Part of my job is to constantly find new beers to stock.
I like those beers, of course, but occasionally a beer comes along that really gets me. This happened recently with the new Black Rice Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. At only 3.8% ABV, it ticks the “session” box; as a year-round, it ticks the “if you make something good, make it available all the time” box; it’s tasty as hell, so it ticks the “tasty as hell” box.
There’s only so much information online about Black Rice Ale, so I asked our local AVBC rep if he had anything else to pass along. What he did was put me in touch with Fal Allen, AVBC’s brewmaster since 2000 and an industry veteran who started his pro career at Redhook in 1988. Yes, I was excited to chat.
Allen told me he had tried Chinese black rice, aka Forbidden or Emperor’s rice, in a dish. “I had no idea what it was but the rich nutty flavor was compelling. I immediately thought that it would work well in a beer.” AVBC’s site describes Black Rice as a Nut Brown, in fact.
I asked Allen if the intent actually was to make a Nut Brown or if they were searching for a style to suit the black rice. “It was really a matter of finding a style that the beer fit into,” he responded, adding “it is not really a nut brown ale but people want to know what it is like… we thought that it was closest to a nut brown ale.”
Allen noted they could also have compared it to Schwarzbier, but being neither German in style, nor a Lager ruled that out “although the beer certainly tastes like a schwartz bier.”
This hit on what, to me, is probably the most intriguing aspect of Black Rice Ale — how it melds roasty flavors of Black Ales and Lagers with the nuttier tones of American and English Browns. I wondered what the black rice actually brought to the beer besides being a cool ingredient to throw in the mash. Allen said the rice gives the beer its “delicious dark color,” and “a nice nutty flavor,” and doesn’t think it contributed anything to the beer’s aroma.
Remembering how the 2014 release of AVBC’s Gose sparked a new era for the brewery (and for Sour Ales in America in general), and noticing that Black Rice arrives at the same time as the brewery’s Barrel-Aged Stouts and Porters moving from bombers to cans and the introduction of its new Hibiscus Rozelle, I asked Allen if we were seeing another instance of Anderson Valley not quite reinventing itself, but refocusing.
“I agree it does feel a little like that, but I think it was more to do with a change in attitude,” he explained. “We are not trying to reinvent ourselves so much as we are trying to get our products out to market a little better.” The unpainted cans AVBC uses allows them to more quickly take what may be initially a draft-only offering and get it out to a wider audience if the response is good.
With bottle sales way down and cans on the rise on the East Coast, that promises more cool AVBC beers on the horizon. For now, check out Black Rice Ale if you see it around.
Upcoming Beer Events at Arrowine:
TODAY — Friday, September 13, 5-7 p.m. — Tom Blanch of Sierra Nevada
Saturday, September 21, 1-4 p.m. — Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company
Saturday, October 5, 12-3 p.m. — Patrick Cashin of Charm City Meadworks
Friday, November 8, 5-7 p.m. — Jesse Ploeg of Potter’s Craft Cider
I don’t like to be negative about beer. I’ve gone out of my way to not be negative about beer. I’ve written exactly one negative review of a beer ever and I came to regret it almost immediately. Going negative inevitably obscures any relevant point you’re trying to make.
That said, I have to level with you all: craft beer in 2019 is making me go a little negative, and I’m not loving it.
A couple weeks back, I had an impromptu Hazy/Juicy IPA shootout with six different beers, none of which I’d had before. Four were samples from distributors; two were from a very sought-after Haze producer and were gifted to me by one of our Arrowine regulars.
Two of the beers were “flawed” — showing obvious errors in production. Another two, from the brewery that has lines of people waiting to stock up every day, were totally out of whack. One of them so misused the Nelson hop that it smelled and tasted like the cheap weed that guy at the party who’s a friend of the host who you kinda know but aren’t 100% comfortable with offers you — and not in a good way.
The other was an extra-hoppy variant of their flagship Hazy IPA. If clone recipes are to be believed, Apollo and Citra hops are prevalent in this beer, both of which can go vegetal used in too high concentrations at the wrong times. Sure enough, it started well enough before going very green onion-y on the back palate. So close. So close.
The last beer was the sole bright spot of the tasting: a flagship New England IPA from a Virginia brewery that showed a vibrant palate of tropical/lemony hop flavors laid upon a delicate grist of pale malts, oats and wheat, with a hint of eucalyptus adding something unexpected and welcome.
