photo….


My final stop of the night was Wicked Weed.  As I have mentioned before, I am not the biggest fan of Wicked Weed, not because of the beer, but because of their operations. This visit was no different than my usual frustrations.

Wicked Weed, Asheville, NC

12:50am…enter Wicked Weed intending to head to the downstairs taproom when I am greeted by a friendly door attendant who informed me I could go downstairs, but I would only have 15 minutes to grab a drink.  Hmmm, let’s do the math here:  it’s 12:50am, POSTED hours are til 2am for both upstairs and downstairs, so how does that equate to 15 minutes?  As promised, after 15 minutes, I, along with other patrons, were hustled upstairs to the restaurant area, where there was limited seating at the bar due to the fact that almost every chair in the place had already been placed atop tables for cleaning. Leave it to Wicked Weed…always welcoming!  I do love their beer and usually the people I’m with like to go there, so I suck up my feelings about how they treat people and go enjoy the beer.


On this occasions, I tried the Melisseus Honey Lavendar Ale…coming full circle from my start 13 hours earlier at Innovation with the Honey Lavendar Saison. Of course, Wicked Weed’s Melisseus was fabulous!!


Biscuit Head, Asheville, NC

If you’re in the mood for an unforgettable breakfast, head to Biscuit Head in Asheville!  When I looked at the menu, I was a bit overwhelmed. So many great choices, how’s a girl to choose?  I finally decided on the mimosa fried chicken biscuit …a gigantic cat-head biscuit topped with fried chicken, sriracha slaw, a poached egg, and sweet potato butter paired with a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ.  Sounds like a strange combination, I know, but it was unbelievably good!!


As if the biscuit was not enough….they have an entire line of house-made hot sauces and butters to slather on your breakfast or lunch.  I sampled all the hot sauces and most of the butters.  My favorite butter was the bananas foster.


On your way home, you can pick up a bottle of the hot sauces or even a large Mason jar of the biscuit mix itself!  They also serve gluten-free biscuits.  My sister-in-law tried one and was ecstatic to find a gluten-free biscuit that did not taste like cardboard.


Since I was only able to order one item, I had to steal a few bites from my family, who joined me for breakfast.  The maple sriracha sausage was excellent!  I will try that on a biscuit next time for sure!  The jalapeno bacon was also to die for!  If you like grits, the smoked Chevre grits will keep you coming back for more!  Biscuit Head was one of THE best breakfasts I have ever had.  This will remain on my list for each and every trip to Asheville!

Overall, a fun and productive trip to Asheville.  I met some great new people, had great beer, as always, and added a few more breweries to the list of accomplishments.  I have now visited 113 breweries since April 1, 2013!!


Moo and Brew Fest…What More Could a Beer-Drinking Carnivore Want??


Creative Loafing’s First Moo and Brew Fest was on April 11 at NC Music Factory in Charlotte, NC. The event featured a VIP tasting from 12-2 and a General Tasting from 2-6 where attendees could sample unlimited tastes of beer from over 20 breweries and bottle shops and purchase slider samples, which ranged in price from $2-$3.  Restaurants competed for the coveted title of Creative Loafing Best Burger Charlotte.  Attendees were given a ticket to vote for their favorite burger.  Each representative restaurant prepared two of their best burgers for a mass of hungry attendees.  The burgers selection included many creative concoctions, including burgers made with bison, livermush, pulled pork, and brisket.

At the end of the day, my vote went to Bang Bang Burgers and hubby voted for Heist Brewery–we wanted to give our favorite two burgers a shot at the win.  Heist Brewery served their Burger Burger Burger slider, a meaty treat comprised of brisket, porterhouse tail, and chuck, topped with jalapeno bacon jam, herbed goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and pork belly brioche.  Hungry yet??  If so, get your taste buds ready for Bang Bang’s burger– a juicy  pimento cheese burger served with a DELICIOUS side of sweet potato chips topped with a magical maple drizzle. At the end of the day, Bang Bang Burgers was the champion.

