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Your Beermonger: Beers of the Year

by Ethan Rothstein | December 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm | 1,104 views | No Comments

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

Before we get to the mildly-anticipated Beermonger Top 5 Beers of the Year list for 2013, a quick note: in last week’s column of notable Christmas Ales I gave Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout an honorable mention, which led ARLnow.com commenter Truth to say “You’re high, go home” in response.

The thing is, Truth had a point: I was trying to focus on beers that were and might have still been available in our part of the state, and with it not being available up here and having written a tasting note for it just before last week’s column ran, I decided to give it the honorable mention. In the context of the column I stand by the call, but in hindsight I should say that were it available in Northern Virginia this year, Gingerbread Stout would have been right at the top of my list, and I should have taken a moment to clarify that. Moving on.

This week I’m taking some time to shine a light on five outstanding beers I’ve had during 2013. As a heads-up for those who missed last year’s list: my Beers of the Year list is fairly arbitrary, taking into account not only those beers that made the biggest impression on me, but those that I feel have a certain importance or are special beyond being rare/high ABV/cellared, and the like. With that, let’s start the list with…

5. Maine Beer Company King Titus/Red Wheelbarrow: I think I’ll stop putting Maine Beer Company brews on this list when they give up the habit of sending great new beers our way. I’m cheating a little by mentioning two Maine beers this year, but I just couldn’t leave either out. Red Wheelbarrow is a recent release — a Red Ale with a bolder, citrus-fruity hop character compared to their piney, earthy Zoe Amber Ale. King Titus Porter has become a staple in the Arrowine beer department over the course of 2013, with a balance of rich, roasty, hoppy, malty, dry, and sweet characteristics.

4. Stillwater Classique: This is a version of Stillwater’s Premium (my pick for Beer of the Year 2012) that doesn’t have the same veracity of Brettanomyces, but is more easy-going. After trying Classique on draft at an event early in 2013, I was thrilled to finally start receiving the packaged version later on in the year. The canned 6-packs that Classique comes in are not only perfect for shotgunning (as was the brewer’s intention), but signal a shift in what we expect from “gypsy” brewing. In a category dominated by hard to come by, high-powered, often prohibitively expensive single-bottle beers, Classique stands out as a Session Ale that can bring a wider audience into the fold.

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Your Beermonger: Best of the Holiday Beers

by Ethan Rothstein | December 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm | 717 views | No Comments

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

We’re not going to waste any column space today because I have a very special tasting note that I want to tack onto the end for you all. Holiday and winter seasonal beers are among the most popular of the year, and like everyone else I have my favorites. This close to Christmas, many of the holiday releases have already come and gone, but it never hurts to ask of something’s still available. Now, in no particular order:

Blue Mountain Brewing Company: This Virginia brewery produces three great winter beers: Lights Out marries the spiciness expected in Christmas Ales with a just-malty-enough Old Ale. Blitzen is a classic Belgian-style Noel, with one of the best labels you’ll see out there. I opt for the Long Winter’s Nap; a 10% Blond Bock-style Lager that is as balanced in feel as it is rich in flavor.

Mikkeller: The father of “gypsy brewing” always celebrates the Christmas season with special beers, and this year has been no exception. The 2013 Red/White Christmas and Santa’s Little Helper are great as always; the former being a blend of a Belgian-style Wit and a hoppy Red Ale and the latter Mikkel’s take on a Noel-style Ale. This year we also go Via/To/From, a spicy Porter with a nifty gift tag printed right on the label; and Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas, an IPA made with ginger and pine needles that is very cool and recommended.

Heavy Seas Yule Tide: If you’ve been passing up the Uncharted Waters Series releases from Heavy Seas this past year, fix that mistake in 2014. Heavy Seas closed out this year with Yule Tide, and Imperial Red Ale with ginger and aged in Rum barrels. There are still some bottles of this floating around out there; if you can find one give it a go.

Honorable Mentions: Port City Tidings; Vicaris Winter; Hardywood Gingerbread Stout; Sly Fox Christmas; St. Bernardus Christmas; Dogfish Head Piercing Pils. Now it’s time for a very special…

What I’m Drinking This Week

Thanks to a friend who had opened one at a bottle share and gave me a few ounces, I recently got to try the 2013 edition of Sam Adams Utopias. Produced since 2002, this is the $200 bottle that is notoriously hard to come by and involves blending batches of up to 19-year old cask-aged beer with a final ABV upwards of 28%. If you’ve never tried Utopias before, it is most often compared to fortified wines and spirits like Sherry, Madeira, and Brandy.

