Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chimay Beer and Cheese Tasting at Kybecca

I stopped by Kybecca this afternoon for the Chimay beer and cheese tasting being held at the Plank Road store. It was nice to see the cheese offering, so often we only see cheese (or food in general) being offered at wine tastings. Cheese is an excellent accompaniment to beer as well, some might say it's even more appropriate. Matt was pouring both Chimay Première, a Dubbel, and Chimay Grande Réserve, a Belgian Strong Ale. The cheese is labeled "Chimay with beer". It's a semi-soft cow's milk cheese that's washed in Chimay beer, giving the rind a golden color. The aroma is slightly pungent. The cheese has a mild flavor; I'd describe it as woody and a bit nutty. It went well with both beers, though I personally preferred the Dubbel.

I didn't leave with any Chimay beers, but did bring home some of the Chimay cheese. Oh yea, and a couple of other beers that I couldn't resist.

(Yet Another) Brewpub and Beer Garden for Fredericksburg

The Blue & Gray Brewing Company has plans to open a 30-seat brewpub and an outdoor beer garden this Fall, if all goes to according to plan. The Free Lance-Star posted details this morning:
[Owner Jeff] Fitzpatrick said the move would be a "natural evolution" for his business, one that would allow customers to have a Blue & Gray beer while eating what he describes as "high-quality pub fare." He would likely open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and could expand the restaurant if all goes well. He'd also hold special events and parties.

The brewery would continue to offer retail sales of its beer on site. The brewpub would likely offer the main product lines and some smaller-batch beers not available at other bars and restaurants.

The new site, which is on 20 acres and has parking for more than 100 cars, would allow Fitzpatrick to increase the size of the brewery's St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest events. The latter is scheduled for Sept. 26-28.

I know this has been in the works for some time and it appears plans are now moving forward. Jeff has filed a special use permit application with the Fredericksburg Planning Commission to operate the brewpub in the Fredericksburg Battlefield Industrial Park. Blue & Gray would move their current brewing operations to the new site. Jeff has spoken previously about the possibility that the popular outdoor festivals he holds would be unable to continue at the current site. This new home would allow those to continue, and even grow in size.

Beer lovers in the area have much to look forward to. We recently were told of plans for another brewpub for Fredericksburg. Also expected this Fall is the opening of the Capital Ale House in downtown Fredericksburg. Exciting times indeed!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blue & Gray Virginia Hefeweizen

"Sic Semper Fermentue Terribilis"

The slogan on the label translates to “Death to Bad Beer Always”. Virginia Hefeweizen from Blue & Gray Brewing Company is the Summer seasonal from the Fredericksburg brewery. The brewery uses German Weihenstephan Weizen yeast and American Wheat to produce their version of a classic Hefeweizen. The beer was released over the Memorial Day weekend, but I just picked some up this week. Colleen and I decided to enjoy it as an appetizer while our dinner was cooking.

Poured from a half-growler into an official Blue & Gray Weizen glass, a short lived head white head forms over the cloudy, straw-yellow beer. Immediately the banana and fruit aromas are noticeable. A slight peppery spice is also noted in the aroma as well. The taste is refreshing with the expected strong banana and clove flavors. There are nice spicy, peppery notes present as well. Virginia Hefewiezen also has a surprisingly strong, but pleasant hop profile. The mouthfeel is moderately thick and creamy, with low carbonation. The finish is somewhat astringent and the hop bitterness lingers on the palate.

We found the Blue & Gray Virginia Hefeweizen to be a very enjoyable start to dinner on a very hot day. We've enjoyed the Virginia Hefeweizen in past years but Colleen remarked that this year it seemed exceptionally nice. The beer will be available all Summer long so I'll surely be back for more growler fills.

Tasting Opportunities This Weekend

In addition to the tastings this weekend, there's a Clipper City tasting at Total Wine on Thursday, July 3. Tom Cizauskas from Clipper City will be on hand to pour and talk about these excellent beers. I'll post more details as I get them. I'm also looking forward to the Chimay beer and cheese tasting on Saturday at the Plank Rd. Kybecca. (That's the one by Ukrops.)

Update: Details on Thursday's Clipper City tasting here.

Friday, June 27 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Pete’s Wicked Strawberry Blonde, Troegs Nut Brown Ale, Leffe Blonde, Fuller’s London Pride, and Bartles & Jaymes Fuzzy Navel

Friday, June 27 - 5:30 - 8:00pm
Virginia Wine Experience, Fredericksburg
Beer Tasting:
Tröegs Sunshine Pils, Wyder's Dry Pear Cider

Saturday, June 28 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Kulmbacher Schwarzbier, Kulmbacher Eisbock, plus 1 customer choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Beer and cheese pairing. Two Chimay Trappist beers will be paired with the Chimay cheese made by the same monastery in Belgium. Plus, as usual, 1st customer in gets to pick the 3rd beer.

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bringing Back Hard Cider, and Promoting Agri-tourism in Virginia

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star is running a story on the comeback of hard cider production in Virginia entitled Hard cider's second act:
In early America, the undisputed beverage of choice was hard apple cider--even more so than water.

Thomas Jefferson brewed champagne-like cider out of Virginia Hewe's Crab apples at Monticello.

John Adams guzzled a pitcher each morning with his breakfast, citing its positive health benefits.

Yet, these days, hard apple cider has largely fallen out of favor in the United States. Only a few brands, mostly imported from England, remain widely available.

Now, however, an Albemarle County apple orchard is aiming to spark a cider comeback.

"Cider was the libation of choice in Colonial America," said Chuck Shelton of Vintage Virginia Apples on U.S. 29 south of Charlottesville. "We're going to bring cider back."

Vintage Virginia Apples has received site plan approval from the Albemarle County Planning Commission to build both a cidery and a tasting room. Cider production is expected to begin this Fall, with the tasting room opening in the Spring.

Interesting news indeed, but the most interesting part of the article to me was the tie-in to tourism in Virginia:
Charlotte Shelton, also an owner of Vintage Virginia Apples, said the company is hoping to tap into Central Virginia's growing agritourism market. With dozens of wineries in the region, it seems only natural that thirsty tourists and Charlottesville food lovers would want to check out the complex flavors of high-end cider, she said.

The same thing could be said of the growing Virginia brewing industry. As I noted in a previous post, the time is right to focus in the tourism aspect of Virginia beer. Why let the wineries get all the agri-tourism dollars? Virginia has long been associated with hop growing. Already Blue Mountain Brewery in Nelson County has started a hop farm, with over 200 rhizomes planted. Looking beyond hops, I recently spoke with one Virginia brewery owner who is working to obtain high grade, Virginia-grown barley for his beer. I look forward to the day I'm following hop-emblazoned signs through the Virginia countryside.

Read the entire cider article here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Denver Trip - Rock Bottom Brewpub

During my recent trip to Denver I realized there was a Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery right around the corner from my downtown hotel. The closest Rock Bottom to my home is in Arlington, and although the various locations have gotten good reviews from local beer drinkers, but I've never gotten around to visiting. I decided this would be a good time to correct that.

The Denver brewpub is located in pedestrian mall setting among quite a few bars and restaurants. On my walk over I decided to stop in one of the other establishments and check out their beer list. Neither the hostess, the waitress she asked, nor the posted menu could inform me what was on tap. I decided it wasn't even worth a walk back to the bar, and continued on my way to Rock Bottom. (Was walking out rude?)