The selection of beer was adequate and there was enough beer to last through the entire event. I was excited to try a few new breweries I had not yet sampled, such as Sugar Creek Brewery, The Barking Duck Brewing Company, and Sycamore Brewing. There were several bottle shops that had tents, where they poured a variety of beers ranging from Foothills Sexual Chocolate to Bell’s HopSlam.  One of the friendliest bottle shop vendors was Robert Burrage of Lil’ Robert’s Place in Concord. I had to snap a pic with him!  Notice behind us, he has his own sticker made in his likeness.  What a great guy!


Just before I left for the day, I found a new, fun line of wine spritzers from Barefoot called Refresh.  These semi-bubbly beverages are available in several flavors and are perfect for an afternoon relaxing on the porch.

All in all, the Moo and Brew Fest was a fun event with lots of great vendors and beer.  I did find the tickets a bit pricey at $50 each, especially when the sliders had to be purchased separately.



And….the updates continue!  Here’s a recap of my adventures for the month of March.  I attended some great events, so enjoy the journey!


Geeks-n-Taps, Foothills Brewery, Winston Salem, NC

On March 9, I attended the Hip Hops event hosted by Geeks-N-Taps.  During this event, I gained a new understanding of the intricacies of hops.  The flow of this event was much better than the first, as the group was divided into two separate seating times.  This allowed participants to have more time at the stations to interact with the scientists. The stations at this event included a table featuring local hops farmer Ben Sunderman of Cedar Ridge Hops Farm in Lewisville, NC.  Cedar Ridge Hops Farm provides fresh, hand-harvested hops to several breweries along the East Coast.


At another table, I was able to taste 9 different hops (Sorachi Ace, Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo, Chinook, Hull Melon, Nelson Sauvin, Fuggle and Cascade), each of which I mixed in a cup of Carolina Blonde to taste the differences between the hops. With each sample, I took time to appreciate both the taste and aromas of each hop. Other adventures included sampling a skunked beer and comparing to a non-skunked beer; randalling beers with selected ingredients, such as anise or cinnamon; and guessing the ABV and IBUs of a few beer samples. It was a fun and educational evening…and the best part was that I was able to drink while learning!  I am looking forward to the next event offering!


All Ale to the Queen Beer Festival, Charlotte, NC

March 28, Amos’ Southend hosted All Ale to the Queen beer festival, which boasted 2 tasting sessions with over 1700 attendees.  Imagine craft beer + beer competitions + a carnival.  That describes my experience at All Ale to the Queen.  The location was an ideal spot for this event, with two floors of craft brews, food samples, artisan crafts, and 2 stages featuring aerialists, midget performances, live music, hula hoopers, and belly dancers.  Although there were many attendees at this event, it did not feel crowded and there seemed to be enough beer to go around for all.  Some new and noteworthy breweries that were in attendance included Thirsty Nomad, Ass Clown, Granite Falls, Carolina Bauernhaus, and Blind Squirrel, just to name a few. The festival also featured a Queen’s Twin Challenge, where homebrewers attempted to replicate known brews. I was quite impressed with the quality and likeness of these brews.  This was a great event!  No wonder it is listed as one of the top beer festivals in the US by Beer Yeti and Beer Fests.

One of my FAVORITE food samples was the hummus.  There were 9 delicious flavors of ROOTS hummus available for sampling.  My favorites were the mango sriracha and Thai coconut curry. These yummy, locally-made packages of hummus are available in the Charlotte area and at fine retailers such as Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, EarthFare, and Ingles.


While at the festival, I was fortunate enough to meet and talk with NC Beer Guys.  I love these guys’ site and I frequent it often to find out about breweries in NC, upcoming festivals and events, and other fun beer info.


Cardinal Directions Beer Festival, Carrboro, NC

Oh yes I did go to 2 beer festivals in 1 weekend….and Sunday, March 29, I attended the inaugural Cardinal Directions Beer Festival in the parking lot of Steel String Brewery.  Proceeds from the festival benefitted Farmer Foodshare, a local hunger relief organization. For a mere $12, one could sample 5 different beers, with additional tickets available for $1. The event featured over a dozen local craft breweries boasting their freshest spring seasonals.  Five Orange County breweries including Mystery Brewing, Steel String, Carolina Brewery, Top of the Hill, and Starpoint, participated in a collaboration beer, where each brewery took the same recipe and put their own spin on it.  It was great to see the creativity and innovation displayed by these brewers.


