Comings and goings

     Brechat ram mt hermon

     It's been quiet in here as of late, hasn't it? For good reason, I promise. The end of February and most of March have been very busy for us at Metro Wines. 

     One of our favorite winemakers, Michele D'Aprix, was here not very long ago. Michele is the only American woman wine maker in Bordeaux! And she was actually here IN our store! Not Skype, or Facebook Live, but in the very flesh, enchanting us with stories about life in Bordeaux, and how she comes up with names for her wines. We had a significant turnout that evening, and I'm sure many of you had the pleasure of meeting Michele.

     We also had a fantastic tasting featuring the wines of Donkey & Goat. Based in California, they take a very holistic, "hands off" approach to wine making: natural, sustainable, and biodynamic practices at the vineyard; in the cellar they don't add or take anything from the wine, and they ever only use minimal effective sulphur. They don't stabilize, fine, or filter their wines at bottling. The result is a world of flavors that you don't usually get from these varietals, with a fantastic texture to boot. And, from what I hear, no donkies, nor goats, are ever harmed in the making of the wine.

     I had the pleasure of being invited to the Beth HaTephila Congregation to do a presentation on Kosher wines. This was a great learning opportunity for me. Admittedly, I fell under the umbrella of everyone who believed that all Kosher wines are boiled, and of poor quality, because I was told that long ago, and never questioned it. It was eye-opening, as well as pleasantly surprising to find out that, while some Kosher wines are pasteurized, most are not, and as far as quality goes, there's no difference between a Kosher wine and its conventional counterpart. Chateau Valandraud double magnum, you say? $3,000 at auction. Quality, pedigree, and the history are there to rival the most legendary wines on earth. By the way, that's a picture of the Golan Heights at the top of this post. 

     We have also been making our Auction winners very happy with their tastings. Among the themes for these tastings are "Fun, but not weird," "Wine for Bourbon drinkers," and "Greek wines you've never heard of, or heard of but haven't tried." Retsina, anyone? 

    These are but a few of the activities that have kept me away from the keyboard here at Metro. While things don't seem to be slowing down (which is a good thing), I will try to keep the updates more consistently frequent.  Until next time.

Cheers!  

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Valentine's Day Dinner at the Princess Anne Hotel

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     Bubbles and amuse-bouche; Pinot Gris and Squash soup; Bourgogne Rouge and Duck, fennel, and beet salad; Cabernet and steak. The pairings were fantastically executed (I would know- I was there!), and ensured love remained in the air long into the evening. So did the entire staff at the Princess Anne Hotel, without whom this would not have been possible, nor as successful or enjoyable.

     With every new course came a new wine. Tom Leiner of Grapevine Distributors and I introduced these delights as they were poured, offering small bits of information about the wines and the people who make them. To my relief, it was well received- safe to say we made acceptable entertainers.

     For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with every guest, meeting new faces, and sharing a little of what we do here at Metro. It was my first of such events, and I should like to know it won't be the last. Certainly a memorable experience!

     Again, infinte thanks to the Princess Anne Hotel for hosting the event, their kitchen and wait staff for the impeccable service, and Tom Leiner and Grapevine Distributors for the libations. I had a great time working the event, and look forward to doing it again soon!

 

Cheers!

    

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Wine Basics Class

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     Another week, another class! This time we went back to the drawing board, to expand on the finer details and cover the lesser-known bits of the basics, beyond fermentation, balance and complexity, and typical flavor profiles. For instance, did you know that many of the wines that you've drunk have gone through Malolactic conversion? You may associate this term with white wines, such as Chardonnay and Viognier, and the distinct buttery flavor and creamy texture it imparts on the wine. What's less known about MLF (as this conversion is usually referred to), is that nearly all reds will undergo this process, so it isn't considered a distinctive or differentiating quality. To showcase the effects of MLF, we tasted Talbott Chardonnay from Monterey, California.

    We also covered "lees". Lees are, in simple terms, the dead yeast cells post-fermentation, when they've essentially eaten themselves. This may sound odd, but for some wines, keeping these little critters can enhance the texture, and add complexity to the flavor. Muscadet, legendary friend of oysters, is a great example of a wine aged on the lees, and very often the words "sur lie" will be printed on the label. Albariño and Champagne often get cozy with their defunct friends as well, except it isn't explicit on the packaging. We did in fact taste a wonderful Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie to identify those delicious bready, brioche flavors, as well as the incredible texture that results from this, and we learned that every time we heard the words "autolytic character" this is what was being talked about.

     These are just two of the topics we covered in addition to oak (French vs. American, toast levels, size of the barrel), extraction, terroir, variety vs. varietal (yup, there is a difference!), decanting (when and how to do it), clones, crossings, hybrids, and mutations (Pinot Noir, Gris, and Blanc are the same grape with varying degrees of pigment). We even discussed how to interact with your sommelier at the restaurant to get your wine in perfect drinking condition! To wrap up the evening and, well, enjoy ourselves a bit, we chose a fantastic example of a crossing: Austrian Zweigelt. Delicate flavors of red currants, raspberries, violets, lavender, and earth were just the perfect kiss to send us off.

Cheers!

For more information on our classes, as well as our schedule, visit www.ashevilleschoolofwine.com

 

 

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Traveling vicariously - Tuscany

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     Wine can be, and often is, an expression of the place where it's made; a representation of the local taste and culture, a sense of 'what grows together goes together.' As part of our ongoing Italy class, and thanks to Mark Orsini of Orsini Wines, we tasted our way Tuscany. This means we got really friendly with Sangiovese, as well as other much more rare, but no less tasty varietals: Malvasia frizzante; a Vermentino blended with Fiano, Verdicchio, Incrocio Manzoni, and Petit Manseng; a Bordeaux left-bank style beauty with the kingly name of Atis. While these uncommon wines showcased Italian artistry and creativity, the more familiar names reminded us of the power of tradition: Chianti Classico, Brunello, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. 

     And then, there was Jassarte. Oh, Jassarte! Where old meets new, tradition meets experimentation, and the diversity of the world grows in one small lot of land. This wine is a blend of thirty (yes, THIRTY) grapes, all contributing the same 3.3% to the bottle, with origins that go beyond Italy, both in location and in history. France, Spain, and Greece lend their flavors, as well as the Saperavi grape from Georgia! Saperavi was found in amphorae dating back over 8,000 years, and it is still planted in Georgia today. All of this amounts to a wine that is powerful, but not opulent or hedonistic; complex, yet approachable; great friend of food, and a pleasure to enjoy on its own. 

     This experience would not have reached such heights without Mark and his wines, and Mr. Michele Scienza of Guado al Melo, who was beyond kind to connect via Skype with us so late in the day and take us through the history, land, fruit, and flavor of his little piece of Tuscany. For that, the team at Metro Wines are infintely thankful!

Cheers!

    -Juan.

*For more information on our classes, visit www.ashevilleschoolofwine.com

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Brandi Hillman: Keeping with Tradition

If you ask Brandi Hillman where she gets her tenacity from, she’ll tell you it comes from her mother, who learned it from her mother before her. “My maternal grandmother was from a large tobacco farming family in Madison County, and my maternal grandfather was from a very large family with long term roots in Jackson County.  All the North Carolinian women in these families were strong influences and creating a true connection to Western North Carolina’s independent attitude,” Brandi said.

Brandi’s Mother, Wanda Stephens Herren, set an example for her daughters that if you want something, you go out and do it. She never let anything stand in the way of her goal. Brandi recalls her mother overcoming obstacles as a single parent with a dream. If there was something she wanted she would find a way to raise the money to get it. She earned her real estate license and her contractor’s license so that she would have the means to support her family. This entrepreneurial spirit spilled over to Brandi and her sister Nikki. Both of the sisters eventually chose to pursue their education at North Carolina State University. Nikki studied landscape architecture in college, practiced in that field for many years, and taught agriculture at the local high school. Brandi was a business major that also studied animal sciences and poultry science and was part of an all-girl agricultural fraternity, CERES. Together the two of them started Tuckaseegee Trading Company, a feed and seed store, on an old farm in Cullowhee. Their mother built the building for the store. Nikki has the background to be able to provide excellent wisdom and planting advice for the store’s gardening customers, while Brandi can offer the same level of expertise to livestock and poultry farmers. The store is twelve years old and going strong. But that’s just a small part of Brandi’s entrepreneurship.

In addition to Tuckaseegee Trading Company, Brandi owns three Subway restaurants with her husband, Greig. They take a lot of pride in making their restaurants the best they can be, but they found that they were neglecting a shared passion for craft beer in Asheville. Brandi got bitten by the craft beer bug in the late nineties. She and some friends had gone to Yellowstone National Park to live and work for a year in 1998, and Brandi immediately noticed that the shelves of the beer section didn’t look like they did back home. There were craft beers there from all over the West. She fell in love with Moose Drool by Big Sky Brewing.  “People used to make fun of me in college because they would buy the big cases of [macro beer] and I would be holding my little six pack of Spanish Peaks Brewing Company’s Nut Brown Ale because that was the only craft beer I could find in Raleigh. I caught such hell for my ‘fancy beer’,” She recalls.

