From Taproom to Kitchen: A Taste Test with Hi-Wire Brewing

Woman walking on tightrope over cityscape, low section

Back in September, I made a trip to beer Mecca, Asheville, NC, to visit friends. During my stop, I made sure to check out one of North Carolina’s newer breweries, Hi-Wire Brewing, which opened up over the summer.

As you’d expect from any Asheville business, the place was cozy and friendly … but what about their beers?

Well, it just so happens that Hi-Wire recently began distributing three of their year-round beers to the eastern side of North Carolina. After finding them in my local bottle shop – an IPA, pale ale and brown ale – I decided to do a retroactive taste test.

What I’ve done is taken my initial impressions, as captured on Untappd, and separately taken notes on the bottle versions I bought last week. I was curious to compare and contrast my thoughts.

As I’m sure you know, getting beer straight from the source is always the best way to do things – a la my great Beergrimage of 2013 – but I figured this would be a fun way to offer up a few new NC beers in case you happen to pass through the state.
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A Taste of Pure Michigan: Arbor Brewing Lineup

arbor_brewing_cap

Sure, Founders and Bell’s breweries may get most of the attention for Michigan beer thanks to wide distribution, but there’s plenty more to be had.

That’s something Friend of the Program, Mark Graves, touched on with his Six-Pack Project entry for Michigan. There are about 100 total breweries spread across the Great Lakes State, so there’s something to be had by all.

The Missus recently made a trip to Ann Arbor, where upon her kindness and the suggestion of a local grabbed me a mixed six-pack of Arbor Brewing‘s lineup. Baring the slogan “Mitten Made,” I can’t imagine of a more fitting way to be more “Pure Michigan” for my tastebuds. Let’s take a dive into some of their offerings, which seem to have a uniquely Belgian inspiration.
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Marshall Brewing Company Lineup

marshall-brewing-logo

I’ve been lucky to try a selection of Oklahoma-based brews lately after a friend hauled a collection back to NC from her home state. Among those was a six-pack lineup from Marshall Brewing out of Tulsa.

You can read all about the brewery on their website and try to catch their beers with distribution across Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. It appears to be a growing enterprise, although I’m not entirely sold on their offerings.

I will say this – their bottle artwork is pretty nice, from a Flying Dog-inspired drawing for a black IPA to simple color schemes. But let’s push that aside and jump into what you can expect from their beers.

Note: These beers faced a tough trip to NC, facing fluctuating temperatures throughout their trek. I admit this may have impacted the beers, but some came out alright, others, not so much.

atlas_india_pale_ale_ipa_marshall_brewingAtlas IPA

Brewed with Columbus, Amarillo, and Cascade hops, this sounds like it’d be a nice hop bomb. It smelled like a dirty diaper.

Drain pour.

Sidenote: Can anyone comment on this hop pairing? If I remember correctly, I’ve heard Columbus is not an easy hop to pair. It’s earthbound profile (floral/vegetative) seems to strike an opposite chord with that of Amarillo and Cascade, two very citrusy hops.

Arrowhead pale ale

arrowhead_pale_ale_beer_marshall_brewingWhile I admit the trip across country may have destroyed Atlas IPA, this hop-forward pale ale came out sparkling, confusing me somewhat. It’s clear the brewers paid careful attention to making this an American pale ale, with tropical smells of papaya with peach and grapefruit, too. It’s very heavy on citrus aromas and smells like it comes straight from the West Coast.

Those characteristics are duplicated in the flavor, which has a strong malt base to balance out the aroma with a slightly bitter, but not taxing, taste.

Revival red ale

red_ale_revival_marshall_brewing_beerAnother stinker. Literally. Smelled of rotten apple, moldy, wet malt and gym socks.

The best way I could think of describing the taste was “brown.” I’m not saying it had flavor of a brown ale, but the word “brown” just kept coming to mind. This tasted of tons of not-quite sweet malt and was almost like a baby barleywine.

Drain pour.