A few of my favorite beers from the day included a Sweet Tea Saison from Raleigh Brewing and Year of the Wood Goat by Fonta Flora, a unique beer brewed with Charleston Gold and aged on Tumeric and Miso.

Private Open House, Copper Barrel Distillery, North Wilkesboro, NC


I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to the Private Open House for Copper Barrel Distillery in North Wilkesboro on March 30. I was very excited to try one of the newest moonshines to hit the North Carolina market before the location opened on April 11. Among the attendees were city officials, other media representatives, and community friends and family.  We were greeted with a delicious array of hors d’oeuvres to accompany moonshine samples.

Located within a historical site which houses Key City Furniture’s wood-fired boiler (which is located within the facility), Copper Barrel is full of character and a look into the history of Main Street.


The interior and exterior of the facility emit an ambiance and character that reminds you of an old friend.  The history and distinctive character of Copper Barrel is reminiscent of the roots of Wilkes County, the Moonshine Capital of America.


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Copper Barrel prides itself on making 100% moonshine, which is distilled using local, North Carolina grains and produce.  Copper Barrel’s line of moonshines includes White Lightning (pure moonshine) and blueberry currently, however they plan to also produce red cherry, black cherry, strawberry and apple pie flavors soon.  Copper Barrel’s fruit moonshines are not sweet like other flavored moonshines I have tried.


The entire process, including bottling, takes place in the facility.  The bottles are filled manually by one of the Copper Barrel staff.

I got a chance to catch up with Buck Nance, master distiller and the heart of the distillery. Buck is a second-generation distiller who has been a part of the moonshine business since he was 8 years old.  Buck remembers helping his father haul bags of sugar needed for the moonshine. The equipment Buck’s family used was the first distilling equipment in America run by steam. Buck’s father saw the equipment design while in the service in Germany.  He wrote down notes on how the equipment was designed and from his notes, he crafted the first steam powered distilling equipment.  The equipment in Copper Barrel is fashioned after his father’s design and skillfully mastered by Jeff Davis, a local craftsman who literally welded the entire facility together piece by piece.


Copper Barrel produces over 200 gallons of shine a day in its 650-gallon still.  Copper Barrel Distillery is a true combination of the history of moonshining in Wilkes County, the best of NC local ingredients, and a piece of the Nance family distilling heritage. The distillery is now open for business and welcomes visitors to sample moonshine and enjoy an afternoon on the front porch in a comfy rocking chair.


Yes, Barrel Aged Babe has been very busy these past few months!  Stay tuned for tales of my April Adventures!


And After a Long Hiatus….She’s Back!! Many Adventures to Share from February 2015

Feels like it has been months since I posted….and it has!  After a nasty few months of winter and being pounded with snow, several cases of bronchitis, and my capstone project for my MBA, I am back! Never fear…I also had some fun during those months, including a few Chili Cookoffs, brewery visits, a distillery grand opening, and several beer festivals.  So, without further delay, here’s a whirlwind tour of the past few months, beginning with a February post!

Chili Cook-off at Beer Study, Chapel Hill, NC Chili Line Up On January 31, 2015, Beer Study hosted a chili cook-off, which featured sixteen chili cooks.  Of these sixteen cooks, two local restaurants were represented Al’s Burger Shack and Southern Rail.  The chilis ranged in variety and were accompanied by a unique description from the cook.

Chili 2chili 7Chili 3

At the end of the day, our Krazy Coonass chili took 5th place.  Not too shabby for amateur chefs! We also found a great new place to hang out in Chapel Hill. Beer Study had a great selection of beer, both for carryout or to enjoy in house.  They also had a great draft list that complimented the chili beautifully!

Carolina Brewery, Chapel Hill, NC

After the Chili Cook-off at Beer Study, I took a short walk to visit Carolina Brewery–the epitome of a college brewery.  I sampled all 12 beers they had to offer.  One comment that I used to describe all 12…watery.  All 12 tasted like watered-down versions of what the beer should be.

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My final stop in Chapel Hill, the iconic He’s Not Here, official home of the GINORMOUS 32 ounce big blue cup.  My husband, being a Tarheel alum, has stories to tell of this place…as I’m sure any UNC student or alum can attest.  So, when in Rome..