 When she and Greig met years later, she converted him to being a craft beer drinker. Shortly after they were married, Greig got a contract with the Army to work as an airplane mechanic in Germany. Brandi and Greig toured several of the breweries in Bavaria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium during their two and a half years abroad. They really fell in love with the dedication to quality they experienced in each beer they tried overseas. They also got to experience a lot of the biergartens and festivals that define the European beer tradition. The love of beer, food and appreciation of nature were instilled at every little biergarten they went to (and that was lot of them). 

Meanwhile, Greig’s brother Brad was homebrewing as a hobby in a tiny Brooklyn apartment. Every time they got together, the brothers talked about starting a brewery. Geography made the logistics of such a venture impossible until late 2015 when Brad moved to Asheville, where Brandi and Greig had been living for several years. The planning for Hillman Beer began in earnest almost immediately upon Brad’s arrival. The three began brewing together in their garage and sharing their beers with friends. Each one of the three Hillmans have their own strengths that contribute to a successful brewery. Brad will be doing most of the brewing. Greig will oversee the business operations and has the skillset to do any maintenance the brewery requires. Brandi will draw on her extensive business experience to manage the bookkeeping and focus on outreach and organizing events at the brewery. They found a location just outside of Biltmore Village and started their renovation in July 2016, with opening day in April 2017. Hillman Beer will start out with a five barrel brewhouse and a line-up of classic styles brewed in the traditional way. They want to bring a little bit of Europe into their taproom experience by offering beers in their purest form.

You can follow their progress and learn more by visiting http://www.hillmanbeer.com/

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Brianna Craig : Four Generations and One on the Way

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Federal Government instituted the Three-Tier System for alcohol. This mandated a “middle man” between the producers of beer, wine, and spirits and the retail establishments that sell them. In order for a bar, restaurant, or bottle shop to have alcohol available to its customers, they must have a state issued license to purchase their alcohol from a distributor. The motive was to prevent the violence and mayhem that existed during The Great Experiment’s era of bootleggers, speak easies, and Mafioso’s.  That same year, Robert Harold (RH) Barringer started a beer distribution company of the same name.

Like the rest of the beer industry, RH Barringer started off with only a few brands, predominantly Budweiser. As the industry diversified, so did RH Barringer. Today they offer the largest selection of North Carolina craft beer brands than any other distributor in the state, and at the helm of the Craft Beer Division is Robert Harold Barringer’s great-granddaughter, Brianna Craig. She represents the fourth generation of the family to take an active role in the company since its founding eighty-three years ago, and the first woman to take an interest in carrying on the RH Barringer legacy. Now that she’s expecting her first child - a daughter - she’s looking forward to raising the fifth generation to blossom in the growing craft beer industry, while she is still growing into the shoes that have been set out for her.

“Craft beer is what ultimately drew me to the company,” Brianna explains. “I pursued an accounting degree at NC State because I wasn’t sure if the company was going to be a good fit for me. At the time it was mostly domestic driven which consists of sales, loading trucks, deliveries and drivers which are more physically demanding and not as [mentally]challenging as I would have preferred. Craft presents challenges and opportunities to constantly learn, change, and grow and this ultimately drew [me] in. I started feeling like I had a field I could really contribute to.”

I think this is the first time I’ve heard anyone say something quite like this, and I wanted to know more about her take on craft beer being the catalyst for women entering the field. She continued, “I’ve never thought of beer as a ‘man’s industry.’ It’s not that women weren’t allowed in, rather it’s that women didn’t have an interest in beer before craft. Now we are seeing a shift in the demographics. Here at RH Barringer, we started out with just two women in our office. Now about half of our office staff is female, let alone our sales staff, which is about 30% female. Whereas before the craft movement, there just wasn’t a whole lot to tickle your fancy. It was a lot of the same styles with subtle differences. It was a dude’s drink, and women preferred wine. I think a lot of that has to do with how many styles of wine there are. That keeps it interesting. Now craft comes along, and there are a lot of styles of beer. All of a sudden beer is interesting to women the same way wine has been.”

Brianna, who is a Certified Cicerone, is excited to see the industry growing and changing in a way that continues to engage women across the three tiers of the beer industry. In this family run business, she has found a unique way to blend the roles of motherhood and Craft Beer Specialist.  “I get to be that woman at the beer festival that people look at and wonder, ‘Why is there a pregnant lady here?’ That’s when I get to explain that I’m here helping with the festival in a professional, educated capacity. I get to be the odd ball person that people notice because they aren’t used to seeing [other pregnant women] in that atmosphere. I think I can use that to let people know that there are more aspects of beer than just drinking it.”

So how does Brianna plan to balance her leadership role with RH Barringer and her leading role as mother to her protégé?

 “I like the idea of having her grow up here,” she explains, referring to the facility she and her family operate. “We did. We had our family Christmas gatherings here in the conference room. We hunted Easter eggs in people’s offices. We’d roll around the warehouse and get all freaked out when they’d close the door to the trailers on us. These are all fun memories to have, but I also want her to be more hands on and learning the processes of what’s going on around her. I just want to teach her as much as I can. I wish I had years more knowledge than I had starting out. I just want to give her all the opportunities. I’d like her to see all the positions from the brewing side to retail, so she can have a better idea of what she’s interested in and what she wants to do when she grows up. I want her to know that she can choose where she wants to go. I think by the time she grows up, this industry will be very different. More women are entering all the time. By the time she’s ready to start her career, she’ll fit right in.”

Brianna also has a lot of goals for her own course and the path of RH Barringer. In our brief conversation, it became clear that this family business hasn’t lost the family feel after eighty-three years and major growth. The company has grown to include four branch offices, each with its own warehouse space, plus a wine distributor. Brianna’s main goal is to continue building the family atmosphere of RH Barringer that extends to their staff and their local community. She is looking forward to continuing the work that RH Barringer has already set forth. The company is a community resource through offering Cicerone education and by hosting homebrew clubs and beer enthusiast groups in their state of the art homebrew kitchen. She’s also looking forward to strengthening her team by identifying each person’s strong suits and putting them in the right positions to showcase those strengths. “Every employee is like family. It’s our job to support them and make sure they have everything they need to be successful,” she finished.

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Happy Brew Year!

“Regarding 2015: I do not care to repeat it. It was a lot of hard work and struggle, but I can say that I am proud of the strides I made this year. My son became (gulp) an adult, I managed to pull off a 4.0, I became a published writer, grew Metro Wines’ beer department from three skus to nearly 100 and added keg sales, worked two full time jobs or was a full time student working full time, and landed my dream job. I have enjoyed the successes, make no mistake. I don’t have plans to slow down any time soon. I have sixteen goals for 2016, and I plan on rocking each of them.”

This was my Facebook status on December 31st, 2015. It was, indeed, a lot of work. In fact, the last three years had been very similar with one exception: there hadn’t been a light at the end of the tunnel. To use a yeast metaphor, I had been in lag phase for a really, really long time. The lag phase is when the yeasts outwardly appear to be dormant, but there is truly a lot of unappreciated work going on. They are taking up oxygen and creating new cells. To the naked eye, all we see is that there isn’t any fermentation happening yet. In other words, the payoff hasn’t started paying off. If 2015 was my lag phase, 2016 has been my exponential growth phase!

I resolved in 2012 that I would go back to school to learn a new skill. It was becoming more and more difficult to eke out an existence with my first career. The recession and technological advances had changed the face of my field along with many others, leaving a large swath of the population wondering, “Now what?” In 2012 my son was entering high school, and my hopes of saving for his college tuition were dwindling with each trip to the unemployment office. It took me a year to work up the nerve, chose a program, and get my ducks in a row to return to school after thirteen years of brain atrophy.   I knew that at one point I had been a good student. I was also acutely aware that if you don’t use it, you lose it, and I had effectively lost it. I sat for my math and English placement test and flunked the math portion with such grandeur as to sentence myself to a year of math classes to relearn the basics. The English, however, I aced like a champ. Is anyone surprised by this? It was clear that the amount of work that lay before me meant that I would be graduating the same semester as my son would graduate high school, not a year or two before as I had hoped. Perfect.

I’m not sure that I can fully recount what it’s like to be a single mom, working full time, and going to school full time for three years on end. I didn’t even take summers off. I’m fortunate that my son was older and more self-sufficient while I pursued my studies. I see mothers of young children walking this same path, and I am dismayed at their perseverance. It’s daunting. I went to school and worked like my life depended on it, because it did. And not just my life. My son’s life depended on it, too. I can only imagine that this is a shared motivation with other parents that return to school.

On December 28th, 2015, I drove a moving van three hours from Asheville to an adorable three bedroom home in Hillsborough, North Carolina. It is my dream house. It goes with everything I own. The birds and squirrels and deer and rabbits play in the park-like backyard. There’s a nearby greenway, and I’m walking distance to the adorable downtown area. My son and parents helped me unload the furniture and possessions that friends had helped me load the day before. It was raining and muddy. I was exhausted. Two of the owners of Mystery Brewing came to help just in time to carry my largest and heaviest pieces of furniture into the house for me. As I drove the empty van back to the rental company, I started sobbing. I had worked so hard for this moment. At times I wondered if I would ever see it. Between work and final exams at school and the logistics of moving, I hadn’t really taken the time to let the gravity of the situation sink in.