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Your Beermonger: The Joy of J.W. Lees Harvest Ales

by Ethan Rothstein | December 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm | No Comments

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

This is a very special week indeed, friends and fellow beer geeks; for this week sees an all-too rare library release of J.W. Lees Harvest Ale.

For the uninitiated, J.W. Lees is a brewery founded in 1828 in Middleton Junction, a town in the northern section of Greater Manchester, England, by retired cotton manufacturer John Lees. As Manchester grew along with the Industrial Revolution, so did the popularity of J.W. Lees, and the momentum has carried the brewery into its sixth generation as a family-run business.

Today, J.W. Lees is a stalwart of old school pub fare, producing mostly cask Ales along with a handful of Lagers. It was through a modern addition to the lineup, however, that I was introduced to the brewery years ago. The J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is a vintage-dated Barleywine first produced in 1986, featuring the first hops picked from the year’s vines along with a classic British malt character.

Not only does Lees produce the Harvest Ale, but they also source barrels from wine and spirits barrels for special runs of the beer. The Harvest Ales are built to cellar for years, and develop as long as enthusiasts care to hold on to them. All of the Lees Harvest Ales that arrived this week are relatively young, but in their way all of them are approachable even now.

The 2009 Port-Aged Harvest Ale has the vinous note but not the extra sweetness from the fortified wine that you might expect. Of the four barrel-aged Harvest Ales, the Port is the most subtle. That’s definitely not the case with the 2011 Lagavulin-Aged Harvest Ale. My first experience with the Lagavulin-Aged Lees was with a fresh bottle of 2009 upon its release; the Scotch flavor overwhelmed the Barleywine, and I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Not long after starting at Arrowine I got to revisit the ’09 Lagavulin Harvest Ale, and the two years had done it a world of good. Not only did the peaty Scotch notes calm down and integrate into the beer, but some of the extra heat had died down as well, making for a smoother experience overall. The 2011 that just arrived should be in much the same place, and should also continue to develop more in the years to come.

The 2012 Sherry-Aged Harvest Ale is quite young yet, but it’s my pick for the Lees to stock up on. The nutty, rich Sherry aromas and flavors make for a precocious Barleywine that can come off seeming older than it actually is. With time the Sherry-Aged Lees finds its voice, and of the lot I think it’s the Sherry casks that flat out work best with the beer.

My personal favorite, however, is the Calvados-Aged Harvest Ale, the 2008 vintage that is now in stock. There’s something magical in the melding of the rich, boozy apple flavors of the Calvados with the Barleywine over time, as the caramel notes of the malt assert themselves. The 2008 Calvados Harvest Ale is just old enough to start getting into, but has plenty of life in it for years of cellar aging and enjoyment.

These J.W. Lees Harvest Ales are available now, but not all are easy to find. Barleywines fans owe it to themselves to try these out: not only are they prime examples of the style; they are also great ways to start exploring beers aged in barrels that didn’t contain Bourbon at one point. Now it’s time for our newest hit feature that is taking the country (or maybe just the county, or more likely not even that):

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Your Beermonger: DIY Beer Infusion with Dogfish Head’s Randall Jr.

by Ethan Rothstein | December 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm | 382 views | No Comments

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

There was an item I almost included in last week’s “Beer Geek Black Friday” list, but didn’t because it wasn’t obscenely expense and over-the-top the way the other “gifts” were. That item was the Randall Jr. by Dogfish Head, and mine just arrived this week. If you really are looking for a gift for the beer geek in your life, this is a great idea that won’t cost you a lot of money.

The Randall Jr. was inspired by a device Dogfish Head developed more than 10 years ago called Randall the Enamel Animal. Randall is a chamber that can be filled with hops, herbs, fruit — whatever you’d like — that is attached to a draft line. As beer passes through the Randall, it strips away essential oils and flavors, infusing the beer with the fresh aromas and flavors of whatever is in it.

For years, a great day at Rehoboth Beach was when you stopped by the Dogfish Brewpub and they’d have their 90 Minute IPA running through a Randall filled with fresh Cascade hops; the intensity and clarity of the fresh hops is, well, intoxicating.

Randall Jr. is made to bring the fun of experimenting with flavors home, in a package so basic that it almost seems daft: Randall Jr. is a double-walled plastic container that comes with a screwtop lid and a sieve that also screws on and off. You simply pour your beer into the Randall Jr., add whatever you want to infuse that beer with, replace the sieve and lid, and then wait a few minutes (the packaging recommends 20).