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I had my first (and second) blue cups.  I expected the worst of the worst beers to be available in these large vessels, however I was pleasantly surprised to find some craft beer available.  I enjoyed a Hi-Wire Bed of Nails brown ale. Of course, if you’re in the mood for watered down Bud Light or Coors, you can also sip on these libations for the same price.

Geeks-N-Taps Event:  Stinky Genes, Foothills Brewery, Winston Salem, NC

On February 9, I attended the second in a series of events hosted by Geeks-N-Taps, an organization founded by Pat Phelps, that gathers local scientists and beer experts from the Triad and Triangle areas to educate beer lovers about various aspects of beer. This event focused on how one’s DNA impacts human characteristics, such as the ability to taste and smell.  The evening was filled with many intriguing science experiments such as extracting the DNA from a strawberry, determining which aromas and smells an individual can detect at certain concentrations, and examining taste buds.

One of the most interesting experiments involved dissolving a small tablet of Miracle Frooties on the tongue, and then tasting a variety of sour foods, including sour cream and dill pickles. The tiny mystery tablet transformed the taste buds and made each sour food taste like it was sugar-coated. The event boasted over ten stations where beer lovers could not only learn some science tidbits, but also enjoy several great beers.  Foothills Imperial Smoked Cherry Porter was definitely one of my favorites of the evening.  At the end of the event, I walked away with a great door prize (6 pack of Foothills beer–SCORE!), a better understanding of why I can recognize and taste certain flavors and aromas, and a unique experience that is like none other I have attended.

A Quick trip to Charlotte


On a random Sunday, I made a trip to Charlotte for the day to visit a few breweries still on my To-Do list.  Birdsong Brewing Company was the first stop of the day. I have had Birdsong on several occasions, at beer festivals and on draft at bars, however this was my first visit to the brewery (which has now opened a larger location since my visit in February).  Birdsong’s draft list boasted 6 brews with an option of a 7th beer, available also on Nitro.  The winner of the day at Birdsong was definitely the Jalapeno Pale Ale, a marriage of Birdsong’s Free Will Pale Ale and fresh, hand-cut jalapeno peppers.  This pale ale had a nice, subtle jalapeno flavor without any burn.


After leaving Birdsong, I had to stop into NODA Brewing Company across the street for a quick taste of Hop, Drop N’ Roll.  Then, off to the next stop–Rock Bottom Brewery.  This restaurant and brewery had a decent selection of beer, none of which wowed me.  If you stop here, don’t expect much on the beer, but the food is great!


The final stop of the day was Lenny Boy Brewing Company.  Lenny Boy was first known for its selection of kombucha, but has now made a name for itself brewing wild ales and organic beers.  In fact, Lenny Boy is the only certified organic micro-brewery in North Carolina. Lenny Boy offered 6 beers, of which I sampled all 6.  My favorites at Lenny Boy were the Mirage Belgian tripel and The Magellan, a brown ale with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.


Chili Cook-Off at Grapes and Grains, Clemmons, NC 


Grapes and Grains held a Chili Cook-off fundraising event on February 21, 2015 to benefit Water to Wine, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing clean water to those in need around the globe. Eight brave chili cooks competed in this competition, where, for a $5 donation, cooks and spectators could purchase a bowl and get unlimited tastes of the delicious concoctions. This time, I walked away with a WIN and scored a $25 gift certificate to Grapes and Grains.  Can’t wait to go back and grab a few craft beers!


Adventures in Asheville

At the end of February, we took a whirlwind trip to Asheville and visited a few new breweries (well…new to us). First stop on the way into town was Granite Falls Brewing, located in the quaint town of Granite Falls, NC.  As I googled the menu quickly on the way into town, I was prepared for a tiny brewery with only a few beers on tap.  I was pleasantly surprised to walk into a spacious taproom, which boasted 20 uniquely crafted beers, all belonging to Granite Falls Brewing.  Some of my favorites included a Cinnamon Toast Ale on Firkin, Vicki the Elephant Peanut Butter Ale, Framboise Lambic, and Choconut Porter, which tasted like an Almond Joy in a glass. I had to bring home a growler of this one.  AMAZING!  While at the brewery, I learned that Granite Falls recently got a new brewer, who previously worked at Ass Clown, another of my favorite NC breweries.

