Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Devil's Backbone Brewing Company

Part of the Brew Ridge Trail, Devil's Backbone is my favorite brewpub in the state of Virginia. Its location is also the only place I have found more beautiful than the Blue Mountain Brewery to sample the fare.

Located in the valley just below Wintergreen Resort in Roseland, VA, this incredible brewery features a rustic mountain lodge that you would expect to see at Vail or Aspen rather than in Nelson County. This incredible venue is just one year old and has an incredibly bright future ahead of it.

I kind of just stumbled across this place, as I was traveling with my brother-in-law one weekend with the Central Virginia Mazda Club - I don't even own a Mazda. They decided to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and ended up here for lunch. The food was incredible, but I was dazzled by the beer selection they were offering. The list is currently up to ten different brews, of which I have sampled four - a couple during the visit and a couple during the Blues & Brews Festival at Wintergreen.

Their Vienna Lager is a recent recipient (2009) of a Great American Beer Festival Silver Medal. This amber beauty is a medium-bodied lager that is brewed with four different malts. The result is smooth with a finish of caramel and roasted nuts.

The Wintergreen Weiss is a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen, hazy due to its unfiltered nature with hints of clove and banana. I thought this beer was very similar to Starr Hill's The Love - until I put a slice of orange in the glass. This really brought out some of the citrus flavors in the beer, and I have become very fond of this brew. It is also the first offering that was created for Devil's Backbone.

The Eight-Point IPA is a kick-in-the-pants American IPA. All of the hops are grown in the US, and add to the intense flavor and strength of this beer. This IPA is almost bronze in color and is medium bodied - a rarity for a pale ale.

The Ale of Fergus is a seasonal ale that was extremely popular about the time we went (4-5 months ago). I am holding out just waiting for this brew to be re-released to make another visit. A dark ale with spices, this was the most memorable of the beers I have sampled.

Overall, this place is an experience! The interior of the restaurant is spectacular, and the huge kettles are visible as soon as you walk in the door. Exposed wood, corrugated metal and stone are everywhere you look and the view outside on the patio is breathtaking. If you are ever in the vicinity, I suggest you stop and take a couple hours to sample the food and brews of this future landmark!

Coopers Brewing Premium Lager

More good stuff from Coopers - makes me want to go on walkabout just to see how they make this beer! This is their flagship brew, but completely different than any of the ales they produce. The Coopers Premium Lager is a very crisp, refreshing brew that has a nice balance between the hop and malt characters.

Another unique beer, this lager uses no sugar at any point during the brewing process - contributing a wonderful bitter taste with no sweetness in the aftertaste. This allows the true hop and malt flavor to come out.

This beer is definitely a good session beer, that would pair well with most food and particularly well in a barbecue environment. Its light, golden color and hints of fruitiness - without the sweet - make a great beer to enjoy in warmer weather. It is just too bad it is so difficult to find around here!

Coopers Brewing Dark Ale

If there is anything that this beautiful brown beer from down under has taught me, it is that when I buy my first home-brewing kit it will be from Coopers! I freakin' love Australian beer...and this one is my favorite so far.

It probably helps that Oz is the number one country on my list to visit, but this beer is something I could drink by the keg. This dark ale is as creamy as they come, with a thick head and chocolate brown color. The immediate taste is of coffee, with roasted and chocolate malts in the finish.

Top fermented with no additives or preservatives, it has a flavor that is completely unique to a dark ale. It is very fresh tasting considering the long transit around the world during import, and sitting on a shelf for some time. It is no wonder why the Cooper's Home Brew Kit is one of the best selling all-inclusive kits in the world! The motto on their website (http://www.coopers.com.au/home.php) says it all - "Improve your home - Make beer in it!"

Clipper City Brewing Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale

Whoa! That is all I could say after tasting this one. Loose Cannon, also known as Hop3 (hop cubed), is an intense IPA named after the enormous amount of hops used to brew it - 3 pounds per barrel! Also, during the brewing process it is hopped three different ways: in the kettle, the hop back, and then dry-hopped.

I didn't even get a full taste of this brew (I had an 8 oz. sample at MicroFestivus) but it was enough for me to tell why it won the Overall Best of Show Award in Maryland. This brewery, located in Baltimore, does something a little bit different than most for their IPA. In addition to dumping loads of hops at different intervals in the process, Clipper City mixes 5 different rare-batch hops into this beer. The result is definitely bitter, but is more balanced and fuller in flavor than other IPA's I have tasted.

Checking out their website (http://www.ccbeer.com/beerlist/Heavy+Seas) Clipper City has quite a few offerings, and even several under different lines. There are the four actual Clipper City brand brews, the seven Heavy Seas brews - which are all bottle conditioned, and the Mutiny Fleet - the heavy-hitting seasonal line. After Hop3, I am looking forward to trying them all!