After the beer has a chance to “steep,” pour and enjoy. For the maiden voyage of my Randall Jr., I cracked a bottle of Port City’s excellent Optimal Wit and added some dried blueberries I’d picked up at work along with some thyme. The result was delicious, with the concentrated sweetness of the dried blueberries upfront and the thyme giving the beer some much needed “cut;” keeping it from feeling too sweet — though I think some fresh rather than dried thyme would have given the same effect with more restraint.

At $19.99, there’s just too much fun to be had with the Randall Jr. to pass it up. The only hitch may be that it never seems to last very long on Dogfish’s site when a batch arrives. Needless to say, it comes highly recommended from me.

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Your Beermonger: Black Friday, Beer Geek Edition

by ARLnow.com | November 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm | 385 views | No Comments

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

The holiday season brings with it endless catalogs and gift guides, but my favorite has always been the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

Yes, the Christmas Book’s ‘fantasy gift’ selections are the apex of one-percenter tone deafness, but they go just so far beyond the pale that the catalog seems to be self-aware; a parody of itself. From special edition supercars to multi-million dollar entertainment systems to (I swear I’m not making this up) the “Bespoke Global Falconry Companion” — yours for only $150,000, by the by — the Neiman Marcus Christmas book never fails to entertain me.

In that spirit, I’ve found a list of some of the more absurdly priced beer gifts to give this year, with the biggest difference between my list and the Neiman Marcus one being that I’d actually want pretty much all of these:

Own a piece of BrewDog: When I was first introduced to Scotland’s BrewDog a few years ago, I thought one of the coolest aspects of the brewery was that you could invest in the brewery. BrewDog’s “Equity for Punks” program is an open call for craft beer fans to buy shares of the legendarily rebellious brewery; ‘of the beer geeks, by the beer geeks’ if you will. At 95 pounds (approximately $155) each, the shares of BrewDog can add up quickly, but ownership has its privilege — bragging rights, mostly, but “Hey, I’m a partial owner of BrewDog” is a pretty decent brag.

Sam Adams Utopias: 2013 sees another release of Utopias, the super high-gravity brew from Sam Adams. Made in extremely limited amounts with a blend of barrel-aged beers up to 19 years old, Utopias tips the scales at 28% ABV and drinks more like a rich port or brandy than it does any traditional beer. Utopias are very difficult to come by, and if you do find a bottle at retail expect to pay upwards of $200 per (admittedly very cool) copper brew kettle-shaped bottle.

The Dreamcade Kegerator 60The Bruery Reserve Society: This is one I’ve personally wanted to do for years. Southern California’s The Bruery is one of my favorite craft breweries out there; their combination of fearless stylistic exploration and obvious skill as brewers produces some of the most interesting and exciting beers available today. Not all of The Bruery’s beers are readily available, however, and that’s where the Reserve Society comes in. For $295, you can sign up to receive bottles of The Bruery’s limited-run offerings, provided that you can get to Placentia, California to pick them up or have a friend who lives nearby who can pick them up for you.

The Dreamcade Kegerator 60: It is perhaps the greatest invention in recent history. Dream Arcades has built a custom arcade cabinet that features a 60-inch screen, potentially unlimited numbers of games, and a built-in fridge so you can load up kegs for the three taps attached to it. There are even cup holders built onto the sides of the machine for convenience during multi-hour Street Fighter II sessions (which comes with the Dreamcade Kegerator 60, by the way). Even if I could justify the reported $5,000 price tag — which I can’t, not in a million years — I don’t think I could excuse the sheer space the Kegerator 60 would take up in my house, but I still covet it. Oh my, do I covet it.

Enjoy your leftover food and beverage this weekend, everyone. 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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Your Beermonger: Giving Thanks

by ARLnow.com | November 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm | 308 views | No Comments

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

I know it’s early, but this is the last column of mine before Thanksgiving and I wanted to take the opportunity to give thanks for some of the good things that have been happening in the beer business this year. Things like…

An Embarrassment of Riches

We’ve had a great year in the area for new breweries from all over the world. Not only did we start seeing new imports like Sweden’s Omnipollo and Belgium’s Vicaris, but the last few months of 2013 have seen an influx of American breweries like Sly Fox, Mother Earth, Hardywood Park, and Tampa’s Cigar City (whose Jai Alai IPA hits NoVA store shelves this week — go find it, it’s delicious). I find myself in crisis every week now figuring out what I have room to actually stock with so many good options out there today. There are certainly worse problems to have.

