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by Nick Anderson — December 19, 2014 at 2:30 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

At this point in the season, we’ve all been inundated with “What to Get the __ Fan in Your Life” articles. There’s nothing wrong with that; I enjoy them — hell, I wrote one for this site last year (for Black Friday).

But I’m not what you would call a “holiday” person; by this point in December, I’m a little burnt out and ready for New Year’s to come around already. So rather than focus on the best gifts for the resident beer geeks in your life, this year I’m going to recommend the best beers to help you get through the holiday season.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra or WorldWide Stout (15 percent+ ABV): Returning to Dogfish Head’s lineup after a nearly seven year absence, Raison D’Extra is in short supply but if you’re lucky you can snag a bottle or two at retail (or visit one of the Dogfish Alehouse restaurants, who may have bottles/draft). WorldWide Stout will be harder to find; the Delaware brewery didn’t brew any this year, and what I have at Arrowine is from last year’s release, which I’ve been storing in our cellar.

Both beers clock in above the 15 percent ABV mark, so they pack a punch. D’Extra is a supercharged version of Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre, a Belgian-inspired Amber Ale that uses brown sugar and golden raisins in it. D’Extra turns the dials up to 11, showcasing a Brandy-like quality in its youth that only mellows and becomes more elegant with time.

WorldWide is a bruiser of an Imperial Stout, with intense roasted malt notes of chocolate and ripe dark fruits. At its extreme ABV level, the combination of those fruity flavors with boozy heat give WorldWide Stout a Port-like feel. It’s structure also gives WorldWide a lifespan like a fine Vintage Port; back in 2011, I drank a 2002 bottle that shocked me by how “young” it seemed.

Devils Backbone Wood-Aged Kilt Flasher (8 percent ABV): The winter-only Kilt Flasher Wee Heavy from Devils Backbone is already one of the better seasonal offerings among Virginia’s breweries. The Wood-Aged version accentuates all of the great characteristics of Kilt Flasher — the balanced sweetness of the malt, the “just right” level of heat that keeps such a big, malt-driven beer from feeling too rich. A limited run, but one I hope is expanded next year. If you can find it, it’s definitely worth trying.

Mikkeller Red/White Christmas (8 percent ABV): One of Mikkel’s many Christmas Ales, Red/White is a blend of a Belgian-style Witbier with a hoppy Imperial Red Ale. The two styles should clash, but instead they find an unexpected harmony: The Wit takes some of the bite out of the Imperial Red’s intense hops, while the malt in the Red Ale balances the Wit’s spicy character. The best part? Red/White Christmas comes in 1.5-liter magnum bottles. Quality and quantity!

Lagunitas Brown Shugga (9.99 percent ABV): What was a batch of Barleywine gone wrong thanks to an overly exuberant addition of brown sugar is now one of the most beloved seasonal offerings of the beer world. Brown Shugga shouldn’t work — but somehow, it does in its own unabashedly sweet, hoppy, punchy way. For it’s strength, Brown Shugga is all-too easy to throw back, but that may be exactly what you’re looking for right now.

Whatever you’re enjoying this holiday season, I hope you enjoy it among the company of good friends and family. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

 

by Nick Anderson — December 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm 594 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

This week I did something I had never done before over my near-20 years of beer geekery: I signed up for a membership in a brewery’s reserve society. The idea of these ‘societies’ or ‘clubs’ is becoming more popular every year, but they aren’t without their detractors. As always, only you can determine what is worth spending your consumer dollar on, but here’s a fairly short rundown of what these memberships have to offer, why some folks don’t like them, and why I decided to finally take the plunge with one.

The most famous brewery societies are those of The Bruery. The Bruery offers three ‘tiers’ of society memberships: Preservation Society members receive three special-release beers per quarter; Reserve Society members are also offered first rights to purchase small-batch production beers (along with discounts at The Bruery’s tasting room and on all Bruery merchandise); and the ‘you have been chosen’ Hoarder’s Society gives its members deeper discounts, more bottles of limited releases, and exclusive beers.

Locally, D.C.’s Three Stars Brewing Company has its Illuminati Reserve Society. Members are guaranteed bottles of the five limited release beers Three Stars plans on putting out over the course of 2015, along with a discount on purchases at the D.C. Homebrew Shop, special growler fills, and invites to special brewery events. Adroit Theory in Purcellville has the Black Heart Society, with each of its three tiers offering greater discounts at the brewery along with more of its special release beers.

For smaller, more experimentally-minded breweries with dedicated fanbases, clubs like these have multiple benefits. Bypassing overcrowded rare beer release events that inevitably leave more people angry than satisfied is an attractive prospect; establishing limited release for society members guarantees that a brewery’s most sought-after brews go to dedicated fans. Also, societies essentially give brewers a focus group to test new beers with; an especially enthusiastic response to a society-only beer can give breweries an idea of how a recipe might perform in a wider release. For beer geeks like me, societies not only give us a peek behind the curtain at the direction a brewery might be headed in, but they give us the chance to ensure we get access to some of our favorite beers. Also, there’s the “I got this and you didn’t because I’m a Society Member” factor.