Day 2…Crazy, but true–10-Brewery Marathon in Asheville!  So, since I have been to almost every brewery in Western North Carolina, I decided to revisit a few that I had not seen in a while.  I started my day with Twin Leaf Brewery and enjoyed a Coffee Cherry Porter.


Next, off to Green Man for a blueberry berliner-weisse. This one was a little to tart to enjoy in large quantities…a pint was enough for me.


My next stop was Catawba Brewing for the release of Peanut Butter Jelly Time, a seasonal sensation.  I tried this beer for the first time at Asheville Oktoberfest in 2013.  I have tried several times to secure more at the brewery, always to find out it is sold out.  This time, I made sure I would get some!


After the PB&J release, we headed over to Wicked Weed. I have a love/hate relationship with Wicked Weed.  I enjoy their beers, but I don’t enjoy how pretentious they have become. Each time I pass by, there is always a line down the sidewalk–nice show for those hoping to come inside; however I have found that most times when there is a line, the downstairs area is not fully occupied.  On this occasion, we got in line to enter, but decided to walk around and check below to see if there was seating in the tasting room downstairs.  Much to my surprise, there were only a handful of people in the tasting room, so why the line?  In fact, I was told while in line that I could not even go in to use the restroom because it was too packed.  Um…..where??  I actually had to walk across the street to go to the restroom in the co-op instead of inside the brewery!  Popularity has certainly gone to this brewery’s head when they turn away patrons and continue to covet the appearance of “above capacity” when this is not actually the case.  Nonetheless, I, as always, enjoyed my pricey beer and moved on to Wicked Weed’s newest location, The Funkatorium.


This location focuses on the funk and sour beers brewed by Wicked Weed. I enjoyed a flight of 5 sours, several of which are only available at the Funkatorium for on-premise indulgence only.


After the Funkatorium, I headed to Burial Beer Company.  This was my second visit to Burial, with my first being just 2 weeks after opening.  My first visit was less than impressive and I vowed not to return, however I have heard many good things about their beer since, so I decided to give them another try.  Since my first visit, the brewery has expanded its seating area and brewing capacity.  I was able to pick up 2 of Burial’s second release in the Moon Series, “Snow Moon,” an imperial wit brewed with tea and honey and fermented in malbec barrels. Aside from the beer release, there was still nothing that excited me at Burial. From Burial, I headed to one of my favorite spots for dinner, Farm Burger, where I indulged in my very first beer float–Wells Banana Nut + Vanilla Ice Cream= YUMMINESS!!  I also highly recommend the pimento cheese and jalapeno fries here to accompany one of the most amazing burgers I have ever eaten.

Just below Farm Burger lies one of Asheville’s newest breweries, One World Brewing.  I enjoyed a quick Inner Thigh IPA and headed down the road to Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB).  In the past, I have enjoyed LAB for both their beer and small plate selection, however on this occasion, LAB was tapped out.  I requested 3 different beers of their offerings and they were out.  Disappointed by their performance tonight, I decided to move on to Hi Wire.  I love the atmosphere at Hi Wire and I love the location, which includes a shuffle puck table, an original Nintendo complete with the FIRST Super Mario Brothers game.  As a nightcap, I partook in Hi Wire’s Hop Circus, single-hopped Simcoe session IPA.

Just before turning in for the evening, I attempted to visit Open Brewing, the newest brewery in Asheville, however it seems as if the posted hours are merely a suggestion. I arrived over an hour before the “closing” time, only to be greeted by a locked door, all chairs put up, and an employee mopping the floor. After I went to the door to reconfirm hours, the employee unlocked the door and asked if he could help me.  I mentioned that they were closed early and he rudely informed me that he would close whenever they felt like they were no longer busy. So…bad first impression there, Open Brewing.  Of course I will give them another chance because not doing so would defeat my OCD purpose of visiting all the breweries in North Carolina.

Day 3


Yes….there are more!  I started my morning by visiting French Broad Chocolate Lounge for dessert and beverages.  I decided on the maple butter cake partnered with a Mudwrestler Beer Float (Local Nitro Stout + vanilla ice cream + espresso + chocolate drizzle).


