Wicked Weed Brewing
Seth Rogen played an annoying high school kid in Freaks and Geeks. Jason Bateman was on the ‘80s sitcom Silver Spoons before he became a Bluth. Many young actors played roles early on that helped build their careers before they eventually become famous. Breweries, as it turns out, aren’t so different. The beers they brew in their early years can act as stepping stones to (beer) superstardom.
Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing is one such brewery that started out small, built an organic cult following, and became super famous in the beer world. (In fact, the brewery was recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch, the owners of this very site.) We spoke to Walt Dickinson, brewer and co-founder of Wicked Weed, to get his take on the six beers that helped the brewery become what it is today -- from the first double IPA they ever brewed, to their recently released barrel-aged raspberry sour.
IPA, 8.5% ABV
credits:"WickedWeedBrewing / Instagram" width:350 align:rightWalt says: “We were really inspired by West Coast-style IPAs, and thought [the style] wasn’t being represented well on the east coast. No one was going after balance and hop character the way we wanted to see it. IPA was such a big lifeblood for us. It’s all [my brother and co-founder] Luke [Dickinson] eats, sleeps, and thinks about. For me, I was much more into sour beers. But IPAs played a big role. We wanted to make the best IPA in the Southeast.
“It was by far the best-selling beer we had for the entire life of the pub until we made Pernicious. It was the only beer we made, and it put us on the map. People were psyched about it, and would drive a long way to fill growlers with it because we didn’t package it. It was the beginning of showing people we could do something really awesome.”
Fun fact: The beer was initially called Freak, but had to be changed because another brewery already used that name. Walt says Freak of Nature ended up better fitting the beer, anyway.
Golden Ale, 5.5% ABV
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Walt says: “It was one of these beers that speaks to the my brother’s style and recipe design, and the overall vibe of both of our styles. [We’re all about] making beers that are delicious, fun, and super approachable for any drinker. Even something with a low ABV can be more fun, like this 5.5% golden ale with cucumbers, basil, and juniper berries.
"My brother gave me a bottle before the brewery opened. He told me, ‘I did this take on a Hendrick’s gin cooler.’ He loves Hendrick’s [a Scottish gin infused with rose and cucumber], and wanted to do a cocktail-driven beer. And I said, ‘Juniper berries? Basil? Cucumber? Sounds gross. I don’t know.’ I’m not the biggest cucumber fan; I felt like it wasn’t going to work. And it blew my socks off.
“We made small pilot batches for the Brewgrass Festival before we opened. And we had a huge line at the fest. We ended up being named Brewery of the Year at the festival, which was great to kick things off and get people excited about what we were doing.
“We were pouring the beer as ‘Cool Cucumber’. A fan of the beer at Brewgrass inadvertently named it when she asked for a sample by saying, ‘Can I get a Coolcumber?’ Luke and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s a way better name.’”
Fun fact: When this beer is released in the summer months, it’s the only beer that outsells Freak of Nature. It gets hot down south, and Coolcumber is nothing if not refreshing!
Barrel-Aged Black Sour Ale, 7% ABV
Walt says: “This will always only be available in North Carolina. People knew we made flavorful, hoppy beers, and open-fermented Belgians. But we also wanted to make long-term barrel-aged sours, and show people we can do both of them really well.
“One recipe I planned on doing was Genesis -- a blonde sour with tropical fruit. I was looking for wine barrels to do sours, because everyone’s making sour beer in wine barrels. In 2015, there weren’t many bourbon-aged sour beers being done. I don’t know if we pioneered it, but we sure did it in a big way. I couldn’t get wine barrels because I was in the southeast and none of the wineries had barrels to give me, and I didn’t have connections. But I could get a ton of whiskey barrels no problem, since I’m six hours from Bourbon County. We got a bunch of barrels to do an imperial stout, and I was determined to figure out how to do a sour beer in one of those bourbon barrels.