For those concerned that beer is becoming “too much like wine”, Societies are a disturbing sign of the times. The concept of societies is adapted from the hundreds of winery Reserve Clubs out there, and their mere existence is an act of exclusion–anathema to the ethos of beer as a social beverage. Some believe the ultra-rare releases for society members encourage ‘Whalers’, who always seek out harder to find beers and look down on anything available at retail. The ‘focus group’ aspect of societies can alternately be looked at as ‘preaching to the choir’, or pandering to a small selection of palates that can’t possibly speak on behalf of a wider audience and are more inclined to demand different, not necessarily better beers.

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by Nick Anderson — December 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm 352 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

The past few weeks have been great for Virginia Sour Ale fans: not only were Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru re-introduced to our state, but variants we’d never seen before became available to us as well.

Now this week the Lambic and Gueuze beers of Brouwerij Boon are finally back after an absence of many years. The last time Boon beers were available here regularly, “Geuze” was more likely to turn up in your daily crossword puzzle than on your local retailer’s shelf, so let’s get a little background so you know why nerds like me are so excited to get these beers again.

In 1680 (OK, deep background), a man named J.B. Claes bought a farm in the Belgian village of Lambeek, located on the banks of the Senne. Claes converted the farm into a distillery and brewery. In 1860 the brewery was sold to Louis Paul and renamed Brasserie de Saint Roche, which brewed Faro and Lambic beers exclusively until it bottled its first Gueuze in 1875. Pierre Troch bought Saint Roche in 1898, but it sold again after the economic crisis of 1927 to Joseph de Vits. Joseph’s son Rene became a well-known producer of Lambic and Gueuze beers, but with no one to pass the brewery on to, a new owner became inevitable. Enter Frank Boon.

Frank Boon (pronounced “Bone”) was a commercial blender of Gueuze with the highest respect for the tradition of spontaneously fermented brewing in Belgium. In 1978, Boon bought the brewery from Rene de Vits, rechristening it Brouwerij Boon. Boon has been a unique (he insists on labeling his beers as “Geuze” rather than “Gueuze”) and fierce advocate of Lambic/Gueuze beers, teaming with three other Lambic producers for a near decade-long struggle to earn them special consumer protection status. This resulted in the establishment of the GTS (“Guaranteed Traditional Specialty) certification, which not only establish production and composition standards for Lambic-style beers, but also created the requirement that beers label “Oude” (‘old-style’) Gueuze or Kriek be 100% spontaneously fermented.

By the time he moved Brouwerij Boon to a new facility in the center of Lambeek in 1986, Frank Boon’s beers had already gained worldwide attention. Legendary beer writer Michael Jackson was an outspoken fan of Boon; in the first episode of his “Beer Hunter” television series, Jackson sits down with Boon at a café in Lambeek to discuss Lambic, Gueuze, and the finer things in life. A 1999 Jackson article on Lambic-style beers held Boon up as an example of one of the most traditional producers, along with the highly sought-after Cantillon (more on them in the near future, hopefully).

Unlike other modern Sour Ale producers whose beers showcase a more intensely acidic style (which many of us enjoy, it should be said), Boon’s beers stand out for their dedication to a classically balanced feel. Next to many American takes on Sour Ale, Boon Oude Geuze can come across as almost sweet, with a focus on the fruity, floral, and funky aromas/flavors imparted by the brewery’s wild yeasts.

The Mariage Parfait (“perfect marriage”) beers are Boon’s highest expressions of Gueuze and Lambic; Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait is almost exclusively three-year old Lambic (five percent young Lambic is blended in to provide fermentable sugars and wild yeasts) with a concentrated fruit character and acidity that aims to match white wine at the dinner table. Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait adds overripe cherries to 1-year old Lambic at 400 grams per liter, with extended aging in small oak barrels (smaller oak exerts a heavier influence on the final beer–as it does in wine–taking some of the tart and acidic ‘edge’ off the beer). Boon claims the aging potential for both Mariage Parfait beers is “at least” 20 years; I’ve not tried any that old myself, but I’d love to.  (more…)

by Nick Anderson — November 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm 317 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

By now, we’re in various stages of recovery from our food comas — and I hope everyone out there had a Happy Thanksgiving.

That means today is the start of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday. I’m not going to go in on the merits of Black Friday; Arrowine is closed on Black Friday, and I’ll let that be our only official commentary on that. Personally, I don’t go out of my way to wade into the madness but sometimes there’s a deal on something you want/need that’s too good to pass up — I get it. What I am going to do is talk about some Black Friday deals that are of interest to beer fans.

There are a lot of great deals out there for homebrewers. Northern Brewer is offering their $90 Essential Starter Kit for free to those who purchase a five-gallon stainless kettle and an IPA kit (with a product code; check it out here). Brooklyn Brew Shop is having a Cyber Week sale, with all kinds of stuff on deep discounts from gear to kits to books. If you’re out and about right now My Local Home Brew Shop in Falls Church has Black Friday discounts and offers for customers through 6:00 p.m.

Special and rare beer releases are occurring on Black Friday more often — as if the day wasn’t insane enough. Paste Magazine has a good list here of 10 such releases, including a regional shout-out to Ashland’s Center Of The Universe Brewing, who will be holding a release party for it’s Shut Up Imperial Stout from noon to 9:00 p.m. today. Shut Up is aged in barrels that were originally used to make Bourbon, and then were bought by a Virginia winemaker to age its Port-style dessert wine in.

