Ben’s American Sake
Ben’s Tune-Up is quintessential Asheville: an urban beer garden, Asian fusion restaurant, convenience store and brewery, all located inside a converted auto shop. It’s also one of very few American sake breweries, coercing more character–and less alcohol burn–out of rice than in few sakes we’ve ever tried. Our favorite was Ben’s Natural Nigori, a 15% glass of milk that tasted like bruised apple and pear juice with a finish of white rice and banana peel. Brewer Michelle MacLeod says the filtered version, called Heavy, is often carbonated and served on draft with several fruit/spice treatments, including pineapple-jalapeño, lemon-ginger, strawberry-cucumber and creamsicle.
The Dire and Ever-Circling Wolves
Burial Beer Co.
So, this is an odd one. Burial calls it an “experiential rustic ale” and offers this description:
“Imagine the disorienting feeling of walking through an unknown forest in complete darkness. A great wash of fear comes over you, your senses heightened; you can almost taste your environment. Moist earth, decaying wood, crushed acorns, evergreen trees…you’re lost, immersed in a cold fog. This black ale is meant to submerge you into this place and this experience. It is meant to provoke your senses and to chart unknown territory by using midnight wheat, earthy and piney hops, spruce tips, juniper branches and berries and fermented with a wild yeast.”
It’s not uncommon for a beer to transport you to a specific place and time. The mental connections we make with particular aromas and flavors are incredibly powerful; one whiff of pie, for instance, can take you back decades, to when you last smelled such a thing cooling on gam-gam’s kitchen counter. So the idea of an “experiential” beer isn’t so far-fetched. And you know what? This beer absolutely does evoke an experience. Dark and oddly savory, the beer smells of pine cones, seared steak, cocoa and figs. The sip is like a handful of peppercorns and charcoal; the swallow evokes moist soil and tree bark, with the lightest hint of grape juice. It does its job so well we kept checking over our shoulders for wolves.
The Blue Bard
Noble’s spring seasonal cider combines the requisite fruit (apples, duh) with blueberries, the latter of which are added to the fermenter whole to allow the apple juice to leach color and tannins from the blueberry skin, a la the process for creating red wine. The berries do indeed give the Bard a mauve hue and soft bite, but even more impactful are additions of wildflower honey and rosemary, which owner Trevor Baker says were chosen because their flavors are somewhat similar. Honey is huge in the aroma, conniving with blueberry for a hibiscus-like floral note, and it certainly does connect with rosemary throughout the sip in a sweet/herbal dance that continues until the warm, ever-so-tannic finish.
It’s hard to find a good gose these days. It’s not for lack of trying–nearly every American brewery has now attempted the salty German style, and nearly every one of them has gotten it wrong by going way too heavy on the acidity. A gose shouldn’t taste like lemon juice; it should have a soft tartness and noticeable salty snap, like a wheat beer with a splash of ocean water. And in this respect, Hi-Wire’s gose is perfect. Brewed with pink Himalayan salt and coriander, it sings in notes of sweet pineapple until the swallow delivers mild acidity and that ever-important–but not overdone–snap of saliva-inducing salinity. It’s the rare gose that you could drink several of in an evening–zippy, refreshing and clean.
Bhramari Brewing Co.
Speaking of well-made goses, have you heard of Bhramari? We’ll forgive you if not–the brewpub has only been open since January 2016, and that name is a tough one (the place was originally going to be called Hive Mind, but the name was taken, and rather than change all the bee-focused branding that had already been finalized, the team went for the most obscure bee-related name they could find–Bhramari is the four-armed Hindu goddess of bees). Molly’s Lips is a black gose with orange blossom-infused water added to the wort right before fermentation. As with the Hi-Wire gose above, the salinity and pH are at perfect levels, though the salt character in this one is more noticeable and unique thanks to the addition of smoked sea salt flakes, which head brewer and owner Gary Sernack says is way more expensive, but way worth it. The flowers, salt and acidity give the brew a culinary character that’s punctuated by a finishing hint of toast.
Wicked Weed Brewing Co.
You had us at “gin barrel-aged sour,” Wicked Weed; the 1.5 pounds per gallon of strawberries and rhubarb are just overkill. Not that we’re complaining. Released in February, Botanica smells of dry juniper boughs and strawberry skin. Its flavor opens up with pure strawberry juice–more tangy than sweet–and concludes in a cymbal-crash of earthy rhubarb and ginlike botanicals (pine, juniper, dry blueberry). The soft acidity is like what you’d get in an underripe strawberry, and the overall impression is like a spritzy summertime cocktail.