Chimay Tripel

I enjoyed the Chimay Tripel ale much better than the Red. The aroma is very powerful before it is even poured, with a strong smell of hops and fruit. The color is also easy on the eyes - a nice golden honey color - and beautifully hazy. As I mentioned in the last post, these top-fermented beers are not pasteurized. This leaves "stuff" (remnants of the brewing process - leftover sugar and wort, bits of hops and yeast) floating around in the beer.

The beer itself is very smooth with a pleasantly bitter finish that dissolves quickly. You can taste the fruity notes, and the website (http://www.chimay.com/en/chimay_triple_219.php) points out that it is from the raisins and muscat (a species of grape specifically grown for wine, raisins and as table grapes).

The mixture of consistent, quality ingredients and years of expertise has created a brand that is highly sought after by beer-lovers everywhere. I personally can't wait to get my hands on one of the blue bottles!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chimay Rouge

Man, the Belgians really know how to brew great beer! And they ought to - they have been doing it since the Middle Ages in Trappist monasteries that still brew beer to this day.

The Chimay Rouge or Red Ale could be considered a Flemish Red. It has a slight sour finish (the website http://www.chimay.com/en/chimay_red_218.php refers to it as an "astringent" flavor") and is very similar to an English porter. This particular red has a very fruity apricot aroma when opened. After the pour, you notice a nice creamy head - I was expecting a bit more lace to it - and the flavor is silky smooth.

This beer is a little overpriced in my opinion, but still a very good beer. The good news is that it is fairly easy to find for a Belgian. I was able to pick this up at my local Kroger. A top fermented, bottle conditioned, non-pasteurized import is a beer that you usually come across by chance - not pick up at the grocery store. I highly recommend tasting all three personalities of Chimay!

Cerveza Caguama

Ever have those nights where you just know things are going to get interesting so you intentionally buy bad beer? I was having a party one weekend, and after pizza and a couple of drinks we decided to make a run for the "best of the bottom shelf". The goal was to see who could spend the least on three six-packs - but the catch was that it had to be beer that we had never had before. This ruled out several classics like PBR, Bud Light, Schlitz, etc.

So, when my buddy brought this back we thought we might have found a winner. This is the fakest looking attempt at a cerveza I think I have ever seen. They got the clear bottle right, but a turtle on the front? The brewers must be blatantly mocking anyone that dares buy this - I half expected to end up on hidden camera show!

In truth though, this one surprised all of us. Definitely better than a Corona, and can almost be considered good for a cerveza (can you tell how much I have a distaste for them?). It doesn't even need a slice of lime to mask the taste of a mildewed phone book! I certainly wouldn't recommend this beer, but I didn't have to throw it away - or just have it sit in my fridge. And for the price at least it does its job...

The website (http://www.caguamabeer.com/) says that the turtle logo is based on some ancient Latin fisherman that found a cold water terrapin in the tropical waters of Central America. The sighting of this "Caguama" is supposed to bring good fortune, and that is the purpose of having it on each bottle. Well, good luck to you in the morning if you drink too much of this stuff!

Cally's Nut Brown and Scottish Ales

Cally's Restaurant and Brewing Company continues to be a regular at MicroFestivus each year. They come highly lauded, with a Great American Beer Festival winner in their Scottish Ale, and the winner of the MicroFestivus' own Blue Ribbon for their Nut Brown Ale.

I have sampled each, and was thoroughly impressed with them both. The only disappointment is that they don't bring their other 16 brewpub offerings to share!

The Smokin' Scottish Ale is listed on their website (http://www.callysbrewing.com/beerWeBrew.html) as, "A ruby colored, full bodied beer that has been brewed with a small portion of smoked malt for added complexitiy. The hops take a backseat to allow the toffeeish malt profile and vanilla notes to dominate this most intriguing beer." I consider this to be a rather toned-down statement as a GABF winner from Harrisonburg, VA! This is a very good, rich beer with a nice sweet vanilla finish.

The Nut Brown Ale is a blast from the past...Nut brown ales were first brewed in the U.S. by craft brewers early on during colonization. This is the brew-master's interpretation of an American classic. It is another great beer with a slightly milder palate than the Scottish, but still full, nutty, and with a chocolate finish. I certainly recommend trying each of them!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Buffalo Bill's Brewery Orange Blossom Cream Ale

As everyone knows, along with the good comes the bad...On just a quick Friday night beer run with my friends we picked up a six pack. It looked very unique simply judging by the label, so I had to take some home.

If you read the label or the website (http://www.buffalobillsbrewery.com/beers_bottled.asp), it very enticingly describes this beer as an, "ale brewed with honey, orange peel and natural flavor, with orange flower extract added." A beautiful description that makes the beer very intriguing - but also very deceptive.