Also, look for retailers around the area to be putting out Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. Practically a holiday unto itself among beer geeks, BCBS will be up for sale at various prices and quantities starting tomorrow. Though production on BCBS is higher than ever, supply in our market is actually down dramatically due to distribution now including all 50 states. If you’re looking to try new things or bulk up your cellar, Craft Beer Kings is having a Black Friday Sale featuring limited and rare bottles — worth a look if you don’t mind paying the shipping (which admittedly isn’t all that bad, especially if you stock up in a big way).

No matter what deals you end up taking advantage of this Black Friday (if any), here’s to a healthy, happy holiday season ahead. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — November 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm 420 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Thanksgiving is simultaneously the most- and least-forgiving meal of the year for beverage pairing: gauging the sweetness levels of the dishes being served along with the palate preferences of the diners can be the difference between everyone having a rollicking good time, and being berated as a “snob” because everything you have to drink is “too dry” (I’m not reliving any Thanksgiving traumas here, I swear).

Here are some great beer options for every crowd:

For the macro drinkers: Your guests don’t know the difference between Ales and Lagers, and they don’t care. They don’t know from IBU, hop varieties, or yeast strains; they just want to have a couple pops. Nothing wrong with that — none of us would be into beer if we felt any different — but maybe you don’t want to reward the ad budgets of the giant breweries. So stock up on some of the outstanding easy-drinking Lagers currently being made right here in Virginia: Vienna Lager from Devils Backbone; Hardywood’s new year-round German Style Pils; Port City’s Downright Pils; or Blue Mountain’s lush Classic Lager. Shake things up a little with light, crisp Pale Ales like Bravo Four Point from Devils Backbone or The Great Outdoors from Three Brothers (4.4 percent and 4.8 percent ABV, respectively).

Couch-to-table: All of the beers I mentioned above would transition well to the table under the Cardinal Rule of Beverage Pairing — drink what you like, and you’ll never be disappointed. If you’re trying to be more mindful of how your beers will hold up with dinner, look to maltier Ales and Lagers; the touch of sweetness from the malt will play right into Thanksgiving sides. Heritage King’s Mountain Scotch-style Ale, Blue Mountain MacHayden’s Scotch-style Ale, and Mother Earth Dark Cloud Dunkel-style Lager could all work here. English-style Ales work, also: Left Hand Sawtooth Nitro is flavorful but not overpowering, and Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome is a touch hoppy, but still malt-driven and a great choice.

Kolsch! Yes, Kolsch-style Ales are great ‘compromise’ beers by nature; light and easy on the palate like Lagers, but with the fruitier yeast tones of Ales, they make excellent Thanksgiving options. Schlafly is a great choice, but try any of the many Virginia-made versions (Blue Mountain Kolsch 151, Champion Killer Kolsch, Parkway Majestic Mullet Krispy Kolsch) for a complex beer anyone can enjoy.

Don’t be afraid to go big: If you are of a mind to do so, give yourself and your guests a couple options and throw something a bit heavier out there. Doppelbock (Ayinger Celebrator, Lickinghole Creek Creator ‘Hoppelbock’, Troeg’s Trogenator) brings a pleasant combination of warming heat and rich malty flavors. Hardywood Hoplar and Brooklyn Blast! would serve well for the hopheads among us.

Finish strong: Dessert gives us the excuse to break out the big guns, and you can set out some robust Imperial Stouts and Barleywines right alongside the Ruby and Tawny Ports if you like. Founders Breakfast Stout is a classic, and not too overpowering. I always like to open a bottle of The Bruery’s Autumn Maple at Thanksgiving; the sweet potato, maple, molasses, and spice flavors are right at home with dessert. Also just in and worthy of a nightcap are North Coast Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin, Deschutes Mirror Mirror, and the all-new (very limited) Brooklyn Hand & Seal bourbon barrel-aged English-style Barleywine. These are great bottles to break out and share among friends and relatives while enjoying various pies, tarts, and cookies.  (more…)

by Nick Anderson — November 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm 543 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

There were two beer releases beer geeks like me were buzzing about this week. The first was the arrival of Hardywood Gingerbread Stout in Northern Virginia for the first time, followed (about three and a half hours later at Arrowine at least) by the departure of Hardywood Gingerbread Stout. The good news is that more will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks, so if you missed out this week you haven’t missed out completely.

The other big debut this week is the long-awaited arrival of Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery in Virginia. Part of craft beer’s “Class of ’88″, Deschutes has been producing some of the most renowned beers in the U.S. on its way to becoming one of the top 10 craft breweries in the country (number six on the Brewers Association Top 50 list of 2013).

For decades, Virginia beer lovers have been waiting to get a hold of Deschutes’ Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and special releases like The Abyss, The Dissident, Mirror Mirror, Hop Henge among so many others. Now, the wait is over — or, at least part of it is.

