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Lou Collichio came to Metro Wines with twenty eight years of experience in the spirits industry. He started his career in New Jersey first managing a small wine shop and then working for a chain of discount beer, wine, and liquor stores as a beer buyer and assistant store manager. After moving to Asheville in 2006, Lou worked for both Greenlife Grocery, and Whole Foods as a beer and wine buyer. His passion for all things craft beer started at the dawn of the American craft beer movement and has continued unabated to this day.

Lou says he is a "recovering musician." We haven't heard his music yet but what we do know is that Lou has stories! He plans to share some of his greatest hits with us and you on "Brewing UP a Storm" our beer blog. did you know that Lou was in a 7th grade play with James Gandolfini and lou stole the show? Stay tuned!


Anita Riley is the cellarman at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, NC and continues to blog for "Brewing Up a Storm." She holds the title of Certified Beer Server through Cicerone, USA, and is a native of WNC.

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Booze 101

As a parent I have always known that we would have to have "The Talk" one day. Several topics have come up for discussion lately, and not all of them have been...comfortable. I know that it is a parent's duty to educate our children about responsibility with sex, drugs, and alcohol. At times, I have squirmed under pressure to find the right words, knowing all the while that my little boy is no longer so little. He is seventeen after all and beginning his senior year in high school. Like most parents, I have struggled to find healthy ways to approach such subjects as well as making it clear to my son that I am available to talk about these things should he see the need. It's a strange dichotomy I face: hoping that he will trust me enough to talk about what is going on in his life while secretly praying that there isn't all that much to talk about. After a series of particularly stilted conversations about sex I was relieved that he wanted to talk about alcohol for a change! I thought the questions would be different, but as a student of Brewing, Distillation, and Fermentation, I was ready to answer him. What follows is Booze 101, as explained from mother to teenage son:
Q: What's the difference between beer and whisk[e]y?
A: Well, you have to make beer before you make whisk[e]y, or at least something that resembles beer without the bubbles, and it may or may not use other grains besides what is typically thought of as brewer's grains. Regardless of the grain bill, you begin with a substance that is fermented to between six and ten percent alcohol. Then you heat that until it reaches a temperature hot enough for the alcohol to evaporate, but not the water. Because alcohol evaporates at roughly seventy degrees Fahrenheit, you can capture the steam, and there by capture the alcohol. The steam is then cooled back down into a liquid that is a much higher concentration of alcohol than you started out with. Usually between 50 and 70 percent. You can redistill that to get the percentage even higher if you want. In fact, most distillers will automatically separate the liquid that comes out first and last for a second distillation. This is called "The heads and the tails", and is known to carry more of the compounds that give people hangovers. By redistilling it, you can clean it up.
Q: Is that why you can store [distilled spirits] longer? Are there any beers that can be stored for a long time like stronger alcohols?
A: Alcohol is a natural preservative, so that's part of it. You're also removing the compounds that have a tendency to spoil over time, so it's a double edged sword. Molecularly speaking, alcohols aren't as reactive with oxygen as some of the other compounds in beer. Oxidation is one of the most common causes for beer spoilage, and it can present itself by tasting like wet cardboard in the beer. Dark beers naturally contain antioxidants that can help protect the beer from oxidation. Also, hoppy beers will lose their hop character over time, as the flavor either vanishes if stored properly at a cool temperature and away from light, or they will turn skunky if they haven't been treated so well. This is what we call "light struck", and it occurs when UV light interacts with the sulfur compounds found in hops. That's why so many brewers use brown glass bottles or cans to package their beers. Green and clear glass allows UV light to pass through the bottle to the beer, and shortens the shelf life of the liquid inside. If you want a beer that will age well, look for one that has some hops, as they are a natural anti-microbial preservative, but that doesn't depend on hops for their flavor. Barley wine is the most common aging beer, but there are others.
Q: So what's the difference between whiskey and vodka, other than vodka is made from potatoes?
A: Not necessarily. Vodka can be made out of any number of grains as well as potatoes. The main difference is that vodka (in the U.S., at least) must be odorless, flavorless, and colorless. That means that it has to be very pure, whereas whiskies often retain some flavor from the grain itself, and can be barrel aged to impart color as well as flavor. You are right, however, that all alcohol was once sugar, and many times the source of the sugar dictates the name of the distillate. Rum, for instance, is fermented and distilled from cane sugar. Tequilla, however, is the name of the region. So don't get too caught up in painting rules onto bottles with wide brushes. Mezcal is also made from the piña of the agave plant, but it comes from a different region, follows a different method [that includes smoking the piña first], and can be derived from red or blue agave. Tequilla uses only the blue agave.
Q: If Champagne is wine, then why is it carbonated while most other wines aren't?
A: First let's talk about terminology. There are a lot of sparkling wines out there, but only bubbly from Champagne France can be called Champagne. Most sparkling wines get their bubbles from a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Think about bottling beers with me. We add sugar, stir up the solution, bottle it, and cap it, right? That is because the byproducts of fermentation are ethanol and carbon dioxide. By creating an airtight seal in the bottle, we can trap the bubbles in the bottle. By adding sugar, we are giving the yeasts something to snack on so that they can continue the fermentation process. With sparkling wines made in the Champagne method, this secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. The bottles are stored with the corks down on an angle so that the yeast will fall down toward the cork. Someone has to turn the bottles slightly so that the yeast continue to work their way downward during the process. When it is ready, the yeast plug is removed through a process called disgorgement. A new cork is inserted, and the wine is ready. Other sparkling wines only go through a primary fermentation, and carbon dioxide is added just like a carbonated soft drink.
Q: Does it age well?
Some do. Carbon dioxide is yet another preservative. Most microorganisms can't live in a CO2 environment, so it can protect the wine from spoilage as well as oxidation. Proper storage is also a factor.
Q: So what's the difference between white wine and red wine? Is it the color of the grapes?
Yes and no. Champagne is almost always white, but it can be made of three different grapes, and only one of them is white. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are the grapes. Only Chardonnay is a white grape, so you can make white wine from red grapes. The difference is really the amount of time the juice is in contact with the skins. All grape juice is clear, even the juice from grapes with dark skins. White wine is made by pressing the juice and throwing out the skins. Red wine is made by allowing the skins to stay in the juice during fermentation. How long exactly is up to the wine maker. As the juice ferments, it pulls the color and some flavor out of the skins. That's why there are red and white wines, and red and white grape juice as well!
With this, all of his questions were answered for the day. I wiped my brow and breathed a sigh of relief as I said, "Goodnight." It could have been so much worse!