An Area on the Rise

Not only has 2013 seen growth for local and regional breweries like Devils Backbone, Port City, DC Brau, Blue Mountain and more, but new restaurants, breweries, and brewpubs are popping up all the time. Falls Church’s Mad Fox Brewpub will be opening a taproom in the District in 2014; the long-awaited Bluejacket restaurant and brewery is finally up and running to much acclaim; Baltimore’s Heavy Seas Brewery will be opening a bar/restaurant in Arlington soon; and Right Proper Brewing Company will be opening its brewery/restaurant in Shaw hopefully by the end of the year. Our area is quickly becoming one of the best beer destinations in the country, with plenty of great places to enjoy a beer or two.

You

Yeah, you. Whether you’re Arrowine customers, or those of you I’ve talked to on Twitter, or even you regular ARLnow commenters who swing by every week to type eye rolls at the sponsored content (and for whom I’ve developed a Stockholm Syndrome-like affinity for), if you take a moment out of your week to read over this column, I’m thankful for you. Those of us who are into craft beer have a saying: “Beer people are good people”, and 2013 has proven that to me more than ever. While this year has been great for me on the job it’s been tough on me personally, and many a friend in the beer community has been there for me. So to all of you out there I say “thank you.” Have a great Thanksgiving, and we’ll resume the usual fun next week. Until next time.

Cheers!

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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Your Beermonger: Dreaming of a Belgian Christmas

by Ethan Rothstein | November 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm | No Comments

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

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the “holiday season” starts for me as a retailer — especially considering that my “busy season” this year started back in August with the early arrival of pumpkin ales. The holiday season always seems to creep up on me a bit; I never notice it starting, but always have a sudden moment of realization that it’s happening.

My moment for this year happened about a week ago, during a busy afternoon of stocking new beers that had just been delivered. In my peripheral vision, I almost accidentally caught a glance of my Belgian beer shelves and it hit me — “Wow, I have a lot of really cool Belgian Christmas Ales in stock right now!”

The spectrum of Belgian Christmas Ales is every bit as wide as that of Belgian beer itself, but there is something approaching a “standard” for the style. Generally maltier, with medicinal notes from herb and spice additions and often candi sugar, the classic Belgian Christmas Ale live on through beers like Delirium Noel, Gouden Carolus Noel, and the recently arrived Vicaris Noel.

For some, these beers can come across too sweet or spicy, while for others they may have to be in the right mood to enjoy them. My personal experience — especially with Gouden Carolus Noel — is that if you’re so inclined, setting a few bottles aside for a year goes a long way toward making the sometimes scattered flavors of the Noel beers come together and find balance.

Other Belgian holiday releases take wildly divergent paths. Scaldis releases a traditional Noel each year, along with a Noel Premium that clocks in at 13 percent ABV and feels more like a Barleywine than a Belgian Ale (I’m a particularly big fan of Scaldis Noel Premium). This year, we received two other variants from Scaldis: the Premium Prestige spends its last six months of aging in oak casks, while the Prestige de Nuits spends those six months in French oak barrels from the Hospice Cotes de Nuits winery in Burgundy. These beers are powerful, complex, elegant, very rare, and pricey — you’ve been warned.

Two of my other favorites take more of an everyday approach. Brasserie DuPont’s Avec Les Bons Voeux was originally brewed at the end of the year to give to importers, distributors, restaurateurs, and retailers as a “thank you for your support” gift.  Its legend grew enough that it became DuPont’s holiday seasonal release. If you’ve ever had the standard-of-its-breed Saison DuPont, imagine a version that is stronger (at 9 percent ABV) with richer, rounder flavors, and you’re pretty much there.

A beer with a loyal fanbase that is still somehow “under the radar” is the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. A 10 percent ABV Quadrupel, Bernardus Christmas is surprisingly mild on the palate with hints of molasses, mint, and spice.

There are dozens of Belgian holiday beers that will be available to us in the area this year. Share some of your favorites in the comments, and have fun finding new ones this year. Until next time.

Cheers!

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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

Your Beermonger: Double the Bastard, Double the Fun

by ARLnow.com | November 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm | No Comments

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

Like many pursuits and interests, being a fan of craft beer for a long time — especially one who works in the business of craft beer — can lead one to lose their enthusiasm for the hobby. I’ve done my best over the years to focus on learning about and discovering new things, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t weeks where it just seems like nothing exciting is happening.

There are still some beer releases I anticipate like a child on Christmas Eve, however: the first run of Founders Breakfast Stout for the year; anything coming off the boat from LoverBeer; the rare once-per-year delivery of Brooklyn Black Ops. This week is one of those weeks for me, as this week is the yearly release of Stone Double Bastard Ale.

Stone’s legendary Arrogant Bastard Ale is a longtime favorite of mine. In fact, it’s the beer that solidified my love of craft beer and sent me down the long, torrid path toward becoming the beer ‘professional’ I am today. For all that Arrogant Bastard means to me, it’s the once-per-year Double Bastard version that holds a spot in my heart.

