Ratchet’s Reviews: Beer Books Edition.

March 30, 2012

Hey there readers, today’s post is about beer and books. Specifically books about or related to beer or brewing. Most of the books I’m going to tell you about, I have acquired within the last 6 months. I have found that beer books are like most beers, they have a shelf life. Sure some of these books will age well for decades, but some will be outdated in just a few short years. This is why when I am shopping for beer related books, I always check the year they were published. If you buy a ten year old guide book to the “world’s best beers”, chances are a few of the beers and breweries featured are no longer in existence. Same thing with books on brewing. The basics of brewing haven’t changed for centuries. However, there is near constant evolution of equipment, ideas, styles, and ingredients. These older books might not have reference to newer hop varieties such as Citra, Simcoe, or newer “styles” such as Dark IPAs. I’m not saying that you should ignore all older books on the subject. For example, Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is every bit as relevant as it was when it was first published in 1984.

That being said, here are some of the books I have and my thoughts on them.

The Craft of Stone Brewing Co. by Greg Koch, Steve Wagner and Randy Clemens. Published September of 2011.

Ratchet Rating: 5 (out of 5) Pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: Arrogant Bastard.

I picked this up in Asheville during my Christmas Beercation. I ended up with a signed copy that I purchased at The Thirsty Monk. This is a really slick book. Nice glossy full color pictures and well written. This book is a combination of things. First it’s a complete history of Stone Brewing Company. From the early days of homebrewing to one of the most respected craft beer producers and everything in between. If you’ve ever wondered how Greg comes up with the rants on the sides of the 22 ounce bottles, this book has that. Each beer that has ever been brewed by Stone has a description beyond just the style and ingredients. They go into the thought process and history of such famous beers such as Arrogant Bastard, Stone Smoked Porter and their Vertical Epic series. The book is written in a relaxed and no holds barred conversational tone. It’s just like sitting around talking to your friends over a few Stone IPAs. The book also features clone recipes to brew your own imitations of their well loved beer. It also has a section  on beer and food pairings by “Dr.” Bill Sysak aka Master Pairings. This is in addition to incredible food recipes from Stone’s own World Bistro and Gardens. Whether you’re a Stone Brewing Company fan, a home brewer, a foodie or a craft beer novice, this book has something for you. If you haven’t picked up this book yet, switch over to Amazon, ebay or better yet Stone’s own website and order it now. You’ll be glad that you did.

The next two books I’m going to tell you about are beer style specific. First up is Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Phil Markowski. Published 2004.

Ratchet Rating: 3 (out of 5) Pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: Fantôme De Noel

I borrowed this last fall from my buddy Shanezilla, who is a big fan of saisons. I just recently in the last few years started acquiring a taste for belgium style beers. I’m not really a big fan of farmhouse style ales, but I can appreciate them from time to time. This book is a pretty good attempt to trace the history of farmhouse brewing in both the North of France and in Belgium. This book was a little long, and I thought that the material could have been covered in fewer pages. However, I did enjoy learning about traditional farmhouse brewing and how the Saisons and Belgium style ales of today probably bear little resemblance to those historically brewed on farms in the Wallonia and Flanders regions of Belgium and France. There are a few recipes included for homebrewers, and the author encourages experimentation when it comes to brewing this type of beer. If you are a big fan of Saison, Sours, Belgium or Brett beers, this is your book. I did come away from reading this with an idea for a saison that I want to brew this summer.

The next style specific book to tell you about is Smoked Beers: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes by Ray Daniels and Geoffrey Larson. Published in 2004.

Ratchet Rating: 3.5 (out of 5) Pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen.

I purchased this book online. I got it to help me with my research to brew the best possible Rauchbier that I could. Previous to reading this book, I was already aware of the Bamberg style smoked beers as well as the peat smoked Scottish ales. Reading this book really opened my eyes to how many types and styles of smoked beer there actually are. The book is primarily a history and discussion of the style, going back to the early days of brewing beer when most malts were dried using smoke. Those early brews undoubtedly must have had some smoky flavors as part of their profile. As malting techniques advanced the smoked flavors in beer vanished except for a few regions keeping to the traditional ways. The Bamberg region in Germany is the most well known of these. After reading this book, I really want to visit there someday. This book is written in part by Geoff Larson, founder of Alaskan Brewing Company. They are known for their smoked porter, which I have not yet had the pleasure of trying. This book is well written, reads easily and also includes a few recipes and tips for homebrewers. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in this style. Beer historians, homebrewers, smoke lovers will all appreciate the history, types and techniques for smoking malt. I just hope that my Rauchbier turns out as good as this book did.

Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation’s Finest Beers and Breweries by Andy Couch. Published August 2010.

Ratchet Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) Pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: Your favorite anything.

I picked up this gem at McKays in west Knoxville. I was given a gift card for Christmas and used it wisely on this book. Great American Craft Beer is very well written, stylish and informative. More than just a guidebook, it has sections on beer and food pairings, stories from some well-known brewers, a bit of beer history and profiles of some of the best brew pubs in the country. This book cover only American breweries and beer. There are more than 80 styles of beer covered and 340 beer profiles featuring full-color photographs and illustrations of the beers and beer labels. Some of your favorites beers are surely featured as were mine. Because of this book, my beer “wish list” has grown substantially. If you plan on reading any beer books this year, this one should be near the top of your list.  Expertly written by Andy Couch of Beerscribe.com. Get this book, seriously.

The Beer Book, Your Drinking Companion to Over 1,700 Beers edited by Tim Hampson. Published October 2008.

Ratchet Rating: 4 (out of 5) Pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: Any imported craft beer.

Another great find at McKays. I’ll let you in on a secret. I have a friend that works there and get books for the price McKays pays for them. Every once in a while, I’ll go over there, pick out a few things and hand them to this person to buy. This person comes over to my house after work where they are compensated with, you guessed it, beer. Alright, so yeah, this book. It’s primarily an encyclopedia of beer. Not just craft beer, it has history and information about the big corporate beers too. This is a beautifully produced coffee table book with full-page photos. Beers are arranged by country and geographical area. Anyone who is lucky enough to travel overseas should consult this book for craft beer choices.  I wouldn’t call this a comprehensive guide, just for the fact that the brewerys that are included, only 2 of their beers are featured. There are a few examples of it’s age (it came out in 2008) because some beers might no longer be produced by the brewers and some of the beer labels might have changed. This should not count against it however. It’s a great book with a lot of relevant information. This book is currently only $16 on Amazon. At that price, there is no excuse not to pick this up. Last I checked McKays had another pristine copy marked at only $10. That is well worth the price. Get this and you’ll be happy you did.

The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by Garrett Oliver. Published October 2011.

Ratchet Rating: 5 (out of 5) Pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: ANY beer.

This is the definitive encyclopedia of all things beer. I heard about this book before it was available. I first got to see it for myself at a Knox Beer Crew tasting in January. I knew right away that I had to have it. The next day I got online and scored a copy. This book has a cover price of $65, but you can get it much cheaper than that. I scored my copy for $30 shipping and all, from eBay. I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!! I mean seriously. Pretty much anything you wanted to know about beer can be found in it. Want to know the true history of IPA? It’s in there. Want to know what type of acids are in a hop cone? It’s in there. When I first got this book, I was determined to read it from cover to cover. It really is an encyclopedia in alphabetical order. I got mostly through “A” before I was overwhelmed with information. I had to put it down and read something else. I do still plan on reading it all the way through, but not all at once. For now, it’s a great guide. If I want to look up a certain type of hop, a brewing technique, or a yeast strain this helps immensely. Anyone who is into craft beer should have this book. It is worth it’s weight in gold.

The last one is NOT a beer book, but I want to tell you about it anyway. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. Published 1979.

Ratchet Rating 5 (out of 5) pints. Suggested beer to drink while reading: something cheap from a can.

Ever since I first heard about Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern, I wanted to go back and reread this book. When I broke the news, I knew I had to get a copy. I first read this book back around ’96 or so when I moved to Knoxville. I was living with a bunch of guys in the Fort Sanders neighborhood and there was a well-worn copy kicking around the house. Honestly, I remembered very little of what I read back then. I also didn’t get the street and neighborhood references being that I was new to town. I picked up my new copy at Central Street Books that is in the building that use to be the Corner Lounge. It’s fitting since that I got it there since “The Corner” is mentioned a couple of times in the book.  The city of Knoxville is pretty much the star of this novel. I won’t comment much on the story other than to say I really enjoyed it. It’s written in typical Cormac McCarthy style with periodic long and almost hallucinogenic flowing descriptions. When I read it I could picture what Knoxville looked like back in the 1950s when the story takes place. Also from the sounds of it, certain parts of this town were a real shit hole back then. This book also spurred my curiosity of what Knoxville use to look like back in the day, to the point that I went to Union Avenue books and looked through the old Knoxville photographic history books they have for sale there. If you want an entertaining story, and a window back to Knoxville of old, read this.

I have 2 more beer books I’ve gotten recently that I look forward to reading.They were found at McKays. The first is The History of Beer in America by Yenne Bill. Flipping through it so far, it’s very intriquing. I can’t wait to throughly digest it. The next book is The Naked Pint an Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer by Christine Perrozzi and Hallie Beaune. I haven’t even cracked this book open, but it looks good so far. I will report back on both of these books at a later date.