When I arrived the place was pretty crowded for a week night I thought. I found one of the few empty seats at the bar, and surveyed the beer list and the surroundings. The fermentation tanks are behind a glass wall behind the long bar. There was no activity in the brewing area during my evening visit. Very quickly one of the bartenders arrived to take my order. I selected the brewery's Falcon Pale Ale. The beer is a copper-orange color with a thin head. I detected a slight hop aroma backed by bready malts. The dominant flavor is the biscuit malt with some bitter hops at the finish. A very drinkable beer, it has an "east-coast" profile rather than the zesty, citrus hop flavors more typical of west coast pale ales.

I ordered a Brewer’s Club sandwich to go with my beer. The turkey, ham, and bacon sandwich on focaccia bread arrived quickly and was quite tasty. I enjoyed it while wondering how it would be rated by my turkey-aficionado friends. I hung out for a while watching the Celtics take the NBA championship. I knew that my buddy Frank, an avid Boston sports fan, would be watching the game where ever he was. I sent him a text message telling him I was watching the game from a bar in Denver. Sure enough a few minutes later I got a reply. He was indeed watching the game - from a bar in Naples, FL!

The food and beer at this Rock Bottom was tasty and served in a pleasant atmosphere. The service at Rock Bottom was quite attentive, at least from my observation post at the bar, no one sat with an empty glass, unless by choice. I wouldn't hesitate to visit another Rock Bottom brewpub given the opportunity. In fact, I'd probably search one out and try a few more of their beers.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Northern Virginia Summer BrewFest

The Northern Virginia Summer BrewFest was held June 21-22 in Leesburg, Virginia. Colleen and I attended the festival on Sunday. Arriving a couple hours after the event opened for the day, the crowds were still small, but gradually grew as the day went on. We enjoyed quite a few new beers during the course of the day.

We arrived at lunch time and headed directly for the Hard Times Cafe chili stand, stopping only to fill our glasses at Williamsburg AleWerks. I opted for a Drake Tail Ale IPA, while Colleen selected their Red Marker Ale. The IPA was a nice match for my spicy chili. Now refreshed after the drive, we were ready to explore the festival grounds.

Our first stop was Hook & Ladder Brewing Company of Silver Spring. I've never had the chance to try their beers. Backdraft Brown is a smooth brown ale with an easy caramel malt and hop balance. This beer was the 2008 Washington Post Beer Madness winner. I inquired about the brewery's distribution and was told that Hook & Ladder beers are expected to be available in Fredericksburg in the coming months.

Next we moved on to the Vintage 50 booth for some of Bill Madden's creations. I had hoped to chat with Bill about his plans for The Mad Fox Brewing Company but every time I saw him he was in motion. As the driving force behind the beer festival he was obviously quite busy. I enjoyed a red ale they had on tap, though I didn't catch the official name. There was a hint of cinnamon in the aroma. The flavor was slightly bitter with some caramel malt. It was very tasty and went down easily.

Another notable stop was the Clipper City Brewing Company tent were they had a cask of Oxford Class Organic Amber Ale hooked to a hand pump. This was the only cask beer being served at the festival. Brewery representative Tom Cizauskas rigged the cask in an upright position rather than on its side as is usual, and covered it with ice to keep the beer fresh in the heat. The beer was easily enjoyed at "proper" temperature after just a brief moment in the glass. The beer has a smooth creamy mouth feel, and caramel malt taste with a bit of hop bitterness in the finish.

I also enjoyed a Brooklynator Dopplebock from Brooklyn Brewery. I arrived in time to get some of last beer being poured from a pitcher that had been filled before the keg kicked. I heard that folks were coming back multiple times for samples. This beer is not bottled, but is only available on draft. Enjoying hard to find beers is one of the benefits of attending these festivals. My pour was a bit flat, but had a creamy texture and a clean malt and dark fruit flavor.

The oddly named Hairy Eyeball Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company was another memorable beer. This strong ale had notes of sweet caramel and dark fruits, a faint smokiness, and also a noticeable alcohol warmth. One might consider it to be an English style barleywine.

We also paid a couple of visits to the Cabot Cheese booth. We've often enjoyed the cheeses from this Vermont creamery. They have a new cheese now coming on the market. Their "Three Year Cheddar" has a rich, sharp flavor and literally melts in your mouth. We were told it's available in our area in Giant Food stores and at Costco. My prediction is that we'll be bringing some home very soon.

Besides enjoying the beer, these events provide an opportunity to meet people and talk about a mutual love of beer. Colleen and I had a nice visit with Tom Cizauskas, who also blogs at Yours For Good Fermentables. I also talked to Jim Justice of Virginia Brewing Company and met head brewer John Hovermale. Jim tells me that the brewery will be going online soon, and they hope to have beer to pour in August. I ran into Ray Johnson who organizes the long-running Blue Gray Breweriana show held in Fredericksburg each February. Ray was relaxing under the Dogfish Head tent. Ray sure knows how to pick a seat. :-) Ray's been battling some serious health issues lately, but he's in his usual good spirits. Our prayers are with him for a speedy and full recovery.

I heard that there were around 5000 people in attendance on Saturday. Sunday, even though the crowd was slightly smaller, looked to be a success as well. I'm confident the festival will continue to grow and become even more successful. One suggestion would be to provide more shaded areas where folks can enjoy their beer and visit with friends. Given the number of attendees, the heat, the beer, and the many food vendors, having ample shaded sitting areas is essential. The BrewFest is a family event and there were plenty of activities for kids as well. The crowd was well-behaved, it was easy to get your beer and to chat with the vendors.

There were some ominous looking clouds moving in as we decided to head home. We stopped for some fresh-popped kettle corn to enjoy on the way home and headed out after a very enjoyable afternoon at the BrewFest. There were plenty of good beers to be enjoyed, along with a variety of foods. I'm looking forward to the next Northern Virginia BrewFest to be held this October in Centreville.

I've put some pictures from the BrewFest here.
Update: Tom has posted his pictures from the weekend.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Denver Trip - Beer Dinner at Duo Restaurant

My visit to Denver coincided with a beer dinner held at Duo Restaurant, a small restaurant in the Highlands section of the city. I attended the dinner with Josh Mishell from Flying Dog Brewery. Josh also writes the blog so I knew I was in good company for the event.

The three course dinner featured six beers, three from Tommyknocker Brewery and three from Breckenridge Brewery. As a welcome beer we were served Tommyknocker Ornery Amber Lager. A nice American Amber Lager, it had a mild sweet caramel flavor and a light hop presence. We sipped on this while folks were getting settled and the first course was being set out.

Our first course was a spicy Seafood Curry consisting of shrimp, mussels and calamari over rice. I'd probably pick this as my favorite dish of the evening, although all the food served was absolutely delicious. Two beers were paired with the dish, Tommyknocker Jack Whacker Wheat and Breckenridge Avalanche Ale. I thought the two-beer pairing was an interesting way to show the diversity of beer-food pairing possibilities. Jack Wacker is a spicy American Pale Wheat Ale with a strong lemon grass flavor and a mild hop bitterness. The beer worked very well with the dish and calmed the spiciness but did not overpower or wash it away. The Breckenridge Avalanche Ale had a mild caramel malt flavor that did not stand up as well to the strong flavors of the curry and seafood.