McNellie’s Pub Ale

From Marshall’s website: “Inspired by the house ales found in the pubs of Great Britain and Ireland, McNellie’s Pub Ale is a traditional ale brewed in the style of a Best Bitter.”

mcnellies_pub_ale_beer_marshall_brewingjpgHonestly, I’d say that’s spot on.

It’s mild and malty and very easy to drink. At 5 percent ABV it’s perhaps higher than a “traditional” session beer and certainly heavier in malt taste, but very good all the same.

The yeast used do this beer a favor, offering up a fruit-like ester profile – grape? – that adds to the beer’s nutty/toffee/caramel flavors.

 

Sundown Wheat

An American wheat beer brewed in the style of a witbier with coriander and dried sweet orange peel, this brew poured flat as an Oklahoma landscape but with immense citrus aroma and flavor. The smell stayed heavy on the side of lemon.

sundown_wheat_beer_marshall_brewingSterling hops give this one a little bit of herbal spice, but this beer tasted like a straight-forward summertime brew with lots of orange and lemon characteristics.

Sidenote: This was frighteningly clear for a “wheat beer” and bordered a much brighter version of a pilsner. Might have been the first time I’ve seen that from this style.

Old Pavilion Pilsner

Marshall notes this beer is “brewed in the North German “Pils” style,” although they use an unlisted combination of American and German hops. I’d be curious what American varieties were used because this pilsner was easy drinking and crisp that sits closer to an herbal/floral flavor profile. Think green tea and flowers.

The malt flavor is light, but sweet, and it finishes with just a touch of bitterness.

In all honesty, this was a pretty solid pilsner and a beer I would’ve expected to get destroyed by the trip to NC.

Planning a trip to the Midwest? Keep an eye out for Marshall’s beers and let me know how fresh and tasty they are compared to my experience.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Ass Kisser Ales Lineup: How Do You Prefer to Pucker Up?

ass kisser Header

A new addition to the local beer market, Ass Kisser Ales hails from a contract brewing partnership with Hermitage Brewery in San Jose, California.

As you can see from the bottle, their logo is quite literal, although I can only assume that no animal cruelty was involved in the production of their beer. Although, I suppose it’d be more aligned with human cruelty forcing some hapless brewer to pucker up for a donkey’s ass.

Either way, I grabbed three of their beers recently to test out the new kid on the block. Should you put on your chap stick and ready your lips for some sweet libation love? One of these might be for you…

Vanilla Pale Ale

ass kisser ales-vanilla pale ale-beerComing from a West Coast brewery, it’s nice to see a little restraint, and even innovation, with a pale ale. Ass Kisser’s Vanilla Pale Ale is sparsely hopped in aroma and flavor and would be best described as “vanilla-forward.”

The use of vanilla beans is hard to miss in either the smell or taste. While things can be a little muddled at first, the beer takes on a very sweet, almost white chocolate-like aroma after warming for a few minutes.

Vanilla is incredibly prominent on each sip – the first and last thing I tasted. The flavor was akin to a Funfetti cupcake thanks to a sugary-sweet aftertaste. I guess there was some malt in there somewhere, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was or how it might’ve been used.

Unless you’re seeking something of a dessert beer, avoid.

Strawberry Wit

ass kisser ales-strawberry wit-beerAgain, an interesting combination for a beer that seems to be more appropriate for a candy store than a taproom.

It’s really hard to get honest-to-goodness fruit flavor from solely using fruit in a beer, which is why you’ll typically see “natural flavoring” on a bottle alongside some descriptor emphasizing the use of fruit. It’s easy to get sweetness, but hard to pluck the same kind of fruit taste in a beer.

I explain this because the Strawberry Wit tastes like soda. It’s appropriately carbonated for a witbier, but the smell is like strawberry candy you’d buy from the corner store. Ass Kisser also uses orange and coriander, which is common for this style, but I’ll be damned if I could really sense it.