Well that’s my post for now. I do want to give a big shout out to everyone that came out to infusion night at The Casual Pint last Wednesday. It went over really well, and we do plan on doing it again in April. We picked one date already, but I realized later on that I already have plans that night. As soon as I talk with Nathan and nail down another date for our infusion of Woodruff’s Blonde ale run through fresh cut strawberries, I will let you know.

Until next time,



Infusion Night at @TheCasualPint and a report about our last #KnoxBeerCrew meeting

March 26, 2012

Appreciation of craft beer is growing at an incredible rate. It seems like every week a new brewery pops up on the otherside of the mountains in NC (where the laws make it easier then here in TN). It also seems that every week I learn about a new beer festival as well. Just today I found out about Asheville Brews Cruise’s new “The Best Firkin Beer Festival” taking place April 28th. So many festivals, so little time. I understand that beer festivals taking place almost every weekend is just a part of craft beer becoming so popular.  As I think about it though, even if had unlimited money and zero responsibility I would still pick and choose which beer fest I go to. If I went to one every weekend, I’m sure I’d find myself getting burnt out. A “festival fatigue” if you will.

Because of the amount of festivals taking place, it really takes something different and special to pique my interest. The upcoming Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza is one of those. This inaugural festival has been in the planning for over a year. It’s brought to you by the same crew that puts on the Kingsport Oktoberfest. I’m in constant communication with the main organizer, Aaron Carson, who gives me updates. Everytime a new brewery is added and everytime a special cask conditioned ale is made for this festival, I get a call from Aaron. I can hear the excitement in his voice as he lays out the new details. Him and his crew have worked really hard to bring a one of a kind experience to the often overlooked Johnson City, TN.  There is a lot more I could say about this festival, but honestly my man Don of the Knox Beer Snobs has already said it better than I could at his post here.

That being said, here is a list of festivals that I plan on attending this year, with a quick note about each.

Thirsty Orange April 14th, Johnson City.  I’ll be serving my Orange Ginger Pale Ale, A Chocolate Ale, my Hop Boom! IPA and a homemade cream soda. The Orange Ginger Pale Ale will be infused with shredded fresh ginger, mandarin orange slices and whole leaf Citra hops.

Beer City Festival, June 2nd in Downtown Asheville. The wrap up to Asheville’s first annual beer week. I’m actually planning on staying in Asheville for the last 4 days of beer week. There are many events planned and even a smartphone app being developed. Tickets are almost sold out, so if you plan on going, you better get one quick.

Knoxville Brew Fest, Saturday June 23rd at Southern Railway Terminal in Knoxville. I’ll be serving here as well. I plan on having a wild flower wheat beer, a stout on nitro, a Maibock and my Rauchbier. I should have my merchandise for sale as well.

Kingsport Oktoberfest, September 21st and 22nd, the streets in front of the Chamber of Commerce, Kingsport, TN. Last year’s event is still one of my favorites. This year it’s going to be bigger and better. I plan on serving my beer at this event, same as I did last year.

Great American Beer Festival, October 11-13th, Denver Colorado. This is the Grand daddy of all of the American Beer Festivals. 3 days, 450+ breweries. I’m saving now for this. The only drawback is that I’ll miss the Asheville Oktoberfest which is scheduled on the same Saturday this year.

Knoxville Brewer’s Jam, October 6th at World’s Fair Park. Knoxville’s first and premier beer festival. I always serve beer at this event as part of the Tennessee Valley Homebrewers club. There is an idea kicking around to team up with a few other Knox Beer Crew homebrewers and getting our own tent this year. We’ll have to see. Either way I’ll have some tasty beers to share.

These are all the beer events I plan on attending as of now, but it’s subject to change.


Report on the Knox Beer Crew meeting last weekend.

Thanks to Jason and Beverley Anderson for hosting the tasting at their house. We had many new members show up and there was a great selection of beers shared. I brought a 2012 bottle of Sexual Chocolate that I traded for. We also got to try Brooklyn Black OpsFounders Curmudgeans Better Half 2012,  Dogfish Sah’tea, Mikkeller 1000 IBU, Avery Samael’s Oak-Aged Ale, Nantahala Trail Magic Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Southern Tier  2X Stout, Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout, Ommegang Adoration Ale, Great Divide 17th Anniversary, Founders Imperial Stout, Cigar City Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale and a giant 3 liter bottle of Stone 10th Anniversary Ale opened as seen in the below video:

Also some really cool pictures as well (click to make big).