Trying a variety of IPAs these days, one finds there are some brewers who really know what they’re doing, but even more who know what they’re doing — cranking out untested/unrefined recipes often producing flawed beers. I don’t care if a brewery is chasing the FOMO crowd and putting out a ton of IPAs every week; I care that those IPAs are fundamentally well-made, able to be judged on their own merits, and not turning new beer lovers off to the style, or beer in general.
For the sake of not being entirely negative, I’ll shout out a couple beers I’ve recently enjoyed, starting with New Realm’s Hazy Like A Fox — the one beer of those six mentioned above that was a highlight. When a brewery’s co-founder and brewmaster literally wrote the book on making IPA, I guess it’s no surprise.
Earlier this week, I got to preview Three Notch’d Brewing’s Nephology Batch 7 IPA (pictured above), the latest in a monthly series of Juicy/Hazy IPAs. Batch 7 features Denali, a relatively new hop variety that I’ve grown fond of in production beers and in my own occasional homebrews.
At 8% ABV, it’s a lush showcase for Denali’s candied, pineapple-y aromas and flavors, but avoids hop burn or coming across as too “heavy.” It’s hitting the market this week and well worth checking out.
Bottom line: there’s a world of good stuff out there right now, but don’t let the hype tell you what’s good. Trust your palate, and if you have an interest, learn more about off-flavors and flaws to help you better discern what’s good versus what’s bad versus what’s flawed.
Upcoming Beer Events at Arrowine:
TONIGHT, 8/30, 5-7 p.m. — Stephanie Boles of Old Ox Brewing
Saturday, 9/7, 1-4 p.m. — Garrett Smouse of Fair Winds Brewing Company
Friday, 9/13, 5-7 p.m. — Tom Blanch of Sierra Nevada
Saturday, 9/14, 1-4 p.m. — Joe Kasper of 3 Stars
Saturday, 9/21, 1-4 p.m. — Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company
Friday, 11/8, 5-7 p.m. — Jesse Ploeg of Potter’s Craft Cider
Shooting Suspect Served Time for Murder — Updated at 8:40 a.m. — Crystal City shooting suspect Mumeet Ali Muhammad was released from prison two years ago after being convicted of a 1991 murder in Arlington. And he had recently been arrested but then released after allegedly threatening to shoot a man in D.C. and possessing a gun as a felon. [WTOP, NBC 4]
Witness Recounts Hiding in Office During Shooting — “An association employee described the scene to InsideNoVa on Thursday, saying recent active-shooter training helped employees get through the terrifying episode. ‘Everybody did precisely what they should have done,’ said the employee, who asked that his name not be published… ‘I got right up next to door, crouched down and made myself as small as possible,’ he said. ‘I heard screaming, him yelling at her, her pleading with him.'” [InsideNova]
Labor Day Closures in Arlington — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019 for Labor Day.” Trash and recycling will be collected as normal, but parking meters will not be enforced. [Arlington County]
Amazon Brain Drain Worries — “Amazon is only just starting to post job openings for its second headquarters in northern Virginia — and local startup founders are watching with apprehension. The big picture: Amazon HQ2 has the potential to turn the D.C. region into a tech hotspot, but smaller companies are worried that the short-term impact of Amazon coming to town will be a brain drain.” [Axios]
‘Clarendon Jam Session’ Sunday — “The long weekend is almost here and it’s time to celebrate with a jam session at The Lot in an urban beach party setting! $20 gets you access to CLARENDON JAM SESSION 2019.” [Instagram]
Oktoberfest Ticket Prices Increasing — Early bird $30 ticket pricing for the Crystal City Oktoberfest ends this weekend. General admission tickets will be $45 thereafter. [Eventbrite]
Dominion Funding Electric School Buses — “Schools across Virginia could have all-electric school buses by 2030, under a plan from Dominion Energy. The company said it could be the largest deployment of electric school buses in the nation… The announcement comes the same day as a Virginia State Corporation Commission reported that Dominion’s 2018 profits were higher than regulators approved.” [WAMU, Dominion, Virginia Mercury]
Just before the closing of Falls Church’s Mad Fox brewpub last month, founder/brewer Bill Madden was kind enough to agree, after wrapping up the closing and taking some time to collect his thoughts, to answering some questions I’d sent him.