After being recharged with sugar, chocolate and espresso, I moved on to Urban Orchard Cider Company for a tasty beverage.  This is my third trip to the cidery, and each time I have been impressed with the selection.  On this occasion, I indulged in a Sidra del Diablo, Cider with vanilla and habanero.  DELICIOUS!  I wanted to bring a growler of this home, but it is not a selection that is available in growlers.


My final stop of the Asheville whirlwind tour was Wedge Brewing Company. My first visit to Wedge was not terribly impressive, so I decided to give it another whirl since I was nearby.  This time, equally unimpressed.  I do not like the atmosphere in the brewery and the beer did not impress me, in fact I had a hard time even picking one to drink.  I have heard tales of great beers coming from Wedge, so  I have not totally written them off, but this is definitely not a stop I will make often.  One plus at Wedge is that I was able to order half a  pour.  This gave me a chance to taste their beer without committing to a whole pint of something that only half excited me.


Notice the nice bartender did make a heart in the head on my beer.  Nice touch!

Stay tuned for the March update soon!  It’s great to be back!

Can’t get enough bourbon…

This evening, I was in the mood for some Southern comfort food, so I made a Bourbon glazed meatloaf. I added 2 cups of extra Sriracha because I like it spicy…..SUCCESS!!!  I paired the Boulevard Smokestack Series Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad, which is aged in bourbon barrels with cherries.

At first, I was hesitant with the pairing, as I did not want to be overwhelmed with bourbon, but it turned out to be a match made in heaven!!  I used cherry preserves in the recipe, so this blended nicely with the cherry notes in the Quad.

This 2014 vintage beer drinks amazingly now, but I’m going to buy several more bottles to cellar for later enjoyment.  I highly recommend this quad!  At 11.8%, the alcohol is surprisingly not overbearing, even when drinking this beer without food. The subtle cherry, toffee, and vanilla notes will leave your palate happy!


Moroccan Lamb Chops + North Mountain Brewing Kaiserlich DunkelWeiss = Pure Bliss!!

This week, while trying to clean out one of our many fridges and freezers, I came across some lamb chops.  I found a fabulous recipe that I thought would pair nicely with my growler of DunkelWeiss I brought back from Arizona…and boy was I right!!!

Lamb Chops with Moroccan Barbecue Sauce paired with North Mountain’s Kaiserlich DunkelWeiss.


North Mountain’s Kaiserlich DunkelWeiss is an excellent representation of the style, boasting a 7.9%  ABV, this one is great for keeping you warm on those cold winter nights.  This DunkelWeiss stays true to the Weiss style, with the slight weight and flavors of clove and spice.  The clove in the beer is a beautiful companion for the cloves and Moroccan spice blend of this dish.

I served the lamb chops with a drizzle of Moroccan Barbecue sauce and the mint chutney (which was also used to marinate the chops) over a bed of curry couscous.  To make the couscous, see below:

Curry Couscous:

1 Tbsp of chili garlic oil

1 box of Far East plain couscous

2 cups of chicken broth

1/2 cup of diced carrots

1/2 cup of fresh peas

1/4 cup of diced onion

1 Tbsp of curry powder

1 Tbsp of roasted cumin

Heat oil at med-high heat. Saute diced onions and carrots until slightly tender, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add in couscous and lightly brown with vegetables.  Add chicken broth, curry powder, cumin, and peas then bring to a boil.  After mixture comes to a boil, cover and remove from heat.  Let stand 5 minutes and serve. Enjoy!!

Barbecue sauce will make more than you need, so freeze the remainder for later use or drizzle over a grilled meat of your choice.

See AZ Breweries post for more information on North Mountain and other Arizona breweries.

RayLen Vineyards and Winery Double Gold Vertical Tasting…and Other Adventures in the Yadkin Valley

Highly awarded RayLen Winery

RayLen Winery

RayLen Winery released its 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon on January 16, 2015.  They hosted a Double Gold Vertical Tasting on Saturday, January 17, 2015, which I was fortunate enough to attend.  Marketing and events manager, Erin Doby, led a group of winetasters, including myself, through a tasting that included 2012 and 2013 Merlot, 2012 and 2013 Carolinius, 2012 and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2010 and 2013 Category 5.