The second course of the evening was maple glazed Prime Rib with a shallot jus, served with crispy potato skins and a horseradish sauce on the side. The beer selected was Breckenridge 471 Extra Special Bitter. The ESB had a strong sweet malt flavor, along with a slight alcohol warmth. It seemed more like an English Barleywine than an ESB. The Breckenridge web site describes the 471 ESB as having a "complex hopiness balanced with traditional English Ale maltiness." I did not note much in the way of hoppiness. Unfortunately, even though it was a tasty beer, I found it much too sweet for the steak dish. Perhaps a traditional ESB might have fared better. The prime rib itself was nicely prepared.

For the third and final course we were served Panna Cotta with a strawberry compote. Two beers were chosen for pairing with this dish as well, Tommyknocker Tundraberry and Breckenridge Vanilla Porter. I've never been a fan of fruit beers, so I was not expecting to find this pairing particularly attractive. The Tundraberry has a strong fruity aroma and the dominant flavor is a sweet berry blend. It's not a flavor profile that I search out in a beer. However, the creamy dessert had the effect of moderating the fruitiness of the beer and I found the combination to be very pleasing. This particular pairing truly shined. The other beer offered with the dish not work as well for my taste. The Vanilla Porter had very prominent vanilla flavor which I found too strong. I left the rest of the porter in my glass and went back to enjoying, to my surprise, the fruit beer with my dessert.

I enjoyed this beer dinner very much. The event was the last of a series of three small beer dinners the restaurant hosted this Spring. The dinners were well-attended and the restaurant will be holding more. The small dinner concept works very well. Having just three courses keeps the cost reasonable and pairing multiple beers with a dish helps to exhibit the diversity of choices when matching beer and food. It also offers options for different preferences in beer that folks may have. All of the food was extremely well-prepared and I look forward to returning to Duo again, even if it isn't for a beer dinner.

Friday, June 20, 2008

This Weekend's Local Beer Happenings

The Northern Virginia Summer BrewFest takes place this weekend in Leesburg. The BrewFest will feature over 40 breweries pouring their beers, and plenty of tasty food. Should be a fun time. If you're not up to driving out to Leesburg, try these local tasting opportunities. Note there are three vintages of J.W. Lees Harvest Ale up for tasting this weekend!

Friday, June 20 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
JK Scrumpy’s Hard Cider, Michelob Ultra Tuscan Orange, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Mendocino White Hawk IPA, Unibroue Fin du Monde

Friday, June 20 - 5:30 - 8:00pm
Virginia Wine Experience, Fredericksburg
Beer Tasting:
St. Michaelsberg Keller Bier, J.W. Lee's Vintage Harvest Ale 1999, J.W. Lee's Vintage Harvest Ale 2000

Saturday, June 21 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2007 aged in Calvados (apple brandy) casks, 2nd beer TBD, plus 1 customer choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2007 aged in Calvados casks, St. Michaelsberg Kellerbier, plus 1 customer choice

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Denver Trip - Odell Brewing Company

This week I had the opportunity to get up to Fort Collins, CO and pay a visit to the Odell Brewing Company. Typically when I visit Denver I bring back some Odell beers, especially the 90 Shilling Scottish Ale. However, now that the airlines are gouging customers by charging for checked luggage, I don't bring my extra beer suitcase on this trip. There are several breweries in very close to one another in Fort Collins, including Fort Collins Brewing and New Belgium Brewing, however time constraints allowed me to visit just one.

But first a stop for lunch and to meet, in person, a fellow beer blogger. "Chipper Dave" blogs about Colorado beers over at Fermentedly Challenged, and also at the Northern Colorado Beer Examiner.

Fort Collins is a sandwich shop haven, and Dave chose Choice City Deli for our lunch meeting spot. Besides the great sandwiches, the deli has an extensive beer menu, unlike any I've seen in a deli back home. Here's a hint, ask the proprietor about beers not listed on the menu. He's a craft beer fan and keeps a eye out for the unusual. I selected a 90 Shilling Ale to pair with my sandwich.

After lunch, Dave joined me in visiting the Odell Brewing. I managed to drive right by the brewery. I was looking at a driving range on the right side of the road when I sensed the familiar brewery aroma. The brewery is on the opposite side of the road and I smelled it before I saw it. There was some time to kill before the brewery tour began so I opted to enjoy an Odell Imperial Stout while we waited. This seasonal is part of the brewer's single batch series and is generally available January - April, so what was being served at the brewery was the last of this year's batch.

The Imperial Stout pours very dark with a moderate brown head that leaves plenty of lacing on the sides of the glass as the beer is consumed. The aroma is on the mild side, mostly roasted coffee. The beer goes down very smoothly with coffee and dark chocolate being the predominate flavors. I also noted hints of vanilla and some dark fruit. A hop bitterness rounds out the finish. Although it checks in at 8.0% ABV, the alcohol is well masked. Mouthfeel is smooth and slightly thinner than one might expect. It was an enjoyable drink to carry along on the tour.

Our guide was very knowledgeable on the history of the brewery, the brewing process, and the beers themselves. Odell is Colorado's second craft brewery, after Boulder Brewing. The brewery has had a steady history of expansion and they are preparing to make another leap. The next expansion phase will grow production from 40,000 to 100,000 barrels a year. Currently the state of Missouri is the furthest east that Odell beers are distributed. Perhaps with the increased production capacity one could hope the distribution region might expand. However as Odell's reputation for making quality beer grows, increased production is needed just to meet the demand in their current distribution region.

During the tour we saw the oak barrels that house the new oak aged beers the brewery plans to release in another month or so. Our guide informed us that nearly all of this beer has already been committed to pre-order sales. Those of you living in the area would do well to keep a watchful eye out at your favorite beer stores, as there will be very little available even at the brewery itself.

The tour was fun, and the beer good. It was an enjoyable afternoon and chance to meet a fellow blogger and new friend. I've uploaded a few pictures from the brewery tour.

Update: Dave has posted his review of Choice City Deli.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Denver Trip - Great Divide Tap Room

Each time I visit Denver I make it a point to visit the Great Divide Brewery Tap Room. The brewery's tasting room is open for just a few hours each day and offers a great opportunity to enjoy Great Divide beers. The beers are good and the people friendly. I posted about one of my previous visits here. Now that Great Divide beers are no longer being distributed in Virginia, a stop at the Tap Room is all the more important. I found time to spend several hours at the Tap Room this week, enjoying both the beer and pleasant conversation with the staff and other patrons.

Great Divide Hercules Double IPA is one of my favorite offerings from the brewery, and it was my first pick during my recent visit. So often Double IPA's end up being cloyingly sweet, with the malts overpowering the hops. Hercules keeps both flavor profiles in balance. Pine and citrus hops are present in both the aroma and flavor. At 9.1% ABV it's a sipper and a very enjoyable one.

Often you can find one of the Great Divide beers on cask in the Tap Room, but there was no cask on deck this time. There was however an Oak Aged Espresso Stout on tap. I was told this is a "Tap Room only" beer. The stout pours very dark, it's black except for the thin beige head. As to be expected the aroma is strong with espresso, along with some faint hop notes. Espresso predominates the flavor as well. There's a bit of a burn in the finish. I didn't ask but I'd guess the ABV in this is quite high. If you are in Denver I suggest heading over to Great Divide to try the Oak Aged Espresso Stout before it's all gone.

(When I return to Virginia I'll make a point to contact the distributor in Virginia and try to find out why Great Divide beers no longer grace our shelves.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Denver Trip - Falling Rock Tap House

I'm on a week-long business trip to Denver, so will be posting from that great beer destination this week.