I say that because initially, year-round beers Black Butte, Mirror Pond, and Fresh Squeezed IPA will be available only on draft, and other Deschutes stalwarts like Obsidian Stout will roll out with time. Don’t expect to see six-packs until spring 2015. As far as bottles go, an earlier-than-expected shipment of Black Butte XXVI (anniversary version of the standard Black Butte with cocoa nibs and aged in Bourbon barrels) and Not The Stoic (a punchy oak-aged Belgian-style Quad) was snapped up by some of the big box stores in the area late last week.

More widely available right now are Zarabanda; a Belgian-style Saison made in collaboration with Chef José Andrés, and the aforementioned Mirror Mirror — a recreation of Deschutes’ first Reserve Series beer. Mirror Mirror is, essentially, a double batch of the Mirror Pond Pale Ale recipe, making for a robust Barleywine that is pretty approachable for something clocking in at 11.2 percent ABV.

It’s a bit of an odd way to enter the market for sure, but we’ve waited a long time for Deschutes to get here — I ain’t complaining. If you’ve never tried any of the Deschutes Brewery beers, give them a try when you see them; there’s a good reason for their success. Until next time!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — November 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm 425 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

While most folks I talk to in Arrowine’s Beer Department are currently going through their quadrennial bout of “seasonal creep!” outrage, I’ve been focusing on something that’s been bothering me for years — the lack of definition when it comes to Winter Ales and Lagers.

I single winter stuff out because it seems to be the set of seasonal beers that gives people the most consternation; mostly because so many winter beers give you so little information as to what style they might be, or ingredients they may use. Over the years I’ve developed some purely non-academic categories that I use as a template to keep Winter Ales/Lagers organized in my head:

Belgian-style or “Noel” Winter Ales: Think of beers like Gouden Carolus Noel, Delirium Nocturnum, N’ice Chouffe, Affligem Noel, etc. For the most part, Noels tend to be darker, with holiday-themed spices used in the brewing process. There are exceptions: among the ones I listed, N’ice Chouffe stands out for being less malty than the others, and the wonderful St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is a straight-up Quadrupiel, with its spicy character coming solely from the brewery’s house yeast strain. American versions include Blue Mountain Blitzen and Sly Fox Christmas Ale, while Mikkeller gets in on the action with his Santa’s Little Helper Ale. To paint with a broad brush, expect a Noel-style to be brown to very dark in color, with spice notes ranging from “present” to “slightly medicinal” to “is that potpourri?”

Winter Warmer: You see the term bandied about often, so what exactly is a Winter Warmer? The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines lump in Winter Warmers with English-style Old Ales, due to the (generally) fuller malt character of the style, and for the most part that makes sense to me. Think of Winter Warmers generally as slightly to very malty Pale Ales or IPAs, with the malt adding extra sweetness but not always spiced — though some can be in the “Wassail” style. Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome is the archetypal example of the non-spiced Winter Warmer. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is classified as either an IPA or Fresh Hop Ale, but I’m OK considering it an interpretation of a Winter Warmer; also Avery Old Jubilation Ale, with its malt-forward approach. SweetWater Festive goes for the Wassail angle, throwing some cinnamon into a Winter Warmer recipe.

American-style Christmas Ale or “Anchor” style: Named for the seminal American Winter Ale, Anchor Our Special Ale (better known as Anchor Christmas Ale). In many ways, Anchor-style Christmas Ales are the descendants of Wassail-style Winter Warmers: they tend to be malt-driven Ales, after all, that use various spices (generally including nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, ginger, juniper, and others). In the American tradition however, these also tend to be more exaggerated, “bigger” in flavor and ABV. Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Schlafly Christmas Ale, Blue Mountain Lights Out and others take different passes on this style, but share a common philosophy.

“Other” or “I do what I want” Winter Ales: Some breweries strike out on their own with Winter or Christmas beers that defy style expectations. Bell’s has famously produced its Winter White Ale for years; a delicious Belgian-style Wit minus the traditional coriander, cardamom, and orange peel. Bell’s also makes a unique Christmas Ale–a 5.5 percent, malty, almost Scotch-style Ale that (when it arrived early enough) is a great beer to have with Thanksgiving dinner, and if not it’s welcome at any holiday table. Dogfish Head flipped its script last year, ceasing the seasonal bottling run of Chicory Stout in favor of the new Piercing Pils. Many still miss the Chicory Stout four-packs (myself included), but Piercing Pils is a well-made Lager from an unexpected source, and has already earned more than its share of fans (again, myself included). (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 31, 2014 at 2:30 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Don’t let the title fool you, I’m basically passing along some tasting notes this week, but there is a bit of a theme in that all of these have been working for me as we veer between unseasonably warm and full-on winter. The good news is there are a lot of great new options out there, along with some returning seasonal favorites. Here are some standouts:

Abita Bourbon St. Imperial Stout: I had only read about this limited release from Abita over the past few weeks, and was under the impression it was going to be draft-only until their distributor offered me some bottles last week. This one clocks in at 10 percent ABV, with eight weeks spent in now-unnamed Bourbon barrels (rhymes with “Scrappy Dan Tinkle”). Unexpectedly bold chocolate flavors rule the day here, with the barrel influence increasing as you work your way through the bottle. A decadent, delicious Imperial Stout that I’d put up against many of the hard-to-get examples of the style. Word’s getting out, so it won’t last long — try it if you get the chance.