The best way I can describe the taste of this beer is Orange Glo mixed with a Smirnoff Ice. There is little-to-no malt or hop flavoring at all remaining in the brew, and the orange and flower extract "natural flavoring" is so over-the-top this should not be considered a beer. The aroma of citrus is almost visibly evident, and my entire den smelled like oranges for several minutes after the beer was consumed. One more disappointment - supposedly this is a cream ale. It tasted extremely thin and biting for a cream ale. The honey didn't even begin to cut the acidity of the citrus. This is one more beer where the packaging is much more flashy than the brew itself - buyer beware!

Budweiser American Ale

Finally! A beer from one of the "big three" (A-B, Miller and Coors) that we can be proud of...The name alone invokes images of muscle cars, barbecues and Baseball - it is just too bad that beer followers know this beer is actually owned and produced by Belgians.

Nonetheless, Belgians have been making good beer for a long time, and this one is no exception. Rich, full taste and a beautiful copper color, the American Ale is not too heavy and not too bitter.

I consider this to be the beer that can steer mainstream American beer drinkers in the right direction - back to tasteful, real beer and away from the light(lite)-beer craze. It is mass-produced so it can stay cheap, and made with all ingredients from the U.S. The website (http://www.budamericanale.com/pub/american-ale.aspx#home) details that the caramel malted barley is from "America's Heartland" in the Midwest, and the Cascade hops are grown in the Pacific northwest. The combination is just too perfect to overlook. The only question is, why did it take us so long?

Budweiser & Clamato Chelada

This beer only deserves enough mention to scream - DO NOT DRINK IT!

I tried this beer as a dare...and honestly could not get past 3 sips. If you don't know, this Chelada-style beer is a combination of traditional Budweiser, tomato juice, lime juice, salt and clam juice. It is a well-loved favorite south-of-the-border.


However, to me - this is the worst "beer" I have ever tasted. Period.

Merry Christmas!

Just for some fun today...Many of you will be celebrating with your families - whether that means enjoying beer over great food and conversation, or as a means of escape - so courtesy of Sloshspot.com here is a reference as to what beer will be best based on your situation.

If the image is too small, you can find a full-size version here.

Bud Light Golden Wheat

I was going to intentionally skip the bigger-name brewers like Budweiser, and had already jumped run-of-the-mill Amstel, but I feel like I would have set a sort of double-standard in doing so...After all, I have written on a couple of Michelob's seasonal offerings, so i think it is only fair that I touch on a couple of the limited release batches that are coming off of the huge assembly lines at Anheuser-Busch (InBev).
The release of this beer came as quite a surprise to me, I never saw "The King of Beers" riskily lending its name to a wheat beer - which can be a "love it" or "hate it" taste for discerning beer drinkers.With the enormous volume that they sell, it can't be cost effective to release a new beer like this - but I applaud the effort.

Bud Light Golden Wheat is a poor man's Blue Moon. If you visit the website (http://www.budlightgoldenwheat.com/goldenwheat/default.aspx#/home), the marketers use a play on the text acronym "WTF" assuming that most drinkers have never tasted a wheat beer and will ask, "What's That Flavor?" They then have no problem explaining to you that they ripped off the same ingredients as the Belgian White: golden wheat, citrus and coriander. The problem here is that the result is exactly what was intended - the Bud Light version of a wheat beer. It tastes as though the aforementioned Belgian White has been allowed to go flat, and then slightly watered down. The taste isn't bad at all, it is simply missing. Along with many others I find this to continually be an issue with light beer, and overall is a deal-breaker.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery Pennant Ale '55

Fortunately, I can report that this ale is not brewed in honor of either of the baseball clubs located in the Bronx or Queens north of the brewery, but rather for the Brooklyn Dodgers - who won a World Championship in 1955. Ahh...the allure of an old stadium with history, and a team that you could respect for playing the game the right way - see how far being a Cubs fan has gotten me?

Well anyway, the guys at Brooklyn Brewery understand my pain so they created this pale ale to take us back to a time when sports were pure and good beer was a way to celebrate the big win - or in my case help to forget another bad season. But was it really necessary for them to put pinstripes on the packaging? I understand that some of the old Dodgers uniforms used to have them, but nowadays I only associate them with everything that is bad and evil in the world...

As for this awesome beer, it is very light without losing its flavor, so you can have several of them while watching the game without feeling getting full - or like you are drinking water. It is brewed with Scottish Marris Otter malt according to the website (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com/beer/) which is, "prized for its toasty, biscuity flavor and the round smoothness it imparts." Whatever. Its really good!



Brooklyn Brewery Lager

This lager beer is just plain full of flavor, and the flagship brew of the Brooklyn Brewery. Their website (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com/beer/) tells how back in 1800's Brooklyn was one of the largest brewing centers in the country, with over 45 breweries that called the city home.

Most of these breweries produced some form of a Vienna Lager, which was the most popular beer in the area. The Brooklyn Brewery has recreated their "Americanized" version of this beer by using traditional brewing methods, and then incorporating newer techniques such as dry-hopping (starting to see a trend here with BB?).