As I wrote my resolutions for 2016 just a few days later, I couldn’t have known what was lying around the corner for me. I had just attained so many long term goals all at once, that I didn’t even know how to answer the inquiries from my friends about what I was shooting for next. I couldn’t have anticipated my boss would trust me to Adopt a Highway in the brewery’s name or that he would be handing me the reigns to host International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day at Mystery Brewing during the first quarter of my employment. This is an annual event that takes place on International Women’s Day, March 8th of each year, and raises money for The Pink Boots Society’s (PBS) scholarship fund to support professional development of women in the beer industry. I was only employed at Mystery a few weeks when I was given the task. We ended up hosting twenty women at our brewery that day. The result was “Field and Flower” a blueberry, lemongrass, and jasmine Belgian wit beer. The seven barrels (217 gallons) that we brewed sold out quickly. I couldn’t have been more proud to have it as my first commercial batch of beer and to have been able to share its creation with so many spectacular women.

Since then I have become more involved with PBS than I could have predicted was possible a year ago. I am currently in the midst of writing my first book that will benefit their scholarship fund so that more women can pursue and further their careers in the beer industry. I am working with other state and regional PBS leaders to organize and host the first ever all women’s beer festival, Biere de Femme, in Shelby, NC on March 11th, 2017. The North Carolina chapter of PBS has gone from meeting in small groups once a year for our annual brew day to holding quarterly meetings and social gatherings. In short, we are Brewing Up a Storm over here! 

As proud as I am of these achievements, I am even more proud to have gotten to see my son graduate high school in the spring. Talk about the culmination of a lot of hard work! He and I both put a lot of effort into making that day a reality. There is a dichotomy that exists for parents. We try to enjoy each day with our children because everyone tells you how fleeting those moments really are. At the same time, though, some days don’t seem very different from the one before it. It’s like pressing the fast forward button and pause at once!  It’s remarkable to finally be able to say that I am exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s exponentially more satisfying to say that my son is exactly who I hoped he would be at this age. He is my life’s work, and I couldn’t be more proud of the man he has turned out to be.  

It’s rare that I write about myself. It’s uncomfortable for me. But knowing how rare these kinds of years are, I took a deep breath and decided to write about it. In part because I think it’s worth celebrating. I could do that on my own, though. Rather, I chose to document it publicly because we all have lag years. Sometimes we have lag decades. It seems like we’re getting nowhere or that our destination is just a moving target that we’ll never reach. 2016 has been one of those great reminders for me that hard work actually does pay off, big picture goals are reachable, and one step at a time will eventually get you where you’re headed. I hope you’ll push forward on your path. I hope that you look over shoulder at the year gone by and realize that there was a lot of unappreciated work happening even if you didn’t always notice it. I hope that you take time to celebrate the large and small strides. And if you are fortunate enough to have reached a mountain top in 2016, then I hope that you recognize how remarkable it is before you set your eyes on the next peak. I hope you impress yourself in 2017. Cheers!

To learn more about The Pink Boots Society visit https://www.pinkbootssociety.org/

To order tickets for the Biere de Femme Festival visit https://www.pinkbootssociety.org/events/#!event/2017/3/11/biere-de-femme-festival

To learn more about Mystery Brewing Company, visit www.mysterybrewing.com

 

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Lara Murphy of Modern Romance: Finding the Lump in the Road to Starting a Brewery

Lara Murphy and her husband, Paul Hobson, embody the name for their brewery in planning: Modern Romance Brewery. Their story is a thing of beauty. They dated for two years when they were in high school, but when Paul went off to college, Lara was only in her sophomore year.  The relationship just sort of fell apart. Paul finished college, got married, and moved to Texas. Lara went to college a few years after Paul, then moved to New York City to start her career. While they had each moved on in their own way, neither forgot the other. Some fifteen years later, a twist of not-fate (neither of them buy into the notion) reunited them. Paul had just gotten divorced and moved back to North Carolina. Lara, who had also moved back to North Carolina, had just experienced a break-up herself. She went out with some friends to celebrate their birthday. Almost immediately after they arrived, Lara spotted Paul sitting at the bar with a group of old college friends. He looked up to see Lara looking back at him. It wasn’t long before they were dating again. Just over a year later, they were married. “It seems radical and fast, and it kind of is, but things clicked back into place in such a way. We definitely grew up and matured apart, but we did it in such a way that made us even more compatible, I think,” Paul says. I know, right!? Just when you thought romance was dead! “A lot of our getting to know each other again and date as adults was centered around craft beer,” Lara says as she recounts stories of the brewery tours, bottle shops, and tasting rooms they frequented during their courtship. This naturally led to shared experiments with homebrewing, which led to award-winning recipes, which led to even loftier ambitions.
Fast forward six years to September of 2015, and Modern Romance is really starting to come together. Paul and Lara had savings to use as seed money to start their own brewery. They found a location in close proximity to other Durham breweries and bars, wrote a business plan, found other businesses interested in sharing a multipurpose space, and Lara found a tiny lump on her breast. She recalls the initial diagnosis. “The younger you are, generally, the more aggressive the cancer is. So, when I was diagnosed at thirty-six years old, treatment started pretty immediately. There wasn’t even really time to process what was happening. I was having chemo treatments and going into meetings with our realtor about the space we were considering. At that point, our business plan was really taking shape. We were excited about it, and wanting to move forward.”
Paul continues the story: “At a certain point we realized that as much as we want to push through, we would be in the middle of a build-out in the throes of chemo and surgery. Our designer,” he says motioning to Lara, who has an interior design background, “couldn’t build her own taproom. We would have had to watch from afar.” At the same time, Lara was holding down a full time job that she needed to keep in order to keep her health coverage. Her employer found a way to put her into a position she could do from home while she completed chemo, recovered from multiple surgeries, and underwent radiation. “We had to hit pause on something,” Paul recounts, “and we couldn’t pause work or cancer, so the brewery had to go on hold.”
“Even from a financial aspect,” Lara points out, “we couldn’t really say what we could afford to put down as a down payment, and what we needed to divert to hospital bills. Even with a great health care plan, this has been an expensive year.”
Another down side to chemo is losing your taste for almost everything, including beer. “It was starting to get cooler, and my favorite, Vienna Lagers were starting to show up. There was one that came on draft at Surf Club in Durham. I’d had a few treatments. I couldn’t really tell what was changing. I still had my hair, I hadn’t really gotten sick yet. I took a sip of this beautiful beer that I knew I loved, and it tasted like pennies. And I was just like, ‘It’s starting. What a bummer.’ Losing beer was really crushing because it is this lovely emotional escape when you’re facing something hard. It’s also a great treat after a difficult situation. Especially since my doctors said that I could still have beer, I just couldn’t go crazy with it.”
“It was actually an adventure trying to find something that you did still like,” Paul remembers. “Your go-to’s like Pilsners, Saisons, and IPA’s weren’t doing it for you anymore.”
“All of those styles were really harsh to my senses.  I would taste a lot of perceived salt that wasn’t really there. It was awful. I’m a super taster, too, so to not be able to help with our test batches was also crushing!” Lara lamented.
Paul put that into perspective of what that meant for Modern Romance Brewery. “It was basically a year of relying on my perfectly adequate taste buds, but her sense of taste is so nuanced compared to mine. We just weren’t brewing and testing batches at full capacity at all this year.”
Lara continued, explaining how the couple found a way to move forward given the obstacles. “We ended up working on our barrel aging and sour beers that could take a year to make. We were also lucky enough to get to brew collaboration beers with Pink Boots Society, Bond Brothers Beer Company and Mystery Brewing during treatment, getting our name out there a bit and getting some experience on a pro level. I could smell things. My sense of smell wasn’t wrecked. I just couldn’t taste it.”
She and Paul started to experiment outside of her typical comfort zone. “I was never really a fan of heavy sweet things before, but that’s one of the things you can still taste when you’re undergoing chemo. So I found that I could drink dark, sweet beers like milk stouts. Anything with vanilla. Soft, round sort of beers I could taste…I got an entire case of Moo-Hoo and crushed it. I was actually worried that my palate wouldn’t come back, but it actually came back pretty quickly. We celebrated the end of chemo and my birthday in January 2015 with a bottle sharing party at our house, right as I got my taste buds back. Every sip at that party tasted like victory. There were lots of happy tears surrounded by dear friends that day. ”
“Do you think as messed up as the situation was,” Paul asks, “that this experience altered your appreciation for dark beers?”
“Totally!” Lara replies. She continues, but Paul interrupts with a premeditated, “Thanks Cancer!” I need to stop right here and acknowledge how wonderful these two are as a couple.
We collect ourselves, and Lara finishes her thought.  “It was actually an opportunity to start working on Cookie Mountain, our dark beer with shortbread, caramel, and chocolate that was conceptualized at that point, but we hadn’t brewed it yet.” 
While Paul and Lara both have clearly found ways to get through this past year and still look on the bright side, Lara warns that this is not a feel good story about a warrior that has won a battle with cancer. “A lot of my issues with feeling isolated is that at my age, there aren’t a lot of people going through this, whereas there is an intense support system for older women because they tend to come from the same walk of life. Most of them are worried about their kids. Even the few women my age that are diagnosed usually have kids, and I just don’t have that experience, so the concerns of people that I would otherwise reach out to as peers, were not my concerns.  I found some blogs that were helpful. Mostly they were written by snarky, single women, often living in large cities, who were writing in a voice that I could relate to. I wasn’t looking for someone to be all sunshine and roses. It just didn’t feel right. It made me mad, and it just didn’t ring true. I felt like a lot of those people were getting wrapped up in putting on a brave face so that their friends and loved ones are comforted or so that they can get the admiration of their friends, which is a powerful thing. Even among people that know you really well, there is a powerful pull to want to draw that bravery story out of you. Like you aren’t allowed to have a bad day. A couple weeks ago I said ‘I’m so f*#@ing over this,’ and the friend that I said it to was like, ‘But aren’t you lucky that you’ve…’ and I was all, ‘Absolutely. I’m a white lady in a first world country with great health insurance. I have an immense amount of privilege that I have to check every day, but also, I’m a thirty-six year old with cancer, and it sucks. And I’m allowed to say it sucks, and I’m allowed to have my feelings about it. Don’t gaslight me out of my cancer feelings.” Lara goes on to explain how well intended people can do damage when they think they are being helpful. “There is a flip side to that fighter analogy in that, if things don’t go well with your treatment it means that you didn’t fight hard enough, or you failed, or you’re weak. If there is a war analogy to be made, it’s really more like you’re the battle field, and science is fighting cancer. That warrior analogy can be really hurtful when things aren’t going well.”
But things are going well with Lara’s treatment. Her cancer is gone by all accounts. The science worked. She got her final treatment on August 30, and now she and Paul are picking up where they left off with Modern Romance Brewery, even though their own modern romance never skipped a beat. They are now adding to their business plan creative ways to give back to the non-profits that touched them throughout Lara’s treatment. You can keep up with their progress through their website at www.drinkmodern.com or on social media @drinkmodern or facebook.com/modernromancebrewery .
 
