Recap: 6th Annual High Country Craft Food and Beverage Festival

dsc_1108Glenn and I normally handle festivals as a team but this time one of us was in Myrtle Beach and the other went to Boone! My wife has only experienced one craft beer festival and that was a brief tour of Raleigh’s Brewgaloo Festival earlier this year. The location of the High Country Craft Food and Beverage Festival was great because we’ve never been to Boone and have been wanting to explore the area plus we get to enjoy beers that aren’t available in our area.

As we’re driving up (and I mean UP) that long road to the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center, there were plenty of people hiking up the road and I began to wonder if there was enough parking at the top. Gladly there were a few spaces left and if there weren’t, there was a bus that made the trip up and down which made me wonder why in the world people hiked it? Heading on through the ID checks, I know I barely pass for 21 but I’m ready with my ID because I blend so well with the college students. The crowd was pumped and ready to head in – only one comment hit a bad nerve – when someone behind me asked “I wonder how many of these glasses it’ll take to get totally trashed”. Apparently he wasn’t someone there to responsibly enjoy the fine craftsmanship of local craft beer. The organizers had an exit strategy all set up for situations like that – Free towing, free cab, the Appalcart, designated driver admission – and there were people at the exits to make sure you’re okay. Peace of mind!

dsc_1102Based on other festivals, there were a lot of booths in a small amount of real estate. I was excited to finally be able talk to the brewers of the Boone area. There were several breweries from other parts of the state (and country) that I’m more familiar with but my main focus were the ones from the High Country. First stop was Flat Top Brewing, the soon-to-be opening brewery in Banner Elk and had a good chat with the brewer Aaron Maas. He introduced me to his Apple Butter Porter, a unique taste experience when you think about those  ingredients in a beer. Next up was Hi-Wire Brewing out of Asheville. Glenn and I were in Asheville the week before they opened so now was a good time to get an update on their summer progress. YAY, their beer is available in Raleigh! Next was Blind Squirrel Brewery. I saw their bottles at Peabody’s Wine and Beer earlier that day and grabbed what I could to bring home for a future review. Our quest with North Carolina craft beer is if we can bring beer back to promote it to the rest of the state, that’s what we’re going to do!

Blowing Rock Brewing offered a very enlightening discussion with Ray, their head brewer. They’re expanding their facilities in to what was supposed to be Skull Coast’s brewery in Hickory and that’s exciting news! While visiting the Fullsteam booth (yes Sean, it’s a moral imperative), I got to talk to Gary Brown from Boondocks Brewing in West Jefferson – that visit will be detailed an upcoming blog. Then the sky fell. My camera is not friendly with water so it was a mad scramble for an umbrella, a poncho, whatever there was to keep dry. It was like a Florida shower because it was done in a couple of minutes only to come back in several waves. During the downpour we did manage dsc_1083to get to the Buchi booth to try some of their concoctions – Earth and Water. Right next door was Howard Brewing and I got to talk to the man himself, Jason Howard, about his beer. We recently procured two of his beers for an upcoming review and I wanted to let him know. Our next visit was to Appalachian Mountain Brewery to check out the Coffee IPA. A great conversation with their brewer Nathan meant there was definitely going to be a stop at the brewery to pick up a growler. If you check out the photo gallery, you’ll see we pretty much got to all the North Carolina breweries so I don’t want any breweries to feel we left anyone out. If I missed someone, I sincerely apologize! BTW – The line at Ivory Tower’s booth was relentless so we unfortunately missed out big time on that!

There were several seminars held in the conference center during the afternoon: a Cheese and Beer Pairing by Erick’s Cheese and Wine. I’m a major proponent that beer goes much better with cheese than wine. Basically beer can match up with everything and you can hold me to that! Next was the Pizza and Beer Tasting sponsored by Mellow Mushroom and Appalachian Mountain Brewery. We got to the end of the Brews & Shrooms tasting- finally getting our hands on ONE of  Ivory Tower’s beers. Don’t ask me what it is now, I didn’t write it down! I did hear they had a beer that aged on mushrooms? I actually doesn’t shock me much when you look at all the things done with craft beer. Lastly there was the Casa Rustica Dessert Pairing and also Cheese Production.

The event is not only a festival, it’s also an education in beer appreciation and the wonderful possibilities of beer pairings. Not only do attendees benefit from the experience, the festival also gives back to non-profit organizations such as the Mountain Alliance, Appalachian State University Fermentation Sciences program, the 2014 Solar Decathlon, Watauga Children’s Council and (what we’re proudly part of) the North Carolina Brewer’s Guild. The event got a three G rating – a Great, but rainy, day meeting Great people and breweries at a Great event. Mark it on your calendar to make it there next year! Cheers!