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Grape & Grain Exchange hosting tasting of Highland collaboration brew

grapeandgrainThe bustling area of town known as San Marco has long been a destination for great food and wine. But, a new establishment is adding craft and import beer to the mix. Robert Smith, a self-proclaimed “foodie” who has been in the restaurant business since 1987 has opened a new concept for the Jacksonville area with his Grape and Grain Exchange in San Marco Square.

The shop is a hybrid of a package store and a bar. Patrons can choose a bottle of craft or import beer from the cooler and either take it with them or drink it on premises from a clean class presented by the bartender/cashier. But, do not mistake this for one of those package store/bars that are sprinkled around the area and take on a seedier look, this establishment is high-class all the way. The interior is features clean lines, and subdued decorating. Wooden shelves display the small-batch spirits, fine wines, and craft beers that are available and a bookcase in the back of the store contains recipe books that Smith refers to for more esoteric drink requests.

Soon, that bookcase will also serve as the portal to the first speakeasy in the Jacksonville area since perhaps the days of Prohibition. Smith, ever vigilant of hot trends around the country, wants to take advantage of the craft cocktail bars and speakeasy movement that is sweeping the nation. Combine that with the craft beer craze and Smith thinks he has come up with a winning combination.

Tomorrow night, Friday, January 25, Smith will play host to Highland Brewing Company and 7venth Sun Brewing Company for a special tasting of a collaboration between the two breweries. Called Trailblazer, the brew is a 7.7% ABV Belgian-style porter made with raisins in the boil as well as almonds, cacao, and dried cherries in the fermenter. The tasting is $10 and includes tastes of all of Highland’s year round beers as well as one of the first pours of Trailblazer.

The tasting begins at 6:00 p.m. and does not require a ticket. Grape and Grain Exchange is located at 2000 San Marco Blvd.

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Beer, Beer Tasting, Pubs

 

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Highland brewery well worth a visit and a taste

Traveling up a winding road in the mountains of North Carolina is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Particularly when the trees begin their colorful fall foliage coloration and the air has a bit of a snap in it. But, if that road also leads to one of the region’s biggest and best craft beer breweries, it is hard to imagine a better day.

Highland Brewing Company is nestled just outside of Asheville, NC, the sleepy, Bohemian city that has a beer culture worthy of earning it the title Beer City USA for the past four years. On approach to the brewery the building seems unassuming and even a bit modest. But, once you pull around the front you notice the wooden deck in front of the doors and the elaborate decoration around them. This is a place that is, as the wording above the door says, “Just a Wee Bit Different.”

When you enter the Tap Room you are immediately struck by its cavernous size. To the left are several shipping containers that have been converted to offices, as your eye travels around the expansive room from left to right, you notice a large stage, more containers, and finally a long bar with many beer taps on the wall behind it. This is where we made our way to meet our tour guide, Kitty Price.

Kitty immediately offered tastes of the brewery’s fine brews and we accepted gratefully. The first taste offered was of Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. As we sipped the rich, coffee and bitter chocolate brew, Kitty explained that they use coffee beans roasted by Dynamite Coffee Roasters in nearby Black Mountain. The flavors were strong, yet pleasant with a nice shot of hops at the end. A fitting way to begin a visit and, for those in need of caffeine, a nice boost.

Next, we were offered several Belgian-style brews, Belmont Abbey Dubbel and Tripple at 7% and 9% ABV respectively. Both brews were fine examples of their respective styles with the banana and citrus as well as the Belgian yeast funk we all know and love. Kitty explained that Highland’s head brewer John Lyda was at one time studying to be a monk. So, in a nod to his past and at the request of an abbey in nearby Charlotte, Lyda brewed the excellent duo of beers.

But, the visit was not restricted to tasting alone. Kitty was quick to point out that Highland is committed to being as green as it can be by recycling nearly everything. By doing this the brewery is able to restrict the waste that must be hauled to a landfill from the brewery to less than a single dumpster a week. They restrict the amount of water they use in brewing to about 2.5 barrels per barrel of beer opposed to the typical brewery’s seven barrels. Spent grain is given to local farms for feed as well.

Highland Brewing Company was founded by Oscar Wong who, after retiring from a career as a successful civil/structural engineer, landed in Asheville in 1994. He started Highland Brewing “as a hobby” in the 3,500 square foot basement of Barley’s Taproom in downtown Asheville. Over time his brewing ambition grew and the brewery moved to its current location. The brewery operates from a 50 barrel main brewing system and a 3 barrel pilot system that is used for special projects and test batches. In a typical week the brewery cranks out 500-700 barrels of delicious beer that translates to over 30,000 barrels a year.

A walk through the brewing floor revealed the great pride and tongue-in-cheek whimsy the brewery has for its product. Above an office in the front of the building is a huge statue-like edifice of a bagpiper that would be familiar to anyone who has seen Highland’s packaging. Elsewhere in the brewery are row upon row of room center of the room. The cavernous cold room was piled high with keg after keg of the finished product ready for shipment to eagerly waiting customers.

