Yesterday started off in typical fashion with the hunt for coffee. Being away from my cold, dark room at home makes it a little bit more difficult to sleep as long as I would like to in a hotel. My body woke up promptly at 7:15 and wouldn’t allow me to go back for a few more hours. I grabbed my computer and snuck out of the hotel to let Katie finish snoozing.
Since I’m in town and am looking for new experiences, I thought I’d try a different coffee shop other than Izzy’s. Checking “the Google“, I decided to head over to High Five based on their online ratings. They serve counter-culture coffee, which is one of my favorite fair-trade organic brands. Being that it was morning and I could already feel the heat of the day approaching, I opted for an iced coffee, sat down with my drink, and settled in to write my post.
An hour later, my Internet privileges had expired, so I went to the counter to purchase something else. The staff there told me how to get back online, and after struggling with it for five minutes, I asked someone who worked there for assistance. They were very helpful and I was able to get back online and continue writing. About this time, Katie had awoken and texted me. I told her where I was and she came to meet me and help me work on my blog. She is one helluva great editor when it comes to my somewhat rambled and disjointed writings. (She insisted I take this part out but I won’t let her.)
We worked until it was time to leave to go to meet with Billy Pyatt at Catawba Valley Brewing Company in Morganton, N.C. Located an hour east from Asheville, Catawba Valley is one of the local craft beer brands that has been available in Knoxville for as long as I can remember. Back when the only place to get a craft beer was Barley’s, I fondly remember nights of drinking their Firewater IPA. So, when we ran into Billy when we came into town on Monday and he graciously extended his invitation to visit, that made it to the top of our Must-Do list.
The drive over didn’t seem to take long at all, and we arrived in downtown Morganton at Catawba’s spacious location. Billy was expecting us and warmly greeted us at the door. He was finishing up a phone meeting with a new distributor, so we had time to admire their set up and take a few pictures.
Billy didn’t keep us waiting more than a minute or two, and started off the tour by telling us about Catawba’s Asheville expansion. For those of you who haven’t heard, Catawba Valley is opening a small 7-barrel specialty brewery in the space across the street from French Broad Brewery, in Asheville’s Biltmore district.
As we spoke, we walked around and he showed us a few critical pieces of Catawba’s infrastructure, such as the grain hopper, glycol system, and their 10-barrel brewhouse. We met with Scott, Billy’s brother, co-owner, and head brewer, while he was finishing up a batch of their famous King Coconut Porter. I always find the smell of cooking wort intoxicating. As he opened the brew kettle, I took a big whiff. I love that smell!
Having grown organically over the years, it seemed Billy and Scott had a story about each and every piece of equipment over the years. For example, I noticed a big, tall, 40-barrel fermenter looming ahead. Billy told us the story of how that used to be one of Highland Brewery’s first fermenters back when they were brewing in the basement of Barley’s.He said it sat abandoned for years and it was a three-day, slow, meticulous process to remove it from the building so that they could put it back to use at Catawba.
Billy also pointed out various fermenters that they were testing or were planning to install at the new locale. As everyone who is familiar with Catawba knows, when it comes to packaging, not only are their increasingly popular beers available on draft at locations throughout the southeast, but they are also a packaging brewery that opts to can their beer.
We worked our way over toward their rather impressive and relatively new canning line. Billy walked us through each step of the process, going as far as canning up a special can of Catawba Valley canning line water to bestow upon my Khaleesi. She was pretty excited.
It takes about one to one and a half seconds per can to fill and seal. As quickly as they can can the beer, the labeling process is a whole lot more tedious. Each label is applied manually by hand. For each twenty barrel batch of beer that is canned, Billy advises that it takes their employee a solid three days to apply all the labels to a batch. But man, does it look good! Catawba is also very adamant about the quality of their beer and they weigh each individual can to make sure not one single customer will ever be shorted.
Next, we walked through a secret door and ended up, low and behold, in their tasting room. I can definitely imagine this being THE place to spend your weekend nights. Actually, unbeknownst to us, Billy is very familiar with this building. Having grown up in the area, he used to visit this very space back in his high school days when it was a BYOB honky-tonk dive, “Slick Willie’s”. Needless to say, it’s come a long way since then!
Weeks are filled with event nights in the tasting room, everything from Thursday open-mike nights, to traveling bands, to wedding and corporate receptions. While food isn’t offered, the small-town feel of Morgantown really comes alive with the fact that so many catering options are available. We didn’t want to impose for too long, as Billy’s a very busy man, and as we were saying our goodbyes, he kindly offered a six pack of our choice to take with us. We both agreed – Firewater IPA.
Right before we left, he recommended his favorite local eatery, Pat’s Snack Bar, to fill our bellies before the drive back home. Once again, I really want to thank Billy and Scott for their gracious hospitality. We cannot wait to come and visit their new Asheville location when it opens in August. Here’s a small clip to show you how contagious Billy’s enthusiasm can be.
After the visit to Morganton, we drove back and took a quick swim at the hotel before preparing ourselves to go back out again. There were (as usual) plenty of events that were going on that evening, so we wanted to hit as many of them as possible.