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Gabe Pickard : Factotum and Ebullient Conspirator in the Leavening Arts

I am constantly awed by the diversity of talents that people in the brewing industry bring with them. Gabe Pickard of Zebulon Brewing is the perfect example of this. She is a classically trained dancer, a yoga instructor, a physical therapist assistant, and she happens to co-own a brewery with her husband, Mike Karnowski. To some, this may seem like an awful lot for one person to manage. Gabe turns that logic on its head. In each of her endeavors, she points out, she works with living organisms whether its yeast cells or human bodies to toe the line between art and science.

“Like yoga, when I brew beer I feel like I can drop into a kind of meditative state.” Gabe says. She goes on to point out more intersections of her diverse body of work, “I would love to teach a yoga for brewers class.” She points out how strenuous small batch brewing without the help of automation can be on a person’s body over time. “There are simple exercises that they can do to prevent repetitive use injuries and allow them to work longer in the industry.” Gabe also sees a similarity in the way that people respond to both yoga and brewing. “You can stay on the surface and satisfy a hobby or a workout routine. Or you can go deeper, and take on the philosophy of yoga or a career in brewing. Either are viable options, and there is a spectrum in between.” It’s as if she is weaving a fabric of fluidity, strength, and integrity around her as she speaks.

She and Mike met about twenty-seven years ago. At the time, they were both working in a bagel shop in New York City. What started as a beer after work lead to them discovering that they were both born in the same obscure town in Northern England. It wasn’t long before they were homebrewing together, also. “I don't remember the type of beer we brewed in that particular kitchen, however, I remember we had to drink two cases of Grolsch beer (the beers with the flip tops) because we did not have a capper at the time. Needless to say I do not like Grolsh beer anymore (or any less!).”

Soon after, the couple relocated from Jersey City, NJ to New Orleans, LA. There they opened a homebrew shop called Brew Ha Ha, where she learned how to brew by teaching others the craft of brewing. Whilst running a new business, Gabe earned a BA in Philosophy. She also produced, directed, choreographed, danced in, and wrote grants for an annual music and dance concert ten years in a row. Once they made the move to Asheville in 2007, Gabe continued to push herself. She found work as a yoga instructor and returned to school to earn a degree as a physical therapist assistant. She also helped out at Green Man packaging the specialty beers that made Mike Karnowski a household name to WNC beer enthusiasts.

“Embarking in a new business is a daunting task, however, with dedication, passion, and a lot of focused hard work it can be a rewarding and invigorating task. The tendency of the stresses of a business seeping into the delicate fabric of a relationship can be tricky to navigate, though it is possible and totally can be done.” While Gabe admits that she isn’t an expert, she does offer these words of wisdom, “Everyone is different and has different life and work styles. Each party in the relationship must find their place and space to work that suits them best. A partnership in life (in my opinion) includes people who mutually respect each other, who can communicate, and who are at the heart of it all, friends. I am sure I can go on and on describing the valuable attributes that make up what a well-oiled relationship looks like, but I think I would continue to erase and start again continuously. I guess I think of long lasting relationships kind of like a mandala where the sand is designed and placed perfectly only to be swept aside and started over again on. A continuous work in progress where each party allows the other growth, transformation, and at the same time offers continuity through time. Chemistry is also at the heart of friendly, fun and loving relationships. Chemistry offers that spice to be sprinkled in throughout. My mom used to say that it is unsustainable to be in that first in-love phase of a relationship perpetually, in that phase it is hard just to eat or sleep much less working on projects and creative endeavors.”

“There are a lot of stressful days,” she says, “but the positives out way them.  We feel its important to care about the beer we are making.  We are passionate about it, and focused on quality control and integrity.”  

While Mike is at the helm of all of the brewing for Zebulon, Gabe is busy handling pretty much everything else at the brewery. “My business card reads Gabe Pickard-Karnowski: Factotum, and Ebullient Conspirator in the Leavening Arts. In addition I currently work part time as a Physical Therapist Assistant, I am a Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor and intermittently toy with the idea of producing a couple more experimental dance/music concerts.”  She is also in the midst of creating a line of beers that will be released annually and will benefit a different women lead and/or focused non-profit each year. “I am working on recipe development for the first one now!” she says.  “We see a way that we can make an impact on a local level by working with area non-profits.”

To learn more about Zebulon visit their web site at www.zebulonbrewing.com or visit their tasting room Fridays and Saturdays 1-6pm at 8 Merchants Alley in Weaverville, NC. 

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Take a Look at Shelby!

Tucked between Asheville and Charlotte, there’s a little town that’s making some big news on a global scale. People have traveled from forty-nine states and thirteen countries to visit the home town of Don Gibson, Earl Scruggs, and Newgrass Brewing Company: Shelby, North Carolina. When I first met Jordan Boinest, Co-owner of Newgrass, I was shocked that anyone would open a brewery in Shelby. I was even more surprised at her enthusiasm to open in the small town she grew up in after having lived in the trendy, thriving towns of Wilmington and later, Boone.  I was afraid I would offend her, but I asked the question anyway, “Why Shelby?” Little did I know that this is her favorite question!

“You know, we distribute our beer to Asheville, Boone, Charlotte, and all the little towns in between. All along the way, I meet new people that haven’t experienced our beer and have never heard of Shelby.  They look confused and ask, ‘Where’s Shelby?’ and then I get to tell them this story about the Earl Scruggs Center and the Don Gibson Theater and all the new businesses opening in Uptown Shelby. It’s crazy because I grew up in this town, and when I was a kid I didn’t come to the uptown district. For all of us it’s exciting to watch it change and evolve and become what it was years ago: A place for community and friendship and business together. It’s been really special."

Special is an understatement. I got to sit down with Jordan and two of her closest allies Emily Epley, Director of the Earl Scruggs Center, and Audrey Whetten, Director of Uptown Shelby Association. What these women have accomplished, along with their respective staffs and countless community volunteers, is remarkable. They haven’t set out to make Shelby something that it’s not. They have dug deep under the surface to unearth exactly who and what Shelby is, and find a beautiful way to communicating that identity to the world around them.

“Earl Scruggs didn’t just play traditional Bluegrass,” Jordan says of the father of the Newgrass genre and the man that developed the three finger picking method known to banjo players today as Scruggs style, “and we don’t just make traditional beer.  Coming back to Shelby gave us the opportunity to make something that is such a part of who we are. We make good beer and enjoy good music. Those are two things that mine and Lewis’ life have revolved around. We love it. I grew up here listening to Bluegrass music. This is home for us. We’re really excited to be part of this community. So when bands like Acoustic Syndicate come and play, it’s like family coming for a visit. You know, I’m seeing people come to Shelby for the first time ever to see a great show and try new beer!” Jordan and her partner and fiancé, Lewis were intentional about creating not only a brewery, but also a local music venue to host concerts of varying sizes.

Audrey describes the Uptown Shelby Association as a non-profit organization that exists to encourage economic development within the context of historical preservation.  Within this framework, Audrey is working with business leaders within the local community to work toward a common vision. “If you can picture an Alaskan dog sled team, we have a lot of energetic folks that are excited to move forward. My charge is to get them organized and running in the same direction.” A Main Street Solutions Fund grant from the NC Department of Commerce helped make the renovation of the historic building that Newgrass occupies possible.

