Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Carolina Blues

North Carolina is the most under-rated beer state in the country. Sure, places like California, Colorado and much of New England receive all the hype, but North Carolina is home to some real brewing gems. From the Pisgah Brewing Company in the the mountains of the western portion of the state to the Weeping Radish Eco Farm and Brewery along the eastern shores of the Outer Banks and with The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Top of the Hill and more in between, North Carolina is a growing force to be reckoned with in the craft brewing world.

My personal favorite brewery from the state however is fortunately also one of it's easiest to come by. Highland Brewing Company cranks out it's beers in Asheville, one of the coolest little cities you'll ever visit.

Highland was founded in late 1994 by Oscar Wong and started with a 6,500 barrel capacity that was draft or 22 ounce hand-bottled offerings only. A few years later they added a bottling line that allowed them to start packaging in 12 ounce bottles and they have been steadily growing since, now having the capacity to brew up to 20,000 barrels annually.

Their portfolio includes a nice range of styles from a wickedly tasty Oatmeal Porter to a tongue tingling Kashmir IPA, but the beer we'll be looking at today is their most popular offering, Gaelic Ale, a highly quaff-able Amber Ale with a nice balance to it.

What I like about this one is the simplicity paralleled with a bit of uncertainty. For instance, I couldn't really completely put my finger on what was going on in the aroma. It's got a nice sweet malty caramel base for sure thanks to a good dose of caramel malt, but is there some cocoa in there? Some faint, juicy, citrus hops in the back? A slight tick of pine, and perhaps even some spice notes like a hint of cinnamon? Hmmm. I'm probably over-thinking it but there seems to be more here than meets the eye, although the flavor is much more direct.

Earthy, rugged notes lead each sip with a good roasted malt tone, but the sweetness from the caramel is still there as well, and the juicy hops that I thought I picked up in the aroma are certainly present at the finish. Although they certainly make their presence known, hops never really come out and attack the palate (which works nicely for the style) and they let the malt do most of the talking for a balanced overall flavor.

A very easy beer to drink, and at 5.8% ABV it's still arguably at the top end of what would be considered a session ale. Many people like to max out session ales at about 5.0% ABV, while others will push it up to about 6.0% ABV. I tend to fall in the latter group. Regardless, it's still quite good. It's not going to blow your palate away with bold or new flavors, but that's not the idea here. Take this one for what it's aiming to be and you won't be disappointed.

Hopback, beer,
Highland, Asheville,
North Carolina, Gaelic Ale,
Pisgah, Weeping Radish,
Duck Rabbit, Top of the Hill