Winter brews help make the holidays hoppier

Fred McCormick

For many, the holiday season means cold weather and a crackling fire. For others, it means a special selection of the region’s craft beers.

Here in the Swannanoa Valley, there are plenty of places to explore what brewers have to offer during the season. Among the 41 breweries throughout WNC, two bracket Black Mountain - Pisgah Brewing Co. to the west and Lookout Brewing to the east.

John Garcia opened Lookout Brewing in 2013, and since then the nano-brewery has offered plenty of variety inside its East State Street taproom. Its Black Mountain IPA and Alison’s Front Porch Ale are year-round favorites. During winter, however, darker brews dominate.

“We definitely do more of our Scotch ales, brown ales and stouts during the winter,” Garcia said. “In the winter we do a bunch of varieties and options for dark beers.”

Still available at the taproom are one of Lookout’s most unique - and popular - beers. Jive Turkey IPA is released around Halloween, the beginning of the holidays.

“We use organic cranberries, local butternut squash and local pumpkin,” Garcia said. “We baked the pumpkin and squash over at Fresh Pizza in their wood-fire oven. Then we add organic cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove. The spices we did not get locally, but any ingredients we can’t get locally, we make sure to use organic.”

Lookout will likely offer specials on Christmas Eve before closing for Christmas Day, Garcia said.

A special end-of-the-year brew known as Hoppy New Beer is served for one night only at Lookout’s annual New Year’s Eve Bash.

“The Hoppy New Beer is a champagne-mimicking saison,” Garcia said. “It’s a real light-colored beer. We use a certain type of hops that have like a white wine grape flavor to them. It’s usually pretty strong, and we’re expecting it to be somewhere in the 10 percent (alcohol by volume) range.”

Taproom manager Sonya Wormsbecher said the Winter Town Brown and other variations of the brewery’s regular beers become popular about this time of year.

“Our Winter Town Brown is a different version of our Dark Town Brown,” she said. “We added a different roasted malt so it is a little sweeter than the Dark Town Brown.”

On the other side of town, Pisgah Brewing Co. recently released its award-winning Chocolatized. A Russian Imperial Stout made with raw cocoa from French Broad Chocolates in Asheville will be available in the coming weeks.

Another collaborative beer from Pisgah, nearly ready to be released, is popular in the winter - the Valdez, a stout made with coffee from Dynamite Roasting. Pisgah will also soon release its first-ever vanilla porter, brewed with whole vanilla beans.

People looking for heavier beers during winter will also find them in local bars and restaurants. Rebekah Forester tends bar at Trailhead Restaurant and Bar on State Street. Her favorite beer is Breakfast Stout from Founders Brewing Co. out of Michigan.

“It’s a great beer for somebody that’s craving something a little heavier or richer than a lager or a pilsner,” she said. “It’s something a little more filling.”

Forester said that Trailhead also has two kegs of Highland Brewing’s Cold Mountain Ale, a regional favorite this time of year. The winter ale uses light hops and is recognizable by its malty body. Bottled, it sells out quickly every year in shops. But local establishments like the Black Mountain Ale House typically have it on tap through the holidays.

Lucy Adkins has been at the Ale House for more than three years and orders the beers featured on its taps. The beer-savvy clientele that frequent the Cherry Street establishment expects a steady rotation of flavorful brews. Currently the taps feature beers like Catawba Brewing Co.’s King Winterbolt and Asheville Brewing Co.’s Ninja Bread Man Porter.

“A lot of people that come in will recognize beers from places they have visited while in Asheville,” Adkins said. “That’s a great time to show them what Lookout and Pisgah have.”