phirx On the Road: Asheville, North Carolina
Part 2 of 3 – Go to Part 1
Wicked Weed Brewing divides their beers into four regular draft categories on their menu and chalkboards: Hops Are Heresy, Beautiful and Belgian, Wicked from the Wood, and From the Funkatorium. They also list a fifth draft category for special, seasonal beers (during our visits they were rolling out a World Cup series), and a sixth category for beers available in bottles. During my two visits I was able to try 22 of these uniformly excellent brews, from all categories except bottles (although I did bring home three bottles that I haven’t cracked yet). Yet there were a few that I missed – some taps ran out and were being replaced with World Cup series beers, and at a certain point each day I had to give up taking notes and end my tasting session with a full glass.
I have decided to list the beers in the order I tried them.
(phirx ratings) are on a scale of 1-10.
From the Funkatorium
Serenity Wild Ale, 5.5 ABV (9)
Reverence (Belgian Pale Ale), 6.6 ABV (8)
Black Angel Cherry Sour, 6.8 ABV (10)
Divergence (Porter)7.4 ABV (7)
Oblivion, 8.5 ABV (10)
Bretticent (Saison), 6.5 ABV (7)
I believe that I got to try all their sours and wilds except the Medora Blackberry Raspberry Sour, which was tapped out. On Day 2 I was very fortunate to share my table (the picnic tables on the patio off the tasting room are very large and promote sharing and conversation) with Andrew Zinn, WWB’s Wood Cellarman, who shared insights about the beers and how they are made. Serenity Wild Ale won the Gold Medal for Brettanomyces Beer at the Great American Beer Festival 2013 – less than a year after the brewery opened. This subtle sour is 100% Brettanomyces fermented in WWB’s open fermentation tank and then aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels. It tastes like a dry white wine – a perfect summer beer.
Reverence is a complex wild ale brewed in homage to Orval Trappist Ale. It is brewed initially as a Belgian Pale Ale, finished with Brettanomyces, then aged in Cabernet barrels. After aging it is blended and finally dry-hopped to achieve a floral character. The initial Scotch nose gives way to a light-bodied beer that is dry and slightly sour. Black Angel Cherry Sour is WWB’s flagship sour, brewed with both sweet and tart cherries and aged with souring bacteria in bourbon barrels. This beer is “blended forward”, each release therefore maintaining a continuity from their original batch brewed in 2012. Black Angel has a roasted barley nose, a medium body, and the distinct flavor of sour cherries.
Divergence is a sour porter made with dry fermented Ethiopian coffee from Asheville’s Mountain Air coffee roasters. It has a strong coffee nose fragrance and dark berry flavors (although I was told there is no fruit in this beer) and bourbon from the barrels. The amazing Oblivion is a high-gravity wild ale brewed with blackberries and dates – a sweet/tart sour with a subtle, sharp backbone and a long finish that begins crisp and tart and ends with the bitterness left in your mouth from blackberry seeds. Bretticent is a saison brewed with barley, wheat, and rye grown in North Carolina from Riverbend Malthouse and fermented in WWB’s Belgian-style open fermenter, then finished with Brettanomyces. Its fruity nose evokes familiar saison bubblegum esters, has a creamy body and is only slightly sour, with a bitter finish for a saison.
On the rest of my Day 1 visit I went back and forth between categories:
Hops Are Heresy (HAH)
Beautiful and Belgian (BaB)
Wicked from the Wood (WftW)
Coolcumber (HaH), 5 ABV (7)
Imperial Coolcumber (WftW), 9 ABV (9)
XXXII Prickly Pear Saison (BaB), 4.7 ABV (7)
Pear Bear (HaH), 9.4 ABV (7)
Ruffian Black IPA (HaH), 9 ABV (8)
Freak of Nature Double IPA (HaH), 8.5 ABV (10)
Tyrant Double Red (HaH), 8.5 ABV (8)
Coolcumber is a golden, light-bodied, effervescent beer inspired by a Henricks gin basil cooler – I saw some folks drinking this at WWB with a slice of cucumber adorning the rim of the glass in the way usually reserved for lemons or limes. It has an evergreen juniper nose and a slightly slimy cucumber finish. Taking this beer a step further, Imperial Cucumber is nearly twice as strong as its little brother, infused with fresh cukes and basil and aged in Cardinal Gin barrels. This well-attenuated ale greets the drinker with a sweet floral and cucumber fragrance, is fizzy but not sweet, and ends with the memory of dry gin.
Wicked Weed’s Saison series is an ongoing love affair with this versatile Belgian yeast and the cornucopia of flavors it inspires. The Prickly Pear Saison is their 32nd essay in the style. This “desert ale” is brewed with agave nectar, lime zest, and prickly pear cactus. The familiar saison nose introduces a light-bodied, easy drinking ale with no hop presence, a unique, dry, cloying at the back of the palate from the cactus, and a mildly bitter finish. One of WWB’s very strongest offerings, Pear Bear is brewed with orange blossom honey to spike the ABV and is flavored with cardamom and pear – it is a dry, sparkling ale with a subtle pear frangrance. Ruffian Black IPA is a dry-hopped double IPA brewed with de-husked black malt for color. The removal of the husk tones down astringent flavors often found in dark beer styles. This beer had warmed up by the time I got to it, and was very smooth with a fragrant hop nose, rich malt flavors and heat from the high (9%) ABV.
In pride of place, Freak of Nature Double IPA is at the top of the Wicked Weed menu: their hoppiest beer. I was absolutely astounded by this amazing ale. The overwhelming nose smells exactly like Humboldt County Skunk Weed, and it is my contention that this beer is the true inspiration for Wicked Weed’s name. (I mean really, what did you think when you first encountered it?) How the Dickinson brothers managed to brew a beer that reeks of kind bud is beyond my understanding and experience, but I was told that there were a lot of test batches! The recipe for this beer calls for nearly 4 pounds of hops per barrel, and they use Chinook, Simcoe, Warrior, Centennial, Amarillo, and Columbus varieties. This is a very funk-forward IPA with a bitter finish that vanishes abruptly. I was disappointed that they do not yet bottle this one.
I finished Day 1 at Wicked Weed with Tyrant Double Red, which the menu describes as the big brother of their Tyranny Red Ale, (it was not on tap that day). A strong, malty, dry-hopped red IPA, Tyranny Double is redolent with pine and grapefruit and ends with a quick, bitter finish.
To be concluded in Part 3