Although I've visited Denver multiple times in the past few years, I've never visited Denver's quintessential destination pub, Falling Rock Tap House. This trip I made it my goal to do so and did indeed get to visit the pub during my trip. It was a beautiful evening in Denver, so I initially sat on the outdoor patio. I've remarked on previous visits to Denver how much I enjoy the smoke-free bars and restaurants. However, this does mean that the outdoor seating areas are where the smokers gather. After just a minute or so on the patio, I moved indoors to avoid the smoke.

Falling Rock is dark, with wooden tables and booths, and the walls are covered with breweriana. There's an impressive wall of taps behind the bar offering a decent selection of Colorado beers. Besides many non-local beers there are also quite a few Belgian beers offered. The place has an easy going, comfortable feel about it. I scanned the beer menu for something unavailable in the East and ordered an Alaskan Amber. I've heard great things about Alaskan Brewing, especially regarding their Smoked Porter, but the Amber was the only Alaskan beer on this list. The beer was red-orange in color with a thin head. A faint malt aroma was followed by a mild bready tast with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Not a bad beer, but I was looking something more flavorful.

I paired my beer with a "Southwest Burger". Falling Rock shines when it comes to the beer selection, I was less than impressed with my dinner order. The burger was a thin, obviously pre-formed, frozen patty nested on a large white bread bun. Add a slice of cheese, a dollop of guacamole, and a single roasted jalapeño, and you have it. Oh yea, a side of thin, very greasy fries rounded out the meal. I've read tales of poor service at Falling Rock, but I did not experience that. My server was attentive, although he didn't even slow down when passing by to drop off my food. Well, I was here for the beer anyway.

After I paid my dinner check I was joined by Josh Mishell from Flying Dog Brewery. Josh and I are "virtual" acquaintances, but had not previously met in person. We've moved to the bar and had a very enjoyable conversation over beer. The bar tender was very friendly, and generous with samples when we had questions about a selection.

Josh and I tried out a few different beers during our visit. One "beer find" for me that evening was Laughing Lab Scottish Ale from the Bristol Brewing Co. This was suggested by the bar tender, and turned out to be an excellent suggestion. This Scottish Ale pours a dark mahogany color. The aroma was malt and caramel with a hint of smokiness. In the flavor there's a nice balance of sweet and roasted malt flavors. A pleasant hop bitterness finishes it off. I enjoyed this beer very much. Unfortunately it was my last beer of the evening as it was time to head back to the hotel to recover from a long day of travel.

So, I finally "did" Falling Rock. I could have skipped the food, and easily spent a longer time exploring the beer menu. Perhaps next time. I do recommend visiting Falling Rock when in Denver.

I also had an interesting walk back to my hotel. Two small dark helicopters had been circling the downtown area all evening. During my walk I watched them repeatedly land and lift off from the roof of a tall building, circle the city, and then repeat the process over and over. Even after I retired for the evening I could hear them flying over. Folks here think this is some sort of preparation for the Democratic National Conference to be held in Denver this August. In any event it created quite a "buzz".

Update: The Rocky Mountain News has a story on the helicopters. Apparently U.S. military Special Operations commandos are conducting counter-terrorism training.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

FABTS June Meeting

On Saturday the Fredericksburg Area Brewing and Tasting Society met at Kybecca for a "Summer Beer" exploration. Instead of picking a specific beer style, this month we looked at a variety of beers; Helles, Pilseners, Saisons, Wheat Ales, Hefeweizens, Witbier, anything that a brewer tagged as their Summer seasonal was fair game. There were about a dozen folks attending, and I was glad my friend Frank was able to attend as well. I've been trying to get him to a meeting for awhile and the schedule finally worked out. I know Frank isn't a fan of wheat beers so I was hoping his first meeting wouldn't be his last.

We started out with the Classic Lager from Fredericksburg's Blue & Gray Brewery. While this Municher Helles is not a seasonal offering, it certainly is fitting as a Summer beer. Adding to the interest, the brewery recently changed the recipe and they now use a true lager yeast. The beer has nice sweet malt and bitter hop balance. I had not had the Classic Lager since the change, but will surely be enjoying it again this Summer.

Moving on, we next tried Honey Moon Summer Ale from the Coors Brewing Company, part of the brewery's Blue Moon "craft" family of beers. Not many offerings from macro-breweries show up at FABTS meetings. The Blue Moon beers developed at Coors' Sandlot Brewpub in Denver are good "intro" beers for drinkers starting to discover craft beers. The Honey Moon had a light citrus flavor. We moved through several more American Pale Wheat Ales including Saranac Pomegranate Wheat, Smuttynose Summer Weizen, and Magic Hat Circus Boy. All of these are decent beers, if somewhat uninspiring for my tastes. I don't drink too many wheat beers myself, though many folks do enjoy them as Summer beers. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. :-)

Next another Blue & Gray beer, as a growler of Virginia Hefeweizen was passed around. This Summer release is a nice American Hefeweizen with prominent banana notes and a slightly spicy finish. New Holland Zoomer Wit was a nice witbier with some citrusy notes. New Holland beers are fairly new to our area and I look forward to trying more from this brewery. Rogue Mom Hefeweizen (an alias for their Half-E-Weizen Witbier) was up next. There were some ginger and coriander notes in the beer, though it was fairly non-descript otherwise. Dogfish Head Festina Pêche brought an abrupt flavor change to the table. A Berliner Weissbier brewed with peach concentrate, this tart beer seemed to shock many of the tasters. I've often enjoyed Festina Pêche after a day of working in the hot sun and it's quite refreshing.

Mendocino Summer Ale was an interesting beer. The label describes the beer simply as "Ale Brewed With Spices." I found this one to be very flavorful with a unique spice profile. It may seem strange but it brought to mind the taste of sweet steamed crab meat with a spicy seasoning. It was not mouth-burning red pepper, but I was struck with the memory of the many steamed crab meals I grew up with in Baltimore. I definitely need to revisit this beer.

Moving away from "wheat beers", we next tried Brooklyn Summer Ale. This English Pale Ale is a nice Summer session beer at 4.5% ABV. Tröegs Sunshine Pils was one of two Pilseners that made appearances. Sunshine Pils is one I look forward to each Summer. It's a crisp refresher with a prominent hop bitterness. The next Pilsener was Old Dominion Beach House Golden Pilsener. This was one of my contributions, and a beer that I featured on this blog recently. This new seasonal from Old Dominion Brewery got high ratings from the tasters. Next up, and slightly out of sequence was another American Pale Wheat Ale, Southern Tier Hop Sun.

Two Saisons wrapped up the commercial beers for the afternoon. First, Clipper City Red Sky At Night. This Saison is part of the brewery's Heavy Seas line of imperial beers and another beer I featured here recently. A more traditional Saison was Saison De L'Epeautre from Brasserie de Blaugies in Belgium. This beer is truly alive. The cage had been removed from the bottle when just a few seconds later, a loud POP was heard and the cork flew out and hit the ceiling, leaving a small dent in the acoustic tile. A champagne-like foam issued forth from the bottle. Fortunately it settled quickly without the loss of too much of the contents. This was a pleasant, smooth, just slightly spicy beer. The two interpretations of the style were quite disparate.

Finally we moved on to the always anticipated homebrew portion of the meeting. Readers will remember that several Fredericksburg area homebrewers recently made good showings in the first round of the ongoing American Homebrewers Association National Homebrew Competition. This afternoon we were treated to some of these awarded beers from two of the local winners. We enjoyed two meads from Lyle Brown, first his Blackberry Mead and then his Fireweed Honey Mead. The Blackberry Mead was quite an exceptional drink and garnered much praise from the folks in the room. The second offering was more a traditional, sweet honey mead.

