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Beer and the great outdoors — It’s a natural pairing

By Paul Viau | Mar 23, 2016
Photo by: Carol Viau A REASON FOR THE SEASON —  Beer after beer, Highland Brewing is putting the focus on the Appalachian environment. Pictured is the chalk art of the tiny Saw-Whet owl in the Highland Brewing tasting room in Asheville.

As our spring-like weather turns into a full-fledged, fully-colorful spring, I am reminded (no surprise here) that beer and mother nature go hand in hand.

Even as teenager, I was keenly aware of the fact that, “From the land of sky-blue waters. From the land of pines; lofty balsams, comes the beer refreshing — Hamm’s, the beer refreshing.”

Growing up in Colorado, I also knew from an early age that Coors beer was brewed with clean, clear Rocky Mountain spring water.

Then, early in my advertising career, I found myself writing ads (almost in the same breath) for Anheuser-Busch brands, Budweiser, Michelob and Natural Light — and America’s wholesome outdoor supplier, Coleman camping gear.

That’s about the time that I saw the light (from a Coleman lantern) that beer and the Great Outdoors go hand in hand.

A few years later, the first craft breweries opened, starting a revolution in America that brought what seemed to me at the time, more flavorful beers.

My brother, Rob, was my first mentor in those days. He was a prolific home brewer, and favored stronger ales, porters and stouts. I tasted, I liked and even briefly tried my hand at home brewing.

(Ask Carol about my incredible, exploding amber ale.)

Fast-forward to present time, when Carol and I find ourselves in Western North Carolina, smack-dab in the middle of craft beer heaven. And it’s our privilege and blessing to write about all the new beers, new breweries and new developments in WNC and Beer City, USA.

Yes, great craft beer is everywhere in WNC, and the brewers frequently pay homage to North Carolina’s great geography and ecology by naming beers after the abundance of nature all around us.

For example, Catawba Brewing in Morganton and Asheville takes its name and starts most of its brews with the incredibly clean water of the Catawba River, which is naturally very soft, low in minerals and almost free of bicarbonates.

According to Catawba’s head brewer, Kevin Sondey, “The water is close to ‘Pilzen’ quality,”

The term ‘Pilzen’ refers to the city of Pilzen in Bohemia, Czech Republic, where the Pilsner (or Pils) beer style originated.

Closer to home, Waynesville’s BearWaters Brewing, was originally named HeadWaters Brewing, a clear reference to the headwaters of the Nantahala River. Oh yes, and Bryson City’s Nantahala Brewing is obviously named after the Nantahala River and is located just a stone’s throw from this incredibly clean water source.

Continuing in river mode, you can include French Broad Brewing in Asheville, or switch to mountain and forest references with other NC breweries like Foothills Brewing, Pisgah Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing. (Oops — those mountains are in California)

And lets not forget the brewery that started it all in Asheville — Highland Brewing. With a little ‘fling’ and with a love of beer and mountains, Highland has partnered with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) to focus attention on protected land features and raise awareness about the natural wonders of the Appalachian landscape.

Highland’s new winter-into-spring saison, for example, is named after the Saw-Whet owl, which can be found on lands protected by the SAHC in North Carolina and Tennessee. The Saw-Whet is the smallest predatory owl in the eastern U.S. and can be spotted perched among high-elevation conifers during the winter months.

Other Highland seasonals named after features of the Appalachian landscape include: Clawhammer Oktoberfest — named after Clawhammer Mountain and the Clawhammer trail; Devil’s Britches IPA; Lost Cove Kolsch; Early’s Hoppy Wheat and the legendary Cold Mountain Winter Ale.

And what symbol of nature is more universal than the Green Man — this iconic representation of nature is found in numerous cultures throughout the world. It is a symbol of rebirth and the cycle of new growth each spring. Oh yes, Green Man is also the name of a great brewery in Asheville, which is currently having its own renaissance, opening the ‘Greenmansion’ on Asheville’s South Slope.

I could go on and on citing NC breweries with names linked to nature. There’s Frog Level Brewing, named after the historic Frog Level area of Waynesville where frogs gathered after a storm. Now families gather to enjoy good craft beer in a natural setting along Richland Creek.

And while we’re on the subject of animal-inspired brewery names, there are Duck Rabbit, Sneak-E-Squirrel, Blind Squirrel breweries and even one brewery named after the legendary cross between Bigfoot and a gem miner — the mythical Boojum.

Finally, (though I could go on forever) several NC breweries pay homage to ingredients in their brews, most notably, Twin Leaf Brewery and Wicked Weed in Asheville.

I’ll wrap with a toast to Mother Nature’s hops that continue to inspire brewers and a nod to England’s Henry VIII, who referred to hops, bitterly, as “…a wicked and pernicious weed.”