Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Making of Great Gatsby Abbey: A Story About A Beer

Asheville is known for having a great local beer scene. Last year when Charlie Papazian, the on-line beer guru, held a poll for Beer City USA, the top two cities out distancing the rest by far were Portland, Oregon and Asheville, North Carolina. Charlie honored both cities: Portland for the west and Asheville for the east. Asheville hit the beer map as Beer City East USA! Voting just ended for 2010 Beer City USA.

Shortly after the 2009 Beer City East announcement, the year long negotiations between The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa and Highland Brewing Company were finalized and we began in earnest to work on an actual beer for our nearly century old Resort. The beer team from Grove Park Inn: Kevin Schwartz, Assistant Food & Beverage Director and Chad Willis, Beverage Manager. Both men are Sommeliers and have been in the industry for 20 to 30 years each. Schwartz headed a prior project creating and blending wine for the Resort. The Highland team was Oscar Wong, Highland Founder, John Lyda, Head Brew Master and Joey Justice, Assistant Brewer.

We began by sitting down in the Great Hall Bar of the Resort and tasting a variety of beers. After analyzing the beer purchases from Resort guests we knew we were looking for a style of Amber Ale. The initial tasting led us toward a Belgium style. So we were off and running. The next step involved the Highland team creating three small batches of home brew at a time and bringing the resulting creations into the Resort to taste. During each of these tastings the Grove Park Inn team would taste, critique and give specific adjustments they wanted to see. The turn around time between batches was about five to six weeks. Patience was required!

Each tasting brought us a step closer to the profile we had envisioned. The key through this process according to Schwartz was to “find a beer that our Resort guests would fall in love with and a beer that had balance, many people make beers but creating a beer that has balance is unique”. Every detail was scrutinized to develop the perfect beer for The Grove Park Inn. The final brew arrived late in 2009 and we were thrilled that we got it right.

To name the brew, we held a naming contest through the Resort’s twitter account. Dozens of entries arrived and as we sifted through all of them . . . one stuck out in our minds more than any other. Great Gatsby. Grove Park Inn is well known for hosting the famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby. A lover of a fine brew himself, Great Gatsby seemed the perfect choice.

Our next step was to determine the best time to debut our newest addition to the Resort family. Another perfect choice came to mind – Celtic Weekend! The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa hosts a Celtic weekend each year bringing in such acts as Gaelic Storm. There was not a better time than this beer drinking weekend to debut our combined effort with Highland Brewing Company!

Just over two years from conception to release, this was the longest beverage project that we’ve completed so far. The end result is an Abbey Style Ale that will delight the nose and surprise the palate with a subtle version of traditional abbey brown ale.

Earlier this week Charlie’s 2010 web pole concluded with Asheville netting the most votes with Portland a close second. I think it is great that Asheville is so out spoken about its brew. I’m proud to have contributed to one more for Asheville so its time to take a beer break and open a Great Gatsby Abbey . . .

Bottoms up!


  1. ...but very happy to be part of that life and part of that creativity while it happens!