The beer itself has an amber hue, and the aroma from the late-added hops is evident as soon as the top comes off. The caramel malt really comes forward in the finish. This beer is best paired with BBQ, burgers or a nice juicy steak, so it is perfect for tailgating!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale

Another break for a return to a brewery I talked about previously...In my trip to the dreaded C'ville (did I mention I bleed maroon and orange?) last weekend, this was one of the brews I picked up at the Wine Warehouse. My older post showed my love for Anchor Steam, so I figured I would write a review on Old Foghorn before I get too far down the alphabet.

This beer is very unique and makes me wonder about the other offerings that Anchor has up its sleeve. This is a relatively low alcohol content beer for a barleywine at 8.2%. But it makes up for what it lacks in strength in taste!

The production of a barleywine from such high gravity doesn't allow for the yeast to eat all of the sugar from the wort. The residual sugar left over from this process gives the beer a very sweet taste, not unlike a honey lager. The beer is then dry-hopped giving it a very earthy, flower like smell. The beer is finally dry-hopped and aged in Anchor's cellars with a top fermenting ale yeast, and incorporates a process called "bunging"to provide natural carbonation to the beer. The website (http://www.anchorbrewing.com/beers/oldfoghorn.htm) recommends Old Foghorn as an after-dinner sipping beer, which is exactly how I sampled it. I don't know that I could drink many of these in an evening due to the high gravity, but as a dessert style beer it is exquisite!

Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale

This beauty was another great pick-up from Vines. It is hard for me to imagine why they decided to close, as i could have single-handedly kept their business open! With its closing, my only source for local purchase of quality hand-crafted micro-brews and imports disappeared. I think this calls for a moment of silence...

Now, I have to journey to Charlottesville or beyond to find anything unique, as I have already exhausted all of the local grocery stores and restaurants. On occasion I will be able to find a new release from Magic Hat or Sam Adams at my Kroger, but other than that I have an hour plus drive to look forward to.

This award winning brown ale was originally released as a holiday seasonal, but fortunately for me, it has been promoted to a year round treat. Brooklyn's Brown Ale is about as sweet and savory as they come, incorporating six different types of malt into the brewing process. You can pick out the notes of caramel, chocolate and coffee, and the late hopping of the brew adds a nice aroma to the pour. The website (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com/beer/) points out the brewmaster was attempting at a middle ground between a dry Northern English and a sweet Southern English brown ale. The result is something that has made it one of the most popular American brown ales in the Northeast!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale

Another good one from our friends in New York...They say it just right on their website (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com/beer/), "When the days grow short and the beach recedes into our dreams, we need a very nice beer to get us through the long winter." Couldn't have said it better myself!

I have never been a fan of cold weather, and don't care much for the shortened daylight of winter either. I joke around with family and friends that I should have been born in a place with fewer seasons, like South Florida, Texas or California. The weather this weekend definitely doesn't help my feeling at all! It has been a record snow here in Central Virginia, well over a foot in just 24 hours.

What would be great to help get over the cabin fever, and aches and pains from shoveling, is a nice Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale! The brewers based this ale off of the heavily malted ales from Scotland. The Scottish malts provide a rich, bready flavor that finishes sweet. I guess there is one thing I can look forward to amidst this cold, bleak season!

Avery Brewing 14'er ESB

Taking a break from the Brooklyn Brewery to go back to a previous brewer/post...I had mentioned my disappointment in Avery Brewing's representation during MicroFestivus as they were pushing Karma as their best offering. I commented that I was very anxious to try one of their other ales, and I am now reporting on the result of that search.

On a whim, I journeyed up to Charlottesville this past weekend and hit a few of my favorite places - Chipotle for lunch, the Starr Hill Brewery tasting, and the Wine Warehouse. When I first heard of the Wine Warehouse, I was expecting exactly that - a warehouse. In fact, it is more like the inside of a gas station convenience store - if that convenience store is in heaven! The Warehouse boasts over 600 different handcrafted brews, both domestic and imported.

Well, I am extremely happy to report that Avery's 14'er ESB is much more like what I was expecting from this craft brewer from Boulder, Colorado! This Extra Special Bitter is a perfect session beer, as soon as you open the bottle you can smell that it is going to be a good brew. The website (http://www.averybrewing.com/index2.html) details that this high-gravity beer starts the brewing process a little differently than most - the Rocky Mountain water is treated specially to simulate English hard water. Then the English Bullion and Fuggle hops are added, followed by two-row barley and caramel malts to blend into this copper beauty. There are 54 peaks in the state of Colorado that meet or exceed 14,000 ft. above sea level, and I could drink a 14'er atop each one!

Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale

This one is perhaps my favorite so far of the brews from Brooklyn. Every season has its reasons why it might be the best time of the year for beer drinking, so I never have an excuse not to sip a new cold one. This summer ale is one of those reasons...