Well I took my ABC course and should have my card soon. This means I’ll legally be able to pour high gravity beer at events. This is something that Johnson City’s attorney is requiring in order to serve beer at the Thirsty Orange. If you are going to work in a restaurant or bar in TN serving alcohol, this is required by the state. I learned quite a bit in that class including how sophisticated fake ids are now.


Large corporate macrobrew has long been known for it’s rampant sexism.  Because of this, women haven’t always been treated equally in the beer industry when it comes to pay and respect. Thankfully this is changing. Craft beer is for everyone (of age), and there is a new group in town of kick ass women who want to spread knowledge, love and understanding of craft beer. They are the Barley’s Angels and they their first meeting coming up soon. For more information about how you can join and/or support this righteous group of sisters, and what they are about, check out Knox Hop’nings.


One last thing as a reminder. This Wednesday I’m teaming up with The Casual Pint for our first beer infusion night. We’ll be running Woodruff’s Porter through my infuser packed with cocoa nibs and shredded coconut. If this event goes well, we plan on doing an infusion once a month. Please come out and support. I hope to see you all there.

More next week,


Great for the #KnoxBeer scene @KnoxBeerSnobs @KnoxBeerCrew @KnoxHopnings spread the news @TheCasualPint @DtWineKnox

March 16, 2012


That’s how I feel about what I am going to tell you. Now, I might be getting a little over excited. It could be I’m blowing this out of proportion, but honestly I’ve been waiting for something like this for awhile. For about a month I’ve been giving a few of you hints about this. I had a meeting with the owners of a new establishment coming to downtown, and they gave me the go ahead to break the news. Knoxville is getting a new craft beer bar. Specifically, Knoxville is getting it’s first craft beer bar that is going to specialize in high gravity beer! It’s called Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern. It’s located in the space between Downtown Wine and Spirits and Morelock Music on Gay Street. It’s currently under construction with a projected opening the last weekend in April. I saw the plans and this place is going to be really nice! They are building it with craft beer fans in mind. It’s purely a bar (no kitchen) but they do plan to provide snacks for the thirsty and also to have something to help clear your palate between rounds. There are some details still being worked out such as the number of taps they’ll have (I’ve heard anywhere between 16 and 40 being discussed) but I was assured a majority would be high grav. There will also be a display cooler of rare and exotic beers as well. I was shown the design and can describe the decor as simple yet elegant. The back wall will have a little stage for music. This will not be a tv bar, but they do plan to have a 100 inch screen in the back. However, I was told it will only really be turned on for big sports games and the occasional movie night. I can’t wait for this place to open, and really hope it does well. If you are a craft beer fan, you’ll love this place.

Moving on to something else I’m a little more involved in. I’m teaming up with The Casual Pint to bring Knoxville it’s first ever beer infusion night. This is going to take place on Wednesday March 28 from 6-9pm. For those not familar with beer infusing, let me explain. We will be taking a keg of Woodruff’s Porter and running it through a randal packed with cocoa nibs and shredded coconut. The beer takes on those flavor characteristics. I did this at home months back when I first got my infuser and it was amazing. The beer seriously tasted just like a mounds candy bar. Other cities have been doing infusions for awhile. Asheville Brewing Company is famous for their once a week infusion night, where they blend unique flavors. One of the infusions became so popular, customers demanded they add it to their regular line up. This is how the beer called Fire Escape came into being. They infused peppers with their escape artist pale ale, and people could not get enough. Beer infusing has not been done before in Knoxville. For a unique taste and experience, I hope you come out and try it. We plan on doing this once a month if it’s successful. Every month will be something different. Some ideas we are kicking around for the future are infusing a blonde ale with fresh cut strawberries, running an IPA through fresh whole leaf hops or trying vanilla bean pods and cinnamon sticks with a stout.

One last thing I wanted to mention for this update is that Downtown Wine and Spirits has just gotten a new shipment of rare and hard to find beer. New to the store is Fantome Noel. They told me that they have asked for this beer for 5 years and got 6 of the 8 cases that came to East TN.  Achel Trappist Blonde, Shipyard Smashed BlueberryWeissenohe Bonator Doppel Bock have also arrived. If you know about these beers, you know how hard they are to find. Much like the shipment of Sweetwater 420 IPA, these won’t be around long, so I suggest you get down there. Tell the guys Ratchet sent you and sign up for their email list. They just might hook you up with a discount.

Well that’s my exciting news.  Please repost and let’s help the Knoxville beer scene grow. The more we support things, the more beers the distributors will see fit to bring to this area. That translates into more variety available to us craft beer lovers.