Where Arrogant Bastard is unapologetically bitter, albeit with enough malt that you can’t qualify it as ‘just another IPA’, Double Bastard is full-on, over-the-top, unflinching San Diego-style hop worship. First made in 1998 to celebrate Arrogant Bastard’s first anniversary, Double Bastard cranks the ABV up from 7.2% to 11.2% and pours a foreboding red/orange hue.

Double Bastard attacks the palate with a rich mouthfeel from the high ABV and a sweet malt character that is almost Barleywine-like, supporting an intense bitterness that lingers in the finish with resiny notes of grapefruit and melon.

It’s not for everyone, and in the years since its debut we’ve seen hoppier beers hit the market, but I’ll be damned if I don’t find myself smiling every time I hear that a shipment is arriving. I still buy a handful of 22oz bomber bottles as soon as they come off the delivery truck, and crack one open as soon as I get home. It’s a ritual that never seems to get old with me: an affirmation of my enjoyment of what I think is one of the best beers in America.

This is all by way of saying that Double Bastard is hitting the market this week. If you enjoy big crazy hoppy stuff, you’ll probably get a kick out of it. If not — well, there’s a lot of great beer out right now. Ask your local bartender or beer guy about some of the great seasonal releases we’re seeing arrive. The rest of us will be reveling in the hoppy madness. Until next time.

Cheers! 

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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Your Beermonger: Craft Beer’s Increasingly Blurry Borders

by ARLnow.com | November 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm | 513 views | No Comments

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

We all have moments in our lives where a heretofore unrecognized pattern suddenly reveals itself; a blurry vision becoming clear, or a tiny voice screaming at the back of your head stepping forward and calmly explaining itself. A number of news items recently appearing on various beer-centric websites knocked something loose in my head, and when I managed to put it back in place I had to stop and ask myself, “what exactly is happening here?”

What’s happening are deals like the recently announced partnership between Brooklyn Brewery and Carlsberg to open New Carnegie in Stockholm, Sweden early next year; Duvel-Moortgat’s purchase of Boulevard Brewing Company; and the announcement of America’s first officially-sanctioned Trappist brewery — Spencer Brewing Company based out of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass.

For an industry whose devotees cling tenaciously to identities — be they brand, local, style, etc. — this sudden embrace of the values of globalization presents as many opportunities to alienate craft beer drinkers, and in turn the general public, as it does to offer great new beers.

The biggest concern with a world of “beer without borders” is the cheapening of what makes certain names and styles special. This is a phenomenon that we’ve seen grow in the wine industry over the past ten years or so: you can go to your nearest specialty supermarket and buy a bottle labeled Barolo or Barbaresco, for less than $15, that is made to the letter of the law, but in a factory winery rather than an estate or cooperative.

There’s nothing “wrong” with that wine, and it may fulfill the legal requirements necessary to label it as being from a particular place, but it ignores the meticulous attention to detail, the craft, of the family-owned and operated vineyards and wineries that made these regions great in the first place.

It’s a classic debate: if Stone Brewing ever goes through with its desire to open a facility in Europe, does that not make them just another international corporation, turning out the same product in multiple countries like the makers of the “fizzy yellow beer” Stone CEO Greg Koch has railed against over the years? What does “Trappist” mean if you can just build a brewery onto any existing monastery of the Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance and bring in a local craft brewer to get the suds flowing? (more…)

Your Beermonger: Coming Soon—a Guide to Breweries Arriving Now or Soon to Virginia

by Ethan Rothstein | October 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm | 1,044 views | No Comments

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

Before I get to this week’s topic, a quick aside: the biggest story in beer over the past week has been the purchase of Boulevard Brewing Company by Duvel Moortgat. My feelings on the matter are reflected in this previous column I wrote about the relationship between Duvel and its other American holding, Brewery Ommegang in New York. In short: I’m excited to see what great beers Boulevard produces within the hands-off style of ownership that Duvel has provided to Ommegang over the past decade.

What I really wanted to write about this week was some of the breweries who we’ll be seeing in our area over the next few months. It’s always a treat when new distribution deals are announced and our choices expand, but the ones coming in now and through the beginning of 2014 include some long-awaited and exciting arrivals.

Hitting retail shelves and bar taps this week is Sly Fox Brewing Company, which has grown from a brewpub opened in 1995 in Phoenixville, Pa., to include a full production brewery in Pottstown that came online early in 2012. While you’re likely to see a lot of Sly Fox’s year-round beers in cans here (especially the great Route 113 IPA), don’t overlook the cork-and-cage Belgian offerings they’re sending down — especially the Saison Vos and Ichor Quadrupel. Sly Fox’s Belgian yeast strain is distinctly spicy and earthy; making for very interesting takes on the classic Belgian styles.