Early this week, Madden responded and we’ve had a back-and-forth covering a range of topics, focusing on the challenges facing not only brewpubs like Mad Fox, but for restaurant/retail in our area in general.
In his statement announcing Mad Fox’s closing, Madden cited competition becoming “fierce since our opening in 2010 with… an overwhelming number of choices for the local population,” such that staying open was “no longer sustainable.”
Digging into that a bit more, Madden emphasized the intensity of that competition as we see an increase in “restaurant options that are hot for a few years and then fizzle out,” “(w)ine and beer shops opening restaurants,” and supermarkets “with buffets and bars and more prepared foods to take home or just eat there like a restaurant.”
Factor in meal-prep services like Blue Apron, and you have a lot of businesses trying to cover higher rents on smaller pieces of the pie.
Mad Fox faced unique challenges nearly from the start. “When we opened the only way to sell a pint of beer to a consumer on site was to have a food component in Virginia,” Madden said. “That changed in 2012 with SB 604,” the law allowing brewery taprooms to serve full pours on-site.
604 was instrumental in the proliferation of new breweries in Virginia, but for a large brewpub in a high-rent district like Mad Fox, it made things just that much more difficult. “If we opened with a smaller footprint in a lower rent location and had gone into canning our product we would be in a much different position,” Madden told me.
I brought up my hunch that most taprooms will become brewpubs of sorts over the next few years; Madden responded that “the food component needs to be addressed, consumers need food with their beer, period,” and that he could see brewpubs in “high rent, suburban, urban locations,” albeit “in a much smaller space.”
Even those smaller spaces might be hard to find, however. Madden sounds downright prophetic.
“Rents either need to go down or there will be blight… I see plenty of shuttered spaces and I would ask anyone in Real Estate the question ‘where is the hot area to be in like a Reston Town Center or Arlington used to be?’ They all say they have not a clue.”
Reflecting on the legacy of Mad Fox, Madden says he’s most proud of how they supported the area’s beer scene, “promoting what were then new breweries with our festivals and events when many were just starting out.”
He recently attended the opening of Old Ox’s new Middleburg location and visited Quattro Goombas Brewery in Aldie, and while his future plans aren’t yet known, he says he plans to stay in the beer business in some capacity. Hopefully he’s not out of it for long; we’re missing something without him.
Upcoming Tasting Events at Arrowine:
Friday, August 16 (hey, that’s today!), 5-7 p.m. — Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, August 23, 5-7 p.m. — David Hartogs of Rocket Frog Brewing Company
Saturday, August 24, 3-6 p.m. — Frankie Quinton of Atlas Brewing Company
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m. — Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing
Friday, September 13, 5-7 p.m. — Tom Blanch of Sierra Nevada
Saturday, September 14, 1-4 p.m. — Joe Kasper of 3 Stars
Saturday, September 21, 1-4 p.m. — Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company
Friday, Novermber 8, 5-7 p.m. — Jesse Ploeg of Potter’s Craft Cider
When Bronson Bier Hall opens next week in the Ballston area, don’t go into it expecting A-Town.
But Bronson Bier Hall has taken pains to cultivate a fun but more subdued aesthetic than the rip-roaring A-Town, which was noted for its once-frequent appearances in crime report items.
The interior is composed of brick columns and copper countertops, with long tables and walls decorated with antique agricultural equipment.
“We didn’t want people to walk in and go ‘it’s A-Town’,” said chef and co-owner Mike Cordero. “This is more for sitting with a beer or playing some games. It’s more mellow and chill.”
Games at the Bier Hall include shuffleboard, darts and ping pong.
Cordero said the main focus of Bronson Bier Hall is having an “old world” feel. The beer selection is a mix of local beers and a collection of German imports.
The Bier Hall is a partnership between Mike Cordero, his son Nick Cordero, prolific nightlife and haircut purveyor Scott Parker, and Gary Koh. Cordero said the restaurant will open sometime next week, though a specific date hasn’t been chosen yet.
Another new Cordero venture, Taco Rock restaurant in Rosslyn, is also currently in the works.
Can it be that time already? Oh, it can, dear reader, and it is. I’ve already received some fall seasonal beers and the flood gates are about to open in earnest.
