My Brush with the Dark Arts

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The signs were there….last November, I went to Asheville with my two sons for a weekend Stoutcation. ¬†We made the rounds to many of the local breweries and had a fantastic time. ¬†Check out my blogpost for a review of that weekend. ¬†In fact, I’m hopeful that¬†Stoutcation II can happen later this year! ¬†One of the 2016-11-05_15-10-02_848breweries we visited was Wicked Weed. ¬†Actually we visited both WW locations – fortunately, they are within walking distance of each other ūüôā ¬†I enjoyed a snifter¬†of Dark Age and also ordered a small taster of Espresso Dark Arts that they had on tap (at left). ¬†The sample of Dark Arts was really super sweet and frankly, so cloyingly sweet, I couldn’t taste anything beyond the sweetness. ¬†I think my tastebuds went into diabetic shock! ¬†Since I knew Dark Arts was a such a¬†sought after Stout with great reviews, I just chalked up my initial experience to a weekend of tasting¬†different beers.¬†¬† I bought a bottle of Dark Arts (and the proper glassware) to bring back home to give it a fair shot. ¬†Dark Arts is a strong 15% ABV Rum barrel aged Stout fermented¬†with Brettanomyces. ¬†It’s bottled in a 500ml bottle and has a beautiful golden wax dip to show off¬†it’s rarity. ¬†I wanted to give¬†it a few months to age a bit and then I would be¬†able to sit back and enjoy this highly acclaimed Stout.

Well, this past weekend was that¬†time. ¬†April has been¬†designated as North Carolina Beer Month and as such, I decided¬†to celebrate the local Stouts of North Carolina during the month. ¬†Saturday was Dark Arts day, so I followed my process of taking my Stout out of the Stout fridge about an hour before tasting to allow it to warm a bit. ¬†I 2017-04-22_15-57-11_867cut back the wax, cracked it open, poured it in the Dark Arts snifter, and took a taste…..and the super sweet taste that I endured in Asheville came back to visit. ¬†I couldn’t blame¬†this overly sweet taste on anything, as it was my first Stout of the day. ¬†I just wasn’t enjoying it.

I tried to analyze it and figure out why I wasn’t enjoying Dark Arts. ¬†I’ve never really had a Stout that I just couldn’t drink. ¬†I’ve had thin Stouts, over carbonated Stouts, and Stouts that just don’t live up to their billing – but they’ve always been drinkable. ¬†I’ve had infected beers that were drain pours – but there was a reason for the drain pour. ¬†In this case, there wasn’t anything wrong with Dark Arts – it’s just not my glass of Stout!

In my research on Dark Arts, I’ve read that this is a wonderful dessert Stout that is meant to be sipped – and that makes perfect sense. ¬†Dark Arts is¬†like a port wine, a cognac or a small (4-6 oz.) glass of bourbon meant to be sipped and savored after a wonderful meal. ¬†Perhaps that’s where I went astray. ¬†My normal Stout tasting occurs in the mid-afternoon, prior to a meal. ¬†Opening Dark Arts at that point was probably a tactical error on my part.

That being said, enjoying Dark Arts in small quantities might just be the way to go. ¬†But how to keep it fresh over a weekend? ¬†Open bottles of Stout when stoppered or recapped just don’t taste the same the next day. ¬†Lost carbonation, oxidation, whatever it is, it just doesn’t taste the same. ¬†Based on that, my modus operandi is to consume the entire Stout over the course of a couple hours. ¬†That was my mindset with Dark Arts. ¬†When I had those first few sips, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to finish a 500ml bottle in a couple of hours…..and I’ve always said that if I didn’t like a Stout, I wouldn’t force it down.

I finally came to grips with the notion that I’m not going to like every Stout that I taste. ¬†There will be some that I love, some that are OK, some that I’m glad I tried, and some that I won’t like…..and that’s OK, even if others find the same Stout irresistible. ¬† Granted, there have been only a couple of Stouts over the past couple of years that just don’t agree with my palate, but this really is the first where I feel like I’m swimming upstream and my dislike is at odds with the majority.

Now that I’ve been able to think it through and write about it, I’m much more at peace with my tastebuds. ¬†Some may not like the vanilla, coconut, coffee, and pepper variants that I tend to gravitate to and that’s just fine. ¬† I also really appreciate a straight down the middle Imperial Stout. ¬†In fact, a good, solid Imperial Stout is sometimes more difficult to brew as there are no other flavors to hide any imperfections. ¬†But everyone has different like and dislikes. ¬†To each is own. ¬† At last count, there are 204 breweries in NC and thousands more across the country. ¬†There are different styles of beer, different variants, different types of barrel aging, and even different types of glassware to have your favorite beverage served in. ¬†We’re all different with differing tastes….and that’s what makes this journey so unpredictable and enjoyable!

Lastly, to the good people at Wicked Weed: ¬†I appreciate your entire Stout program and I especially enjoy Dark Age – but Dark Arts just isn’t for me. ¬†I’m looking forward to my next visit to Asheville and won’t hesitate to stop by for a Stout!

