Ashevillian Orogeny

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was established in 1980, approximately ten million years after the decisive development of the eponymous mountain chain whose white escarpments, blue lakes and green forests are featured in the company’s logo. As a brewery, they reached drinking age the same year we in the little drafty barn by the stream were initially setting up shop in the back of Jack of the Wood. Our mountains, however, are about 470 million years older than theirs.

Being nubile, unstooped, in youth’s full blush, Sierra Nevada’s are much taller. Mount Whitney is the highest point in the United States, an unimaginable¬†8,000 feet taller than sweet lil’ Mount Mitchell–at 6,684 feet the highest American point east of the Mississippi. But here’s something:

The Appalachian Mountains started happening in a major way when the tectonic plate upon which the Iapetus Ocean stewed cuddled up beneath the North American Craton, creating a hyperactive subduction zone that in turn pimpled with geysering volcanoes, spurred the Allegheny Orogeny (orogeny = mountain building period) and ultimately crumpled the edge of the Euramerican supercontinent against the edge of Gondwana. Voilah: Pangaea. That’s why the Appalachians are in Morocco, too, operating under the alias “Little Atlas Mountain Range”. Also they’re in Scotland, thanks to the Caledonian Orogeny. And evidence indicates that in their prime, they touched sky at altitudes touched today by the Alps.

(Observe the pun assiduously avoided in the last sentence.)

After “Florida”, “Cape Canaveral”, and “Dry Tortugas”, the word “Appalachian” is the oldest European place-name surviving in the States, borrowed by Cabeza de Vaca et al from a Tallahassee-centered tribe circa 1530. And back when it was apparently fair game to reimagine the nation, when we were new enough as a people not to fear pushing off from the dock of history and setting a new course, the writer Washington Irving proposed renaming the country “Appalachia.”

Mountains gestate in the wombs of subduction zones, are delivered by geologic patience and born in boiling magma. For Sierra Nevada’s part, a Jurassic archipelago of volcanoes smashed into California oh say 200 million years past, kicking off the planetary face lift (pun intended) that continues even today. Over the past several months, for instance, a relationship between the brewers of the two chains has gone from flirtation to courtship to consummation, epitomized by the recent introduction to Asheville’s tasting rooms of Beer Camp batches sired collaboratively. Nationwide commerce gestates in creativity, is delivered by effort and born in boiling kettles.

They are coming from Sierra Nevada. They are coming from the Rockies. They’re converging at the wooded feet of their blue and world-spanning elders. It happens underneath you, then bullets to the sky.

Come in this week for a taste of what Asheville got up to with Chico. It’s a red wheatwine and will make you want to sing. “Carolina Dreamin'” is what it’s called, the dream of the east, where the sun rises on tomorrow even as old mountains subside.

-D.W.

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