The private tasting allowed me to do a side-by-side comparison of some of RayLen’s most prestigious wines.

photo82012 and 2013 Merlot:  The 2013 Merlot, not yet released to the public for sale, was bottled 4 months ago.  This 100% Merlot has a ruby-burgundy appearance with a nose of strawberry, blackberry, and cherry.  On the beginning to mid-palate, you will enjoy a mouth-coating flavors of dark cherry, oak and smooth tannins.  The 2012 Merlot, which is less oaked than the 2013, shows a garnet appearance with slightly opaque edges.  This Merlot-Petit Verdot blend is pleasant on the beginning of the palate, but falls of slightly mid-palate.

2012 and 2013 Carolinius:  The 2012 Carolinius is actually a non-vintage wine because it also contains 2011 Petit Verdot.  This garnet colored wine with a black cherry nose can no longer be purchased at the winery, as its supply has been depleted.  You may be lucky enough to try this one if you attend a special event, such as a Double Vertical tasting.  The 2013 Carolinius is more oaked than its 2012 predecessor.  A blend of Petit Verdot presents a garnet color with a nose of dark fruit, oak, and woody notes.

photo2012 and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon:  The 2012 Cabernet, garnet in color with a nose of earth, oak, and stewed cherries, presents strong tannins, dark smoky fruits, and a pleasingly smooth finish.  This vintage is 92% Cabernet with approximately 8% Petit Verdot.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is equally as pleasing, with a ruby appearance and a nose of blackberry and slight oak.  This vintage brings nice flavors of dark fruit, tobacco and oak with a nice balance of tannins.

2010 and 2013 Category 5:  The 2010 Category 5 is a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 10% Syrah.  Burgundy in color with a nose of musty, dark berries and oak, this blend presents nice tannins and a pleasant finish.  The 2013 Category 5 is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 7% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Merlot.  Ruby in color with slight oak, vanilla, and cherry on the nose, this red blend will leave you with a pleasant blend of strawberry and slight spice on the palate.  The 2013 Category 5 is the last vintage that will contain Syrah.  RayLen decided to pull the Syrah vines because they were not producing enough (only 1/2 ton per acre).


After the Vertical Tasting, I sampled a few wines in the tasting room.  RayLen offers 5 flight options, so I opted for the Reserve Flight ($10) plus a few extras.  On the flight, I sampled the Sparkling Brut, 2013 SMV (South Mountain Vineyards) Chardonnay, 2011 Eagle Select, and 2013 Petit Verdot.  The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was also on the flight, but I did not taste again.

The Sparkling Brut had a nice effervescence and mouthfeel.  A great bubbly treat with light bubbles and slight notes of citrus.  The 2013 SMV Chardonnay used grapes from South Mountain Vineyard in Morganton, NC.  This oaked Chardonnay had a slightly oaky nose, with the buttery, vanilla, slight citrus notes one would expect from a quality oaked Chardonnay.  The 2011 Eagle’s Select had a ruby red color with a nose of cedar and rose.  After 22 months in oak barrels, the Eagle’s Select was one of my favorites of the day–and with a price point of $24.99, it’s a great wine to stock up on for now and for later.  The 2013 Petit Verdot had a nose of leather and subtle oak.  This luscious wine is another great addition to any cellar.

The other various wines, which I selected from other flights, included the 2013 Barrel aged Chardonnay, the 2013 Cabernet Franc and the 2013 Rose of Cabernet Franc. I am a sucker for a great barrel-aged Chardonnay, as long as it does not overwhelm the senses with oak and butter.  This Chardonnay was fabulous, but not offered on the regular tasting menu.  If you’re at RayLen, ask if there is one available for tasting.  You won’t regret it!  The 2013 Cabernet Franc and Rose of Cabernet Franc were equally pleasing.  The Rose, which was on the skins for 3 days, has flavors of red berries and strawberry jam.  It has a pleasant balance of fruit with slight tannins, making this Rose one for those who appreciate a great rose that is not so sweet.

Another intriguing fact about RayLen Vineyards is their use of solar power in the winery.  This is a shining example of using renewable resources in a business to reduce carbon footprint.