Also making a Virginia debut this week was Mother Earth Brewing of Kinston, N.C. Availability was limited mostly to three special events this week, but some of Mother Earth’s core line is hitting shelves now; look for their Endless River Kolsch, Weeping Willow Wit, Dark Cloud Dunkel, Sisters of the Moon IPA, and Old Neighborhood Oatmeal Porter. I’m hoping with time, we’ll see some of Mother Earth’s amazing limited-run beers here as well — beers like the Windowpane Series Ales and their bourbon barrel-aged Tripel Overhead.

It seems odd to be trumpeting the arrival of a Virginia brewery up here, but when that brewery is the long-requested Hardywood Park Craft Brewery of Richmond, it’s worth announcing. As things stand currently, the plan is for Hardywood to being distributing beers to Northern Virginia for the first time during the second week of November. I’ve been lucky enough to try Hardywood’s Bourbon Cru and was very impressed; there will be a clamor for beers like it and their famous Gingerbread Stout, but look for their Belgian-style Singel along with cans of their Cream Ale and The Great Return IPA to hit the NoVA market first.

Late 2013 should also see Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Company finally making its Virginia debut after years of asking and waiting. Look for Sweetwater’s 420 Extra Pale Ale to flood retail shelves upon its arrival, as it’s the most requested beer of their lineup here. With any luck, though, we’ll soon see an expanded selection of Sweetwater brews, including their one-off Dank Tank experimental series.

Which beers are you most looking forward to seeing in Virginia? Which would you most like to see sold here? Let me know in the comments—maybe we can get the attention of some of these brewers and get them here. Until next time.

Cheers!

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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. 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.

Your Beermonger: Regional Breweries Continue to Shine

by ARLnow.com | October 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm | 362 views | No Comments

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

Last week saw this year’s Great American Beer Festival take place in Denver. Building off of momentum from last year’s GABF, local breweries performed extremely well again this year, with favorites like Devils Backbone, Port City, Flying Dog, Lost Rhino, and Three Brothers taking home honors. A full listing of local GABF winners can be found here thanks to the great Barley Blog, but let’s take a closer look and see what stands out.

Much like last year, the big take-away from this year’s GABF is that Devils Backbone is rapidly becoming a brewery to watch on the national scene. After taking home nine medals last year, the Lexington, Va., brewery won seven this year. Among those medals, Devils Backbone followed a win for Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year with a win for Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year  (yes, I just wanted to type all of that).

Harrisonburg’s Three Brothers Brewing Company impressively won its first medal in the first year of the brewery’s existence, taking a bronze in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category with their Rum Barrel Belgian Dubbel Style Ale. Port City Brewing Company of Alexandria won a total of four medals this year, with its flagship Optimal Wit winning the gold medal for best Belgian-Style Witbier. Two of Port City’s medals were won by special versions of its two Anniversary Ales, named One and Two. The Colossal One took the bronze for Aged Beer, while Colossal Two garnered a bronze in the Smoke Beer category.

There’s been a bit of consternation about breweries creating special versions of beers specifically to enter into GABF competition—that is, beers that aren’t available to consumers and are made only to try to win medals. I understand not liking the practice, but my personal opinion is that it isn’t the ‘Great American Beer Available at Your Local Restaurant/Bar/Retailer Festival’, so live and let live.

For regions like ours that are only now starting to make some noise on a national level, those extra GABF wins can be the difference between breweries expanding next year and five years from now, if at all. Not to mention that often times a GABF win can send a “one-off” recipe into wider production: rumor already has it that three of the Devils Backbone winners that are currently draft-only will be packaged for retail in 2014.

In any case, the 2013 GABF once again demonstrates just how great an era we’re entering for craft beer in Virginia, Maryland, and the District. Whether you spend this weekend at a retailer like Arrowine, or at festivals like this weekend’s NoVA Brewfest or Snallygaster in DC, make sure to grab some of our great local craft beers and toast to their success.

For a full list of 2013 GABF winners, click here. Until next time.

Cheers!

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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. 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.

Your Beermonger: The Words We Choose

by ARLnow.com | October 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm | 596 views | No Comments

Your Beermonger logo

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

About ten years ago, I took my first job in a wine store.

My role at that shop began as a stock boy — keeping the shelves clean and full, carrying boxes out to people’s cars, loading deliveries into the store. While I was relatively well-versed in beer and beer styles at the time, I knew next to nothing about wine. It was my manager who noticed in conversation that I knew a thing or two about beer and asked me if I wanted to learn about wine.