Update: This news has been making the rounds since I announced it. Check out this great write up and one of my new favorite blogs, Stuck Inside of Knoxville: Click Here . Also Mero Pulse has mentioned it, and WATE had this video about it: WATE Story about Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern

My great weekend visiting North Carolina breweries.

March 12, 2012

Beer people are good people. No matter where I travel, this always seems true. Craft beer fans as a whole are generous men and women who give to the community and love to share. The sharing takes many forms. There is often open exchange of ideas, brewing practices and special reserve bottles from private stashes. This is exactly what I encountered this weekend.

I’ve planned my trip to Bryson City for Nantahala Brewing Company’s Trail Magic Ale bottle release as soon as I first read about it online. This was shortly after the Winter Warmer Beer Festival in Asheville this past January. It was at that event where I had my first experience with Nantahala’s beer. After so many samples at a festival like that, things tend to get fuzzy for me. My distinguishing of beers pretty much degrades to “like” or “do not like”. When I tried Nantahala’s brews near the end of the event, they were definitely in the “like” catagory. In fact, I remember having the Noon Day IPA and ATX Pale Ale, and how they really caught my attention. So when I got home and wrote my Winter Warmer post, I looked up Nantahala Brewing Company online. That’s when I found out about the Trail Magic Ale bottle release. Being the beer tourist that I am, this event seemed tailor made for me. I’m always looking for an excuse to get out and visit breweries. A limited edition release of a Bourbon Barrel aged Imperial Stout by a brewery not to far away? By one that makes really good beer? For me, that’s a sure shot.

Originally my plan was to arrive early Friday afternoon, spend the night at the Motel and then go to the bottle release the next day. I would follow that with a quick visit to Heinzelmannchen 30 minutes away then head back to Knoxville and be home by mid afternoon on Saturday. I had planned to brew another batch for The Thirsty Orange Beer Festival on Sunday. As far as my traveling partners, it flipped back and forth. First my son and his mom were going to go. Then they wanted to stay at home since they just got back from the beach and long driving times a few days prior. Then one of my Knox Beer Crew buddies was going to accompany me, but couldn’t get his weekend work shift covered. It looked to be a solo trip. I’ll tell you what happened, but first another story.

Last week I poured my heart, soul, money and time to brew a batch of Rauchbier. This style is a lager, which means it has a very specific temperature range the yeast ferment at. I have a old chest freezer that I got off of craigslist about a year ago that I use as a beer fridge and lager fermentation cabinet. This thing is a beast. I did have some problems with it several months ago. A repair guy came out, told me it had a leak and charged me an arm and a leg to refill the freon. My thoughts were that the fridge had worked well for the 8 months I owned it. If I had to get the freon refilled once a year, then it was still cheaper then buying a new one. During my beer’s fermentation, I was constantly checking the inside temperature with my infrared thermometer. The 1st couple of days it was spot on. The next  day the temp had gone up a couple of degrees. No big deal, I just adjusted the thermostat down. The next day it was a few more degrees higher. Ok, more tweaking of the thermostat. Thursday it was even higher. Oh crap, I thought. At this point the compressor was running non-stop. Thursday night before bed, I unplugged the thermostat interruptor and put the freezer on full blast. Than night I had nightmares of unpleasant off flavors developing in my beer. I seriously had dreams that were like a scene in a movie where the main character has every bad home brew cliche happen to him. I woke up in cold sweat at 4 am, hopped out of bed, went to my chest freezer and put my thermometer on the carboy. It was at 58 degrees, the upper temp range for that yeast. No, this can’t be happening!!!! Argh! There is no way I could sleep now. I got online and researched models, prices, locations and reviews of every chest freezer for sale in the greater Knoxville Area. Lowes and Home Depot seemed like my best bet. They are both near each other a short drive away from where I live. They both opened at 6 am. I took measurements of my freezer, my doorways, my carboys and my kegs. Then I drove down and did some comparison shopping at both locations. I ended up settling on a nice Maytag that had the capacity to fit several carboys and kegs at the same time. How could I get it home? My pickup truck died 2 months ago. Home Depot did have truck rental, but then I remembered that my son’s grandma had a van. I measured the inside of the van and realized a chest freezer could fit. That all being figured out, I still had to go to work. Originally, I arranged to get off work at 2:30 to head to Bryson City. When my boss came in to the office, I explained my appliance emergency to her. Lucky for me, I have the coolest, most supportive boss ever. She told me to go home and get it taken care of. I appreciated her offer, but being a good employee means not leaving my work unfinished. I worked quickly through my task list which included getting the billing out, and going to court to get a subpoena issued. I got home around one and borrowed the van. I went and purchased my new freezer, brought it home and quickly swapped it out. While this was going on, I somehow convinced my son and his mom to go with me on this trip. We ended up on the road around 5 pm, which was 2 hours later then originally anticipated.