Carronni’s Hand Crafted Creations

In the tasting room of RayLen, I was also fortunate enough to try some delicious hand-crafted creations by the mother-daughter team from Marion, NC who make delightful hand crafted cheese wafers (imagine a cheese straw, but in wafer form), pita crackers, and dips.  I, of course, had to sample them all!  The pita crackers come in 5 varieties (Himalayan Pink Sea Salt, Perocino and Rosemary, Mediterranean Kalamata Olive, Asiago and Parmesan, and Gorgonzola & Herb,) which can be enjoyed on their own or with one of the delicious dips. All the pita crackers are made with fresh herbs and aged cheeses.  The cheese wafers come in three delicious flavors: Pecorino & Rosemary, Smoked Gouda & Cheddar, and Asiago & Parmesan.  I highly recommend any and all of the cheese wafers.  I could probably eat a whole package in one sitting!  Finally, the dips prepared by the Carronni’s included Havarti Dill with Horseradish, Sun-dried Tomato Hummus, and Smoked Gouda spread (with extra sharp cheese, Worcestershire, and Sriracha).  I brought home a container of the Smoked Gouda, but they were all amazing.  These fine ladies also cater as well.

If you’re at RayLen, I highly recommend sampling and partaking in these great treats to accompany the fine wines at RayLen.


Misty Creek Vineyards

Next on our trek, we visited Misty Creek Farm and Vineyards, also located in Mocksville.  Owner and winemaker Barry Nichols led us through their 11 wines, with a dry flight and a sweet flight.  Barry started making wine since 1969, while working for NASA.

Although I tasted all 11 wines, my favorites were:

2009 Chardonnay- This stainless-fermented Chardonnay was one of my favorites at Misty Creek. It was crisp and refreshing with citrus, apple, and tropical fruit notes.

2011 Rose- After spending 3 weeks on the skins, this rose has a beautiful color and soft tannins that make it a perfect wine for sipping or with a meal.

Chamberry- Although I am not a sweet wine lover, the Chamberry was a nice, complex wine without a cloyingly sweet taste.  With a nose of cranberry, raspberry, and raisin, this wine delivers a bold, bright taste.  Chamberry is made of 100% Chambourcin and is sweetened with 6% sugar.  This wine could be enjoyed both cold and at room temperature.  It’s so tasty, I would use it to top a fresh pound cake with berries or as a reduction for a lamb dish.


Hanover Park Vineyards

We attempted to visit Hanover Park Vineyards, however we arrived at 5:05.  Since there were several cars in the parking lot, we inquired about doing a quick tasting.  When we entered the tasting room, we were rudely greeted by the bartender and told that they were closed, despite customers still being inside.  We explained that we got lost in all the dead-end roads and un-named highways in the area and that the poor cell service deemed our navigation useless.  We met a reply of “your phone should work fine out here, mine does.”  Let’s just say we won’t be visiting there again. If you plan to go, plan to be there early!

Medaloni Cellars

Our final stop was Medaloni Cellars, where we were greeted by a beautiful sunset, customers enjoying a fire on the patio, and a very serene setting with several rustic-looking buildings and a sprawling 22 acres of land blessed with 5 acres of vines. Medaloni offers space for private events, hosts classes (such as the upcoming Riedel Glass Seminar on February 8), and even has 3 cabins available on the property for an overnight excursion.


During my tasting, I was able to sample 8 of Joey Medaloni’s wines, including Fate Chardonnay, Signature Series Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, Lot 14 White Blend, Signature Series Rose, 2012 Merlot, Carignan, and a private label Chardonnay.

The Signature Chardonnay is Medaloni’s flagship wine, aged in 100% French oak barrels, demonstrated the buttery, oaky flavors expected from an oak aged wine.  The Fate Chardonnay is a blend of stainless and oak-aged, which presents a nice marriage of the two styles.

123Other notable wines included the Lot 14, which is a blend of Kerner, Gewurztraminer, Bacchus, and Dry Riesling.  This slightly oaky blend leaves your mouth with a crisp, citrus finish that is a pleasant wine to enjoy year round.  The Carignan is a French varietal, not generally seen bottled on its own.  This wine provides a nice blend of tannins with jammy fruit flavor.

Overall, my tour of the Yadkin Valley wineries was a pleasant experience.  There were some great wines and I met some great people. I look forward to finishing the Yadkin winery trail and exploring other wineries in the area.