January 30, 2013

Top Beers and Beards from the Asheville Winter Warmer

Both the beers and the beards were on full display at the Asheville Winter Warmer this weekend. Thirty-one breweries, a cidery, and some moonshiners each brought their finest to the show, while every bit of facial hair in the house was perfectly groomed -- for the most part.

These were some of the exceptional specimens from the event, in both the beer and the beard categories:

Most Intriguing Beer: Cigar City's Double American Black Ale

Many believe that cigars and beer festivals go hand in hand, but with this Double Black Ale, you get both in one glass. The beer actually reminded me of a cigar shop, and while this may not sound very appealing, it fits the Cigar City brand perfectly and the smoke and wood flavors were, in fact, delicious. Cigar City is based in Tampa, Florida.

Best Bearded Brethren: James Oden (left), a rockstar Celtic musician, and Nate Carlson brought their A-game:

Well done, gentlemen.

Most Creative Setup: BearWaters Brewing Company

Not only did they completely rebrand in a matter of days, BearWaters (formerly Headwaters) Brewing Company brought four inspired brews to the Winter Warmer and served them out of this kayak-turned-jockeybox. We enjoyed the Peppermint Stout, made with peppermint oil, and a Red Ale brewed with cinnamon and honey. BearWaters is located in Waynesville, NC, just 30 minutes west of Asheville.

Top Red Beard: Doug (on the right) having a good ole time. Favorite beer at this particular moment: Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA.

Rock on, Doug.

"Dark Horse" Award: Thomas Creek Brewery

Not on my radar prior to the No Whey Friday cheese tasting, Thomas Creek Brewery created quite a buzz at the Winter Warmer with their Castaway Chocolate Orange IPA. Based in Greenville, SC, Thomas Creek also brought their Pump House Porter, Conduplico Immundus Monachus Belgian-style Imperial Porter, Coffee Oatmeal Stout, and Up the Creek Extreme IPA.

Can't wait to visit the brewery on my next trip down I-85!

Musical Beard Award: Frontman for David Earl and the Plowshares, David and his band rocked the Winter Warmer:

I've got a little ways to go...
Favorite IPA: Foothills Brewing's Hoppyum IPA

The Simcoe hops profile on this 70 IBU IPA was simply exceptional. Foothills, established in 2004 in Winston-Salem, NC, also served up a mean Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter.

Best of the Fest - Beards: Shaun (on the left) and Jonah Hickson, Mr. Secretary of the Metropolitan Pogonotrophy Society (aka Nashville Beard & Mustache Club!)

"Beards are like mascara for men." - Festival attendee Megan Stevens

Best of the Fest - Beers: SweetWater's Happy Ending Imperial Stout

I've been a fan of SweetWater Brewing Company for a while, but this was my first time trying this seasonal from the Atlanta-based brewery. Happy Ending is a dry-hopped Imperial Stout with a perfect combination of high ABV, big roasty flavor, and bitter hops. With 9% alcohol and 51 IBUS, it's an ideal cold weather brew and hereby named Best of the Fest!

Image via ourbeers.com
For all the excellent beers I enjoyed, there were at least as many that I wanted to try but didn't get a chance to, including:
  • Foothills Brewing's Sexual Chocolate
  • Highland Brewing Company's Devil's Britches IPA
  • Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot
  • Just about everything from Wicked Weed
  • Frog Level & Heinzelmannchen breweries
  • Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA
We live to imbibe another day!

Big props to Strada Italian Restaurant for providing excellent festival grub, including both BBQ and vegetarian options (with kale!):


It was a fun event and the beer was all around amazing, but the best part of the festival was getting to hang out with the Asheville beer community. I caught up with Brian from Riverbend Malt House, Thom O'Hearn (the new beer columnist for Mountain Xpress), Dan and Hilton from the Asheville Ale Trail, and numerous other genuinely cool people.

Asheville's a great town and festival season is just starting to ramp up.

Are you coming for a visit or what?

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