ASHEVILLE — Down the stairs, beneath a bright, open-air restaurant filling with a lunchtime crowd, its dark except for the midday glare reflecting off the rows of tall, shiny silver tanks at Wicked Weed Brewing.
Hours later, the bar will reach capacity and a line will form, as it often does. But for now, its empty. Walt Dickinson, in a tank top with shorts and muck boots, slides behind the bar made from a black gum tree and pours a taste of his favorite new beer, Transcendence.
Made entirely with brettanomyces yeast, its unlike any beer in North Carolina. The wild-natured Belgian farmhouse ale is gently balanced: sour but not face-puckering, bright and tropical with a slight musty leather complexity.
We created beers that I think filled a niche in the market, Dickinson told me. I dont think any of us understood how busy we would be and how much people would like what we were doing.
His words proved prophetic. Earlier this month, weeks after our tasting, the beer (now called Serenity) took a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the nations premier beer competition. Open less than a year, Wicked Weed bested two of the most respected breweries in the country to claim the win. The medal confirms what many in North Carolina knew months earlier: Wicked Weed is the states hottest brewery.
Located in downtown Asheville, the center of North Carolinas craft beer capital, Wicked Weed is earning its reputation with hoppy American ales and remakes of funky Belgian beers that push the boundaries.
Dickinson, 31, and his brother Luke, 28, founded the brewpub in December 2012 with childhood friend Ryan Guthy, whose parents invested in the project. The brewery spared no expense, installing a climate-controlled open fermenter, creating a special building for making sour beers and adding warehouse space for storing barrel-aged beers all luxuries that set them apart from other small breweries in the state. The brothers grew up in Asheville and started brewing beer at home nearly a decade ago. Luke Dickinson later worked at Dogfish Head in Delaware and interned at a brewery in Germany.
Their experiences influenced their concept and flavor. Its like music, nobody is writing anything new, they are just emulating what theyve heard in different ways, Dickinson said. I think that is all beer is. We interpret them through our own vision of what they should be.
It took nearly a decade, Dickinson said, to perfect the recipe for Freak Double IPA, the brewerys most popular beer and arguably the best India pale ale in the state. The brewpubs largest fermenting tank is reserved for the beer, but the 30 barrels, or roughly 7,500 pints, barely will last a month, he said.
To get Wicked Weeds beer, you have to visit. But every now and then, a Wicked Weed keg will make it down the mountain to select bars and bottle shops.
Ted Gross, the owner of Bottle Revolution, a craft beer shop in Raleigh, brought down two kegs for a recent event and both emptied before another highly sought-after beer from Michigan. Wicked Weed, Gross said, really understands what the market is and why people enjoy craft beer.
What Im tasting
Beer Study in Chapel Hill recently scored a keg of another Wicked Weed sour, the Anneberliner Weiss. This tart style once didnt fit my palate, but Ive come to enjoy its refreshing taste. A good sour for those new to the field. The keg is tapped, but look for Beer Study to feature more Wicked Weed soon.
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