Run, run, run, fast as you can
Among those looking forward to 2016 Cold Mountain is Asheville Brewing Co. head brewer Pete Langheinrich. “It would probably be the first beer that I tried in Asheville that had that kind of waiting list feel to it, that kind of, like, ‘Line up at the door,’” he says. “It’s one of those beers you sip, and the brain is immediately in the holiday, cold-weather feeling — it evokes that season. I think they nail it with that beer, and I like how they change it, too. I think that’s pretty cool to take a beer that’s so popular and then go, ‘All right, let’s do it a little bit different this year.’”
Langheinrich cites Cold Mountain as the primary local inspiration for Asheville Brewing’s own holiday beer, Ninjabread Man Porter — not in terms of a desire to emulate or copy it, but to put the brewery’s own spin on the winter warmer style. Released on Oct. 14, Ninjabread Man is now in its third year of major production. The infusion of gingerbread cookie flavor to Asheville Brewing’s flagship Ninja Porter started as a small-batch beer and has experienced an organic growth from its cask origins to last year’s 30-barrel batch with bottling and distribution.
The brewers made the initial syrup for Ninjabread Man from scratch using cinnamon, ginger, raisins and fresh vanilla. (“As long as I have the final say in Asheville Brewing, that beer will never touch any extract of any kind,” Langheinrich says.) But considering the ingredients and the baked goods outcome for which they were striving, he met with the brewpub’s then-head chef and asked what he thought about their process.
“He definitely took us to the next level. He caramelized the ginger, he dialed in our toasting, the cinnamon process — and it was a blast. The staff was really excited about the beer and having a hand in the brewery,” Langheinrich says. “If it wasn’t for that internal collaboration, I don’t think the syrup would have the legs that it does.”
Small quantities of Ninjabread Man have been aged in bourbon and cabernet sauvignon barrels to wide acclaim, including one that sold out quickly in 90-degree heat at the most recent Beer City Festival. But while the concoction is more readily available than Cold Mountain and doesn’t yet have the kind of following where a shipment is likely to sell out in an afternoon, Langheinrich loves the small-batch feel it’s maintained and, for now, would prefer to keep its access modest.
“It’s truly a gritty, labor-intensive beer. It’s not something [where] you call a local farm and order the Ninjabread syrup. It doesn’t work like that at all, so to ramp it up in production, we’d have to scale up not just how much beer we brew, but how we brew it,” he says. “It’s definitely a small-batch beer at its core and it’s kind of fun to have a limited local offering like that, too.”
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