Emily started her work in 2008 as the Executive Director of Destination Cleveland County (DCC). This is also a non-profit organization that was founded out of the concern of local citizens that saw their children going off to college and never coming back. They saw their community drying up, and decided to take action. They commissioned researchers from NC State University to consult with them on a solution. They donated their own time and resources to create and execute a strategy based on Shelby’s unique identity as the birthplace of two legendary music greats. Through capital campaigns, grants, and lots of hard work, DCC has now raised $8 million of the $9 million budget to pay for the Earl Scruggs Center (ESC) and the Don Gibson Theater (DGT). With the opening of the ESC, Emily transitioned into her new role as the Director of the ESC, while the DCC now operates under the supervision of board members.

“It’s such an amazing thing to have folks like Jordan and Audrey who have such enthusiasm and skill sets to do the things that are happening here [in Shelby]. All the positive energy…it’s contagious! It’s like this perfect storm of all these different pieces coming together now,” Epley says. “Now we have people getting on planes in Japan just to come to the Earl Scruggs Center, and they’ll build a two-week itinerary around it.”

Audrey describes the energy in Shelby’s Uptown District as “crackling”. “It’s like this snowball that we’ve been building for a long time.  We keep rolling it around, and it keeps getting incrementally larger. Now we are at a point that it’s taken off! We are experiencing exponential growth with new businesses opening all the time.”

“You know, we just hosted Travis Book of the Infamous String Dusters’ event Bluegrass, Bikes and Beer,” Jordan says. “He put on six events, three in Virginia, three in North Carolina. In NC there were events here at Newgrass, Oskar Blues, and Pisgah Brewing. Out of all of those, we had the largest event with fifty community bikers! It was surprising. I was like whoa!  Look at Shelby!”

I would encourage all of you to take a look at Shelby, especially if you think you know this town. There is so much going on that will pleasantly surprise you, and Emily is right, the positive energy is contagious! 

“This is the only place you could do what we’re doing in this way,” Jordan says. “It’s been incredible working in the beer industry, which is really a tightly knit community.”

“It’s interesting,” Emily interjects, “how similar the beer industry and the music industry are similar in that way. It’s all about collaboration and creativity and support. That’s what the community of Uptown Shelby is like.”

Here’s what’s coming up at Newgrass Brewing and in Uptown:

October 6

Uptown Art Walk

October 8

Second Saturday Festivities

Dear Brother live 8:30-11pm @ Newgrass Brewing

October 14

Beer Festival & Chili Cook-Off

Chalwa live 8:30-11pm @ Newgrass Brewing

October 17

Music, Mush, & Mutts

October 19

Lunch N Learn Through Their Voices: Female Musician Activists in North Carolina (includes Etta Baker, Nina Simone and others)@ The Earl Scruggs Center

October 28

Fright Night Costume Crawl

Halloween Party featuring Harvest live 9-11pm @ Newgrass Brewing

November 5- 7

Annual Rhythm & Roots 5K Walk/Run and 10K Run Race kicks off with Bluegrass band and banjo players playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown and there is live music at several spots along the route.

http://newgrassbrewing.com/

https://uptownshelby.com/

http://www.dongibsontheater.com/

http://earlscruggscenter.org/

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Audra Gaiziunas: Brewed for Her Ledger

It’s no secret that WNC’s economy is closely linked with the beer industry. Asheville has sprung up as a brewing center on a national scale thanks to Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium putting down roots here and calling it “home”. While tourism is still the driving force for our regional economy, beer tourism is no small player in that category. But don’t take my word for it. When it comes to numbers and beer, Audra Gaiziunas knows a thing or two about a thing or two. She cut her teeth in the beer industry with a little brewery called Dogfish Head seven years ago. “I was working as a pricing consultant for Caterpillar, selling machinery such as skid steer loaders, mini excavators, and backhoes. In short, it was the kismet of the right place, right time, right skillset, and right personality type. I, along with 276 other accountants, applied for the Controller position at Dogfish Head. After two phone interviews, I was one of two people flown up to Delaware for the final round of interviewing, and lo and behold, I got it. To this day I thank Sam and Mariah Calagione for taking a chance on a gal who had no beery numbers experience. They opened a huge door for me. I was drawn to brewing due to its culture and lifestyle. I felt I could be myself without compromise in this industry. I could work hard, create awesome spreadsheets, and improve our processes while sporting pink hair, listening to techno, and shooting rubberbands at my coworkers. Work hard and play hard. I'm very highly extroverted, so being in front of a computer all day just wouldn't work out for me.  Nothing traditional has ever really worked out for me.....at least I'm consistent when it comes to that. I abhor the status quo and am always looking to improve things. Thus, I grasped the opportunity to improve the operational infrastructure of a brewery, an area I noticed immediately as a weakness in our industry.”

Since then she’s moved on to offer a variety of financial services to breweries across the country from her home base in Asheville. “I own Brewed For Her Ledger, which is my own consultancy. I work with both startup and existing breweries and cideries by writing and vetting business plans and pro formas, implementing financial and inventory management software, designing custom-tailored charts of accounts, training owners and staff on bookkeeping and process flow, conducting valuations on existing breweries, and acting as a project manager throughout buildouts and expansions. I also conduct operational audits, observing how information flows through the brewery and ultimately lands on the financial statements, seeking out and eliminating inefficiencies, omissions, and inaccuracies. I'm a basically a one-stop shop offering c-suite (CEO/COO/CFO) services on a fractional basis at a rate startup and small breweries can afford.” She has worked with breweries in our area such as The Wedge, Bhramari, Green Man, Asheville Brewing, Frog Level, and Heinzelmännchen as well as several breweries in Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro.

Audra is also the national treasurer for The Pink Boots Society, a professional group for women in the brewing industry, as well as Mountain Ale and Lager Tasters (MALT), a homebrew club in Asheville. When we spoke, Audra had just gotten back to Asheville for the weekend. She’s been flying to Baton Rouge, LA every week to serve as the interim CEO of Tin Roof Brewing Company while they are undergoing expansion. Tin Roof was recently granted the opportunity to create the first officially licensed beer for LSU.

I wanted to know what excites Audra about the Asheville beer economy. “People ask me all the time about the Asheville Beer Bubble. We certainly haven’t reached anything like that yet. As long as you can create something new or provide a new experience, there is unlimited potential for growth in this industry. The only limit is your imagination. As long as you can provide a sense of place tied to a local community, the possibilities are endless.” She went on to mention the education that North Carolina offers to people entering the brewing industry. AB Tech, NC State, ASU, Rockingham Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, and Nash Community College all offer professional training with a variety of focuses within the field. “These education programs are raising awareness of Asheville and North Carolina in general on a national level. Companies want to be here because they know we can provide skilled employees.” In addition to a skilled labor force, Audra points to NC’s friendly legislation and even more friendly legislation coming down the pike soon as another example of how we are drawing new business to our area either through east coast expansions of established breweries or by entrepreneurs choosing to open a brewery in their neighborhood.

With all of this growth, Audra and Brewed for Her Ledger have no shortage of work. I asked her what she sees down the road for herself and her business. “I'd love to add a few people to my team in the areas of bookkeeping and financial project management as I continue taking on larger, more involved roles at growing breweries. Who knows what's next after that? I'm not much a planner. I'm more of a journey versus destination gal. As the craft beer industry continues to evolve, the services I offer will as well. Currently I'm focused more on conducting a greater number of brewery valuations for acquisitions and exits, but who knows what will happen after that? The surprises are all part of the fun.”

To help her reach these goals, Brewed for Her Ledger has just been chosen as one of seventeen businesses to participate in the fourth cohort of ScaleUp WNC, which provides intensive growth strategy development and implementation assistance to businesses in the Mountain Biz Works area.

To learn more about Audra and Brewed for Her Ledger visit http://www.brewedforherledger.com/

To learn more about ScaleUp WNC visit http://www.mountainbizworks.org/business-planning-start-ups-entrepreneur-classes-coaching/scaleupwnc/

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Friday Beer Tasting - It's Raining Oranges and Lemons

Friday Beer Tasting - It's Raining Oranges and Lemons

MANDARINA IPA

An adventure-loving and aromatic citrus IPA. Brewed with nuanced German Mandarina Bavaria and Hull Melon hops and bold, juicy American oranges, expect intense orange and tropical notes and a crisp, bright finish. This one is a palate-pleaser.

 

ASHEVILLE BREWING LEMON SPACE DOG 

Change of plans! When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

Since last week our supply of ABC Lemon Space Dog flew out the store and we are unable to feature Highland Lost Cove, we're going to bring Asheville Brewing's Lemon Space Dog back for ROUND 2! 

Oranges and lemons are the perfect pair for this hot, muggy weather. 

Seasonal Lemon Space Dog comes on just in time to provide thirst-quenching relief to get you through the summer. Newish strain of hops, Lemondrop, adds a zesty, citrusy aroma ad flavor to this refreshing brew, while the malted wheat offers balance and smoothness.