“I thought a chocolatey cherry dark beer with a ton of cherry flavor would work well. And the beer got a cult following. Every time a Black Angel keg got tapped on Friday, there were 30 to 40 people in line just to get downstairs when it opened at 3 p.m. And then it would be gone. There was a time I was filling barrels in the parking lot because I had no facility to work in. I was doing it anywhere I could, basically. It was a big beer because it gave legs to the sour program. It made it something that was going to happen.”
Fun fact: This black sour ale sits in bourbon barrels for nine months with 1.5 pounds-per-gallon of Michigan cherries. And since you can’t get this beer unless you live in North Carolina, might it be time for a road trip to try some?
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Brettanomyces Farmhouse Ale, 5.5% ABV
Walt says: “This is a 100% Brett beer. Black Angel had already gotten us to the point where I had a facility [to work in]. I had a place to ferment the beer, and a barrel cellar to age it in. We went to the Great American Beer Festival six months into the brewery [in 2013], and we walked away with a gold medal in the American-Style Brett Beer category. It was an awesome category to win because Brett beer was [becoming more popular], and the silver went to Vinnie [Cilurzo] at Russian River Brewing Company. He’s one of my role models and someone I really looked up to in the industry. Crooked Stave won bronze. We had really good company. It put us on the map and skyrocketed our national awareness in the sour program we were doing.”
Fun fact: The gorgeous art on this bottle was designed by artist Jordan Atkinson, who’s designed some seriously memorable label art for the brewery over the years.
credits:"Wicked Weed Brewing / Facebook"
IPA, 7.3% ABV
Walt says: “Pernicious won the silver medal at GABF in the most competitive category in the history of the fest. It was also the first IPA from the east coast to win a medal in that category. No one east of the Ohio had previously won in that category. The year before we won, we went to GABF to drink all these awesome IPAs. It was the year Societe [took the gold medal] (and I’m a huge fan of them!). I thought, we need to make the IPA of the future. Something more crushable and with more hop flavor.
“We drank all those beers and then went to California. On the flight back, [Luke and I] started talking about what it would taste like. We started writing the recipe on the plane, and then brewed it. And the first batch was pretty much exactly what Pernicious is today. (It had some adjustments in hops over time, because we’re always evolving the hop profile.) Exactly one year later, we won the medal in the category in that beer. That was our first time entering an IPA [into competition].”
Fun fact: King Henry VIII once said that hops are a “wicked and pernicious weed.” He apparently loved beer, but was not a fan of hops. You guessed it: that’s where the brewery’s name and this beer came from, and now ole Henry’s face is plastered upon a wall mural inside their Asheville pub.
credits:"Wicked Weed Brewing"
Barrel-Aged American Sour Ale, 7% ABV
Walt says: “This beer represents where things are going for the brewery. [Earlier this year] our beer program expanded, and we were getting a little bigger. I wanted to create something ridiculous that showcases everything we can do. We came up with the idea of doing an Angel series to pay back to the beer that started it all (Black Angel).
“It’s brewed using a little bit of a new technique -- we’re doing whole fruit aging, and using an obscene 4 to 5 pounds-per-gallon of fruit in it. That’s 1000 gallons of beer with 5000 pounds of fruit in it.
“We did an online pre-sale during which you could buy up to six bottles. It was our first time doing anything like that. The whole Angel series blew up on the beer rating sites. It was a big deal because I’m a huge lambic fan. Everything we’re doing is reverential to lambic. To me, it’s what sour beer is. Without lambic, we wouldn’t have sour beer.
“We went to the World Beer Cup, which is the one competition that really matters for a category like lambic because that’s where the Belgians can enter. And we took a bronze medal in the same category as Frank Boon. That was pretty cool.”
Fun fact: The most recent release from the Angel series was Golden Angel, which debuted at the end of June. It’s an American sour aged for 10 months in red wine barrels with a metric ton of apricots. That’s over 2200 pounds of apricots. When Wicked Weed adds fruit to a beer, they add fruit to a beer.
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