I don’t get the best night’s sleep. Despite slipping into slumber easily. I wake around 4 AM and sleep fitfully thereafter.
I feel pretty knacked when I get up. A cooked breakfast. That’s what I need to liven myself up. I make my way downstairs to the hotel restaurant. I start to order two eggs over easy and bacon, with coffee and orange juice.
The waitress tells me: “Getting the buffet breakfast will work out cheaper.”
“OK, I’ll have that then.”
Having the buffet means I can pile extra bacon onto my plate. More bacon is never bad. The grease livens me up a bit. I return to my room for some lazing around watching TV. My flight to Asheville isn’t until 13:10.
I’m through security in 5 minutes. Mind you, I do have TSA pre. Meaning I don’t need to remove my watch, belt or shoes and my laptop can stay in its bag. I still don’t understand why this is considered secure for TSA pre passengers, but not for everyone else. But I’m not complaining.
I must be tired. I can’t be arsed to go to the bar. Instead I just wait at the gate reading Private Eye. As usual, they’re overbooked and asking for volunteers to be bumped. Surely that just displaces the problem to the next flight, which is probably also overbooked?
It’s only a small plane. Luckily I’ve only got a small rucksack as carry-on. I can just about squeeze it into the tiny overhead locker. Despite it weighing a ton, being packed with books. Just happy the damned thing off my shoulder.
Mike Karnowski, owner, brewer and all-round dogsbody of Zebulon Artisan Ales, is picking me up. He has a sign saying “Dodgy Mild”.
Once in his pickup, he pours me a beer from a vacuum flask. Into a full imperial pint glass.
“It’s a 1920’s AK. My all-day drinking beer. It’s only 2.7%, so I can drink it while at work without getting smashed, but it still satisfies as a beer.”
Very nice it is, too. Though he only brews it for himself. “It’s too weak to sell commercially.” I blame the US tax system – there’s a flat rate of tax, irrespective of strength - for making lower-gravity beers unviable.
Before heading over to the brewery, we drop by the house where I’ll be staying to drop off my junk. I’ll have the whole place to myself, which is pretty cool. The owners – who live elsewhere – run their business from the basement. They only ask one thing of me: “Will you water the plant pots next to the front door every day? They get dry.”
We chat with then a while then progress to Weaverville.
Weaverville, the location of his brewery, is a small town a few miles north of Asheville. A location in Asheville itself would have been too expensive, Mike explains.
On our way there, Mike tells me that he struggled to come up with a name for his brewery. The first few he came up with were too close to existing brewery names. With a few days to go until opening, he still hadn’t settled on one. Then he came up with Zebulon.
“What does Zebulon mean?” I ask Mike.
“It’s an old-fashioned southern first name.”
A fictional planet in a 1950’s Scifi novel is what popped into my head. I’m slightly disappointed by the real explanation.
This part of North Carolina is beautiful. Full of lushly wooded hills and rushing rivers. Though, obviously, this being the USA there’s a motorway cutting right through them.
The brewery is in a former firehouse on an alleyway in the centre of Weaverville. Well, what there is of a centre. It’s not a huge place. A couple of dozen businesses line Main Street.
A small area outside the brewery is roped off with a few barrels for tables and some chairs. Most of which are occupied. The entrance is through the front of a tardis, which Mike has borrowed for the occasion.
And what is that occasion? A recreation of the beers you’d find in an Edwardian pub. It’s something I’ve dreamt of or years. In terms of beers, the years just before WW I are my favourites. When you’d find a decent range of strengths, colours and flavours. It’s like travelling back in time to 1910. Hence entering via a tardis.
For $20, punters get a special glass and five smallish pours. Being a special guest, I get an imperial pint glass and as much beer as I can drink. Which, those who know me will attest, can be a frightening amount.
Gabe, Mike’s partner, is on the door handing out the glasses and drink tickets.
These are the beers*:
Chris, brewer at a small place in Asheville, is performing barman duties. Being sensible, I start with a Mild rather than a Burton. It’s rather good. Not too sweet, but with a pleasant No. 3 invert character.
I’m soon chatting with various punters. Which is sort of what I’m here for. Surprising how many people know who the hell I am. Some mornings I’m not that sure. Several tell me that they saw my last talk. And are coming on Sunday. Can’t have done that bad a job last time.
I shift a few books – which is sort of why I’ve come. I hope I can get rid of a lot more. It was a pain lugging as many over as I did. I want to return with as few as possible.
Explaining the beers, their history and ingredients is good fun. Always pleasant to not see eyes glazing over – as is the case with my family – when I talk about this stuff.
The stereo is blasting out a variety of 1970’s punk classics. There’s a reason for that. Connected with the talk I’ll be giving on Sunday. But I’ll get onto that later.
Browsing one of my books, young woman asks “What language is this? Is it Belgian?”
I take a look. Bum. I’ve brought over both my copies of the Dutch translation of the Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer.
A young woman wearing muddied overalls enters. It’s Chris’s fiancée, Jessica. At first I think it’s some bizarre fashion, like ripped jeans. Turns out that works on a farm and the mud spattering is genuine.
The brewery doesn’t stay open late. The last punter is turfed out by 7 PM. Once everything is tidied up, we (Mike, Gabe, Chris, Jessica and I) move on to Hi Wire Brewing where there’s a food truck.
I visited Hi Wire in the centre of Asheville last time I was in town. But that’s not where we go. They’ve now got a second, much larger, location in Biltmore village, a little to the south of downtown.
We drink some more beer and I eat a Cuban sandwich. Which is a first for me.
We don’t stay out that late. Which is just as well, me being well knackered. Sleep overtakes me quickly, like a BMW on the autobahn. Let’s hope it doesn’t end in a wreck again.
* You can find the recipes in mine and Kristen's excellent bbok, 1909 Beer Style Guide.
Zebulon Artisan Ales
8 Merchants Alley,
Hi-Wire Brewing - Big Top
2A Huntsman Pl,
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