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Meet the Women behind the Hi-Wire Labels!

Meet the Women behind the Hi-Wire Labels!

Brewing Up a Storm hosts Drink Like a Girl at Metro Wines on Friday, November 20 from 5-7pm featuring special guests, Illustrator and fashion designer, Charlotte Oden,  and marketing director, Abby Dickinson from Hi-Wire Brewing! This free beer tasting will feature four beers from Hi-Wire. Beer writer, Anita Riley will also be on hand. Check out the full article here. If you've ever wondered how Hi-Wire's vintage circus theme comes to life, come by and meet the women behind the story! Parking is free and easy at Metro Wines.

  

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Drink Like a Girl Friday, October 9 from 5-7pm

It's been a while since we've had an all Asheville tasting.  Can you "root, root, root for the home team" during football season, or is that only in baseball?  Anyway, Go Asheville!  To get even more specific, we are featuring all Pale Ales and India Pale Ales on the tasting.  Think you don't like IPA's?  I challenge you to a try the variety that exists in this style before making such a blanket statement!  Here's what we're pouring:

Pisgah Brewing, Black Mountain, NC
Pisgah Pale is a perfect blend of rich organic malts with whole-leaf Chinook and Nugget hops. A crisp, clean profile makes this, our flagship beer, distinct. 31 I.B.U.

Oskar Blues, Brevard, NC
IPA - A Metamodern IPA conceived of hand selected hops from down under. Malt barley and red wheat combine to create a clean malt backbone with foolproof flavor and mouthfeel to support the main act of Enigma, Vic Secret, Ella, Topaz and Galaxy hops. The hops strum juicy and sweet aromas with headline notes of passion fruit, raspberries, pineapple and citrus. This straight-up strain is Oskar Blues IPA (6.43% ABV). To each their own til we go home.

Wicked Weed Brewing, Asheville, NC
Pearfigt – Perfection doesn't necessitate passivity. Pearfigt is a testament to the compatible nature of hops, fruit, and spice. With a carefully selected dry-hop, this IPA is brewed to elevate the crispness of pear, the roundness of fig, and the warming spice of cardamom. Cheers to pearfigtion.

Asheville Brewing Company, Asheville, NC
Shiva IPA - A crisp, citrusy India Pale Ale with a light color, Shiva will destroy all your preconceptions of an I.P.A. A transcendentally simple malt bill accents a generous helping of Columbus hops, lending an intense floral aroma with hints of grapefruit and a pleasant bittering quality. Your palette will be lifted to higher planes of consciousness with a bittersweet finish.

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Leah Wong Ashburn Leading with Grace

Leah Wong Ashburn Leading with Grace

What does it take to captain one of the oldest craft breweries in Western North Carolina? A sharp business sense, a well of creativity, and a dedication to quality come to mind.  When I posed this question to Leah Wong Ashburn of Highland Brewing Company, however, she had other qualities she credited as her keys to success. In my humble opinion, they can all be summarized into one word: grace.  We don’t think a lot about finesse in business. More often than not, the emphasis is on being competitive, tough, hardworking, and holding your cards close to your chest. Ashburn’s approach to her role as President of Highland Brewing Company flies in the face of the conventional business model.  