 

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Kelsie Cole of Wilmington's Front Street Brewery

Our friends at Front Street Brewing are losing a force to be reckoned with this month. Head Brewer Kelsie Cole is relinquishing her throne.  She will be missed.  What follows is an article I wrote about Kelsie while she was in her role as Head Brewer. I'm just going to leave this here as an homage to her hard work and dedication to Front Street and the brewing industry. Cheers Kelsie!

 

This time of year is all about getting out of our schedules, out of doors, and even [dare I say it?] out of town. I know, sacrilege. But hear me out!  In addition to great beaches, Wilmington has a lot that we in WNC love about our mountain towns: a thriving arts scene, a chic downtown full of independently owned small businesses, plenty of quality local music in a variety of venues, and…wait for it…breweries!  Wilmington boasts eight local breweries, and there are two more coming soon! There’s no reason you can’t see them all over the course of a long weekend, but if you have to choose make sure you visit Front Street Brewery. Celebrating its twenty-first year in business, Front Street is the oldest and most established brewery in Wilmington.  They produce about 1200 barrels (that’s 296,000 pints) of beer each year. Most of that beer is made by Front Street’s Head Brewer, Kelsie Cole.

 Kelsie started working at Front Street as a hostess in 2008, when she was just eighteen years old.  She quickly transitioned to serving, and then bartending her way through college. “With the help of Front Street's former Assistant Brewer, Christopher McGarvey, I started home brewing.  That was the nail in the coffin for my career path in sales, and utilizing my Business/ Marketing degree.  Using my creativity and passion for flavors was more important to me than talking about such flavors. The introvert in me began to realize maybe making the product I'd been selling and pitching for years would be a more appropriate path.”  In 2013, Kelsie made the transition from front of the house to beer production. In three short years she’s gone from cleaning kegs and helping out to Assistant Brewer, to Head Brewer. “The past three years have flown by so fast I'm still trying to press pause and embrace everything.”

Kelsie has literally embraced everything about her role. Very quickly she’s learned to fix pumps and glycol systems. She’s tackled the challenge of a poor barley crop year, and has become one with the twenty-five year old 10 barrel system. Kelsie says she enjoys being in control of the brewhouse, even though she realizes that some things are outside of anyone’s control on an older system. “How involved you are is reflected in how the beer turns out. Being the one person in charge of the wort (unfermented beer) is a lot pressure. Not only do I have Front Street’s legacy to continue, but my name also goes out with every beer that I make.”  Kelsie uses that pressure to constantly improve. “I am always asking myself how I can change a recipe to make it better, or improve my efficiency.” 

Being twenty-six years old and eight years into a career in the craft beer industry, Kelsie has literally grown up in Front Street Brewery. “A few years ago I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I wanted to learn and do as much as I could. These days, I’m trying to focus on finding a balance while taking on more responsibility both at the brewery and in the community. I’m working a lot of hours in addition to traveling frequently to attend conferences.” Now, she says the focus is on not overworking herself and carving out time for relaxation, as well as giving back to nonprofit organizations that are doing amazing work in Wilmington. Her solution to all of these life challenges is Warrior Two’s and Brews, a yoga class at the brewery that takes place every other Monday.  They suggest each attendee donate $10, which is then donated to local charity organizations. Fifty percent of the proceeds are donated to Yoga Village, a small, local non-profit that works to get yoga in classrooms across New Hanover and Brunswick County. The remaining fifty percent goes to another local NP of the instructor's choice.  “Since we started in September, we’ve raised over $2,000 for local nonprofits. It’s so cool to walk into a place and hand them a check and thank them for what they do,” she says. “It feels good to support the people that are the core of the community.” These donations are in addition to Front Street’s preexisting charity beers that are made each year for the sole purpose of supporting different sectors of the community. One of these beers is called Battleship Pale Ale, and supports the preservation of the USS North Carolina, which is docked in Wilmington.  It is retired from active military assignments, and serves only as a museum. This year, the release party of Battleship Pale Ale took place May 23rd on the deck of the ship, with a Warrior Two’s and Brews session to kick off the festivities. “I get goosebumps just talking about it,” Kelsie says. “Here’s this battleship with guns and cannons and implements of war, and in the midst of all of it, we’re doing yoga, which is all about peace and harmony. And we’re going to do a lot of good for our community in the meantime.”

When Kelsie isn’t brewing or changing the world, you can find her educating new hires at Front Street about beer styles and food pairings.  She also gives tours of the brewing facility for the public every day between three and five o’clock, and she even enjoys a good beer herself from time to time. “My favorite beer style is IPA.  I consider my blood type to be Sculpin.”

All photos of Kelsie photo credit Megan Deitz www.megandietz.com

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Kim Thompson: The Story of Becoming Something Else

Most of us are familiar with the main ingredients in beer: water, hops, yeast, and grain (usually barley).  Each one of these ingredients are fascinating and complex on their own if you really dig into them. Hops are incredibly hard to grow. Yeast are particularly complex and finicky single cell organisms. Water chemistry can make the difference between a good beer and a great beer for a number of reasons. And grains.  Grains are the ingredient that make me ask, “How did the ancient brewers ever figure this out?!”  One cannot simply go out to their barley field, thresh a bunch of grains, and start brewing.  The grains must first be malted in order to be useful to the brewer.  Soda shops and malted milk balls have put malt in our common vernacular. We all have heard this term before, but how many of us really understand what it means?  I certainly didn’t have a full understanding of the process myself before entering into this industry. I’ll save you the vocabulary words and the diagrams.  Simply put, the maltster (that’s someone who makes malt) tricks the grain into growing.  They give the seeds just enough air and water to make them start to grow, then they dry it out, and roast the grains to develop the flavor and color. This process allows the starches in the grains to break down into simpler sugars that can then be extracted by the brewer and fermented by the yeast. Skip the malting step, and all you have is seed water. Insert pouty face here.

Until just recently, the only people malting grains were behemoth companies that supplied behemoth breweries. Those companies still exist, but now we are seeing craft maltsters start to work with grains that are locally grown and supply local craft breweries and homebrewers. They are still few and far between, but we are fortunate to have Riverbend Malt House here in Asheville. What makes them exceptional is that they are working with North Carolina grown grains that other maltsters wouldn’t normally bother with. This is bolstering a post-tobacco farming community that has been weeded out of business and struggling to retool their farms to stay in business. 

The work of malting is arduous. There is a lot of shoveling grains onto the malting floor, then into the kiln, then on to final packaging – usually tons at a time. It isn’t often considered “women’s work”, but just like every other part of the brewing industry, there are always a few.  I spoke with Kim Thompson of Riverbend Malt about her role at the facility. “I’ll admit that I come from a spoiled perspective of women in this industry. Riverbend is not a dude-bro club. These guys are conscientious about what they are doing, and the way they treat their employees is amazing. Everyone I've come across has been generous and open. It seems to be a pretty laid back community of like-minded people who are all about shared passions and getting the job done. It may be just around the corner or perhaps I'm just reaping the benefits of the trailblazers that came before me. When I go to work, I know I’m going to work my ass off, laugh my ass off, and learn a hell of a lot, and that’s because of the guys that I work with. I can't take myself too seriously. I appreciate the differences, but so far, in everything I've chosen to do whether it's been unconventional or otherwise, being a woman has never been an advantage or a disadvantage for me. I follow my heart and my gut, I do it with drive and passion, and being a woman has never been an issue. I've actually never considered it or factored it into how I navigate life or chosen professions. ”

Because of the physical nature of the work, everyone at Riverbend moves around to different stations, so Kim is involved with each step of the process from raw grain to finished product. She says that she was prepared for the laborious nature of the job, but was floored (no pun intended) by the cerebral nature of it. “We’re working with a living organism,” she says. “Every day I go into the germination room, I smell the grains, feel them, and taste them to see where they are in the process. I’m a very tactile person, and this is my way of educating my senses. It gives me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the process.”

She points to her childhood and adolescence in Germany and Belgium as the roots for her two main passions: bread and beer.  She knew that she wanted to be a part of the industries that make them happen, and working with the raw materials has given her that outlet.  She also mills grain into flour for Carolina Ground, and artisanal stone mill in Asheville. “I like having a hand in the story that becomes something else. I enjoy doing things so that other people don’t have to them and knowing that what I do makes life easier for other people. Whether the consumer even thinks about malting barley or milling grain, it’s an important part of modern life. We all have no idea how many hands go into the thing that allows us to be in the world the way we are today.” She says she’s comfortable being the human equivalent to a blue screen: the thing that you can’t see, but it makes your experience richer.  “Take our Riverbend Heritage Malt, for example.  I malt that at Riverbend, then I grind it into flour at Carolina Ground.  Then The French Broad Chocolate Lounge uses that flour to make pastries.  The person that eats that cake isn’t thinking about the flour or the malted grains that it comes from. They’re simply enjoying dessert. I love having my hand in so many steps of the process that make that experience possible for people.”

I asked Kim if she has a favorite beer. “Well,” she said, “I tend to go through phases depending on seasons and what's available or being a total nerd and getting into pairing, but saisons or anything with funk are the styles that are most appealing to me.”  And her favorite grain to work with? “Rye is beautiful.  It’s so complex in flavor, and it has this rich mouthfeel. I want to mill some of our malted rye into flour and bake with it at home.”