Brooklyn Brewing Blast! IPA: I know, I know – another new IPA. But the lengthy list of hops used in Brooklyn Blast! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name) intrigued me, as did Brooklyn’s statements about Blast! being heavily influenced by English Ales. Believe the press, in this case; Blast! is a big beer at 8.4 percent ABV, but is all about a wonderful balance between its sweet malts and the tea-like aromas and flavors from its hops. A big IPA that is interesting without being overwrought.

Hardywood Forbidden: Here’s a bit of an odd bird. Hardywood bottled this 6.5 percent ABV Belgian-style Wit made with dragonfruit in honor of “Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing”, an exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Rather than go for 22-ounce bombers or the 750mL bottles their special releases usually come in, Hardywood bottled Forbidden to be sold as individual 12-ounce beers. The format is neat; it’s just the right amount of the beer (you can always pop another if you want), and the small size means you can try one out without dropping a lot of money. As for the beer itself, it’s refreshing and lightly spicy as a Wit should be, with the dragonfruit adding floral aromas, the slightest bit of citrus sweetness, and a gorgeous pink/reddish color.

Founders Breakfast Stout: The cold isn’t allowed to arrive until Breakfast Stout does. In my personal Pantheon of American beers, Founders works oatmeal and two kinds of chocolate along with Kona and Sumatra coffees into this magical beverage. If you haven’t, you really should; love for Breakfast Stout transcends aversions to strong, dark, coffee- and/or chocolate-infused beers. A benchmark.

If you feel like jumping into winter a little early, you can find Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome, Troeg’s Mad Elf, and Schlafly Christmas Ale on retailer shelves in the area right now. All are delicious and will get you through the holiday season in one piece (maybe). Until next time!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm 353 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

I picked a hell of a day to get food poisoning this week — right before my birthday. Not that I’m a big birthday guy, mind you: I try to avoid people finding out about it, keep things low-key. Still, I was determined to open a couple special beers in my “cellar” (aka my basement fridge) and as your intrepid Beermonger felt a responsibility to do so. At least that’s what I told myself.

Anyway, the two beers I brought up were interesting both in how they’d changed, and how they made me consider cellaring in the future.

Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A NYC Hotel Room Imperial Stout: Absurdly long name for a tasty beer. This bottle was from the first run we got in Virginia (received during November of 2012), back when it was being brewed at De Molen Brewery in the Netherlands and retailed aroun $11 per 11.2-ounce bottle. Today, we see Xmas Eve every few months or so; now brewed at Two Roads Brewing Company in Connecticut, it comes in four-packs selling around $15 each — a marked improvement though still not cheap.

That price is well-earned: Evil Twin’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso has a special touch with Imperial Stouts, and it shows in this beer. Fresh, Xmas Eve is a robust take on Imperial Stout; 10 percent ABV, with bold cocoa and raisin flavors along with a touch of heat. Xmas Eve it full-bodied without being rich. With a couple years on it, a lot of the cocoa has blown off, but Xmas Eve retains the boozy kick and dark, “stewed fruit” notes of its youth. It’s still a great beer, but I think I missed some of its more robust qualities; I can’t say I’d cellar it again for this length of time. Perhaps a year or so would strike a nice balance, but today I’d say snag some and drink it as you see fit.

Founders Backwoods Bastard (2012 Bottling): In fairness to the 2012 bottle of Evil Twin, it’s a big beer but not one made for long-term aging. In contrast, the bottle of 2012 Founders Backwoods Bastard I opened is built from the ground-up for the cellar. A Scotch-style Ale aged in Bourbon barrels, Backwoods Bastard is one of those rare beer that geeks like me like to talk about, but don’t want to talk about too much. It doesn’t get the over-the-top hype and publicity that Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout does, and that makes it easier to snag some of the supply that the Michigan brewery sends out every November.

I’ve shown remarkable restraint with this 2012 four-pack of mine — this is only the second of the four I’ve opened so far. While, like wine, the vast majority of beers are made for immediate consumption, Backwoods Bastard shows the potential in the rare beer that can benefit from some time put away. Where the smoky, boozy, and sweet mix of the malts and barrel influence would have felt a bit disjointed and cloying when released, today every element is integrated, working in harmony. Often unspoken in discussion of aging beers is how they can mellow, making something as strong as Backwoods Bastard (10.2 percent), with the heat of the Bourbon barrel, feel approachable and even elegant. I’m going to need another four-pack to replace this one, as I don’t think those last two bottles are going to survive the winter in my home. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm 449 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Before we get into it today, some notes:

Homebrew Update: My Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA has been in bottles carbonating for just over a week now. Bottling wasn’t so bad, but I don’t know how much I’d enjoy doing it on a regular basis with larger batches of beer. They’ll be going into my fridge next Thursday night for consumption starting Friday — if I stay patient. If not, well, you’ll be getting a report on the results sooner than anticipated. Either way, I’m already plotting a Porter or Stout brew next.

Articles of note: The increasingly must-read Craft Brewing Business has a great piece up about distribution contracts. CBB’s Candace Moon lays out the intricacies, fine print, and pitfalls of the legalese involved in the alcohol industry in a way that is accessible without being dumbed-down.