Obviously, with the warm weather during the summer months beer drinkers are looking for something a little lighter, with a refreshing taste. Many will turn to wheat beers like Blue Moon's Honey Moon, a light pilsner like a Bud or Miller lite, or a cerveza like a Corona. Me, I still want to be able to taste my beer!

BB's Summer Ale is considered an English-style "light dinner beer", produced with English barley malt which according to the website (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com/beer/) gives the beer a fresh, bready flavor. I don't know that I taste it, but I can certainly taste the German and American hops that give this beer a crisp and slightly bitter taste. Very good beer!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery Monster Ale 2004

2004 was a good year for me...it was the year I graduated college, got married, and most importantly for this blog - was of legal age to buy and drink beer! So, it was only natural that when I saw the collection from Brooklyn Brewery at Vines (man, I miss that place!) I had to pick this one up.

For those that do not know, barley-wine style ales are a very high-gravity (if you want a science lesson in brewing a high-gravity ale, click here), high alcohol content beer. Brewed with an enormous amount of hops and grain malt, barley-wines got their name from the fact that their high alcohol contents were nearly as strong as wine - but rather than being created from fruits, they were brewed from barley and other grains.

All of that explanation leads to one point - this beer is truly a monster! The strength of this beer is immediately noticeable, but not in a bad way. There are definite notes of fruit and toffee, and an earthiness provided by the three types of hops used: American Willamette, Cascade and Fuggle. The website (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com/beer/) explains that this beer is aged for four months, producing its copper color and an aroma reminiscent of sherry. I sampled this beer shortly after its release, which the brew master says is when the brew is still "vivacious", rather than letting it continue to age and become more complex as the flavors blend together. I guess I will just have to pick up another bottle of this annual beer and let it sit on a shelf for a while...which is normally a very difficult task for me! Overall, I enjoyed this beer just the way it was, and am constantly on the lookout for anything from the Brooklyn Brewery.

Boont Amber Ale

This unique red pale ale was once named, "the best beer brewed in Northern California." That is a recommendation that may be hard to live up to, considering the Northwest is teaming with great micro-brews. In 2003, it earned a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the who's-who of craft brewing. With all these accolades, I had to get my hands on one!

Fortunately, one of my buddies found a small selection of Anderson Valley Brewing Company beers at our little specialty shop, and picked one of these up for me. I have a couple of guys that are constantly on the lookout to see if they can find a brew that I have yet to taste, and the task is getting increasingly difficult for them!

The AVBC website (http://www.avbc.com/beers/boont-amber-ale/) describes this beer as a, "medium-bodied pale ale...that pairs well with steaks, chicken, pasta and other flavorful meals." To me, that translates as, "should go well with anything." The coloring of this beer is perfect, copper but still transparent with a full, lacy head. The flavor is definitely a pale ale, but still very rich as a result of the caramel malt.This brew would certainly make a great session beer, it is just too bad that it is so hard to come by out here on the East Coast!

Bohemia Clasica

Another one of the brews on the Maxim "99 Best Beers on Earth" list, this beer fooled me when I finally got a taste. Only to be found in a local authentic Mexican restaurant, I was ignorantly expecting this be similar to a Negra Modelo - if for no other reason than the bottle looked the same. I won't make inferences into how this could probably be misconstrued as a form of beer-racism...

Like the InBev of Latin America, FEMSA produces a large majority of the cervezas coming out of Mexico, and in my opinion, arguably the only good ones! Their website (http://www.femsa.com/en/business/cerveza/brands.htm) lists all of their fine creations, including both Dos Equis (original and Amber), Tecate, Sol, and Carta Blanca. Bohemia is actually one of the oldest brand offerings, and supposedly parts of the recipe date back to the time of the Aztecs.

Bohemia, I was surprised to find out, is actually the most awarded of all Mexican beers. This is surprising because it was so difficult to find! This was a very good beer, and pairs well with cheese - perfect for a quesadilla or cheese enchilada. My problem is that I really enjoy spicy food and a darker beer helps to cut the burn a bit better. Normally I prefer a Dos Equis Amber or Negra Modelo - but if you have the chance, don't skip on trying one of these!

Boddington's Pub Ale

Back in 2005, I heard about the closing of this brewery in the UK that had been around for over 200 years. British folks from Manchester were up in arms over the fact that Belgian company InBev (http://www.inbev.co.uk/Boddingtons.htm) had purchased the beer maker Boddingtons and made plans to mass-produce its pub ale for distribution worldwide. The Strangeways brewery was closed after 227 years (since 1778) of making the creamy ale.

More recently, InBev has been in the news again over a huge purchase - U.S. beer maker Anheuser-Buschwas sold in 2008 for $52 billion, to the chagrin of many of the American people. Despite the controversies, there have not been any complaints in the level of quality being reduced...

