“The Southeast craft-beer scene is changing very aggressively, but we still tend to be the last people to get what’s new and trendy in craft beer.” That’s what Walt Dickinson, the head blender at Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina, had to say about craft beer in the southern United States a year ago.
Arguably, though, Walt and the team at Wicked Weed repudiate that statement as one of the region’s most cutting-edge and talked-about breweries in the country’s craft-beer scene. It all started when Walt’s brother and Wicked Weed co-owner, Luke, went on a tour of Dogfish Head in Delaware. “I was completely enamored with the idea of a brewery,” he says. So he started volunteering at Dogfish Head and ended up working in the tasting room for a few years. During that time he brewed his first all-grain batch of beer with Sam Calagione, a claim that just about every beer geek on Earth wishes he or she could make.
Fast-forward to 2012 when Luke and Walt opened Wicked Weed in Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood. “Our focus was—and is always—on producing big, unique flavors,” says Luke. One of these beers is the Freak of Nature Double IPA, a bold West Coast–style shrine to the hops. It’s dry hopped with more than three pounds of hops per barrel, which creates the beer’s dank, citrus-forward aroma.
Another beer that represents Wicked Weed’s affinity for boundary-pushing beers is the Mompara Honey Ale, brewed with more than 300 pounds of wildflower and orange-blossom honey and spiced with black cardamom. This beer won a gold medal in the specialty honey-ale category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014.
“When we started the brewery, I was very enamored with Brettanomyces-fermented beer, and sour beers specifically,” Walt says. So while Luke focused on big IPAs and loaded honey beers, Walt developed his passion for sour beers and barrel-aging.
“Luke and I are very much the yin and the yang,” Walt says. “Luke is very creative when it comes to IPA and other clean beer styles, and that’s a huge part of our profile. He enjoys sour beer and likes being part of the blending process, but if he never brewed sour beer in his life he’d probably be okay with it.”
That’s how the Funkatorium came about. Opened in October 2014, this second production facility and tasting room is completely dedicated to sour and wild beers. In fact, it’s the first and only sour-and-wild–dedicated tasting room in the southeastern United States. The Funkatorium houses 500+ barrels where Wicked Weed’s lambic-style ales age and develop their sour and funky notes. There is a tasting room on-site that pours farmhouse-style ales from sixteen taps and two traditional hand pumps.
Some of the beers that have come out of the Funkatorium belong to Walt’s Angel Series. It includes the Red Angel, a sour beer brewed with a pound and a half of fresh raspberries per gallon that aged in red-wine barrels for nine months; the Golden Angel, which rested on a total of one metric ton of apricots over the course of its life in red-wine barrels; and White Angel, a beer that aged on two and a half tons of locally harvested muscadine and scuppernong grapes, as well as Albariño grape must. The culmination of the series, The Angel of Darkness, is slated to reach 13 to 14 percent ABV and has been aged in Portuguese sherry casks on boysenberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries. “Each Angel is crafted specifically to work with the fruit we chose,” says Walt.
The Angel Series was inspired by Wicked Weed’s flagship sour beer, Black Angel Cherry Sour, a beer that’s brewed with more than a pound and a half of tart cherries per barrel and aged in Kentucky-bourbon barrels with souring bacteria.
The Funkatorium has let each of the Dickinson brothers focus on his respective beer styles, not to mention that it has kept potential contamination from wild bacteria and yeast away from Luke’s clean fermentations. “I can’t imagine having a brewery and not making a clean IPA or stout,” Walt says.
Next up for Wicked Weed is packaging those clean beers. The brewery has a brand-new production facility where it will package non-sour beers that have previously only been served on draft. The first beers packaged will be Freak of Nature Double IPA and Wicked Weed’s tropical fruit–forward flagship IPA, Pernicious.