So why didn’t Kim pursue a career in baking or brewing? “I like being a part of that process on my own at home, but just because you like to cook doesn’t mean you should be a chef. Besides, I like to do things that are [physically] hard to do. What we do isn’t easy, but that’s what makes it so beautiful.”

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A Magical Mystery Tour of the Triangle

I recently moved to the Triangle area to accept a cellar position with Mystery Brewing Company. What does a newly relocated Cellarman and Beer Writer do when finding themselves in unfamiliar territory? Well, we go on a beer tour, of course! I gathered the gals from the Mystery team, hopped in my pickup truck, and took off to sample the beers and meet (did you have any doubt?) the women behind them! Brittany Judy, Office Manager, and Jessica Arvidson-Williams, NC Sales Rep were more than happy to go day drinking with me on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon!




Disclaimer: There wasn't time in a day to get around to all of the breweries in the Triangle that have women in leadership and/or production roles. I have my work cut out for me down here! It certainly isn't close to all the breweries the Triangle has to offer.


Stop #1
Bombshell Beer Company, Holly Springs, NC
This is a 100% woman-owned brewery in Holly Springs, NC just south of Raleigh. I caught up with owners Ellen Joyner, Jackie Hudspeth and Michelle Miniutti on the heels of their second anniversary party, and just as the brewery was preparing to begin canning their beers for distribution. They got their start as homebrewers while they each worked in the corporate world. These women bring their experience in marketing, sales, and product management into their jobs as brewery owners. Each of them are deeply concerned with the quality of their beers, and want every interaction with their brand to be the best it can be. Michelle recounted the decision to stop making their most popular beer, a pilsner, because of quality concerns. "It came down to opportunity costs," she said. Because this lager style takes longer to ferment than ale styles, they weren't making as much of their other styles as they could. Bombshell spent some time taste testing a cream ale with their regular customers, and found that the similar flavor profile was well received in their market. The Star Light Ale was born! Even though they were all nervous about making the switch, the brewery is better off for being brave and taking the chance. They admit that making tough decisions can be hard, but the end result is worth it.
"I love seeing people having a good time and enjoying our beers," Jackie said. "Even though decision making can be difficult at times, we know that it's because we have a great brand and everyone in the room wants what's best for the company."
"You want to come to work in the morning," Ellen added. "Plus, I don't have to wear suits and heels anymore, either! I had to put on heels for Christmas, and I almost fell off of them! It had been that long since I'd worn them!"
Michelle's favorite part of brewery ownership is being more hands on in the community. "We are able to host fundraisers in our space and give back to the community in a more personal way. In the corporate world, we did a lot of high level philanthropy, but we rarely got to meet the people we were helping."
Bombshell has just launched distribution of cans around the local market. "But," Michelle said, "Growth for the sake of growth isn't what we are after. We want to grow at a pace that allows us to continue to focus on quality, ensuring that we are putting the best possible packaged product into the market."
"We work hard," Jackie continued, "we want to have a good product to show for that hard work."


Stop #2
Raleigh Brewing Company, Raleigh, NC
I met up with Kristie Nystedt just after the weekly Sunday afternoon yoga class at the brewery. She and her husband, Patrick opened Raleigh Brewing Company in March of 2013 on the heels of opening two other businesses that they still operate. They Nystedts opened Atlantic Brew Supply (ABS) Commercial, which wholesales commercial brew systems and tanks to breweries in September of 2012, followed quickly by Atlantic Brew Supply homebrew shop in December of the same year. They have now grown to be the largest homebrew supplier on the eastern seaboard!
Kristie says that she and Patrick had always talked about opening a nanobrewery in their retirement. But when her company announced a double merger at the same time that Patrick's company declared bankruptcy, they decided that their dreams didn't need to wait any longer. They have two daughters that were about to enter college at the time, and suddenly what seemed risky from the comfort of secure jobs seemed like the least risky thing they could do. "No one had time to dip toes into the water. We went in with both feet. We knew that the excitement around craft beer was growing, and the time was right."
I was enjoying their most popular beer, the "Hell Yes Ma'am" a Belgian Golden Ale. "This is the beer that I helped create," Kristie tells me. It's the only style she insisted that they carry from the beginning. So, when the guys presented the initial line up of beers that they proposed as their core brands, Kristie immediately said, "Where's the Belgian Golden?" The only proper response was, "Hell yes Ma'am." The guys challenged Kristie to come up with the recipe, which she did. She designed the malt bill, the hop character, and chose the yeast that make up this unique, high gravity beer.
I asked Kristie if she had experienced any advantages or disadvantages by being a woman in a male dominated industry. "If I have, I haven't noticed," she said. "I don't play that card. I have too much on my plate to get wrapped up in that sort of thing. If I run into any push back, I just tell them that they might want to try the beers now. People are usually a lot nicer after a beer. I'm more interested in being a part of the community. I want to help Raleigh grow to be the city that it wants to be. I just want to add a small grain to that," Kristie says of her involvement with several economic development boards and merchant associations.


Stop #3
Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, NC
Amanda Richardson is a brewer from from New Hampshire, though she first discovered her love of beer while traveling in the Czech Republic. She started her career in the beer industry at Brooklyn Brew Shop, orchestrating assembly of gallon kits and brewing on a small scale for events. When she relocated to Durham a couple years ago, Fullsteam's Plow to Pint model spoke to her. Fullsteam is dedicated to locally sourced ingredients, and endeavors to support local agriculture in post tobacco North Carolina. Amanda had already been brewing with local ingredients she found at the farmer's market, and Fullsteam offered the challenge of scale. "It's harder than people think. We have to get a large amount of quality ingredients to brew a la batch. It has to be feasible on our system, and then what if it's a bad crop that year? There are challenges all the way through." The flip side of the challenge is the reward of getting to interact with the people in the community when they bring ingredients to sell to the brewery.
Amanda points out another perk of working in the brewing industry: the people that it attracts. "We come from so many backgrounds, it makes work more dynamic," said the brewer who studied neuroscience in college! She admits that the combination of science and creativity that goes into beer production was a main draw for her entering the field. "It's like I'm providing therapy for the yeasts! We make sure that their needs are met, so that they can do the work that they do. We are like yeast social workers!"
Mary Beth Brandt, Fullsteam's General Manager joined the conversation. She started out volunteering "doing stuff" with Fullsteam before they got the brewery up and running. Sean, the owner, asked Mary Beth for her resume, and a few months later she was hired on, and over time she worked her way to the position of GM. She still defines her job description as, "doing stuff; whatever needs to be done." She encourages anyone seeking a position in the brewing industry to keep searching until the right opportunity comes along. "If you're really interested in beer, don't be afraid to get out there and find a company that will give you an opportunity. You may have to start in one position before you transition into the role that you really want."
"There's a lot of education out there," Amanda adds, "but there are still an apprentice route that could be beneficial to some people."

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Friday Beer Tasting - Feeling Funky!

Tonight at Metro Wines, 5-7pm, beer and wine tango side-by-side with Wicked Weed Marina Peach and Apricot Blonde Sour and Ca' di Rajo Le Moss Frizzante.

Although seemingly very different, these two share some very interesting commonalities. In fact, sour ales are often referred to as the bridge between beer and wine. Pairing these two side by side, it's easy to understand why.

 

WICKED WEED MARINA

American Wild Ale, Peach and Apricot Blonde Sour

"Marina is a blonde sour ale aged in wine barrels with over one pound per gallon of peaches and apricots. The result is a lovely, hazy-gold ale with deep stone fruit character."

American wild ales utilize unique yeast strains or bacteria, sometimes in addition to or in lieu of the traditional brewers' yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae. People usually develop a love-hate relationship with these sour ales. The funky flavors produced in fermentation give them a unique of character that some liken to ...well, I'll let you use your own descriptors. Personally, I'm a big fan. 

Marina's mild flavors of apricot and peach tame the wild in this sour ale. The barrel aging process gives it a depth that lingers on your palate and allows you to savor the funk. 

If only Metro Wines had a disco ball.

 

CA' DI RAJO LE MOSS FRIZZANTE

Wild Fermented, Col Fondo Prosecco

 

Le Moss is not your typical prosecco. This wine is unfiltered and made in the traditional methods of Col Fondo. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in bloom directly in the bottle, it has a slight sour taste similar to a tart apple balanced with a full mouthfeel the winery describes as "pleasant and harmonious on the palate."
When one Metro Wine's customer tasted Le Moss and shared that it reminded her of a gose. That got our wheels turning. Why not lead adventurers across the bridge to the world of sour beers via Le Moss! 

 

If you like a little funk in your flavor, both of these are worth a taste. 

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Augusta National Masters Champions Dinner

Masters

 

Every year as spring approaches the weather warms, the azaleas bloom, and the Masters golf tournament is played in my home state of Georgia. The Masters tournament and it's home, Augusta National Golf Course, are firmly rooted in tradtion. One of the most unique and time honored traditions is the Champions Dinner. Each year the previous year's champion chooses the menu for a pre-tournament supper, which is solely attended by Masters champions of years past. It's a special evening that allows many generations of great golfers to tell stories of the past, reminisce about tournaments lost and won, and relax before the pressure cooker competition takes over.