I’ve likened the next four months of my life to learning a language by immersion (pun only somewhat intended): I tasted every wine every distributor would bring by to try to sell us, taking notes on each as we went along. After closing the shop, my boss would open a ‘mystery wine’ and have us talk about what we thought of it and what we thought it might be before revealing what it was. I was given examples of wines that were ‘typical’ of a region and/or grape varietal, to become familiar with the expectations and descriptions generally assigned to them. After four months I was brought on as a full-time employee selling wine to customers and contributing my opinion to our buying team. Over those first four months one thing I did very little of was read wine reviews.

In the early months of my wine education I read reviews only sparingly. This avoidance of the big-time wine critics was by design: densely written reviews with overly poetic, impractical language and descriptors no normal human being would have a reference for often discourage those new to wine. The argument could be made that these critics are writing for a more experienced audience and therefore should write in greater detail, but all too often it feels like they are simply trying to make the reader feel less intelligent and sophisticated than they are.

As a wine drinker, I think this style of writing not only exacerbates the insecurities of those just learning about wine, but it also reinforces the image of the Wine Snob that is so popular around the world — America in particular. It was only after I started to feel comfortable with my own frame of reference to various wine regions and grape varietals that I began to regularly scan magazines like Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate – and even then, I was careful to read them as coming through the filter of one person’s palate rather than instructions on what I should be perceiving.

I mention all of this because I feel like craft beer writing is becoming almost as overwrought. With so many writers vying for the same number of eyeballs, it seems that too many of us are straining to prove our ‘expertise’, and it’s frankly off-putting. I’ve been guilty of this over the years: when I first started my beer blog, I thought the only way to assign any value to my opinion was to write long missives and identify as many odd aromatic/flavor notes as possible. I came to find my own writing annoying — hell, it was annoying to write like that on a regular basis — and a betrayal of my opinion that at its most base level, my job is about people being able to relate their own experiences in simple enough terms that we all come away understanding each other just a little bit better.

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Your Beermonger: Craft Beer and the Shutdown

by Nick Anderson | October 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm | 807 views | No Comments

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

The government shutdown that began Tuesday morning is big topic of the week nationally, but especially in our area. Thousands of government employees are currently off the job, waiting to see if congress can reach an agreement that will reopen the ‘non-essential’ departments and parks that are either closed or largely empty right now. With the last government shutdown occurring 17 years ago when I was in high school, I hadn’t even considered how the beer business might be affected by the shutdown, but sure enough, it is.

There are two main issues for the craft beer industry to deal with during the shutdown. By the numbers, the largest of these issues is the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) ceasing approval of new beer labels and recipes. Beer news site Beerpulse estimates that 400 labels per day won’t receive approvals during the shutdown, based on the over 110,000 labels that TTB had approved over the course of 2013 through the end of September. More immediately detrimental to the health of craft breweries is the Small Business Administration halting approval of new loans for the duration of the shutdown. As the rhetoric heated up in D.C. ahead of midnight on Tuesday morning, breweries like San Antonio’s Alamo Beer Company raced to complete paperwork and get approval for their SBA loans before the deadline, which Alamo did Friday afternoon.

Closer to home, Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company has felt the effects of the shutdown. I asked Port City’s founder Bill Butcher about difficulties they were facing after he mentioned to me on Twitter that they were trying to deal with an SBA loan ahead of the shutdown. Butcher told me that Port City “…had to scramble ahead of the shutdown in order to expedite all of our paper work to get everything in before Monday.” Fortunately, Port City got the paper work in and had their loan approved over the weekend, but even with that they’re not yet in the clear: Butcher noted that “if something comes up that we need to change during this period,”—meaning the duration of the shutdown—“it will not be possible.”

Regarding the TTB halting label/formula approvals, Butcher said “We have some exciting and innovative beers in the works, some of which have formula submittals, and all of this is on hold. This will delay getting our new beers brewed and out on the market.” Not every department is closed, however: my email conversation with Butcher revealed that the government still sees fit to interact on at least one level with craft breweries, saying “We will continue, of course, to file and pay our Excise taxes as required. These TTB offices are not affected by the shutdown.”

Of course.

Take care out there if you’re stuck waiting to go back to work. Until next week.

Cheers!

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 at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Your Beermonger: Product Tie-Ins With Craft Beer

by ARLnow.com | September 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm | 464 views | No Comments

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

Earlier this year Brewery Ommegang in New York released Iron Throne Ale, the first in a series of beers inspired by Game of Thrones, the hit HBO television show.