Have you ever had a Stout (or a beer) that just didn’t agree with your palate? ¬†Leave a comment and share your story!

The Asheville Stoutcation!

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As I wrote about in an earlier¬†post, the 2 sons of the Stoutwhisperer and I traveled to Asheville for a 21st birthday weekend beercation (albeit a year late!). ¬†We even had the blessing of Mrs. Stoutwhisperer! ¬† One son rode with me and the other met us in Asheville as he was coming from Greenville, SC. ¬†We met at our hotel around 4pm on Friday and immediately called for Uber to take us to Oskar Blues. ¬†We all agreed that we were going to 2016-11-04_20-24-11_000Uber all weekend; no reason to take any chances. ¬†We took the 25 minute ride to Brevard, NC which is the east coast home of Oskar Blues Brewery. ¬†It’s in an industrial area off the beaten path so I’m glad we were with someone who knew where it was! ¬† We were very fortunate in our planning because it just happened to coincide with the release party for BA TENFIDY and Java BA TENFIDY! ¬†When we got to OB, it was already buzzing and most everyone was walking around with a glass of TENFIDY, BA TENFIDY or Java BA 2016-11-04_17-25-02_553TENFIDY. ¬†Those who didn’t have a glass were walking around carrying their take home cases of BA and Java BA. ¬†Apparently ¬†the no limits on take home quantities caused issues, although I really didn’t see anyone with more than 2, maybe 3 cases (36 cans). ¬†I 2016-11-04_18-24-13_003bought 2 cases (3 sixers of Java BA and 1 sixer¬†of BA). ¬†We enjoyed the cool evening meeting new people, enjoying the TENFIDY and having dinner at the OB CHUBwagon. ¬† I had a smoked pork sandwich with 2016-11-04_18-09-55_677barbecue sauce made with TENFIDY and a bread bowl of French Onion soup also made with TENFIDY! ¬†It was a TENFIDY evening!

Once we decided to head back to the hotel, we found out that Uber will take us to Brevard, but there weren’t any local Uberer’s that would take us back to Asheville! ¬† Apparently that’s a known fact that our Uber driver neglected to tell us. ¬†We had to call a local Brevard taxi service who was more than willing to take us back to Asheville for over 4X the amount we paid to get to Brevard! ¬†We didn’t have much of a choice so we took it and the cab driver stopped at an ATM along the way because it was cash only! ¬†He was a real character….and I’ll bet he’s laughing all the way to the bank on people like us! ¬† ¬†We made it back to the hotel safely and turned in for the evening knowing we had a full Saturday of fun ahead of us!

Saturday started early with an Uber ride to the South Slope district of Asheville, home to the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, Burial Beer, Green Man, Twin Leaf, and Buxton Hall BBQ and our first stop of the day, Vortex Doughnuts. ¬†I read about Vortex as I was planning for 2016-11-05_08-49-55_314the trip and knew we had to pay a visit. ¬†Homemade doughnuts with some creative flavors was right up our alley. ¬†We each had a couple of doughnuts and a beverage…..very tasty and a great way to start a cool Saturday!

We had a few hours to kill before the breweries opened (11am), so we decided to walk to the River Arts district, home of some amazing artists, and a couple of breweries, Wedge and New Belgium.   The artist studios were just opening up and so we stepped in and started to look around.  We came upon one artist, Stephen Lange, who was more than happy to spend some time with us and talk about his craft.  I really thought that the time we spent with him was the surprise of the weekend!  He spoke to us about his technique, his business, and his client base.  It was really neat to hear the passion in his voice about his work.  Take a look at his website!

After the cultural portion of our weekend ended, we wandered over to New Belgium Brewery, 2016-11-05_10-50-02_912hung out by the river, and waited for them to open up. ¬†Right at the stroke of 11, they swung their doors open and a group of about 20 of us walked in. ¬†Each of us selected a flight of 4 tasters to sample the various New Belgium offerings. ¬†New Belgium really doesn’t have a Stout program, so I wasn’t expecting anything to floor me. ¬†I was wrong. ¬†2016-11-05_11-15-16_078My 4 tasters were: Ben & Jerry Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale, 1554 Black Lager, Anne Francoise Spiced Dark Ale, and a Cherry Felix Sour. ¬† The Ben & Jerry Ale really did smell like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough but didn’t really taste anything special, the 1554 and Anne-Francoise didn’t do much for me, and the Felix Sour…..well let’s just say that Sours are an acquired taste that I won’t be acquiring anytime soon! ¬† Wow! ¬†Just as others probably can’t handle Stouts, I’ll never be able to drink a Sour. ¬†That’s the beauty of craft beer – a taste and style for everyone! ¬† ¬†If anything, our time at New Belgium reinforced my love for Stouts! ¬† The people at New Belgium couldn’t have been more nice and their tasting room and patio overlooking the river is a beautiful place to sit, drink, and talk. ¬†The boys had their flights and they enjoyed sampling the different styles and tastes that New Belgium has to offer. ¬†I plan on visiting New Belgium again, but more for the location and the people!