Just in the nick of time, Aaron Zaccagnino (Zacc) popped in with a bottle of his Wee Heavy that was awarded in the Scottish and Irish Ale category. Only small samples were available but I very much enjoyed the dark caramel and roasted notes. I noted a hint of smokiness in the finish. I look forward to wheedling another taste of this one from Zacc in the future.

This was a very enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. We enjoyed 16 commercial beers, three award-winning homebrews, and plenty of fun conversation. As I said earlier, I don't drink a lot of these "traditional" Summer beers so it was a great chance to try out beers that I may not have otherwise. As they so often do, Angela and James supplied quite a few cheeses, along with humus and crackers, for us to enjoy while we sampled the beers. Thanks also go out to our hosts at Kybecca, who in addition to supplying the meeting room and glassware, also donated a number of the beers we enjoyed.

And Frank? In case you're wondering, I think he'll be back. :-)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Beer Events This Weekend in Fredericksburg

The Fredericksburg Area Brewing and Tasting Society holds its monthly meeting this Saturday, June 14 at 1:30 PM. Please join us at Kybecca on Plank Rd. The theme for this month is "Summer Beers". There are also a few interesting free tastings being held this weekend.

Friday, June 13 - 5:00 - 8:00pm
Total Wine
Friday 5 @ 5 Beer Tasting:
Clipper City Loose Cannon, Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat, Weyerbacher Hops Infusion, Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, Fuller’s ESB

Saturday, June 14 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Beers TBD, plus 1 customer choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
2008 Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van de Kaiser, and the new 2008 'red label' Van de Kaiser, plus 1 customer choice

Saturday, June 14 - 1:00 - 4:00 pm
Total Wine
Pyramid Beer Tasting:
Pyramid Apricot Ale, Pyramid Hefeweizen, Pyramid Thunderhead IPA

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

He Said Beer, She Said Wine - The Today Show Appearance

I posted a review of the book "He Said Beer, She Said Wine" last March. In the past few months this fun and informative book has gotten a lot of coverage both online and in print, but the exposure has been mostly limited to beer and wine niche venues. Now, the "debate" has gotten some mainstream exposure. Book authors Marne Old and Sam Calagiane appeared on the Today Show this morning. In the brief segment both beer and wine was paired with a cheese and then with chocolate. In my biased opinion, the segment highlighted the beers especially well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cooling off with the Yeti

I recently wrote about enjoying an "out of season" dark beer, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is not an unusual occurrence. I do enjoy a good stout, no matter the season. Recently, after another 100° day, Colleen and I settled down for a late evening treat of Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. We've enjoyed this beer in the past, and this bottle I'd been holding on to for a year or so.

Upon pouring the beer into a couple of brandy snifters I was greeted by the aroma of oak, chocolate and roasted coffee. The bouquet is very pleasant and I found myself continually taking deep sniffs from the glass all the time I was drinking it. It's one of those "aaah" aromas. The beer pours opaque black with a small beige head. The flavor is a rich and complex blend of chocolate, vanilla, espresso, sweet malt, and molasses. The oak barrel flavoring from the aging is released even further as the beer warms. The Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout also has a substantial hoppiness that adds to the complexity. Despite the 9.5% ABV the beer goes down very smoothly.

Conventional wisdom tells us that Imperial Stouts are excellent partners to chocolate, and we did indeed enjoy a bit of chocolate with our drinks. However we also added some Dubliner Cheddar to the table. This dry Irish cheese is a favorite of ours and we've found it to go nicely with a wide variety of beers. The dry, sharp cheese stood up to the strong flavors and sweetness of the beer quite well.

I've been told that Great Divide beers are no longer being distributed in Virginia, which if true is a great loss. Perhaps it's time to grab any bottles of the Oak Aged Yeti that I run across in stores.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Possible Reason NOT to Age Your Beer

If you don't want to be chasing your beer around the yard, it may be best to drink it while it's young. According to Amazing Facts About The Animal World, a mature beer can run as fast as a horse.

When Only a Cold Beer Will Do

There are some days when you want your beer to be cold, and consumed inside an air conditioned house. I grabbed this screen shot of my desktop weather widget this afternoon. While this reports 106°, lists a heat index of 110°. (I'm not sure I'd actually be able tell the difference between 106° and 110°.) According to my calendar Summer hasn't gotten here yet.

Note: I do not advocate alcohol for heat-relief. Drink plenty of water if you enjoy that cold beer.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Pint-Size Problem - Or much ado about nothing?

The Wall Street Journal is running a piece entitled "A Pint-size Problem". Journalist Nancy Keates attempts to make the case that there's a move by pubs and restaurants to cheat beer drinkers.
Four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline may be a cause for outrage. But it pales next to the righteous fury provoked by five-dollar-a-pint beer.

Beer prices at bars and restaurants have risen over the past few months, as prices of hops and barley have skyrocketed and retail business has slowed alongside the economy.

Some restaurants have replaced 16-ounce pint glasses with 14 ouncers -- a type of glassware one bartender called a "falsie."

And customers are complaining that bartenders are increasingly putting less than 16 ounces of beer in a pint glass, filling up the extra space with foam.

Two of the world's biggest glassware makers, Libbey and Cardinal International, say orders of smaller beer glasses have risen over the past year. Restaurateurs "want more of a perceived value," says Mike Schuster, Libbey's marketing manager for glassware in the U.S. Glasses with a thicker bottom or a thicker shaft help create the perception. "You can increase the thickness of the bottom part but still retain the overall profile," he says.

Dedicated beer drinkers are fighting back, with extra vigilance about exactly how much beer they get for their buck. They are protesting "cheater pints" and "profit pours" by outing alleged offenders on Web discussion boards and plugging bars that maintain 16-ounce pints, in hopes peer pressure will prevail. And they are spreading the word about how to spot the smaller glass (the bottom is thicker).

Everyone loves a conspiracy! I think the tone of the article could give readers a false impresion. In the interest of full disclosure I must state I answered an email query from Ms. Keates as she was preparing the article and made many of the same points I writing here. I'm not so sure we are dealing with deception as much as a simple awareness issue. Let's face it folks, prices are going up all around, and this is often reflected in packaging. Candy bars, detergent boxes, juice bottles; it's easy to find products now being presented in smaller packages for the same price. I don't doubt that there might be some bars that are purposefully mislabeling "pints." However I think this article creates an impression of deception where there is none.

At many bars and restaurants the draft selection is listed as simply "draft beer". I've seen "large" and "small" options as well. If I'm unsure of the glass size or style, I'll ask. As I stated in my response to Ms. Keates' query, unless the bar is specifically stating that the draft is a pint, or giving a specific ounce listing, there's no duplicity. The Wall Street Journal article states "Evidence of short-pouring is hard to nail down, but there are signs the practice is common." So, either the evidence is hard to nail down or it's common.

The online article is accompanied by a link to an audio interview with the author. In this podcast the interviewer asks "Are restaurants and other establishments still trying to call it a pint when it technically isn't?" Nancy Keates responds "No, I don't think it's really deceptive ..." After Keates specifically states that she found no deception, the interviewer follows up with "Is there any other type of deception that's taking place out there?" The author then goes on to explain that patrons feel they are getting less beer. This may indeed be the case, but that doesn't point to deception unless the size of the glass is claimed to be different. Later in the interview Ms. Keates states that people are indeed willing to pay a higher price for a larger-sized glass. Hmm, drinkers are willing to pay more for a larger glass, however when they pay less for a smaller glass it's deceptive? In the interview Nancy Keates adds, "There's an assumption when you order a beer at a bar you're getting a pint." There's no evidence presented of this universal assumption. Unless the menu states specifically a pint, why would I assume a 16 ounce pour? In fact, there are many beers with which I would specifically not expect 16 ounces.

