Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Greatest Night Of My Life

Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria
42 Biltmore Ave.
Asheville, NC

Beer Selection: Welcome to heaven.

Food: Awesome pizza – made of beer!

Welcome to “Beer City USA”.

In other words, welcome to heaven!

No, seriously. Tiny Asheville, North Carolina, up here in the mountains of far western North Carolina won an official poll conducted by some official sounding beer geeks who keep track of this sort of thing.

Beer City USA!

Two years in a row. Over other such malted barley Meccas as Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine.

Asheville has nine – count ‘em – nine microbreweries! And three or four bars dedicated to hard-core, obscure beers. And several stores that sell nothing but microbrews.

Basically, you can get any beer made anywhere on the planet somewhere in Asheville.

Just don’t ask for a Bud Light. Please.

Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria is one of the best places in Beer City USA to try out some of these cool beers. Their motto is one any Suit in a Strange Place can appreciate: “Where suit and tie meet tie-dye.”

The fun begins as soon as you sit down in the 1920s appliance-store-turned-beer-paradise and open the six page menu.

Six page menu…of beer.

Oh yeah! I was giddy as a schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber concert, flipping through the pages, perusing all the descriptions of all the obscure beers I’d never even heard of.

Think about that for a minute.

I’m Suit757.

I fly around the country every day. Been to all 50 states. Touch ground in all four time zones on a weekly basis.

And I like beer. A lot.

I always try whatever happens to be the most local, weirdest beer I can lay my hands on.

In Montana, good ole’ Moose Drool is ubiquitous. In Hawaii, I’ll take the Kona Fire Rock. In Alaska, give me the Alaskan Smoked Porter. In Mississippi, make it a Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown.

In Florida? Well, in Florida, I’m usually stuck with Miller Lite. (Florida has the lamest beer drinkers in America -- although Virginia is a close second.)

But you get the idea.

Cool local beers excite me. And on that most rare of occasion I find one I’ve never heard of before? Well, stand back buddy.

So you can imagine my excitement scanning Barley’s page after page of cool sounding beers that have never before graced my liver.

I mean, my friends sometimes accuse me of getting overly excited about things like this. Inevitably, at some point during peak frivolity on an evening like this, I’ve been know to blurt out to them, “This is the greatest night of my life!”

But my joy turned to despair as I quickly realized that my liver probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I tried all six pages of newfound brew.

I had to choose.

But how?

One of the great aspects of craft beer is matching beer to seasons.

Spring and summer seasonals tend to be lighter. Fall seasonals usually default to Oktoberfest, a mild, German-style beer or festive pumpkin ales.

But winter is my favorite beer drinking season. ‘Tis the season for the strong, dark manly beers that put hair on your chest. Lots of hops or lots of malted barley or lots of alcohol.

Or, better yet, lots of all three.

These are the kinds of beers you sip in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night.

Winter beers are beer lovers’ beers. I have a beer fridge at home stocked with nine different varieties of winter beer (not that I am ever there to enjoy them).

So that’s how I solved my dilemma. I wanted to start with a fresh winter beer on draft I’ve never tried before: Asheville’s own Highland Brewing Company’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale.

It was dark and delicious like a good winter beer should be, with just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla to put you in the holiday spirit.

Good choice, Suit757. Good choice.

Of course as soon as my waitress dropped off my pint I began strategizing my next move.

The worst thing you can do in a place like Barley’s is get caught unprepared, with a near empty pint glass, a rapidly approaching waitress, and no idea what you want next. Such lack of planning can lead to the unforgivable, “Uh, I guess I’ll just have another one of these.”

No. A true beer drinking professional has to plan his evening like a general planning for battle. Not George W. Bush looking for WMD.

Notice I haven’t mentioned a word about food yet. Not even going to look at the food menu until I have my beer plan in place.

I mentally noted four or five that I really wanted to try before they shut off the lights and kicked me out into the frigid cold streets of Asheville.

This may sound sacrilegious, but my second beer wasn’t a beer.

It was a spiced mead.

Mead? Isn’t that the stuff toothless medieval barbarians used to drink before God invented beer?

Uh, yeah. Cool, huh?

Where else, other than Beer City USA, will I ever get the chance to try mead?

It turns out that mead is as closely related to beer as I am to Michael Jackson. Not close.

In fact, mead, which is fermented from honey, is more like wine. And that’s exactly how Barley’s serves it. “On draft,” at room temperature in a wine glass.

Loaded with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, my spiced mead tasted like a thick, sweet, spicy cider. Like liquid pumpkin pie. Not terrible for a cold December night, but not very thirst-quenching either.

As luck would have it, after my first sip of mead, the waitress brought my pizza to the table.

I grabbed her and pleaded, “Look. I like the mead you just brought me just fine. I’m going to drink it, I promise. But I need a BEER!”

Totally understanding, within 30 seconds, she brought me out a Catawba Valley King Don's Pumpkin Ale, a local take on the classic American brew.

Back in Colonial times, Americans had to import barley from Europe. So sometimes it was just easier and cheaper to substitute locally-grown pumpkins in their home-brewed beer.

And darn tasty too.

Before I could make room in my home beer fridge for the winter beers, I had to finish off my seven different varieties of pumpkin ale. I’m happy to say, King Don’s ranks right up there with the best.

Did I mention Barley’s also serves some of the best pizza on Planet Earth? With all that hoppy excitement, I almost forgot.

And get this. The crust is made of beer.

No. Really.

I asked my waitress to explain it twice. Something about spent barley from the brewing process.

Hey, you don’t have to tell me three times. If it is made of beer, I’ll try it.

I’m glad I did. Absolutely delicious. The crust was just a little chewy with a nice grain flavor.

But of course, the best part of any pizza is the dead animal parts that go on top.

In addition to onions and sun dried tomatoes, my pizza was loaded with pepperoni, andouille sausage, salami and beefalo.


Yes. The waitress said it is a local all natural, organic, free-range cross between a cow and a bison.

I’m sorry. There is nothing “all natural” about creating an entirely new species just to add a new topping to pizza.

As it turns out, the salami and spicy andouille sausage stole the show from the crumbled bits of Frankencow. But hey, I’m a sucker for something new every time.

Every bite of pizza packed a spicy meat-filled wallop. Which was darn convenient because I had to drink two more beers to get through the pizza.

Venturing onto the long list of bottled beer, I had the R.J. Rockers First Snowfall, which was an appropriate choice since just outside Barley’s welcoming front door, Asheville was experiencing its first snowfall of the winter – along with 18 degree temperatures, 25 MPH winds and wind chill of zero.

Dark and strong, I was really impressed by such a high quality beer from the mountains of South Carolina, a state not otherwise known for interesting brews.

I wrapped up my evening of beer drinking, mead sipping and beefalo chomping with a draft of Pennsylvania’s Victory Harvest Pale Ale, a hoppy contrast to the winter beers I’d been sampling all night.

As I sat nursing the last few sips and bracing myself to venture outside into the frozen snow-filled mountain air, a profound thought came to my admittedly somewhat foggy mind. Stomach full of hops, barley and chopped-up, organic, hybrid animal parts, I realized, this really and truly just might be the greatest night of my life.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!
Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


  1. I had friends in college who brewed mead.

    They were medievalists.

    Some of them were *waaaay* too serious about it.

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