And while Highland may have started out small on a shoe string in the basement of Barley’s Taproom, it is anything but small today. They produce 42,000 barrels (1,302,000 gallons) of beer a year and distribute to nine states plus the District of Columbia. They have 50 full time employees, an additional 25 part time staff, and a team who works on-call.  They brew five flagship beers year-round, plus six seasonal beers.  They’ve just announced a new line of special release beers, The Warrior Series, and there are countless small batch releases each year that are brewed on their pilot system and available on tap at the brewery tasting room. Highland hosts a number of festivals, concerts, and sporting events.  They also participate in beer festivals across their distribution area.  To say that there are a lot of irons in the fire is a vast understatement.

 How does Leah keep track of everything that is going on at Highland? She points to her father, who is still very much involved with Highland, her husband, and the talented team of employees that Highland attracts. “I rely heavily on a really great team. I wouldn’t do this without them,” she said. There is a meeting every Monday with all the department managers, and the entire company is invited.  In addition to these meetings, there is a sales meeting every other week with all members of the sales team.  Ashburn attends all of these.  She hopes to also attend more production meetings so she can have a better grasp of that part of the business. Even though she is Oscar Wong’s daughter, she says she has never felt entitled to Highland.  “I communicate that to my team all the time.  They know that I still have a lot to learn, and that I respect their knowledge, skills, talents.” 

Wong was reluctant to bring his daughter on board when she first approached him about working for Highland twenty years ago.  He insisted that she pursue her own career. It was important to him that Leah have the experience of gaining her own successes and learning from her own failures. Years later, he gave in and offered her a position, but she turned him down!  “We couldn’t afford her! We still can’t afford her,” he says.  Ashburn admits that she took a pay cut to join the ranks of her father’s brewery, but that isn’t what is important to her.  She is motivated by carrying on the Highland legacy and being a part of the Asheville community.

Another perk that drew her to make the change was the work environment. “There’s a mix of really cool people in the beer industry.  In some other industries, competitors don’t talk to each other.  In beer, we collaborate! And we are in the south, so there’s also southern hospitality.” I asked her if she had experienced any disadvantages based on her gender in a male dominated industry. She said that it actually works in her favor. “There are times that as the only woman in the room, you can bring a different perspective.  It can be a good thing.”

She spoke of her plans for the future of the brewery. “I want Highland to be the brewery that the southeast is most proud of. Our mission is to be the craft brewery of choice in the southeast.  Not the biggest, but of choice.  I hope that people who drink our beers will drink Highland because they want to. Of course we have to grow to be successful, but I want to grow the smart way, the right way.”

 Leah is also excited about the new energy being pumped into Highland. New team members joining the team bring a wealth of experience to the plate.  This is allowing for new beers that fit well with the Highland brand stylistically.  There is a lot of buzz about the expansion that is nearing its completion.  The additional space is allowing for more production and higher efficiencies in packaging, as well as new spaces for visitors to enjoy.  Highland will have an indoor event space along with a rooftop beer garden.  The extra public space will allow for private events that the brewery had largely been forced to turn down in the past.  Now Leah looks forward to the ability to host weddings, corporate events, and trade shows at the brewery.

 It’s exciting for me, as a native to Western North Carolina, a brewing student and beer writer to watch the growth and success of the beer industry in our area. I am happy for my town to have the promise of a thriving job market that the breweries offer. I am so thankful for all of the hard work that Highland and other breweries have done in the last twenty years to make Western North Carolina attractive to new breweries opening facilities in the area. Most of all, however, I am comforted to know that there are people like Leah Wong Ashburn leading the industry and making us proud.  

This article was first printed in WNC Woman Magazine, September 2015

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Drink Like A Girl Friday, October 2 from 5-7pm

This week we are celebrating The Great American Beer Festival medal by Wicked Weed Brewing!  Their Pernicious IPA took home the Silver metal out of some 3,000+ entries!  We'll taste the Pernicious and their seasonal pumpkin beer, the Xibalba!  Here's Wicked Weed's own words about their beers:

Pernicious is our flagship India Pale Ale boasting a silver medal at this year's Great American Beer Festival. This massively dry-hopped ale has minimum malt complexity and a combination of juicy, tropical fruit-forward hops with heavy resinous American hops. Pernicious is the epitome of a West Coast IPA, made right here in the Southeast.

For everything there is a season and tradition. That's why our pumpkin ale, brewed with cacao nibs, ancho, serrano, and habenaro chiles with fall spices, is brewed once a year during the onset of autumn. Inspired by the mythos of the ancients, Xibalba (she-bahl-bah) is an otherworldly reminder that seasons are fleeting and to be celebrated.

 

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