After New Belgium we headed back to the South Slope where we spent the rest of the day.  We went to Buxton Hall BBQ for lunch.  Buxton Hall has been recognized by Bon Appetit 2016-11-05_12-42-33_5572016-11-05_12-59-28_769magazine in their September 2016 issue as one of the top new restaurants of 2016 in the USA!  Since it is located right in the middle of the South Slope area that made our lunch decision an easy one!  All the tables were taken, so we took our seats at the bar and ordered up!  A couple of us ordered smoked pork and the birthday son ordered their other specialty, a fried chicken sandwich.  We all really enjoyed our meals and will certainly return again!  But a 1:30 brewery tour at Burial beckoned, so off we went to Burial Beer.

Burial was right around the corner from Buxton Hall and their patio was crowded with locals. ¬†We entered the combined taproom/brewery and were pointed to a long table where the tour would start. ¬†At 1:30, Tim our guide started the tour and it turned out 2016-11-05_14-42-47_019that we were the only ones there! ¬†So we had a personal tour of Burial! ¬†Now granted, it’s a rather small brewery, but Tim did a great job giving us the history of Burial, walking us around the facility, talking about the future plans of Burial, answering our many questions, and allowing us to sample the offerings that Burial had on tap that day! ¬†We all really enjoyed the visit to Burial and we’ll definitely keep an eye out for their releases. ¬†I was already a fan of Burial through their limited Skillet Donut Stout release but the boys are now fans as well!

After Burial, we walked around the area, stopping by Green Man and Hi-Wire. ¬†Unfortunately, one place I wanted to go to, Twin Leaf, was closed for a private event. ¬†So we continued across the street to Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, their hallowed location 2016-11-05_15-10-02_848for their Barrel-Aging programs. ¬†Not surprisingly, I stayed away from their Sours, but I grabbed a sample of their Dark Arts Espresso stout. ¬† It was much, much sweeter than I expected! ¬†Definitely a sipping desert drink! ¬†I also bought a couple of bottles of Dark Arts to go. ¬† The boys wanted ¬†to visit the “original” Wicked Weed, so we walked the half 2016-11-05_15-30-42_894mile or so to the taproom. ¬†It was really crowded but we were able to get through the line quickly. ¬†I got a glass of Dark Ages and was able to wash away the last remnants of my earlier Sour and quench my stout thirst and we watched college football on the multiple screens. ¬†After that, we Ubered back to our hotel to freshen up, drop off our purchases from the day, and then took the hotel shuttle to Sierra Nevada for the evening.

Sierra Nevada is the Taj Majal of breweries in the Asheville area. ¬†It is a huge facility near the Asheville airport and similar to New Belgium, it is their east coast brewing location. ¬† They have a full brewing facility, a large restaurant, a 2016-11-05_17-15-51_398separate taproom, a huge ‘backyard’ with a large firepit and chairs all around, a few large conference facilities…oh, and a very large gift shop. ¬†In short, an entertainment complex for the craft beer aficionado!

I attempted to register online for a Sierra Nevada brewery tour a couple of weeks prior to our trip but they were sold out far in advance.  Word of advice, if you are planning a visit to SN and want to tour their facility, check their online scheduler first.

Once we entered, we walked around in amazement. ¬†The 2016-11-05_19-13-23_424copper tanks, the fire pit, everything just overwhelmed us in comparison to what we saw earlier in the day in the South Slope. ¬†There was a Master Brewer’s conference being held there, so it was perhaps more crowded than normal. ¬†I enjoyed (perhaps too much) a 2016-11-05_17-31-13_305-2016-11-06t23_46_59-236couple of glasses of Sierra Nevada’s signature Stout, Narwhal, and then we grabbed a great dinner there. ¬†We then spent some time around the fire pit watching the flames flicker in the dark, and then we called the shuttle to return us to our 2016-11-05_19-40-57_110hotel. ¬†A full day of the Asheville craft beer scene in our heads and a satisfying combination of great beer and great food in our bellies!

The next morning was an early wake up call as¬†an English Premier League soccer match¬†between Arsenal and Tottenham was on. ¬†For the uninformed, Arsenal and Tottenham are fierce London rivals as their stadiums are very close to each other. ¬†No matter their records, it’s always a contentious soccer match. ¬†We were hoping to watch it at a local establishment or hook up with the local Arsenal fan club (the Asheville Gooners), but we weren’t able to find anywhere that would open for a 7am kickoff. ¬†So we grabbed breakfast at the hotel and watched the game in our room.

Once the game finished, we checked out and headed back to Raleigh and Greenville to enjoy our Sunday afternoon and get ready for the week ahead. ¬†Many thanks to our Uber drivers, the Clarion Inn-Asheville Airport, and our many acquaintances and new friends at the breweries and eateries we visited. ¬†I know we had a great time in Asheville and are planning a return visit sooner than later. ¬†If anyone is interested in learning more about our visit or would like some additional recommendations….or if you have any recommendations about our next visit, ¬†drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to reach out to you.

Until next time……