We first visited the new wine/beer bar, Weinhaus on Coxe Avenue close to the Monk. I’ve visited this shop often over the years, when it simply a bottleshop and not a bar. I can remember, over 10 years ago, buying Highland bombers for $3 or $4 each, going back and selling them to my buddies for a flat $5 (to make up the gas money, of course). Tonight, the Oskar Blues rep Amy was hosting a pint night. So we headed into Amy’s Weinhaus to take a quick video (as seen below) and sample the Chardonnay-barrel aged Mama’s YellaPils, as well as one of my favorite high gravity IPAs, Gubnah.
I spoke with the store manager, and Amy’s boss, Chris Russell the Oskar Blues Southeast sale manager on our way out. Khaleesi and I talked his ear off about how excited we were that they had joined with Lipman Brother’s Distributing and were going to be a part of the Knox beer culture soon! I heard that cans are already starting to show up in the big stores like Kroger, having been at The Casual Pint and a few other of our favorite beer stores for a few weeks now.
Thursday was one of the busiest days of Ashville Beer Week schedule-wise, with many events going on within walking distance. Although the Highland Brewing Company Six Barrel Shoot-Out was at the top of our list, we elected to skip it due to location and to keep from having to drive. As we left Amy’s Weinhaus heading toward Barleys, who would we run into again other than our good buddies and Stone Stalkers. We paused for a quick pic, to show a few of my Knox Beer Crew buddies like Todd and Jason what they were missing out on.
We told Scott and Mitch we’d catch up later (surely) and headed down the road. We arrived at Barley’s too late to meet with the crew of All About Beer, who had invited us to a small event they were doing for Rare and Wild Beer Tasting ticket holders. However, we arrived just in time for the upstairs Foothills Brewing and New Belgium Tap Takeover.
We grabbed seats and I settled up to the bar when I noticed they had this year’s Sexual Chocolate, as well as the 2012 batch. While waiting for the bartender, I chatted with Evan, the Foothills representative. He told me to get the Olde Rabbit’s Foot, which is probably the rarest of the rare when it comes to North Carolina beer. He told me how he had to pull some serious strings and do a lot of pleading to get the brewery to agree to send one small keg to Barley’s for the event. This is the first time his beer has been poured outside either one of the three breweries that produced it. For those of you who don’t know, Olde Rabbit’s Foot is a collaborative effort between Foothills, Olde Hickory, and Duck Rabbit. They combine Sexual Chocolate, Event Horizon, and the DR Signature Milk Stout into the best-tasting bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout I’ve ever had in my life. It was so good that the little devil on my shoulder was trying to tell me to smuggle a growler of this out of the bar to share with my #KnoxBeerCrew pals. The devil on my other shoulder told me to do it to, but I realized how big of an inconvenience it would be, so I just let it go.
We enjoyed our beers at Barley’s while hanging out with crews from both New Belgium and Foothills. It turns out there are quite a few New Belgium people in town from the main plant in Fort Collins, including one of the head brewers, Alex, who, someone who isn’t used to being interviewed or the “face” of New Belgium because of all his behind-the-scenes work. I was able to take a few videos, as seen below.
We then stopped by Jack of the Wood for the Mitch Steele Extravaganza. The chefs had prepared a special menu to pair with some rare Stone beers. Katie opted for the burger and I got an order of the most epic onion rings I’ve ever had in my life, complete with Arrogant Bastard ketchup. We said a quick hello to Mitch and Scott and headed on to our next destination, Wicked Weed.
Everyone knows that Wicked Weed brews some epic saisons, and for this event, they had pulled a keg for pretty much every one they’d ever brewed. We met up with our good friends, the Reinkes, and pulled up seats next to them on the back patio. Adam introduced us to Brent from Riverbend Malt House. I’ve been particularly excited to tour this facility tomorrow before the Beer City Fest. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time in discussion, but am really looking forward to learning more in a just a few hours.
Everyone ended up ordering different saison batches and pass them all around, so we could try to sample them all. I was most with impressed with the V Chocolate and Raspberry Saison they had originally brewed for Valentine’s Day this year. Katie particularly enjoyed the X Passion Fruit Saison. She loves farmhouse ales so was thrilled to participate in this even. Honestly, all of the beers were incredibly great and I was happy to have the opportunity to sample most of them.
At this point it was getting late and we wanted to have one last beer at the Thirsty Monk before we called it a night. However, on par with every other night this week, we arrived at the pub just a few minutes after last call of the night. Accepting fate, we headed back to the hotel where we finished the night off with a bottle of Weyerbacher’s Heresy.
It was a long day, but a good day, and the big plan for tonight is the Asheville Rare & Wild Beer Tasting. Some of our#KnoxBeerCrew buddies are coming up for this event, I’m hoping that when the event ends at 9, we’ll still be physically able to walk over to Wicked Weed for the Batch 69 release, the collaboration between Foothills Brewing Company’s Sexual Chocolate and Wicked Weed’s Freak of Nature IPA. Make sure to check back tomorrow for more stories from#AVLBeerWeek. In the meantime, click the pictures below, and feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!