Also, check out Esquire picking up on Dann Paquette of Pretty Things going H.A.M. (look it up, kids) on “pay to play” practices in Boston. Paquette started calling out breweries, distributors, and bars/restaurants for engaging in illegal payments/gifting in exchange for securing tap lines, and revived an ages-old, extremely contentious running argument in the process. If you’re a Beer Advocate member, there’s a refreshingly reasonable and open forum thread on the topic that makes for great reading.

Onto the topic this week: The truth is, this is my second pass at this week’s column. Earlier in the week I’d been reading everything from the stuff I linked above, along with a great piece by Craig Gravina at DrinkDrank that addressed some of the concerns being raised about quality control in new breweries; whether drinking “local” would actually harm the growing beer industry.

I’ve been seeing some of the planned releases and strategies from so-called Big Craft breweries for 2015; taken as a whole, I just rambled about reconciling the business aspect of beer with the very passion we have for it as fans. What came out was, frankly, depressing; no one here wants to read about me being a sad panda.

I wanted to get to the heart of what I was trying to say — get to the point. Then a couple funny things happened: I tried a couple standout beers, and a lot of media outlets started talking about beer. First up was the New York Times Editorial Board itself, weighing in with concerns over the potential AB/InBev and SABMiller merger that’s been on again/off again for years now. Then chef David Chang took an oddly emphatic swing at what he derisively terms “fancy beer” in GQ, and something in my brain went “pop.”

I stopped being able to be “outraged” or whatever it is I’m supposed to feel when my hobby (and my profession) is being “attacked.” Looking at it one way, Chang pulls off an impressive troll job, judging by the online reaction to the column. Beyond that, however, is the fact that this is simply one man’s opinion: Chang isn’t limiting the beer options in his restaurants; you’ll find offerings like Stillwater Stateside Saison, Left Hand Good Juju, Fritz Briem Berlinerweisse, and Rodenbach — he’s even done a collaboration beer with Evil Twin. The guy’s just expressing a preference; the only issue I’d take is with the “neckbeard” and “hipster” cracks, which just strike me as unnecessarily antagonistic, but then again, it gets the clicks. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm 418 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Some odds and ends this week, and then a couple recommendations for Harvest/Wet Hop Ales that I’ve been enjoying so far this season.

The big news of the week is the news that Stone has decided to put its East Coast facility in Richmond. We’ve been following the rumors and speculation for months, and Richmond finally won out over Norfolk and Columbus, Ohio. Stone Richmond is estimated at a $30 million dollar investment that will bring somewhere in the area of 300 jobs to Virginia, not to mention solidifying Richmond’s status nationally as a Beer City.

Also, there are a pair of noteworthy articles I’ve read over the past couple weeks: Craft Brewing Business dives into this year’s poor barley crop, and the potential ramifications for brewers of all sizes (be sure to read the Reuters article CBB links to as well for more info).

Also worth spending a few minutes reading this week is this Esquire piece by Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Greg Engert. Engert takes an interesting angle on the “drink local” movement, looking at possible pitfalls as markets become saturated with breweries. Greg’s gotten where he is in our industry for a reason, and gives a very smart, reasoned take here.

This past week also saw the 2014 edition of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Breweries from our area once again made a great showing for themselves, and once again Devils Backbone led the way. This year Devils Backbone won four beer medals and for the third year in a row was a Brewery of the Year winner (this time as a Mid-Size Brewery). Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery won a Gold for its Raspberry Stout; Charlottesville’s Three Notch’d took a Bronze for its Hydraulion Red; Capitol City Brewing Company’s Shirlington location won an impressive Silver for Amber Waves (Amber was a highly competitive category this year); DC Brau’s Citizen Belgian Pale Ale won a Silver; and Maryland’s DuClaw, Heavy Seas, Union Craft, and two Gordon Biersch locations all medaled. Check out the full list of GABF winners here.

To wrap up this week, I’d like to mention a couple beers from what is increasingly becoming a favorite seasonal style for me — the Wet Hop Ale (sometimes classifies as Harvest Ale). With hops coming off the vine and going into the beer before they have a chance to dry out, Wet Hop Ales showcase a spectacular clarity of aroma and flavor without overbearing the drinker with aggressive bitterness or overly-rich citrus flavors (for more on Wet Hop Ales, read this past column).

This year, I’ve developed a minor obsession with two Wet Hop Ales in particular. Hardywood’s RVA IPA uses fresh hops from two local farms along with folks who have received some of the hop rhizomes given out by the Richmond brewery every year (the RVA IPA label estimates the number at around 1,000). As a “community-sourced” Wet Hop Ale, RVA IPA is as much as statement of how far Virginia’s beer scene has come over the past few years as it is a seasonal effort. Beyond all of that, the beer is simply delicious: focused floral aromatics give way to a palate that is balanced and elegant; hoppy but with a sense of restraint and an easy mouthfeel that belie its 7 percent ABV strength. Supply is surprisingly good, but RVA IPA won’t last long. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — October 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm 317 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Veering away from existential crises and the wider beer business as a whole this week, I’d like to relate one of the best parts of my job, and of being a beer fan in general: the unexpected, pleasant surprise.