Drawing from food mentioned in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of books that Game of Thrones is based upon, Ommegang is crating beers that they imagine would play well with cuisine like “honeyed chicken,” “roasted onions dipped in gravy,” “beef and bacon pie” and “barley and venison soup” — all of which appear in the books as meals enjoyed by the greater and lesser classes of Westeros.

Iron Throne was a Blonde Ale, with crisp wheat malt notes accentuated by the use of lemon peel and grains of paradise. Not that all that many people got to try it: someone somewhere in the chain of command severely underestimated the popularity of the books and the show, and the production run of Iron Throne was much smaller than its demand. I managed to get three cases for Arrowine, not knowing it was so limited that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed even that many. All three cases sold out in an afternoon.

It seems Ommegang has learned its lesson, as Take The Black Stout is arriving in Virginia at much greater quantities than Iron Throne. I’m hoping that the precedent is now set for future Game of Thrones beers, and we won’t have the same supply issues as we did with the first beer. As for Take The Black Stout itself, I can only go by what I’ve read so far — as of press time the beer will be either on its way or just delivered to Arrowine, and I couldn’t get an advance sample to check it out.

Ommegang itself counts caramel and chocolate malts among the ingredients in Take The Black Stout, with the most interesting being licorice root and star anise. At 7% ABV, is sounds like Ommegang is continuing the theme established with Iron Throne, with the series being flavorful but not so strong as to be unapproachable by the wider audience the Game of Thrones beers will attract.

Chris Morris at New Jersey’s Star-Ledger was lucky enough to try Take The Black Stout last week, and mentions in his review that it reminds him of a beer he had once tried that was aged on cedar wood. That notes seems to indicate that the spices aren’t as overpowering as some might fear; downright mild in comparison to beers like the star anise version of Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout from a couple of years back. We’ll all get the chance to discover it this weekend after its arrival.

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Your Beermonger: Return Engagements

by ARLnow.com | September 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm | 610 views | No Comments

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

We got a beer in at Arrowine last week that we’d never seen before in Virginia: Green Bullet, a “Triple IPA” from Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego.

I’m normally not a fan of the Triple IPA designation (I think calling something “Double” or “Imperial” IPA is enough warning of its strength — a personal preference, nothing more), but with Green Bullet checking in at 10.1% ABV and 100 IBU, giving folks a head’s up by calling it a Triple IPA is fair.

While I don’t often partake of very strong “hop-bomb” IPAs anymore in my down time, I’m finding myself making an exception with Green Bullet: it uses two New Zealand hop varieties — Pacific Gem and the Green Bullet hop it’s named for — to create a bold, rich hop experience that never goes too far with the bitterness and demonstrates a clean palate of tropical fruits and sharp citrus. There is a grassy, almost minerally characteristic to beers that prominently feature New Zealand hops, and Green Bullet manages to hold on to that despite the ripeness of its fruit notes. If you see it out-and-about and like very hoppy Ales, I definitely recommend it.

Now, while I mentioned we hadn’t seen Green Bullet before in Virginia, that doesn’t mean it is a brand-new beer. Green Bullet was actually first released in 2011, as Green Flash’s ninth anniversary Ale. Green Flash brewmaster Chuck Silva had been exploring New Zealand hops and came upon the still relatively unknown Green Bullet. Silva had been looking to go in a different direction for Green Flash’s ninth anniversary, and New Zealand’s uniquely spicy and floral hops inspired the creation of Green Bullet. Following its initial release, Green Bullet was only made for a handful of special draft-only batches before the Green Flash crew decided to finally make enough of it for a national bottling run.

Like with Green Bullet, occasionally a beer meant for a limited or seasonal run proves popular enough that it becomes a permanent fixture of a brewery’s lineup.

If you look at the packaging for Lagunitas Li’l Sumpin’ Sumpin’, you’ll see it says “Un-Limited Release”; that’s because Sumpin’ Sumpin’ was only intended to be a summer seasonal when it was first released in 2008. Sumpin’ Sumpin’ was a hit immediately after being release; so much so that in 2010 it became part of the Lagunitas year-round line, and is now one of their most well-known and beloved beers.

Stone Ruination IPA is another limited beer that worked its way into the permanent line, though it took some time to get there. For Stone’s second anniversary, they doubled the amount of hops in their flagship IPA; fans enjoyed it so much Stone brought it back for their third and fourth anniversaries as well. On Stone’s fifth anniversary, they decided to go plaid (Spaceballs-style) and doubled the amount of hops used in the Fourth Anniversary Ale. Stone Fifth Anniversary was a sensation, and joined the year-round lineup as Ruination IPA.

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