14 December 2007

Tasting a Wonderful Local Brewery

I had the great fortune yesterday evening to sample 5 brews from Pisgah Brewing Company of Black Mountain, NC (just east of Asheville on I-40). All five were very good; two were excellent.

This tasting was one of the bi-monthly offerings at Bruisin' Ales, my current favorite purveyor of liquids and all-around cool store in Asheville. Two of the Pisgah brewers were on hand to pour the samples and answer questions, and as the house was much -- MUCH -- less packed than last week's Brooklyn affair, I had no trouble in chatting a bit with them.

First off, Pisgah is a certified-organic brewery, so all of their offerings have at least a plurality of organic ingredients (malt and hops especially). Kudos!

My only overarching negative about the brews is that most of them tend to have a somewhat thin and watery finish, even if it is extremely slight. (I started calling this the "American beer curse" some years ago, when I was a relative newbie to the craft beer thing; I know it's not scientifically sound or anything approaching universal, but it's nevertheless a trait that I can't help but notice popping up from time to time in many American brews). Oh, and the fact that they don't bottle most of their brews for store distribution -- kegs and growlers are the mainstay. But as they're a small brewery interested in quality control, I can't say I blame them.

The lineup:

1) Porter. At 6% ABV, this was their light offering for the evening. Made with a combination of five organic malts, this is a pleasant and easy contribution to the world of porter. A nice chocolatey opening salvo, with pleasant mild hop notes. Some smokiness is present, too, enabling it to match not only raspberries (a great combo) but savory dishes as well, I would think. A thin but smooth finish -- it ended much more abruptly and quickly than I was imagining it to. Overall, I gave it a B+

2) Equinox, "Amber harvest ale." 7.5% ABV. A mild nose that for some reason made me think of bubblegum -- but on the tongue it was anything but! A nice raisiny quality, with a lot more besides. It was superb with a cube of sharp cheddar, and I wrote to myself to try this with winter soup. A-/B+

3) Red Devil. 8% ABV. This is a Belgian-style blonde ale mixed with cherries and raspberries added to the secondary fermentation. I am not often a fan of fruit beer; I'm fond of Atlantic's Blueberry Ale, and the occasional old-school sour cherry lambic if the mood strikes me. But this was absolutely stupendous. Very well-balanced, and silky smooth. Oh, I could have gone home right then and there a happy man. My note was, "best fruit beer I've ever had, basically," which is probably a stretch, but not *too* big of a stretch. A/A-

4) Solstice. 9% ABV. This is their year-round Belgian Trippel offering. A sour nose (yum!) gives rise to fruity esters, and the only thing that made it less than superb was that once-again slightly watery finish. Otherwise, very solid and true to the style. Gouda made it better with regards to the finish. A-

5) Baptista. 11% ABV. Their "Belgian Noel" seasonal offering, a strong dark (but not too dark!) brew. Beautiful bronze color with a complex nose that immediately caught my attention -- too many things going on to single any one out, yet not too busy to be confusing. All I could say was, "Wow." This was clearly the coup-de-grace of the day for me. Truly complex, truly amazing...I must say that I have as of yet not had any true Christmas Ales from Belgium or the Netherlands, so I can't compare the Baptista against the heralds of the style, but style aside, I fell in love with this thing. And, no watery finish here! More along the lines of a dry barleywine or sherry finish, really. And wonderful with cheese all the way. More, please! Solid A

On a side note, I couldn't help but notice this label on the shelf on my way out the door:

No kidding. "Great Pig Steam." I am told it is an amazing ale. And that the Saison de Pipaix (this brewery's flagship style) is to die for. Best I can figure is, 1) it's a true farmhouse brewery. Pigs live on farms, and are really fun animals. 2) The folks at Pipaix are truly doing all that they can to make it clear that they are not a monastic brewery.

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