Bryson City NC is nestled in the middle of the Smoky Mountains not to far way from Cherokee. The drive includes great views and scenery, combined with curvy mountains roads. We arrived around 7 pm. I checked into our motel and went over to the brewery. The Friday night pre-bottle release party was promoted as a beer geek bottle swap, so I came prepared with a cooler full of goodies. As I arrived at the brewery, the first thing I noticed was the building. It was huge space and beautifully done. I found a place to put down my cooler, went to the bar and ordered a glass of the Trail Magic Imperial Stout. As soon as I had my first sip, I knew I made the right decision to visit. After a few more minutes I went up to a group of guys wearing Nantahala shirts. I started talking with them, and they introduced me to the head brewer, Greg. We hit it off right away and he gave me a tour. Natahala Brewing Company uses a 10 barrel brewing system and several conical fermenters. As an interesting note, this system is the same one that R J Rockers started off with. When they upgraded, they sold their old equipment to Nantahala. Greg also explained to me about their system’s size limitations.  They could only fit so many pounds of grain in the mash tun at a time, so they have to do smaller batches if they want to brew a high gravity beer like Trail Magic. Due to the size of the building, they easily have room to install a bigger system with taller fermenters as they grow. We talked more about beer, and I showed him my cooler full of brews. I ended up making an incredibly amazing trade with him. As the night progressed, the party moved from the front tasting room to back in the brewing area. I met some really great beer lovers from all over and several homebrewers as well. There was a great couple from Upstate NY, some guys from Atlanta, a fellow homebrewer from Walland and another from Sylva.  There was even a couple who were hiking through the area who were invited by the brewery. So big shout out to Joe, Mike, Dan, KP, Kwesi, Dave, his wife and everyone who’s name I either forgot or got wrong. It was truly an honor to drink with y’all. Since it was a beer swap party, everyone brought absolutely amazing beers to taste and share. I opened a bottle of Sweetwater’s Dank Tank 420 IPA. The guys there from Atlanta told me that they couldn’t even get this there. I was astounded. They explained that word on the street was that it was so rare because something happened at the brewery and Sweetwater lost half of their batch. In addition to the Sweetwater Dank Tank, I had also brought homebrews. Some others did as well. Joe from Walland brought a great selection of Brettanomyces based brews that were really well done. I ended up trading hima couple of my homebrews for a bottle of his saison and a lambic. One of the brewery volunteers, Mike, traded me his Heinzelmannchen growler for a Sweetwater 420 IPA and a homebrew. That growler would come in handy the next day. After many hours of conversation and so many rare and amazing beers, the night ended. I walked back to the hotel and slept soundly.

Saturday at noon was the bottle release. To kill time beforehand, my son, his mom and myself walked around downtown Bryson City. We stopped for coffee at The Cork and Bean which is a really nice coffee shop in an old bank building. I really liked this place, and the employees there were super friendly.  At 11:30 or so I went to the brewery to hang out until it was time to buy bottles. They were offering to sell 4 bottles per person. All the fellow beer geeks from the night before were there, and my Knox Beer Crew buddy, Cutter, Showed up for the release. Noon came and we lined up for our bottles. I got my four and my son’s mom got 4 more for me. I overheard talk of them waiting until later that afternoon and possibly letting people buy up to a case. I was kidding with my son about needing a disguise so I could get back in line. Leave it to kids to take you serious because he immediately ran to the van and came back with Groucho Marx glasses with the fake nose, mustache and eyebrows. I went to the end of the line, and people were smiling and laughing at my attempt to get more bottles. The guys must of thought it was a good attempt too, so they let me get 4 more. All in all, I did end up with a case, which is good because I plan on sharing and trading them with friends who couldn’t make it.

Well, after saying goodbye to my new friends, we headed towards Heinzelmannchen in Sylva, NC. Let me help you out with how to pronounce the brewery’s name. It’s Hein-zul-man-chen. The brewery has a saying to help you remember. It’s “People pay attention when you ask for Heinzelmannchen“.  It’s pretty clever if you ask me.

I’ve met braumeister Dieter at last year’s Kingsport Oktoberfest. At that event he had a cocoa porter called “Chocolate Covered Gnome“. It is an amazing beer that blew me away the first time I tried it. I had a long conversation with Dieter who told me how to get the cocoa flavor in the brew. I’ve know many homebrewers that have tried, only to have the cocoa powder settle out in the fermentor. I have tried brewing with cocoa nibs as well but had some unexpected issues. He let me how he figured it out through trial and error and told me if I told anyone, he’d have to kill me. I know he was kidding, but when a big German guy with an accent tells you something like that, it’s best not to chance it. Seriously though, Dieter is one of the nicest guys in the brewing world that you’ll ever meet.