A portion of the article, and also the accompanying podcast, is devoted to the "problem" of head on a beer. Perhaps it's just me, but I get very upset when I watch a bartender work so hard to avoid any head on a pour. A proper beer pour does include a head on the beer. Servers who attempt to pour a beer with no head are uninformed, as is the drinker who insists on a headless pour. The carbonation helps to release the aromas and flavors of the beer. I think what we have here is not a conspiracy to cheat the drinker, but a lack of education on the part of servers and drinkers alike.

The problem we do have is the rising cost of a beer, not the size of the glass. Let's focus on solving the former instead of creating an issue where none exists.

Now if my beer shows up in a frosted glass or with fruit, then we have a problem!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Old Dominion Beach House Golden Pilsner

Despite early predictions of it's demise, Old Dominion Brewery in Asburn, VA continues to produce new and interesting beers. When this Virginia establishment was sold to a group comprised of Fordham Brewing and Anheuser-Busch, the brewery's obituary was penned by many commentators. As we now know, those predictions were unfounded. Old Dominion brewers continue to produce new and interesting beers. On the first Wednesday of each month the brewery hosts "Taste from the Tanks". These events give visitors the chance to talk to the brewers and get preview tastes of upcoming releases. Though I've not had the opportunity to attend, I've read many glowing reports of both the events and the beers themselves thanks to attendees who post their experiences to the DC-Beer mailing list.

One beer that was previewed at "Taste from the Tanks" and is now on store shelves is Old Dominion Beach House Golden Pilsner. This beer from brewer Favio Garcia is a Czech Pilser made with Perle, Tettnanger and Saaz noble hops. According to reports from "Taste from the Tanks" attendees, this beer is dry hopped for extra flavor and aroma. The beer received good reviews from folks who attended the preview, and the flavor was compared favorably to the old Tupper’s Pils by one reviewer.

Beach House Golden Pilsner pours straw-yellow with a bright white head that drops fairly quickly. The aroma is that of grain and some breadiness, along with faint hops. The flavor is bready malt with a strong hop bitterness. The finish is quite dry.

I had my beer with a simple hot dog lunch. (Not all beer and food pairings have to be gourmet.) What better summer food to have with a summer beer, especially on this 100° day. I enjoy my dogs with mustard, ketchup, and a bit of relish. The bitterness of the beer stood up quite nicely to the bitter flavors of the relish and mustard. I ate my lunch in the comfort of air conditioning, but perhaps next time I'll enjoy Beach House Golden Pilsner outside, by the grill.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Avery IPA - Fun with foam

I first enjoyed Avery India Pale Ale during a trip to Denver a couple of years ago. Fortunately, it is one of the few Avery beers we can easily find locally. (Another "regular" Avery beer around here is Elle's Brown Ale.) One thing that really stands out with Avery IPA is the thick, sticky head that forms even with an easy pour. You need to pour very slowly with this one. Generally I prefer to do a hard pour on my beers and often initially forget when opening this IPA.

Avery IPA pours an attractive marmalade-orange color with a very thick white head. The head keeps growing long after the pour is finished. I poured a couple of glasses for Colleen and I, and walked away for a few minutes. When I returned the cone shown in the photo had built up. The head is thick and sticky. I have pushed it around with my fingers and stays where you put it. Of course, this makes drinking the beer an interesting experience as I often end up sticking my nose into the foamy head.

The aroma is on the mild side, with grassy hops matched by a fair amount of sweet malt. The hops really begin to shine in the taste. There's plenty of grapefruit and citrus notes that hit right away, which are then followed by a pithy bitterness. Malts come through in the finish. The mouthfeel is moderately thick and sticky, and the flavor of the beer lingers long in the aftertaste. When the glass is empty, you are left with a glass covered in sticky lacing.

Avery India Pale Ale is a nice example of an IPA. It's not extreme, but still there's enough hop kick to keep a hop head happy. At 6.3% ABV it's not quite a session beer, but it is easy enough to enjoy more than one. And you can play with it too!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Weekend Tasting Events

Here are a few opportunities to try out some interesting beers, for free, around Fredericksburg this weekend.

Saturday, June 7 - 12:00 - 5:00 pm
Beer Tastings in 2 Locations:
William Street (Downtown):
Eggenberg Pilsner, Dogfish Head Festina Peche, plus 1 customer choice
Plank Road (Next to Ukrops)
Legend Pale Ale, Legend Golden Ale, plus 1 customer choice

Saturday, June 7 - 1:00 - 4:00 pm
Total Wine
Pyramid Beer Tasting:
Pyramid Apricot Ale, Pyramid Hefeweizen, Pyramid Thunderhead IPA

Postponed until June 14

Every Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Blue & Gray Brewery
Beer samples and brewery tours

Please support the folks who bring us these events. Let them know there is an active craft beer community in the area. When you attend any of these events, tell us about it in the comments, and be sure to let the proprietor know you heard about it here.
Have something to add? Let me know, my contact information is here.

The Session #16 – Beer Festivals

The June edition of The Session is hosted by Thomas at the Geistbear Brewing Blog. Our host has chosen "Beer Festivals" as the topic for this month's event.

As a reader, I am especially looking forward to seeing the contributions from other bloggers. As a contributor, it's bit tougher. I've not been to all that many true beer festivals. Just one to be exact. I'm envious of you folks who live in areas where festivals are local events. So instead of writing about a festival I've attended, I'll post on why I think the dearth of local events will be changing.

And I do expect the situation to change. As I have been reporting on this blog with ever-increasing frequency, the beer scene in the Fredericksburg area is improving by leaps and bounds. Local retailers are bringing in more and more hard-to-find beers. Many of these same retailers are offering weekly free tastings. One of the top beer bars in America is coming to Fredericksburg. A local group is planning to open a brewpub this Fall and there is talk of two other brewpubs opening as well. The monthly FABTS meetings are always well-attended. A growing number of local pubs are adding craft beers to their lineups. Several local establishments have held beer dinners recently. Of course, let's not forget our local craft brewery. All of this points to a growing, vibrant and enthusiastic local craft beer community. Expand the focus to include all of central Virginia, and you've got numerous craft breweries and an even larger population from which to draw.

Our host for the June Session writes "...perhaps talk about what you would like to see out of festivals or perhaps the future of them." What I would like to see, and indeed expect to see, is this. Brewers, distributors, organizers, and enthusiasts will soon look to Fredericksburg when they are planning future activities and we'll see more events and festivals held locally. And then the rest of you can drive here to enjoy a beer festival, along with the many other attractions that the Fredericksburg region has to offer. Will this actually happen? I say yes, most definitely.

I look forward to seeing you. :-)

A history of The Session can be found here.

Update, May 8: Thomas has posted the Session Roundup.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Growth of "Boutique" Moonshine - A story with a familiar ring

The Washington Post is running an interesting article today on the rising interest in legal "moonshine" entitled Distillers Betting On 'Boutique' Versions of Hooch. Different from that produced in illegal stills in the south, this new beverage is upscale and created by legitimate distilleries.
MADISON, N.C. -- Joe Mahalek had mixed feelings the first time someone brought out the moonshine and offered him a glass at a Winston-Salem blues festival. The New York transplant was intrigued, yes, but also nervous. He'd heard that moonshine, also known as rotgut, white lightning and panther's breath, can blind or kill you.

