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The complete joy of beer festivals

By Paul Viau | May 07, 2013
Photo by: Carol Viau I'M NOT WORTHY! — At Hickory Hops, I got to meet Charlie Papazian, who you can thank (or blame) for starting the whole craft beer craze.

Contrary to popular opinion in Haywood County, my wife and I did not move to the area solely because of the beer scene. There were many factors that brought us to this most beautiful part of the country — from mountains to motorcycling; golf to a love of Native American culture. From my wife’s love of the seasons to my love of science — particularly zymurgy.

Oops, I forgot for a moment that zymurgy was the study of fermentation in brewing, wine making, and distilling. I guess, there is no hiding it — We (and especially I) absolutely love the beer culture in North Carolina. And it’s much more legal than the moonshine “culture.”

I’ve written a lot (maybe too much) on both subjects, but now that The Guide has a bona fide beer columnist, Greg Copen, I can back off a bit.

But before I sell all my growlers and head for Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, I have to tell you about last weekend. My brother and I and our designated-driver wives attended the Hickory Hops beer festival in (you guessed it) beautiful, downtown Hickory. This wonderful festival is the home of The Carolina’s Championship of Beer, and draws craft brewers and home brewers from all around the area. This year, the 11th annual Hickory Hops, drew more than 50 participants (brewers), and 1,000-plus thirsty fans.

Much like Grandfather Mountain’s Scottish Highland Games, Hickory Hops is a gathering of clans — brewing clans — some with their own tartans. It’s a great opportunity for beer aficionados (as well as beer neophytes) to gather, celebrate, ask questions — and most of all, sample the fine craftsmanship of local breweries.

This year’s Hickory Hops was Über rewarding for those of us from Western North Carolina. All five of our “mountain” breweries were in attendance — Bryson City’s Nantahala Brewing Company, Sylva’s Heinzelmannchen Brewery, and Waynesville’s trio of great breweries — BearWaters Brewing Company, Frog Level Brewing Company, and Tipping Point Brewery. And their first (hopefully annual) collaboration beer — Ryeway 74 — was awarded a bronze medal. It is a great beer, and should have scored better, but fittingly, bronze ryely captures the color of the beer.

All three of Waynesville’s breweries were awarded multiple medals for their beers and Bryson City’s Nantahala Brewing Company scored a third place Best of Show.

Suffice it to say, I was like a kid in a candy store at Hickory Hops. But beer is better than candy, so it was more like Christmas morning. In fact, I was wandering around the festival, “And what to my wandering eyes did appear, but the man who wrote 'the Bible of beer.'”

I’m not kidding, at Hickory Hops I got to meet (and thank) Charlie Papazian, who’s book “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” launched the careers of most of the brewers at the festival. Unfortunately for me, the second beer I brewed using Charlie’s book (literally and explosively) launched beer and glass throughout the back room of our house. But that was certainly not Charlie’s fault.

Did you know? — Charlie Papazian was a nuclear scientist whose love of brewing “went nuclear” with his first book on brewing. Papazian went on to write seven books on the subject of beer, and along the way founded the Association of Brewers, the American Homebrewers Association, and the Institute for Brewing Studies. He is also the man behind the Great American Beer Festival, the World Beer Cup, and Zymurgy magazine.

Needless to say, it was truly an honor to meet Papazian. But it was even more of an honor to visit with, sample the wares of, and congratulate all our local brewers on a job well done. They have made Haywood, Jackson, and Swain counties proud. I raise my glass to you. Cheers!

But I have a warning. When I told Charlie Papazian about my incredible exploding beer, he encouraged me to “try, try again.” So (back to the Christmas theme) “You better watch out.”