Well I was glad to finally get to stop in and check out his operation. Dieter brews oon a 7 barrel system that he described to me as being “Frankenstiened”. His brewery is small, offers samples for sale, but does not have an actual tasting room. His beer is sold by the keg and by the growler. They also sell jugs of soda, root beer and birch beer. My son got a jug of the root beer, and I had my new growler filled with Chocolate Covered Gnome. After giving Dieter a bottle of my home brewed Spicy Cocoa Stout and taking a few pictures, we headed out. Our next stop was Waynesville, NC where I visited Frog Level Brewing.

Frog Level Brewing is relatively new, having opened their tasting room just in the last few months. I walked in right at 2pm on Saturday which is their listed opening time. I could tell they weren’t expecting anyone that early, as the place was empty and the bar stools were still up off the floor. I saw someone on the back patio and went and spoke with him. It turned out to be the brewer, Clark Williams. He was as nice as he could be and apologized for not being ready. I told him it was fine, that I was passing through on a beer tour and wanted to drop by and check things out. He was painting tables on their beautiful back patio. He said that his assistant brewer should be in any time to pour beers, but if I wanted he was more then happy to wash his hands and come in and help me. I’m not one to interrupt a man in the middle of a project, so I thanked him and told he I’m in no hurry and was happy to wait.  Not a minute later the assistant (whos name I forgot, sorry) came in and we started talking. Frog Level is truly a nano-brewery that brews on a 1 barrel Sabco System. They have three beers that they brew. They also have a guest tap that had Heinzelmannchen’s Gnarly Gnome on it. The beers offered by Frog Level Brewing are: Catcher in the Rye (a Rye P A), Tad Pole Porter and Lily’s Cream Boy (a Cream Ale). I opted for a sample pour of all three. I enjoyed speaking with the assistant brewer who’s name I feel like an ass for forgetting. Half way through my sampling I felt a presence and looked over. My new buddies that Ihad met at Nantahala, Dan and KP  from Atlanta had wandered in. The Brewer, Grant,  joined us and we talked some more about his beer and the brewery. I could have stayed there all day, but I knew my son was hungry and eager to get to his favorite place to eat in Asheville, the Pizza & Brewing Company. Dan told me about a beer store that I should check out in Asheville, Appalachian Vinter. I told him I am a big Bruisin Ales fan. He insisted that I check out this new place. I felt conflicted by my loyalty to Bruisin, but took his advice. 

I drove to Asheville and arrived at Appalachian Vinter, which is near the Biltmore Village area of town. It is a great spacious store that sells wine and craft beer. In the middle of the store is a bar that had several taps of greatness. Their selection rivals Bruisin Ales, and the prices were lower as well. The store is owned by 2 brothers and I got to talking with one of them who turned out to be a really cool guy.  He said that he had just moved the store into that new place, and still didn’t have all his shelves put up. I dug the layout and the vibe. If it wasn’t for the waiting kid and his mom in the van, I could have spent hours sipping and talking beer. I plan on doing just that next time I go. I still got love for Bruisin Ales, but I think Appalachain Vinters will get most of my beer purchasing dollars in the future based on the prices. So thanks Dan from Atlanta for the heads up. I made my purchase and heading to my next stop, The Thirsty Monk.

Knox Beer Crew founder Matt Crowell and his wife Kristen were in Asheville for the day, so we planned to meet for beer at The Thirsty Monk in Downtown. While my son and his mom went to French Broad Chocolate, I went and had a quick flight of samples with Matt and Krissy. It’s always a pleasure to hang with local buddies while in another city. One of the things I love about that bar is that everyone there is a beer geek. Don’t expect to find multi-national corporate macro brews on tap, only the finest in craft beer. I met a really nice couple sitting next to me at the bar and we had a great conversation. I told them about the upcoming Beer City Fest, and the Thirsty Orange Beer Fest. I believe that they said they live in Maggie Valley and travel  often to visit nearby breweries. They were big fans of Frog Level Brewing as well. They seemed like genuinely good people, and I hope to run into them again sometime.

