Beers to You
(Editor's Note: As of Aug. 28, tickets to the High Country Beer Fest are officially sold out.)
Believe it or not, there’s a negative stigma attached to beer.
“When they think beer, a lot of people unfortunately think macro-brewery in a can – mostly flavorless, yellow, fizzy liquid that’s just meant for heavy consumption,” said Brett Taubman, assistant professor of chemistry at Appalachian State University.
Taubman, who also oversees ASU’s fermentation science and brewing programs, has developed a method to counteract this stigma, tested four times in a controlled environment, and to great success – the High Country Beer Fest.
Now in its fifth year, the High Country Beer Fest returns to Boone Saturday, Sept. 1, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Broyhill Events Center on the Appalachian campus, offering brew-ficionados a chance to sample from more than 50 breweries and learn about the storied libation in the process.
“We try and show people that, hey, this is a gourmet food product, and it really is meant to be appreciated, just as wine is meant to be appreciated,” Taubman said. “If we can educate people and their palates about these things, that can change their perception in general about this beverage.”
Apart from the ever-popular tastings, festivalgoers are treated to a series of educational seminars, from hands-on beer and food pairings to those with a more instructional flavor.
“Obviously, you can’t just try and taste beers for four hours – you’ll just get a palate overload,” Taubman said. “The educational seminars are a really nice break to be able to sit down, listen and learn things you don’t normally think about. Pizza and beer is a great combination, but when you think about different styles of gourmet pizzas, what types of beer should you consider pairing with these ingredients?”
Experts from Mellow Mushroom of Boone will be on hand to help festivalgoers make informed decisions on that particular matter, while representatives from Banner Elk-based Erick’s Cheese and Wine will lead the discussion on beer and cheese pairings.
“As for dessert, people naturally think about wine,” Taubman said. “Beer can be just as good, if not better, and you have more options for pairing some of these foods than you could with wine.”
Brewers from participating breweries, including Catawba Valley, Foothills and Olde Hickory, will lead seminars on topics like home-brewing and differentiating between the styles of beer.
Naturally, many festivalgoers will attempt to educate themselves, and, for that, Taubman has some advice.
“Don’t try to taste everything,” he said. “Focus on some breweries or styles you’ve never tried before. Use this as an opportunity to branch out.”
He also suggested that tasters start with the lighter varieties and work their way up to dark beers. Either way, they should save hoppy beers for last.
“If you start with the hoppy beers, you’re going to kill your palate for the most part and not be able to taste what you’re sampling after a while,” Taubman said.
Festivalgoers should also pace themselves. More than 50 breweries are participating, and each is bringing two to four beers to sample, meaning there will be — at the bare minimum — 100 varieties of beer to taste.
“There’s more than you can ever possibly sample,” Taubman said, “so that’s why it’s good to have a strategy going in. Look at the different breweries that are going to be there, and try to focus on the ones you’re interested in hitting. Either way, take lots of breaks, drink lots of water, and enjoy the seminars.”
Beer’s not the only item on the menu.
Food vendors, including Cajun Town Burritos, Makoto’s, Stick Boy Bread Company and Casa Rustica, will offer festivalgoers the chance to test out their new beer and food pairing skills, while headlining bands Bafoodus and the Henhouse Thieves will help folks dance off the calories.
Participating breweries, as of presstime, include Boone Brewing Co., Aviator Brewing Company, Big Boss Brewing, Carolina Beer & Beverage, Catawba Valley Brewing Company, Cottonwood Brewery, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Foothills Brewing, Huske Hardware House Brewing Company, Ivory Tower Brewery, Mother Earth Brewing, Natty Greene’s Brewing Co., Olde Hickory Brewery, Roth Brewing Company, Triangle Brewing Co., Weeping Radish Farm Brewery, Abita Brewing Co., Margaritaville Brewing Company, RJ Rockers Brewing Company, Bell’s Brewery, Blue Moon Brewing Company, Blue Dawg Brewing, Blue Point Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery, Crispin Cider Company, Full Sail Brewing Co., Harpoon Brewery, Kona Brewing Co., Left Hand Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewing, Oskar Blues Brewery, Shock Top, Smuttynose Brewing Co., Southern Tier Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Co., Victory Brewing Company, Magners Cider and Spaten Brewing Company.
As with previous Beer Fests, safety is also on tap. Tipsy Taxi will be on hand, offering free cab rides throughout town.
Bill’s Garage will also offer free towing for those drivers who let the sampling get the best of them.
In addition, AppalCART will run a complimentary route up to the Broyhill Events Center for the duration of the event.
In other words, “there’s absolutely no reason why people need to drive,” Taubman said. “And if they’re not forward-thinking enough to not drive, there will be options for them to get home safely anyway.”
The High Country Beer Fest takes place Saturday, Sept. 1, from 3 to 7 p.m., and tickets are going fast.
“It will probably sell out again,” Taubman said, “but people definitely still have time to get tickets. If they wait till the week before, they’ll probably be out of luck.”
General admission tickets cost $35 apiece, which includes a six-ounce keepsake tasting glass. Designated-driver tickets cost $10.
Only those 21 and older will be admitted to the festival, except for children younger than 12 years old when accompanied by a parent or guardian. IDs will be checked upon entry.
Tickets and more information are available online at http://www.hcbeerfest.com.
Proceeds benefit ASU’s student-run Ivory Tower Brewery, the university’s newly coined fermentation sciences program and the Hunger and Health Coalition.