Last week saw the Virginia debut of Nebraska Brewing Company, and I was particularly looking forward to carrying their Melange a Trois, which I got to try at the 2012 edition of SAVOR along with their IPA. But those weren’t the only Nebraska Brewing beers to arrive last week, and I took a flier on a six-pack of Brunette Nut Brown Ale because I’m a fan of the style and liked the idea of having one in cans. Sure enough, Brunette is great: all of the nutty and malty flavor you’d expect from classic examples like those from Sam Smith and other English brewers but lighter, less rich on the palate. This is an easy-going, flavorful, delightful beer that just got me from out of nowhere.

Not all “surprising” beers are everyday drinkers or more modest in style: I knew I’d enjoy Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin, but didn’t expect to become as fixated with it as I have when trying it during my visit to Stone for their anniversary party back in August.

The recently released 2014 bottling of Swiss brewery BFM’s Abbaye de St. Bon-Chien Grand Cru, aged entirely in Champagne barrels (or as they say on the label “Frenchy Sparkling Wine Barrels”) was something no 11 percent Sour Ale has any right to be — refreshing. Something about that version of that beer gives is the trademark Bon-Chien sourness up front, while smoothing out on the back with a finish that draws you right back in for more.

Stone’s Collaboration Series has produced more than its fair share of winners, often showcasing styles they are not necessarily known for. The new Xocoveza Mocha Stout fits right in with the best and most unexpected of them — a Mexican hot chocolate-inspired Stout using coffee, chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and chili peppers. Usually I’m wary of any chili-infused beer; I’m not a “face-melting — if you’re lucky” hot sauce guy, and too many beers that use hot ingredients can easily go too far. But Xocoveza walks the tightrope perfectly: it’s spicy rather than full-on hot, with roast, sweet, and spicy elements expressing themselves fully but also in harmony. Wouldn’t have expected it, but I’m enjoying it like crazy while it’s here.

What beers unexpectedly became favorites of yours? Which did you think you wouldn’t like but ended up loving? Let’s hear about them below in the comments. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — September 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm 416 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Early this week, I tried something new — I made beer.

I’ve been curious about homebrewing for years, but hadn’t bothered to take the plunge into trying it. Where I once stood with no knowledge of the subject, I now stand with next to no knowledge of the subject, but indulge me a moment to relate some thoughts about it, because I’m really excited about it.

To start, a confession: it wasn’t so much that I hadn’t gotten around to making beer so much as I’d been avoiding it. I don’t have enough time for the hobbies I’ve tried to keep over the years, and I didn’t want to get wrapped up in another one, spending my days even more frustrated over yet another thing I enjoy that I don’t have time in my life for.

I’ve been fearful, the way we all are when we’re attempting to learn something new, of exposing our ignorance of it. I was also afraid I’d be no good at it — hell, I still am, but I forget that none of us is very good at anything at first; otherwise there’d be no need to learn. Part of me has been afraid I’d get into it; I can get somewhat obsessive about hobbies, and I know there’s a good chance I’m going to fall down the rabbit hole.

So, being a first-timer I decided not to go crazy and try something small and relatively easy: I got an Everyday IPA kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop, which is well-worth checking out. It’s pretty easy, so the joy is in the sensations; the sweet smell of malt lingering in the house was a particularly nice one.

Adding hops to the beer — just handling hops, was awesome. I’ve been walking around all week with the packets my Columbus and Cascade hop pellets came in. I keep going back and smelling them — I think I’m addicted.

The real point is this: I’ve heard the “why you should homebrew” thing for years, and I’m here to say they were right, OK? I’ve got about a month before I get to see how bad the beer I made is, and I have to say I haven’t been this excited about beer in years. I’m already getting requests from family and friends for future batches, and I have the thrill of discovering and learning about something I had no clue about before.

So if you like beer, try making some. If you don’t like beer, find some new skill to learn or hobby to take up: our lives are fuller and more meaningful when we do. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — September 19, 2014 at 3:00 pm 464 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Will Gordon writes about beer for Deadspin on their sub-blog, The Concourse. Earlier this week, he ran an opinion piece about how he thinks Yuengling, well, sucks (you can read it here).

After the piece ran, Gordon took to Twitter to talk about a phenomenon I’ve noticed not only in beer writing, but in most critique/commentary. Noting the rate at which the Yuengling piece was being read/shared/talked about, Gordon said “Hey everyone, good job reading about Yuengling at 8x the rate” as recent reviews of his on beers from Troegs, Boulevard and others are read. “Way to reinforce bad behavior.”

Gordon was merely expressing his opinion as someone who is paid to have opinions about beer, and because he “likes to have fun with the Yuenglingers,” he took a particularly edgy tone with his piece, only to find it doing “disconcertingly well.”

It’s obvious to brush off the lure of negative reviews and other critical writing for readers; we all know of plenty of commentators who thrive on “trolling” audiences — the “Shock Jock” principle, if you will. That’s not what I’m talking about today; I’m talking about why we, as human beings, are more inclined toward the negative. Gordon ran pieces over the past few months listing his picks for the most overrated and underrated beers on the market — guess how they performed against each other?