I, for one, am pleased about the decision for Boddingtonsto be offered globally. It means that anytime I want a fresh pint of this wonderfully smooth, golden ale all I have to do is head to my local Kroger to pick up a four-pack. For such a thick ale, this beer is remarkably refreshing. The creamy head is a beautiful topper to a pint glass, and lends to the sweet finish of the beer. I highly recommend you try this beer, anytime and any place!

Bluegrass Brewing Company Dark Star Porter

A few years ago around this time of year, my wife found a small local restaurant that sold a variety of wine and micro-brews in a "make-your-own six-pack" fashion. She knew that when we went out to eat I was always looking to try a new beer, and even paid enough attention to what kinds of brews I gravitated towards.

That Christmas she gave me the assortment of porters and stouts as a stocking stuffer, and it completely caught me off guard. It was an extremely thoughtful gift as it demonstrated that she took the time to notice what I liked, and on top of that how many guys can say that their wife/girlfriend willingly participated in the beer selection process?

BBC's Dark Star Porter was one of the original six that she picked out from that store that has long since closed. I have to say, I don't believe I could have picked six myself that I would have enjoyed more than what she grabbed! This extra malty beauty hit the spot with the cold, white Christmas we were having.

Closer to a stout in color and fullness than most of the other porters I have sampled, Dark Star uses three different types of malts to give it its smooth texture: light, caramel and dark. The way the malts are roasted bring out the robust flavors of the grains and hints of chocolate. The website (http://www.bbcbrew.com/ontap.php) points out that the complexity of the malts are balanced by traditional English hops. This brew brings back great memories each Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blue Mountain UberPils Imperial Pilsner


Before having tried this beer, I had never even heard of an Imperial Pilsner. I thought the term was reserved specifically for a stout (I tend to think a stout is king anyway!). Since, I have come across several, including Sam Adams, Rogue and Dogfish Head.

The best way to describe this beer is to consider it a regular IPA that the brewer tried to balance by pumping into it a ton of additional caramelized malt. It is as if everything in this beer is, to borrow from Spinal Tap, "turned up to 11". The balance never quite makes it, as the hop aroma is still over the top, but to me it is much better than the Mandolin.

Again, this is another limited offering that is reserved to the tasting flight. I continue to relish in the fact that almost everything I tasted was brewed from the hops hand-picked off of the vines that I stared at just down the hill. It is an experience unlike any other!

Blue Mountain Rockfish Wheat


Also known as a "Weiss" beer, this German style wheat beer is different than say, a Blue Moon or Hefeweizen. Explained on the website (http://www.bluemountainbrewery.com/our-beer.asp), this is due partly from the fact that a Bavarian-style "Kristall Weizen" is filtered. The cloudiness is removed, and what remains is a very crisp taste. This style is perfect for summer, especially with an added slice of lemon or orange to bring out the citrus notes.

As mentioned before, the quest for significant strains of yeast are always a top priority for brewers. The particular yeast used in this beer adds a very unique flavor that differs from other wheats. Not to full, and not to bitter, I thoroughly enjoyed it on a hot day in August!

Blue Mountain Mandolin IPA


If I were the brewmaster for Blue Mountain, I believe I would have switched the names of Mandolin and Full Nelson. The somewhat subtle name of this beer doesn't really make sense when trying to describe the almost overpoweringly bitter taste of this IPA.

Not listed as one of the year-round beers offered at Blue Mountain, I was able to sample Mandolin as part of a tasting flight at the brewery. I considered this a great "appetizer" to help determine which pint(s) I would be drinking with my meal. Third on the flight, this one certainly opened my eyes!

I may be giving the impression that I don't care for India Pale Ales, but that is certainly not the case. I have a great appreciation for hops, no matter what level they come, but this beer has an IBU (International Bitterness Units) level of around 90! For those of you that don't know, a traditional lager will have an IBU rating of around 10-15, a brown ale around 20, and most IPA's between a 40-60! This one is nearly double the bitterness of a standard IPA...It was great to have experienced it, but I am not sure I can say I enjoyed it!

Blue Mountain Classic Lager


This is the perfect "anytime" beer. I could drink Blue Mountain's Classic Lager with or without food, no matter what the weather or time of day - However, there might not be any better time to drink it than with a giant "Beer-boiled Local Bratwurst" from the Blue Mountain menu. That's right, their food is almost as good as their beer!

As I said before, the location is just astounding - but the brewpub itself is also quite unique. The restaurant is open and airy, with a huge vaulted ceiling and beautiful hardwood floors. The outside has an incredible wrap-around porch, with a large low-level deck outfitted with patio furniture so that visitors can enjoy the Blue Mountain motto - "The Beauty of Virginia. The Bounty of Nature. The Art of Brewing".