If that’s any indication, the taste wasn’t any different. Strawberry is very present up front and offers a lingering taste of tart berry, as if you were eating a piece of fruit that just wasn’t quite ripe yet. There’s a touch of bitterness at the end – perhaps from the hops – but that’s easy to forget when your next sip offers up a jab of strawberry flavor.

The fruit taste and smell did settle down after my palate adjusted, but by then the beer just tasted bland. Like Blue Moon but not trying as hard.

Smoked Porter

ass kisser ales-beer-smoke porterThird time is a charm, right? Might as well save the best for last.

On their page for this beer, Ass Kisser proudly displays their 95 rating on Rate Beer, which I believe is deservedly earned. If you can’t find Alaskan Smoked Porter near you because of distribution, this honestly came across as an OK substitute.

If you like smoky beers, this is for you. The aroma is intense, like a campfire. I’d love to know what smoked malt they used because it isn’t “meaty” like malt you’ll find other breweries producing in order to duplicate some kind of bacon-like aroma or flavor. This is pleasant, warm and the smoke hides light smells of chocolate that jump out late on each whiff.

While the taste is initially very acidic and bitter, it gets really good after a few sips, replacing that coffee-like complexion with dark roast and chocolate flavors. It’s got a heavy body that makes it a little chewy on the mouthfeel, but that’s OK because it lets any smoke tastes cascade on the taste buds.

The most important takeaway from these beers is that Ass Kisser doesn’t skimp on adjuncts. If they put a descriptive word on the bottle, it’s going to taste like that. You want vanilla, strawberry or smoke? You got it.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

The Six-Pack Project: Beers from Around the Country

six pack-beerWith Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, we’ve entered the (unofficial) start of summer. Barbecues, beaches and vacations lie ahead.

But what’s a trip away from home without throwing beer into the mix?

Enter the Six-Pack Project. It’s a new, collaborative effort between beer bloggers from around the country to highlight a six-pack of our state’s native brews that we believe best represent what the beer culture of our respective states offer. If someone is coming to visit, what bottles or cans would we want to share?

Here are our rules:

  • Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  • Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  • Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  • Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.

Welcome to the inaugural round of the Six-Pack Project. I hope to include bloggers from across the U.S. in future versions, so contact me on Twitter if you or someone you know may fit the bill.

Some quick notes to about selections for my state, North Carolina:

1. I approached this task as if I were building a flight of beers for you to try. Because of that, I’ve picked six different styles of beers that would (hopefully) take you through a great North Carolina beer experience, although subjectively selected by me.

2. All of these picks can be found year-round in NC beer shops.

Without further adieu, let’s find out what North Carolina has to offer…
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Caldera Brewing Company Hop Hash

hop hash pale ale india pale ale caldera brewing beer

Having grown up on the East Coast, my main exposure to West Coast IPAs is either through larger companies in my beer store (Stone, Sierra Nevada) or legend (Russian River).

I know when I hear “West Coast IPA,” I’m thinking some insanely hop-forward, piney, citrusy brew. Leave it to the folks at Caldera Brewing Company to alter my expectations a bit with their Hop Hash beer, which has an 83 on Beer Advocate.

Technically, Caldera classifies this as a “strong pale ale,” but to me that just means IPA. This brew is unique because it takes pure hop lupulin extracted and scraped from the pelletizing line that takes hop cones and turns them into cylindrical pellets. That is, they get their hops for this beer by scraping the leftover bits of resin.

Sounds … interesting.

The smell of Hop Hash was inviting enough, with scents of honey and orange coming through early and often. There’s no mistaking the novel use of hops (Simcoe and Centennial) gives this beer intense citrus dankness, although it becomes a little vegetative after a few whiffs. The use of Munich malt gives this beer a solid, baked bread backbone that I found hints of at the end of each smell.

It’s the taste that ruined this beer for me. It may be because the way Caldera utilizes its hops for this beer, but the bitterness was just too intense. Each sip gave piney impressions of a Oregon forest on my tongue, but with some heavy carbonation, flavors were wiped away in lieu of lingering bitterness. While the aroma of the hops fit their typical West Coast profile of citrus, there’s nothing really nothing going on with the flavor. It’s all muddled and nothing is distinguishable.