The word "moonshine" conjures bootleggers and fast cars, mobsters and flappers. If Mahalek has his way, drinkers instead will associate it with concepts such as premium, smooth and $14 cocktail. His company, Piedmont Distillers, has launched two brands: Catdaddy is a flavored product redolent of nutmeg and vanilla (though Mahalek denies that either is on the secret list of ingredients); Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon -- named for the bootlegger, granddaddy of NASCAR and Last American Hero -- is more traditional, with a brisk, clean flavor. "When you say the word 'moonshine' and every head turns, you know you've got a powerful story," Mahalek says. "You've got their attention."

Less than two years after launching, Piedmont Distillers' moonshine is sold in 13 states, including Virginia. Other craft distillers also have introduced legal versions of old-style "corn likker": There's Heaven Hill's Georgia Moon, Virginia Moonshine's Virginia Lightning and Clyde May's Conecuh Ridge, a whiskey aged in charred barrels. Cochon, a trendy restaurant in New Orleans, offers an entire moonshine menu. "It's American grappa," says Cochon's assistant general manager, Audrey Rodriguez, who assembled the restaurant's list.

That was Mahalek's vision. In 2002, after years of sampling illegal moonshine made by "friends and folk," he decided to create a legal version. He began collecting recipes and quietly asking friends if he could examine their stills. Initially, many were suspicious, but Mahalek says that eventually "someone would hook me up with their daddy or an uncle who made shine. It's a lot more prevalent than you think."

The next step was building and registering a distillery, a process that can involve endless red tape. But here, Mahalek got lucky. A European still manufacturer had recently installed a still in an old train depot in Madison, a town of 2,500 just 30 miles from Mahalek's home in Winston-Salem. The owners had obtained the required permits, intending to make grappa from the region's muscadine grapes. But the business had not gotten off the ground. Mahalek bought the distillery in 2004. In the fall of 2005 he introduced his first product, Catdaddy, Southern slang for "best of the best."

Southern chefs, jumping on the eat-local bandwagon, also are incorporating the classic Southern hooch. Jared Lee at Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem adds Midnight Moon to the sauce for shrimp and grits. Soiree in Mooresville, N.C., puts Catdaddy in French onion soup, while Blue 5 in Roanoke adds it to the glaze for its Moonshine Chicken.

While reading the article I couldn't help but see many similarities between the up and coming legal moonshine business and the early craft beer movement. In both cases, legitimate businesses are now creating legal versions of once illegal beverages. Producers of both craft beer and moonshine are dealing with products bearing ignoble preconceived reputations and working successfully to raise the image of the beverages in the eyes of consumers. And just as craft beer is being recognized by chefs as an accepted ingredient for cooking, so is boutique moonshine. To complete this exercise, how long before craft brewers begin aging their beers in barrels that once were used for aging moonshine?

Read the full article here.

2008 Global Warming Open

Great Lakes Brewing News, the folks who brought us the National IPA Championships, now present the 2008 Global Warming Open.
Get your game ON as the Global Warming Open is here! The 2008 Global Warming Open is a contest pitting refreshing summer beers against one another to determine the most refreshing beer in America. Like the springtime National IPA Championships, participating summer beers from across the nation have been randomly chosen for a 1:1 single elimination bracket tournament. You know the rest of the is the link with the locker room and the link to make your predictions...

There are 64 beers entered...peruse the Locker Room and use that knowledge to make your picks. We've laid it out a bit different Good luck!

The kick-off event (Round 1) will be held at the Northern Virginia Summer BrewFest in Leesburg on June 21 so be sure to complete your predictions before then. (I neglected to complete my predictions on time in the previous event.) A case of the 2008 Global Warming Open Champion beer will be awarded to the reader who predicts the most correct GWO brackets.

Complete bracket information and online prediction forms are at Good Luck!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Brewpub for Fredericksburg

In the May/June issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, Gregg Wiggins hinted that an existing restaurant in Fredericksburg would be installing a brewhouse. In the latest Front Porch Magazine, beer columnist Lyle Brown reveals more news on these plans. Work is underway to open Fredericksburg's first brewpub. The new brewery will be located in, well, The Pub.
In an earlier column, I reported that there was a brewpub in the works in our area. I am happy to now reveal that equipment has been purchased, and negotiations are under way to start a brewery in The Pub, 4187 Plank Rd, and that the soon-to-be brewery owner has asked yours truly and my son Kevin to be the brewers. Look for a first tapping sometime in the fall.

Lyle is the founder of the Fredericksburg Area Brewing and Tasting Society and a BJCP judge. I've had the pleasure of tasting a few of Lyle's beers at the monthly FABTS meetings. Some of his beers recently were awarded at the American Homebrewers Association National Homebrew Competition. I look forward to seeing, make that tasting, the beers he and Kevin brew for The Pub.

I visit the Pub on a regular basis. The food is good, and they keep about 15 beers on tap. There are the usual standbys such as Sam Adams, Smithwick's, Redhook, and New Newcastle, along with the big factory beers. The addition of beer brewed on premises will be a most welcome addition.

I was alerted to the Front Porch article by Matt at Kybecca Blogs.

Brewpubs and the Laws that Hinder Success

Thomas Cizuaskas over at Yours for Good Fermentables is quoted in the latest Mid-Atantic Brewing News.
Tom Cizauskas, sales rep for Baltimore's Clipper City Brewing Co. and a veteran brewer of several craft breweries, suggests that urban brewpubs "are victims of their own success." Many of the earlier brewpubs were looked on as urban pioneers, revitalizing rundown sections of the city, he reflects. But as the neighborhoods gentrified, property values —and rents— rose astronomically. In the DC area, Founders' Brewpub in Alexandria, Va. was forced out by rising rents, and Dr. Dremo's (the former Bardo Rodeo brewpub) has been shuttered to make way for mixed-use development. In Chicago, the original Goose Island brewpub on Clybourne Ave., has announced it will close by the end of 2008 because of a steep rent increase.

Tom brings up a very valid point, one that is perhaps exemplified in the recent news of DC brewer Jason Oliver's intent to open a brewpub in rural Nelson County. I'm not privy to the decision process in that move, but I think it would be a fair to assume that urban property values and rent costs had at least some influence. But there are other barriers in place to hinder the success of bars and brewpubs in Virginia, rural or urban.

Our local paper recently carried an article entitled "Tavern owners chafe at law" (no online version available):
VIRGINIA BEACH-The Edge offers 40 varieties of beer. The owner of the bar in Norfolk would like to tout his half-price special on Aventinus during "happy hour."

The beer is an international favorite, considered one of the world's best. During happy hour, it is reduced — to $6 a bottle.

"I can't market that," Billy Baldwin said.

Baldwin can legally sell his brews at a lower price until 9 p.m., when happy hour ends statewide. He just can't tell anyone about it.

State laws prevent liquor license holders like Baldwin, who also owns The Edge at the Oceanfront, from advertising discount beverages. He's allowed to place signs about specials inside the business, but not where they can be seen from the street.

The so-called happy hour regulations made the books in 1985. They were designed to promote temperance by limiting the ability to sell reduced-price drinks. But the rules are sobering to business owners, who say they're bad for business.