Well, I finished my flight of beers and said goodbye to Matt and Krissy. I met up with my son and his mom who were adventuring through downtown. We drove down Merrimon Avenue to Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company. My son was happy to finally get to play video games and have dinner. I only had 1 beer with my dinner, Shiva Ratri, a double IPA. By that time I was pretty tired from all the traveling and beer sampling. On the way out, I purchased a six pack of Shiva IPA cans. My son’s mother drove us home and I slept for most of the ride. I woke up when we were on the outskirts of Knoxville. I thought of the great adventure that I just had.  I might have spent all my savings this weekend, but I’m grateful that I had it to do what I did. I am grateful for the company of my son Orion and his mom, Mary.

 I’m glad I made some new friends this weekend and I hope we have the opportunity to enjoy beer together in the future. Thanks for checking out my adventure. If I met you this weekend and you are checking out my little hobby of a website, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you all. Until next time…



(click on pictures below to enlarge).

A few short items in this update for updating’s sake.

March 3, 2012

I am really trying to keep this website up to date, but I can only post so many “look at me, I’m at a beer fest” or “follow my brew day” post before it gets old. I do however, want to make a honest effort to post more often. Here are a few things going on lately.


In other news, local craft beer market The Casual Pint has recently doubled the amount of beer they on tap. This place has really grown on me. The owner, Nathan, really goes out of his way to bring in some unique beers. They have also added patio furniture just in time for spring. They have some of the best craft beer happy hour specials in town, so head down there, grab a pint and relax. Tell them Ratchet sent you.

The Casual Pint, now with even more beer on tap!

Speaking of craft beer stores, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bearden Beer Market. The weather is getting nice, there are more daylight hours and now is the time to get in shape. Every Monday at 6:30 is the fun run. Run, jog or walk, go at your own pace and have fun. $1 off all drafts when you get back to the shop. They are also having a Bar Stool decorating contest. If you have a structally sound bar stool that you’d like to decorate and donate, the Beer Market will give you a BBM shirt, growler and you could win other prizes. Make sure to check out their website for more details.

Go to Bearden Beer market’s website for more details

One other local beer news of note. Rumor has it that a new high gravity beer bar will be opening in Downtown. I know the name of it, I know where it’s located and I even know who is running it. I don’t know how much information the owners want announced about it at this point, so I’m keeping all this under wraps until I get the go ahead from them. With any luck I’ll get a Friday and Saturday night bartending gig there.

A few events of note coming up. Next weekend Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City, NC is having a bottle release party for their Trail Magic Imperial Stout. I plan on going Friday night for the beer geek bottle swap party, and Saturday at noon is the actual bottle release. I plan on going with a friend and fellow member of the Knox Beer Crew. If anyone else wants to go, I recommend booking your room now at the Relax Inn. The rooms are cheap and it’s only a block away from the tap toom. After the bottle release on Saturday, I plan on taking a short trip to Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva, NC before heading back to Knoxville. I’ve also Just learned of Frog Lvel Brewing Company in Waynessville, so I muight as well visit there and end my trip in Asheville. I’ll have to see what my finances look like.

Coming up April 14, 2012 is The Thirsty Orange beer festival in Johnson City. I keep saying I am going to dedicate a whole post to this. For now, I encourage everyone to check out the website. I will be serving my homebrew at this event.

June 23rd 2012 at the Southern Railway Terminal in Knoxville is the Knoxville Brew fest. I will be serving homebrew there as well.

On the Home brewing front, I have been busy. Last week I brewed my entry for the Thirsty Orange Iron Brewer Competition. Tomorrow I am brewing a tradition German Rauchbier. I went all out when it came to the planning of this one. I have been researching the style for awhile, even going as far as buying and reading the book, Smoked Beers by Ray Daniels and Geoff Larson. I want this beer to be perfect. I even made an all malt starter, which basically a mini batch of beer to get my yeast going. My lager yeast is happily fermenting away at 50 degrees in beer fridge. This is the beer I plan on entering in this year’s Knoxville Homebruin Competition taking place in May. The stakes are high, with the best of show beer being scaled up and brewed commercially at Smoky Mountain Brewery. I don’t want to have unrealistic expectations, but even if I don’t win, it’s still a style I don’t mind having on tap at home. Speaking of home taps, my used fridge I turned into a kegerator is working out nicely. I have room in it for 6 homebrew kegs. I currently have 4 taps installed. My stout faucet will be here next week, and I look forward to have a my cocoa stout on nitrogen.

This is all for now. I will report back on my trip next weekend. One more thing to add before I go. If you are a craft beer lover in the Knoxville area, you should really consider joining the Knox Beer Crew. We are having monthly sampling sessions at Bearden Beer Market where members bring hard to find beers from their adventures and trades around the country. Last month’s sampling was a stellar line up. Hanging out with fellow beer geeks and drinking great brews? How can you resist? I plan on having some killer Imperial Stout at our next meeting. Hope to see you there.