 

Now for the tie-in with wine. Last night Jordan Spieth, 2015 Masters Champion, hosted his Champions supper and featured a few wines which we have in stock her at Metro Wines. Along with menu consisting of Texas style BBQ, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay were served to guests.  Both are great examples of the winemaking prowess of California and special treats for anyone who tries them.

 

So if your a fan of The Masters, a fan of golf, or just a fan of wine come on in and grab one or both of these offerings and drink like a true Masters champ.

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The Legend of the Boojum

The Legend of the Boojum
There are mythical creatures that live in the high hills surrounding Waynesville, NC. You may not see them, as they rarely leave their cozy den, but their presence is felt across WNC by many a beer lover. I am speaking, of course, about the brother and sister team behind Boojum Brewing Company.  Kelsie and Ben Baker discovered their mutual love for brewing while they were on opposite ends of the Eastern Seaboard. Ben was working in a nuclear power plant in Florida.  His sister Kelsie was an environmental engineer in Boston. Neither of them knew about each other’s love for brewing until a family gathering, when they each disclosed that they wanted to leave their professions and start a brewery. It only made sense to them to start one brewery together. I had heard about people like this – people that actually enjoy the company of their family members for eight hours a day, every day – but I had never met any in real life. Most of our interview went like this: Kelsie and Ben laughing and getting a long while I cocked my head to the side with a look of bewilderment on my face. 
I was even more surprised to find out that their parents and aunt and uncle are also involved. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that the two need reinforcements to pull off such an undertaking.  On the other hand, the three ring side show that I have come to know as family dynamics make this all the more unbelievable. But given that they are celebrating their first year in business by adding a line of canned beers that are being distributed across WNC, ramping up production to keep up with demand, and trying to figure out how to expand their taproom and restaurant to accommodate the influx of visitors, I decided to suspend my disbelief and just go with it. 
“You know your family, so you know what to expect. You know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how to work together as a team for the best result,” Kelsie says. “It can be hard to separate work from family life, so sometimes we find ourselves at a family picnic talking about work when we should be relaxing,” she counters. 
“I think it’s awesome. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ben insists. “There will be fights, but you’re family, so you get over it. You can’t just get rid of your family members, so you have to find a way to make it work.” And they have. 
Kelsie, 27, handles the day to day operations of the brewery. She schedules the brewing, orders ingredients, helps brew and package the beer, and some of the cellar work so that Ben, 28, can focus on the brewing and making the beers the best they can be. “There are so many good breweries out there, that we have to focus on quality,” Kelsie says. Already this brewery has garnered a lot of respect from the local brewing community. 
Kendra Penland, Director of the Asheville Brewer’s Alliance had this to say, "Boojum Brewing is a great example of how our Asheville Brewers Alliance members and their products can be so distinct, but do such a solid job of knowing who they are as a brand and focusing on the customer experience, that success naturally follows. I think that's why so many breweries not only coexist in our region, but see the value in collaborating with and supporting each other - everyone wants to make great beer their way, and they want to see others do the same thing. It elevates everyone in the industry, so everyone wins."
“We are excited to grow, and we want to take our business as far as we can,” Kelsie says regarding their future plans. “We are looking forward to seeing our cans in bottle shops and grocery stores, but we also want to grow sustainably.  We are focused primarily on Western North Carolina right now, from Asheville west.  We plan to grow as fast as we comfortably can without sacrificing quality.” Having said that, there’s a lot of change coming for the brother-sister team in 2016. Boojum’s King of the Mountain Double IPA just hit the shelves in cans in December of 2015, and Graveyard Fields, their highly coveted Blueberry Coffee Porter and Reward American Pale Ale arrived in February. Mûr, a Raspberry Saison will arrive later in the Spring. “It’s so hard to decide which beers to focus our distribution efforts on.  Ultimately, we went with the ones that people asked us for the most.”  Even as they continue to grow their staff, they are keeping with the theme of family and close, close friends.  They’ve hired their friend, Keller Fitzpatrick, who has literally been friends with the Bakers since they were babies. Keller is heading up the barrel aging and sour program at Boojum. Cody Noble, who attended the same high school. is also a recent graduate of the brewing program at Blue Ridge Community College in Brevard.  He has already come up with some great beers like our Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout & Jalapeño Wheat IPA. Elisa Tathum, a longtime friend from Kelsie’s days in Boston, also worked as a distiller for Blue Ridge Distilling, which makes Defiant Whisky, before coming on board at Boojum. 
Boojum is currently working on developing new recipes and experimenting with new techniques. “We come together and decide as a team how we want the beer to taste, then Ben makes it taste like that!” They are also isolating yeast strains from the local flora and using that to ferment beers. Part of the fun for Kelsie and Ben is keeping the lineup exciting with special releases and new flavors.  At the time of our interview, they were most excited about their Galaxy Far, Far Away IPA that they made for the release of The Force Awakens.  They used Millennium, Falconers Flight, and Galaxy hops to create this English Style IPA. You could tell that they were both huge fans of the films by how excited they both were about this beer.  I could start to see why they worked together so well by focusing on what they agree on and staying true to themselves. I could tell that they were both on the same page when I asked them what their loftiest goal for the brewery is.  “To make the ultimate IPA,” Kelsie said. 
“The best IPA EVER!” Ben echoed!
 
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Friday Beer Tasting - An Apple a Day...

Friday Beer Tasting - An Apple a Day...

Who said apple cider is a fall beverage? Not I...and neither does Food and Wine Magazine. One of their most recent articles features a list of refreshing apple cider cocktail recipes (http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/5-spritzy-hard-cider-cocktails). Personally, I consider these often-canned beverages picnic perfect. Max Patch Bald, anyone? 

This Friday at Metro Wines, 5-7pm, we're going to explore the versatility of this much-loved beverage. Gather round ye gluten free guys and gals...drink up!

 

FOR LOVERS OF ALL THINGS LOCAL:

NAKED APPLE - BLACKBERRY GOLD

Blackberry Gold has just a hint of our very own mountain grown blackberries woven into this Golden Delicious Cider. Its tart and tasty and leaves the palate wanting more! This is a hands-down favorite amongst hard core cider drinkers because it’s quite pleasantly a bit different from a traditional cider.

 

wicked peel

NAKED APPLE - WICKED PEEL

Wicked Peel Hard Cider is refreshing, crisp and delicious.  It has a hint of sweet but not too much making it the PERFECT cider for a hot summer day. Picnic in the park, anyone? We only use Apples from Henderson County, North Carolina.

 

 

JUST PLAIN GOOD:

 

CITIZEN CIDER - THE FULL NELSON

This is a 'welcome' and a 'hello' to all the beer drinkers out there willing to take a chance on hard cider. Reach across the aisle and experience this bright, citrusy, easy-drinking cider. This cider is made with fresh sweet cider pressed at Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury, Vermont and dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops. We can get along.

No added sugar, never from concentrate.

Pairings: Scallops, pork burger, ceasar salad, cheddar cheese

 

CITIZEN CIDER - UNIFIED PRESS

Made from 100% locally (Vermont) sourced apples, never from concentrate, the Unified Press is Citizen Cider's flagship cider that keeps you wondering where it's been your whole life. This naturally gluten-free cider is an off-dry, crisp, clean and refreshing cider that keeps you coming back.

Pairings: Pork, soft cheese, spicy food, smoked fish, rustic bread and butter.

 

 

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Friday Beer Tasting - Fruit Forward

Friday Beer Tasting - Fruit Forward

Spring forward, fruit forward. It's not much of a stretch is it? 

Last week we tasted some tasty belgian-style brews as we sprung into spring. Tonight we are going to feature two very different ales, both with a healthy dose of Vitamin-C to help you rebound from winter: One-time release local Hi-Wire Brewing's Tropical Fruit Golden Strong and limited availability Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu Ancient Ale. Join us between 5-7pm and drink some liquid sunshine. Below is a brief description from each of the breweries on their fine beers.

 

HI-WIRE TROPICAL FRUIT GOLDEN STRONG

 

A fruit-forward, 11% ABV, American-style golden strong ale brewed with fresh guava, papaya, and mango.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOGFISH HEAD CHATEAU JIAHU ANCIENT ALE


Let's travel back in tie again for another Dogfish Head Ancient Ale (Midas Touch was our first foray and Theobrama our most recent). Our destination is 9,000 years ago, in Northern China! Preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province have revealed that mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit was being produced that long ago, right around the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East!

Fast forward to 2005. Molecular archaeologist, Dr. Patrick McGovern, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology calls on Dogfish Head to re-create another ancient beverage and Chateau Jiahu is born. 

In keeping with historic evidence, Dogfish brewers use orange blossom honey, muscat grape juice, barley malt and hawthorne fruit. The wort is fermented for about a month with sake yeast until the beer is ready for packaging.

 
Food Pairing Recommendations: 
Mexican and Indian cuisines, spice cake, oranges
 
Glassware Recommendation:
Snifter
 
Wine Comparable:
Citrusy sauvignon
 
 
 
 
 
 
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