"I can't say, 'Hey, come in and get a dozen wings and a pitcher of beer for a set price: " Baldwin said. "You can go to Wildwood [N.J.] or Myrtle Beach [S.C.] where they can.

"I should be able to promote and market like every other business."

State Alcoholic Beverage Control Department officials say the happy hour regulations, like others the agency enforces, discourage overconsumption and bridle bad behavior, such as drunken driving.

Curtis Coleburn, ABC's chief operating officer, said that spreading the news on selling beverages at lower than the customary prices entices customers to drink more.

"It remains in society's interest to curb the abuse of alcohol, and ABC is the primary state agency assigned to the task," Coleburn said.

Establishments that serve alcohol already have a legal obligations that restrict serving alcohol to intoxicated persons. These happy hour regulations limit the establishments' ability to promote to even responsible consumers. The state is also in effect limiting consumers' choices on where they choose to do business. It's perfectly legal to enjoy an Adventinus, but not legal to be informed in advance about a good deal on the drink.

In a positive step this past March, a federal judge overturned an ABC regulation against college newspapers running alcohol-related ads and making references to happy hours. The judge saw the prohibition as a violation of the right to free speech. The ABC still maintains the ability to enforce the ban on advertising by licensed businesses. One can only hope that the recent court case paves the way for applying the same principles to businesses such as Mr. Baldwin's.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Capital Ale House Update

When I last passed by the future location of the Fredericksburg Capital Ale House on Caroline Street, the inside had been mostly gutted and a new door was securing the entrance, but I saw no sign of current activity. Although there's not much happening that's visible from the street, progress is going on behind the scenes. Capital Ale House President Matthew Simmons tells me they are still in the planning and permitting stage. He also says they hope to start the renovations by mid-July and be open for business in October.

The City of Fredericksburg passed a $100,000 incentive package for Capital Ale House in February.

Read all Capital Ale House updates here.

Guitar Legend Bo Diddley Dead at 79

Not directly related to beer, though many craft beer fans are also fans of rock & roll and blues. Good music and good beer is a natural pairing. Music pioneer Bo Diddley passed away today at the age of 79 after a long illness.
"Bo Diddley was one of rock 'n' roll's true pioneers," said Neil Portnow, president and CEO of The Recording Academy, the music industry organization best known for presenting the Grammy Awards. "He inspired legions of musicians with his trademark rhythm and signature custom-built guitar, and his song 'Bo Diddley' earned a rightful place in the Grammy Hall Of Fame. He leaves an indelible mark on American music and culture, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and fans. The 'Bo Diddley beat' surely will continue on."

Enjoy this video of Bo Diddley doing what he did best as you raise a glass to this legendary performer.

BTW, Bo Diddley headlined the Wilmington, DE Cool Blues, Brews & BBQ’s Festival in 2001.

Bo Diddley's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame profile

MADD Terrorizes High School Students

On May 26, students at an El Camino, CA high school were emotionally terrorized and subjected to a cruel hoax in the name of education.
Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics – May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.

The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student's seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour.

The program, titled “Every 15 Minutes,” was designed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its title refers to the frequency in which a person somewhere in the country dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident.

About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene.

Though the deception left some teens temporarily confused and angry, if it makes even one student think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, it is worth the price, said California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury, who orchestrates the program at local high schools.

This outrageous hoax was orchestrated against the students by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the California Highway Patrol, with the assistance of 36 of their fellow students. Since when are schools permitted to emotionally torture students? Were parents notified in advance that the school was planning to traumatized their children?

In the referenced article, California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury is quoted as stating "I want them to be an emotional wreck." This is abuse. Education through terror and emotional stress is a technique used by certain other governments in the world. These governments and their abuses are the subject of frequent protests in the United States, yet the State-schools subject U.S. citizen students to the same sort of treatment.

In an earlier hint of the organization's lack of respect for the youth of our country, Candy Lightner, Founder of MADD, shared her belief that young adults “don’t think for themselves.” In an interview with Fox News Ms. Lightner attempted to explain why the draft age is 18, while the legal drinking age is set at 21.
"That’s exactly why the draft age is 18…because these kids are malleable. They’ll follow the leader. They don’t think for themselves."

"Malleable" and "emotional" kids. These are the targets of MADD's disturbing programs. You don't yell fire in a crowded theatre, and you don't commit elaborate hoaxes to convince someone that their friend has just been killed. Just what is the lesson the students learned in the California high school? That uniformed police officers are willing to commit misleading and deceptive acts against innocent people? That their fellow students can't be trusted? That the State-school system will allow an outside organization to enter the school and wage psychological warfare against students? All of this is supposedly done in the name of education. Where is the proof that such psychological games have any lasting effect? What's the lesson learned when the students realize they've been victims of a cruel hoax?

There's no argument that drunk driving is a dangerous problem and our youth need to be educated to understand responsible use of alcohol. All too frequently I read about an innocent person being injured or killed due the negligence of a drunk driver. In almost all these occasions the guilty party is an habitual offender who has been allowed to remain free to drive despite numerous previous offenses. I don't recall any of the tragic automobile-related deaths of local students being attributed to alcohol use by the students. Perhaps MADD should focus it's educational energies on judges and the bleeding hearts who put these repeat offenders back on the streets.

Tip of the hat to O'DonnellWeb for linking to the news report.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bluegrass Brewing Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout

After sitting sitting through two youth soccer league games in 90° temperatures, you'd think I'd be looking for a typical Summer beer. However, last evening I was in the mood for something more. I don't actually buy into the "stouts and barleywines in Winter, wheat beers in Summer" stereotype anyway. But then again, I've been known to enjoy red wine with chicken. I was in the mood to spend some time with a snifter of Imperial Stout and that was what I intended to do.

I found a bottle of Bluegrass Brewing's Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout in the fridge. I had picked this one up a few months ago but hadn't gotten around to trying it out during more typical stout weather. There's no description of the beer on the label beyond "stout aged in bourbon oak barrels." Not even an ABV rating is given. The beer rating sites classify this as an Imperial Stout and that was the expectation with which I poured the beer.

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout pours dark and opaque. The frothy cappuccino-like head drops very quickly, leaving behind a thin ring. The aroma is a pleasing combination of oak, bourbon and pipe tobacco. The flavor is also enjoyable, though at an unexpectedly subdued level. There's a roasted note, and some dark chocolate, along with a bit of bourbon sweetness. Most of the bourbon presence was noted in the aroma. A slight lactic tartness is detectable. The mouthfeel is creamy and thin. A definite smokiness comes out in the finish and remains in the aftertaste.

As far as Imperial Stouts go, I thought this one is a bit light. The alcohol seems the low side of the scale for the style, and not noticeable. Upon checking further, I found that Bluegrass Brewing describes the beer as a "Silky American Stout" with an 8% ABV. So this one seems to be right on the cusp, a tad strong for a typical American Stout, though mild for what I expect for an Imperial Stout. We had a bit of leftover chocolate cake in the house so I paired a small slice of that with my beer. The sweetness of the case accentuated the lactose tartness in the beer, but otherwise the cake over-powered the flavor of the stout.

Overall, this is a pleasant and easy to drink beer. I wouldn't hesitate to drink it again, especially now knowing what to expect. At the time of purchase, I did feel that the beer was somewhat pricey, but that seems to be the norm for many barrel-aged beers. The only fault I found is I was expecting a more Imperial style beer. This offering from Bluegrass Brewing is a decent, if somewhat expensive, barrel-aged stout.