To make it worse, the aftertaste of Hop Hash was decidedly medicinal. If you like sucking on aspirin pills, this beer is for you!

I don’t, so this will be the first and last time I’ll probably have this beer.

Hop Hash stats:

  • Malt: 2-Row, Munich and oats
  • Hops: Simcoe and Centennial
  • Additives/Adjuncts: N/A
  • ABV: 6 percent
  • Brewery: Caldera Brewing of Ashland, Oregon

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

16 Mile Brewing Old Court Ale

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With so many great American craft beer options, sometimes it’s easy to forget where many of our styles come from. Especially in the case of our super hopped-up American pale ales and India pale ales.

Every now and then, it’s good to be reminded where we come from. 16 Mile’s Old Court Ale, while described as an “American ale,” drinks more like a malt-forward English pale ale with an American ABV influence – it registers at 6.1 percent. It’s also got an 81 on Beer Advocate.

Weakened, spent hops and buttered biscuits lead the charge on your senses with this one. The caramel and grainy aromas of malts like Biscuit, Munich or Vienna linger, combining to enhance a bread-like flavor. Concentrating hard enough, my nose wanted to tell me somehow there were touches of strawberries and bananas hiding behind it all.

The taste of Old Court Ale is very clean and balanced, but with noticeable biscuit and malt aftertaste. Holding a swig on my tongue the flavor nearly turns into caramel candy. A good match for the amber color of this brew.

Old Court Ale stats:
ABV: 6.1 percent
Brewery: 16 Mile Brewing of Georgetown, Delaware

+Bryan Roth

Maine Beer Company Peeper Ale

The best way to 'peep' is with beer goggles.

The best way to ‘peep’ is with beer goggles.

Quick science lesson: There is a biological connection between marijuana and the hops that go in our beer. Both are members of the Cannabaceae family and share similar a cellular structure that shows up in their aroma, typically while still hanging from their vines/plant.

I’ve found that the fresher your cone hops are, the closer your nose is able to determine that similarity. Not that I’m growing or hanging out around anything illegal, mind you. Science!

This is all important because it was the first and lasting impression I got when I had my first-ever bottle of Maine Beer Company’s Peeper Ale. It’s got a 93 on Beer Advocate. This generously-hopped pale ale was fresh, delicious and for one reason or another, made me think of the hop’s taboo cousin.
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Westbrook Brewing Citra Rye pale ale

citra for web

Beer people are good people. But, we already knew that.

While there are many things to be thankful for when it comes to local beer, we will also forever lament the problem of enjoying that beer … non-locally. Thankfully, Nick from over at Drink. Blog. Repeat. was recently kind enough to break down this barrier and ship me some beery goodness from South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing, a Mount Pleasant-based company that’s churning out some pretty solid brews.

Nick sent me three of their beers, the first of which has set the bar fairly high for the others. Their Citra Rye pale ale, which sits with an 87 on Beer Advocate, is a great entry into the brewery’s single-hop beer series.

How did the sum of this beer’s parts make for a top-notch brew? Let’s hit the jump and discuss.

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Out of town – home to (up) Upstate New York

… no, I’m not talking about the Hudson Valley.

Photo courtesy of cs2901 on Flickr

I recently made a (mostly) annual trip back home with The Missus to the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York. While it’s certainly no Green Bay, you should notice the pride my hometown takes in its claim to fame (aside from that whole Gym Class Heroes thing).

While my hometown of Geneva and its surrounding cities/towns have been forever known as bustling wine country, beer is slowly becoming a fad. As with any trip outside of the Triangle, I tried hard to sample some local/regional beers that I can’t find in North Carolina.

If you happen to find yourself in or around Upstate New York, hit the jump to read about a few that stuck out you may want to try…
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