I’ve had a little experience with this myself: I posted one full-on negative review, one time, as much as an experiment in tone for the writing on my blog as anything else — and I still shudder when I think about it. Thankfully, it’s not the most-read post I’ve ever done, but it certainly provoked more reader reaction and interaction than any other post. It remains on the site because it’s the Internet and nothing ever really goes away even if you want it to, but that’s the only reason. That’s not how I want to discuss beer; even beer I don’t like.

The environment these days is such that some are finding “listicles” too much work, simply posting context-free “(Insert topic here), Ranked” lists and letting the public dive into confrontation, baseless argument and name-calling. Aggregate rating sites abound, along with the statistical analysis of nearly every subject imaginable.

The entire concept of opinion is coming into question: it’s not enough to merely have an opinion today — your opinion is expected to have to be quantifiably “better” than someone else’s. Some days, it seems that unless you have objective proof of an opinion being more relevant than another, than it has to somehow be “wrong” and no one can simply be “wrong” anymore. To paraphrase Dr. Zoidberg, your opinion’s bad and you should feel bad.

Everyone’s ready to uncork on someone, or something, or someone uncorking on something. Am I getting old (I know I am), or has this gotten worse over a relatively short period of time? I don’t like people enough to want us all to just get along; there will be no campfire singing and handholding over here.

But can we not all remember that we all perceive flavor, aroma and color differently? That beyond our physical differences, our experiences do much to shape our tastes, and that what I enjoy may not be what you enjoy and may not be what the guy who gets paid to write about beer enjoys? Knowing this, can’t we debate the merits of one beer or another with a little less anger? Can we have just a little more fun?

It’s beer, after all.

I’m feeling entirely too reasonable right now. I think I’m gonna go have a couple and write an unnecessary screed against something. Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — September 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm 316 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Over the past two weeks, I’ve recapped my visits to two Southern California breweries — Stone and The Bruery — that I went on during my recent vacation. Today we’re wrapping everything up with a list of some of the things I noticed during my too-brief stay out West:

Good: Los Angeles’ local beer scene: I expected to find all kinds of good beer in San Diego and was not disappointed, but what surprised me was how many breweries are up and running in L.A. itself. During an afternoon trip to the beach at Santa Monica, my wife and I ducked into The Commons Ale House, a small beer bar just off the beach focusing on craft beer with some great local options on tap. Over games of Connect Four, we got to try Angel City‘s Eureaka! Wit (4.9 percent and made with Nelson Sauvin? Yes, please!), and El Segundo Brewery‘s Blue House Mosaic Pale Ale. El Segundo makes a handful of Blue House Pales featuring different hops. I noticed some Blue House Citra at a Whole Foods near my friend’s house later on in the week, along with a number of other L.A.-based brewery selections. Reading a Brewing News-style periodical about the L.A. beer scene, it appears that there are more breweries coming online, which is always a good sign.

Bad: Hop-centric, sometimes to a fault: What I found in SoCal was a dearth of the Lagers, non-hoppy Ales (Kolsch-style, Golden Ales, etc.), wheat beers, and mild Belgian styles that are more readily found here on the East Coast. For the most part, I was fine with this — I got into beer as a hophead, and I’m always going to be one. For people like my wife, the emphasis on big hops in nearly everything being put out by craft brewers can be tough to deal with.

My wife, you see, is not a fan of particularly bitter hoppy beers. Over the 10 years we’ve been together, she’s tried more beers than most people in the industry, and she has a great palate — she knows what she likes, and knows what she doesn’t. Too often in California we’d look through a menu at beer lists and there just wouldn’t be much of anything that she could get into.

Good: That may be changing? All that said, I did see some signs that things might be shifting a bit on the West Coast. The aforementioned Angel City Brewery offers their Wit year-round, along with a year-round Pilsner, and seasonals like a Wheat Ale and Oktoberfest. Modern Times offers a Saison and Coffee Stout that, while relatively hoppy for their styles by the numbers (30 and 40 IBU, respectively), aren’t overly aggressive. AleSmith‘s Anvil ESB was a beer we both loved. Even during our Stone visit, my wife found herself enjoying Go-To IPA (no bittering hops, remember?) and loved the limited-release Sprocketbier from earlier this year. I got to snag a sixer of Firestone Oaktoberfest and was impressed; hopefully production is boosted enough for next year that we see a little on the East Coast.

Good: If you do like hops, though… Oh man, is it fun being a hophead in California. The night we landed, my friend and I went on a BevMo run to stock up his fridge a bit. I decided to buy some ChronicAle from Port Brewing. I’m a fan of Port and hadn’t tried this one before. ChronicAle is a hoppy Session Amber Ale, clocking in at 4.9 percent, and comes in six-packs of tallboy cans. How cool is that? Also, those sixers of tallboys cost $9.99 at BevMo — this was the first of many moments where I contemplated staying in L.A., and never coming back. Also found and enjoyed while in California: Firestone 805 (in six-pack bottles and 12-pack cans), AleSmith IPA and Pale Ale 394, Stone Bastard In The Rye, Beechwood Alpha Master, Ritual Single Rye IPA… there’s a lot of great beer in SoCal, y’all.

(more…)

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