With a line-up of quality brews like Gaelic Ale, Kashmir IPA, and St. Therese’s Pale Ale and specialty and seasonals like Razor Wit, Thunderstruck Coffee Porter, and Cold Mountain Winter Ale Highland is sure to remain a regional favorite throughout the Southeast. And, as a destination while in North Carolina, the Highland Brewery is well worth an afternoon. Not only are the beers the freshest and tastiest you will be able to find, but the staff – like Kitty – are full of wonderful stories and brewing knowledge.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Beer, Craft Beer Brewery

 

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Love and Hops with Marc Wisdom: Highland Edition

Generally, when you see a grown man wearing a skirt a number of questions come to mind. You might wonder why, you might wonder if the loony bin had an escape, you might wonder where he got his shoes. But, over the next few weeks, you might also wonder whether northeast Florida is being invaded by the Scots. Because the skirt you are likely to see men wearing over the next few weeks aren’t skirts at all, but kilts. Yes, the Highland Games are coming at the end of February and kilts are the thing to wear. But, this year a new event has been added, the Scottish & Import Beer Festival. To be held at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium, Friday, January 28, the event will highlight Scottish brews and is sponsored by Highland Brewing Company of North Carolina.

The games are an annual event involving feats of strength and skill. But, tossing telephone poles and huge granite stones is thirsty work. The Scots, being the resourceful souls they are, worked that out thousands of years ago. They have a long tradition of brewing thirst-quenching beverages that handle that job admirably. In fact, the Scots have one of the most ancient brewing histories on the planet. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of ales having been brewed over 5,000 years ago in Scotland by the Celts. Later, breweries began to spring up in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scottish brews were traditionally maltier than other beers and brewed with bittering herbs to flavor and preserve the beer. This led to a widespread belief that beers in Scotland used fewer hops than in England. Evidence shows, however, that Scottish brewers used hops as extensively as other brewers and imported them from around the world. Regardless, here in the United States, beer that is low in alcohol and hops is often called Scottish Ale.

By now, you are probably wondering if I am going to give you a few beer recommendations. Well, the answer is most definitely, yes. Here are just a few for you to look for.

• Belhaven Brewery was established in 1719 is known for its outstanding Scottish ale.
• Wellpark Brewery founded in 1740 produces Tennents Lager and Tennents Super.
• Traquair House Brewery operates out of a castle once occupied by Mary Queen of Scots and is known for its Traquair House Ale.

Oscar Wong knows a thing or two about Scottish Ales. As founder, owner, and chief cleanup guy, at the Highland Brewing Company, he has been brewing beer since a custodian in the engineering lab during grad school showed him how. Wong and several of his friends brewed beer until they graduated. Then, for 26 years he set brewing aside to work as an engineer and raise a family.

In 1994, after having sold his design firm, Wong met up with an award winning brewer in need of assistance to get a brewery off the ground.. With the encouragement of his wife he dove back into the world of brewing on a much larger scale. They decided on the brewery name as a nod to the original Scot-Irish settlers of the region.

Originally, the concept was to put together a small local brewery in the tradition of the small breweries that dot European communities. But, economy of scale and increasing demand quickly made it clear that production would have to be ramped up. At the end of 2010, Highland had sold over18,000 barrels of beer, which is roughly equivalent to 4.5 million pints of beer.

Highland adheres to classic brewing methods and follows the German purity laws for many of their beers, departing from them only recently in their Winter Ale. True to Scottish form, Highland’s beers tend to be maltier than most beers. This calls for more grain per batch.

They currently produce five regular styles of beer available year-round: Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir IPA, and Black Mocha Stout. Highland also produces five seasonal beers which change from time to time. Currently they producing: Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Seven Sisters Abbey Style Ale, Little Spring Ale, Cattail Peak Wheat Beer, and Clawhammer Oktoberfest Lager.

As a relative new-comer to the Jacksonville market, Wong saw the Highland games as a logical choice for his company to sponsor for obvious reasons.

“The opportunity to have people taste our beers is what we wish,” Wong said. “Then they can make up their own minds on whether they will buy it in the future. The beer has to stand on its own.”

Other brewers who will be participating in the Scottish & Import Beer Festival include: Guinness, Newcastle, Sam Smith, and Belekus. Tickets are $10 in advance from the Highland games website (http://www.neflgames.com/), $15 at the door, and $25 for VIP that grants you access to the venue an hour and a half before general admission ticket-holders.

So, break out your kilt, fire up the bagpipes, and head out to the Festival Friday night. While your there be sure to stop at the Highland Brewery booth and sample some of their brews. And for Pete’s sake, don’t ask what’s under the kilt.

Long live the brewers!

Cheers!

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Tasting, Imports

 

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