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Belt’s Beer Garden: Eastbound and Down

Two beers from the east coast: Highland IPA and RavenBeer Annabel Lee White

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This week I get out of the Midwest and West Coast mindset and head the opposite direction; the East Coast. I have a beer from North Carolina and another from Baltimore to share with you.

First up, from the Tar Heel state, Highland Brewing’s IPA:

Highland Brewing Company is located in Asheville, North Carolina and has been around for quite a while. They started selling beer back in 1994; however you could only find them on draft and in bombers until 1998 when they got their bottling equipment.

If you wanted to visit their taproom though, you couldn’t…at least not until 2010 when it finally opened to the public. Since they opened it, they have continued to expand their tap house and, today, they have an outdoor bar (with a stage for music), a rooftop bar, and an event center that can hold 700 people! Currently you can find their beers all over the southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia).

Highland has seven year round brews, of which I picked their aptly named IPA; which is made with Centennial, Chinook, and Citra hops and well as three types of malt.

It poured a bright golden copper color with medium head rising from the liquid. The semi-dense white bubbles built just about a finger high before slowly receding down; leaving a nice lacing as they did so.

On the nose this brew is pretty balance. It has the big, bold, rather dank hop profile that you’d expect from an IPA; including strong scents of grapefruit, lemon zest, some other tropical fruits and just the lightest hint of pine. But then it also has a nice counter-punch with a strong, slightly sweet, bready malt component that evens out everything.

The first taste begins with a slap of carbonation and a bitter hop punch before the fruits hit my tongue – the grapefruit and lemon leading the way. The citrus fades quickly as the malt adds sweetness to the tart fruit and cuts into the bitter hop bite.

Then, not willing to call it quits, the sour fruit and hops build back up at the end of the sip, bringing a huge, slightly boozy, ending that includes a resinous, pretty bitter bite that won’t leave my tongue easily. It might only have 64 IBU, but you can sure taste every single one of them…but only at the end.

As the beer gets drained from my glass, the little foam that remained laced my glass nicely with random cloud patterns that slowly slid back towards the liquid. The 7% ABV is hidden mostly well, with only a tiny hint of the alcohol towards the final moments of the taste.

This medium bodied beer was a really good IPA…at least for the first 90% of the sip. For me that last huge swell of hops and bitterness really hit my palate hard, ending the nice balance that the beer had previously. But the vast majority of Highland’s IPA was really good. If you can handle the bitterness, this brew is for you. 8/10

8 beers

Next up, RavenBeer’s take on a witbier:

RavenBeer is a Baltimore, Maryland brewery that does Edger Allan Poe inspired brews. They haven’t been around long, only since the end of 2012 but their origins go back way longer, dating to 1998.

In June of 1998, Baltimore-Washington Beer Works brewed The Raven, a lager dedicated to Poe. The beer was a huge success and, in the years to come, BWBW created their own offshoot – RavenBeer, to create more Poe-inspired beers...they are now up to six Poe beers.

They’re only available in just four locations: Maryland, Virginia, and, just this summer, they broke into both South Carolina and Chicagoland. In Chicago they only have two of their six beers available (so far).

I went for their Annabel Lee White, a witbier brewed with spices. It costs $10.99 for a six pack and packs a minimal punch, with just a 4.5% ABV.

This wheat beer says to “agitate before opening”…and maybe I didn’t agitate it enough because, when I poured out the crisp golden beer, there was very little head that built up. In fact, never more than a dusting of thin white bubbles appeared.

Annabel Lee has the typical wheat beer aroma, slightly yeasty and bready, but with some nice additions to it. There are some light spices (hibiscus and coriander mostly) that are subtly floating behind copious amounts of orange and lemon. It actually smelled really nice for a witbier and I was excited to try it.

My first sip started with a gentle carbonation and some sweet bready malts tingling on my tongue. However, it was the coriander and hibiscus that really controlled the taste. As soon as the effervescence faded down, those light spices from the aroma wrapped themselves on my tongue and wouldn’t let go.

On the backend of the sip the tartness from the lemons kicked in and cut into the spices a little; ending it all with a smooth melody of the two main flavors.

There was virtually no lacing as the beer was drained from my glass to my stomach (but with the minute amount of head I initially got, I wasn’t really expecting much) and the 4.5% ABV was all but hidden.

It’s a pretty standard, but well done, wheat beer. The flavors do blend well and it’s really crisp and easy to drink, but it’s just kind of your standard wit. I liked it but there was nothing special or anything that really stood out. If you like the style, you’ll like this beer. 7.5/10

7.5