Have a weird dream about a sort of historic Lager festival. Which bizarrely features Johnny Depp. Have a good long kip, mind. Thankfully the cabin has airco, which helps me sleep.
The walk downhill isn't as long as I feared. I say hello to the goats on the way. Already getting quite warm. Loads of funny bird noises and odd-looking birds flying around. While I wait for Doug, only the occasional car passes. 90% are huge pickups.
It’s hot. Very hot considering the altitude I’m at. Fortunately I only have a few minutes to wait before Doug turns up in his RV.
He’s an energetic retiree, who only acquired his interest in beer after stopping with work. Frustrated by the absence of fellow aspirant BJCP judges to study with in his immediate area, he decided to set up an internet group. He hosts regular webinars for the group featuring various experts. Today it’s my turn.
Usually his guests are remote, sat in their own homes. This time is very different as we’ll be sitting side by side.
The webinars kick off with a beer tasting and Doug hasn’t picked up our bottles yet. We head off to Appalachian Vintner to get some Sam Smiths Taddy Porter. It’s odd going there two days in a row.
We’ll be performing in a training room at White Labs. Doug is worried that we won’t have access to it until one, which would only leave us an hour to get everything set up. Fortunately we can get in at noon when we arrive.
Jo a very friendly woman, is our contact. “Do you need anything?” she asks.
“Glasses for our beer tasting.”
Good idea. I wouldn’t want to be drinking from the bottle.
Pablo, who works here drops in to see us. He tells me that he translates technical beer articles into Spanish. There’s a hard job. I know from my experience of translating German brewing texts into English just how difficult it is. Such a specialised and specific vocabulary.
Before kickoff, I get a beer. Well, two beers: the same Maibock fermented with two different yeasts. I can’t say I can spot a huge difference between them
Doug has never hosted a webinar outside his home. Setting up takes rather longer than expected. We’re finally ready just about on time, but when we listen back to a test, the sound isn’t right. Queue some frantic fiddling.
I’m giving a stripped-down version of my Zebulon talk. Aiming for it to last one hour rather than two. It ends up being not too far off. Then there’s a Q & A. I always enjoy answering questions, for some strange reason.
When we’re done, I finish off my lunch - Hansen’s Ferment Board. Cheese, cold sausage, pickled vegetables and bread made using their own beer yeast. A pickled egg too! The kimchi is nice, but not quite as good as what Dolores makes. She’s really got the hang of it.
Once we’ve got all the kit back into Doug’s RV, we go downstairs to the restaurant. It’s very modern and bright. But pretty cheerful. I like cheerful. Even when – unlike here – it’s also cheap.
Pablo and Jo join us for a quick beer. I can’t stay too long. I’ve arranged to meet Stuart Arnold, owner of Fortnight Brewing, and his daughter Ellie in Hi-Wire at 6:30.
Doug drives us there in his RV. The satnav keeps trying to guide us to South Slope, the old location. But I saw the new brewery yesterday. We parked right outside it when we went to Appalachian Vintner. It’s a couple of miles south of the town centre.
“Type ‘Appalachian Vintner’ into the satnav”. I suggest to Doug. That does the job.
After half an hour of waiting, it hits me. They’ve probably been directed to the old location, too. Luckily, I have Stuart’s phone number. And Doug has a phone. We’ve soon sorted things out. Ten minutes later they appear.
Doug has to leave as he has quite a drive home. We say our goodbyes.
Ellie slaps me on the shoulder and says: “Let’s get some beer.” I’m warming to her already.
We grab a table outside. It’s hot, but at least there’s a bit of a breeze.
“I’m hungry,” Ellie says, “can we eat?” But Stuart has another idea: more beer.
They were at Zebulon earlier and tried all the Porters. “Which one did you like best?” I can’t help but ask. “Some of them are quite challenging.”
Ellie’s reply surprises me: “The 1750.”
That’s one of the ones I thought was challenging, due to the high degree of roast topped off with Brettanomyces.
We get a cab up to South Slope, where Ellie insists that we start at the Funkatorium, as she loves sour beer. (That explains her preference for the 1750 Porter.) It’s the sour subproject of Wicked Weed. Stuart, as a small brewery owner, isn’t so keen. I can see his point. But he isn’t being an arse about it.
I have an Infidel Porter. I can't do the sour stuff anymore. Not even when my stomach is at its best. Just asking for trouble now.
“I’m hungry,” Ellie says, “can we go somewhere to eat?” It’s decided that Bhramari will be our next stop. Not sure if it’s meant to include a food element.
It seems to specialise in weird shit. Shit. Ellie insists that I get samplers of a couple of their beers.
“You’re not going to like them, Ron.” Stuart warns me. “Don’t try them just to be polite.”
I get two samples, just to be polite. The Good Fight and Molly’s Lips. The latter is a Black Gose.
“I’m not trying them just to be polite.” I say, being polite.” This Englishness will be the death of me.
The Good Fight is OK, so I order one. Ellie then gets herself a cocktail.
“I thought you really liked the beers here?”
“I do, but I need a cocktail.” Fair enough.
As we’re leaving the bar I hear one of the staff tell a customer that the kitchen is closing in 15 minutes. “Best be quick if you want to get some food.” I warn.
Her cocktail contains a weird glittery purple ice cube. Is that safe to eat? It must be, as Ellie is sucking on it.
No food is ordered. But Ellie is still hungry. If she was hungry three hours ago, she must be starving now. When we continue on to Thirsty Monk, it’s clear that food is definitively off the menu.
Stuart and Ellie both have a four-beer flight. I can’t be arsed to piss around with that level of complication at this point in the evening. I go for a Tricky Monk. For two simple reasons: it’s a straightforward Tripel. And full of alcoholey goodness.
Thirsty Monk was the first real beer place in Asheville, specialising, as the name implies, in Belgian beer. It recently added its own brewery.
Ellie says "I'm pissed."
"When you say are you speaking in English or American?" I ask.
She's bilingual. Judging by her state of wobbliness and lack of anger, I’d guess she’s speaking English. The fact she hasn’t eaten could have tipped it either way.
My Uber driver, hearing my accent, is keen on discussing Brexit. Not sure I am. I’d prefer to forget about the whole sorry affair. I mostly simply comment how crazy everyone has gone. And how glad I am not to be living in the UK
He struggles to find the cabin. Just as well I've been here before. I realise that he’s taken the wrong turning.
“You’ve taken one turning too soon.”
We retrace our steps and continue to the correct turn. Pretty obvious the last one was wrong. This road is far crappier.
I walk the last bit to the cabin. Harder than it sounds, as the darkness is near total. Thankfully I make it to the cabin without breaking my ankle.
Tomorrow's arrangements aren't 100% clear. Which worries me slightly. Best send out some messages tomorrow morning.
The last of the whisky speeds me down the motorway of slumber.
White Labs Kitchen & Tap172 S Charlotte St,
Tel: +1 828-974-3868
Hi-Wire Brewing - Big Top
2A Huntsman Pl,
Tel: +1 828-738-2448
147 Coxe Ave,
Tel: +1 828-552-3203
Bhramari Brewing Company
101 S Lexington Ave,
Tel: +1 828-214-7981
92 Patton Ave,
Tel: +1 828-254-5470