The webpage (http://www.bluemountainbrewery.com/our-beer.asp) describes this beer as a "Continental-style beer". It is brewed with 2-row malt and noble hops, which unfortunately can not be locally grown. It is then cold fermented, and "lagered" (German for "stored") for six weeks before bottling. To me, it doesn't matter so much how it is made, it is just that it turns out so darn good!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blue Mountain Full Nelson Pale Ale


Blue Mountain describes this beer as "bursting with local hop flavor" on its website (http://www.bluemountainbrewery.com/our-beer.asp). I, for one, can certainly appreciate the bitterness that these farm-grown Cascade hops provide to this wonderful beer.

With just the right presence of hops, the malt in Full Nelson tames the bite and adds a nice copper color. I can see why this beer has remained one of the brewery's flagship four from the beginning. It is certainly helping them make a name for themselves. With 22 vineyards and wineries surrounding its location, Blue Mountain continues to be "an island of beer in a sea of wine"!

Blue Mountain Evil 8° Belgian-Style Dubbel Ale


Many people do not understand the length that brewers go to in order to find unique (or established) strains of yeast. The impact that yeast will have in the flavor of a beer surpasses even the complexity of the malt or hops that are used. The primary role of yeast is to eat up the sugar that is produced during the fermentation process and transfer it into alcohol. However, specific types of brewers yeast can provide texture, feel, and taste in addition to serving its main purpose - getting you tanked.

According to the Blue Mountain website (http://www.bluemountainbrewery.com/our-beer.asp) Evil 8° uses a very unique strain that allows the yeast to go crazy. This beer is a heavy hitter! At nearly 8% Alcohol by Volume, it warms as it goes down. It is brewed in the tradition Belgian Abbey style, incorporating Golding hops and a caramelized Biscuit malt.

What you get from this beer is a surprising sweet and full beer with a beautiful lacy head and a very dark brown color. The heaviness of the alcohol is present, but certainly not overpowering, as it was in the Belzebuth. This is definitely a nice beer to drink when it is cold, so I think I will go have one right now!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blue Mountain Dark Hollow Artisanal Ale


I cannot imagine a more beautiful location for a brewery than the one that Blue Mountain found in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Set just off of Route 151 in Nelson County, VA, the view from the brewery/restaurant is just spectacular.

Blue Mountain is also doing something that few other micro brewers can claim - growing their own hops. As soon as you step out of the car you can smell the flowery aroma of the hops growing on vines right out in front of the brewery. History fact: Virginia was once known as the "Hop capital of the New World"! Blue Mountain is doing its part to reclaim the belt...

Down to business - Dark Hollow, at the time that I sampled it, was a limited release that was only available at the brewery. This beautiful oak aged, bourbon barrel stout was my favorite of all the offerings at Blue Mountain, and I am happy to report that batch #7 has just been bottled due to high demand!

As an Imperial Stout, Dark Hollow must be aged for at least 100 days in charred whiskey barrels, absorbing much of the taste of the bourbon and smoky flavoring from the ash as it breathes in-and-out of the porous barrel. The website (http://www.bluemountainbrewery.com/our-beer.asp) then explains that the ale is bottle conditioned, meaning before the cap is put on a small amount of yeast and wort or sugar is added in order to continue the fermentation process to the desired level. The result is a warm, full bodied stout that I could sip for hours!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rising Moon Spring Ale


This will be the last of the Blue Moon posts. That is, until they come out with their next amazing, completely original brew!

Aside from the Grand Cru, this is my favorite of the Blue Moon offerings. As I mentioned in my last post, it seems everyone is trying to produce their version of the "seasonal beers". Soon after Rising Moon came out, both Bud Light (with Lime) and Miller (Chill) each released their version of a lime infused beer. As always, it is the quality of ingredients that sets this beer apart.

The brewers start with the traditional Belgian White that is so popular right now, and add fresh lime zest - and a brand new idea - the leaves from the Kieffer lime tree. The result is a fantastic, and refreshing drink that goes with anything. Don't believe me? It even says so on the webpage (http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.com/)! That means it must be true...

Honey Moon Summer Ale


Tired of the Blue Moon love yet? Well I can go on all day! While other brewers try to emulate certain styles (wheat beer, pumpkin ale, honey lager, etc.), Blue Moon just seems to do it a little bit better...

In all of my beerventures, I have had a bunch of really bad honey brews. If the beer is too sweet, it is almost impossible to finish. This summer ale utilizes one of Blue Moon's signatures to help to balance the taste, orange peel. You almost can't taste the honey until the aftertaste.

The other secret of this brew, according to the website (http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.com/) is the specific type of honey used. Madhava clover honey supposedly melts at very low temperatures and allows the preservation of flavor and nutrients that are missing from most commercial honeys. Whatever the magic of this amazing brew, I'm buying!

Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale


Around Thanksgiving, there are notoriously a lot of "pumpkin ales" that are released into circulation. This should be a good thing, but the problem lies in the quality of these seasonal ales. It seems that every brewery feels like they need to put out their version of this long-standing and established staple of the season. Only some of them, however, make it work. For Blue Moon, it feels like they have been doing this for years!

This delightful brew is concocted with puree from vine-ripened pumpkins as the foundation - rather than an afterthought as many brewers have tried. This basis could be enough - but the brewer doesn't stop there. Blue Moon then throws in delicious spices like clove, nutmeg and allspice to balance the sweet taste of the pumpkin. The result is a beautiful orangish-copper color just seems to add to the full-bodied flavor of this beer.

The webpage for this beer (http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.com/) explains that it pairs well with turkey, sweet potatoes and beef. Sounds to me like this one was brewed perfectly for Thanksgiving, and I will be giving thanks for it from September to late November every year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grand Cru Limited Edition Belgian White


Although the Grand Cru bottle looks like a giant Miller High Life bottle, the former, and not the latter, should be called "the Champagne of Beers"...

More fun history lessons, Grand Cru, French for "great growth" is historically a term reserved for wine classification. Traditionally it is used to designate the upper tier of wines based on the potential of their vineyard. This is basically Blue Moon's way of saying, "we are a great company, with a great product, but this is the best of what we have". That being said, I am impressed!

Grand Cru is like the original Belgian White on Andro...Steroids would be visibly noticible, and you would get all of the side effects, but this just makes you question "exactly what did they do to make it taste this way?"

On to the reason this was made, the website (http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.com/) explains for those of you that didn't know - a blue moon is when there is a full moon twice in one month, this happens only once every two years. Well, it just so happens that this year there will actually be a blue moon on New Year's Eve - something that hasn't happened for 20 years. To celebrate this remarkable coincidence, being its name and all, they decided to brew this one especially for us - and I am happy to celebrate with them!

Full Moon Winter Ale


The most appropriate Blue Moon for this time of year, Full Moon Winter Ale is about the only thing that can lighten my mood when the weather turns cold. I have said before that I tend to enjoy a darker beer, so when I first heard about one of my favorite breweries turning out a winter seasonal I was extremely excited.

This "rich, hearty winter beer" is a nice deep Auburn or Copper color - much lighter than a stout or porter, but still darker than an Irish Red. The flavor that emanates from this beer is purely Blue Moon, and is instantly noticeable, but thicker and heavier like the coat I am probably wearing while drinking it...

The website (http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.com/) explains that the guys at Blue Moon, always being creative and innovative, actually got dressed up in winter clothes in the middle of the summer when brewing this beer to get in "the spirit". It also points out that this beer "goes great with any holiday meal or celebration", and I agree!

Blue Moon Belgian White


The guys at the Blue Moon Brewing Company are truly artisans of the craft. They have single-handedly mainstreamed wheat beer, and brought it up to the level of light pilsners. Their original Belgian White is an unfiltered wheat, so it is often confused with a Hefeweizen. But this cloudy beer is also brewed with malt and oats in the 300+ year old Belgian style.

From years of trial and error, the brew master at Blue Moon sampled different blends of spices and fruit to get to today's perfect balance of coriander and two different kinds of orange peel. Leaving the beer unfiltered adds more depth to the flavor, as it allows all of the ingredients to remain true - similar to the pulp in orange juice. Garnishing this beer with a slice or wedge of orange helps to further bring out the spice and citrus notes.

Their website (http://www.bluemoonbrewingcompany.com/) explains that this beer is best paired with chicken, seafood and pork. I think it is great with just about anything, so if you haven't ever had one - now is the time!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blue and Gray Brewing Company










This will be the first multiple-brew post for a single brewing company. Fred Red Ale and Stonewall Stout are yet a couple more brews that I sampled at the storied MicroFestivus.

Blue and Gray Brewing Company is a somewhat local brewery, found just down the road in Fredericksburg, VA. They brought all four of their offerings to this August festival, but being low on tickets I decided to sample the two heavier beers. Overall I enjoyed them both, but found them both fairly "simple" in flavor.

The Fred Red Ale is a nice, full Irish red that has a very heavy malt flavor. Don't get me wrong, I love a thicker beer, but this one could have used some hop balance. Also, I don't know if the carbonation was just off because it was outside being poured through a plastic cooler tap, but there was hardly any head on this beer. I was hoping for a little more, but definitely not a bad selection.

The Stonewall Stout was slightly better than the Fred in my opinion - but that may be because I love a good stout! Very, very thick, and black as night, the Stonewall obviously incorporates some heavily roasted malt into its brewing process. I get the impression that the malts may actually be over-roasted - I get a bit of a smoky flavor from this one. Like I said, I like a stout, but I don't think I agree with the clever reference to its namesake Stonewall Jackson: (http://www.blueandgraybrewingco.com/beerflavors.cfm)

"So good you'll say I'd give my right arm for a Stonewall Stout!"