March MADNESS!!

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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!