I’ve written about the concept of seasonal creep before, but the older I get, the less I seem to care about it. Is it a little absurd that I have two Oktoberfests in stock and one Pumpkin Ale already offered by the third week of July?
Sure, a little. But at the end of the day my policy is “Drink what you want when you want,” so I’m not sweating it too much. Except for that Pumpkin Ale; you’ll find it out there already, but too soon, man. Too soon.
What I’m doing today is giving a quick rundown of fall beers to keep an eye on, both those available now and ones on the way that I think are notable. Let’s start with what you can find on shelves right now: Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest landed in Virginia last week, and I’ll take any version of that anytime they want to offer it.
Every year of Sierra Oktoberfest has seen it pair up with a different German brewery to offer a different take on the style; this year, it’s Bitburger, which brought its house yeast and proprietary hop blend out of its brewery for the first time ever for the occasion. The result is a tick sharper than last year’s (made with Weihenstephaner), but very tasty and as good now as it’ll be when the weather turns.
Also in stock now is the Oktoberfest from Von Trapp Brewing in Vermont. Von Trapp’s Lagers are excellent across the board, so it’s no surprise this is tasty. What I like is the judicious use of darker malts, contributing to a color that is coppery rather than brown, along with a lovely caramel note.
I don’t like to play the FOMO card, but if you’re a Von Trapp fan, the word around the campfire is that the run of Oktoberfest that just hit Virginia is the only one we’ll see for the year. Purchase accordingly.
What’s on the way? Admitting a bias up front, I’ve always loved Port City Oktoberfest, which releases tonight at the brewery before hitting the market early next week. Around the middle of August we’ll see Atlas’ Festbier arrive. Lighter in color and body and using a blend of German and American hops, it’s definitely built for a more American audience but should be as fun and show as well as our favorites from the DC brewery.
Around the end of August/beginning of September, we should see the return of one of my old favorites — the Hofstetten Original Hochzeitzbier von 1810. This brew aspires to revive the style of Märzen that would’ve been served during the days of festivities surrounding Crown Prince Ludwig II’s wedding in 1810 — the first Oktoberfest. The best part? We’re getting cans of it this year!
What fall beers are you looking forward to? Let me hear it in the comments; you always do (he said, smiling).
Until next time.
Upcoming Events at Arrowine:
Saturday, 8/10, 1-4 p.m. — ANXO Cidery
Friday, 8/16, 5-7 p.m. — Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, 8/23, 5-7 p.m. — Richard Hartogs of Rocket Frog Brewing Company
Saturday, 8/24, 3-6 p.m. — Frankie Quinton of Atlas Brewing Company
Friday, 8/30, 5-7 p.m. — Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing
Saturday, 9/21, 1-4 p.m. — Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company
This year the Arlington County Fair is debuting two brand new features — a beer garden and yoga with baby goats.
The annual event will begin in two weeks and is set to welcome Arlington-based New District Brewing Company as well as a special “kid-friendly” goat yoga session to the fairgrounds at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center (3501 2nd Street S.)
“For the first time in our 43-year history, the Arlington County Fair will host a beer garden,” organizers wrote on the fair’s website. “New District Brewing Company will feature hand-crafted, delectable beers to cool you off on a warm summer day.”
Fair-goers will be able to enter the beer garden for free during the three days it will serve up drinks during the festival. The garden will be open on:
- Friday, August 16, from 3-6:30 p.m.
- Saturday, August 17, from 12-6:30 p.m.
- Sunday, August 18, from 12-6:30 p.m.
Fair organizers are also selling tickets for $40 for an hour-long goat yoga session on Saturday, August 17, from either 9-10 a.m. or 10:30-11:30 a.m. The baby goats are from Salem, Va.-based Walnut Creek Farm, and participants will be asked to bring their own mats.
“The goats are curious and interested in climbing and interacting with people,” organizers noted on the ticket sale page. “Children should be no younger than 10, comfortable with animals, and accompanied by an adult to attend.”
The fair will run from Aug. 14-18 and will feature rides, food, games, performer, exhibits and live music. The fair’s schedule has not yet been published on its website.
“Stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to the fair,” the website said as of Monday afternoon.
Prices range from $1 for a single ticket to $20 for 24 tickets.
Photos courtesy Dennis Dimick
Local Brews for Crystal City Oktoberfest — “Oktoberfest is returning [to Crystal City] in 2019 with a new partner, local Arlington brewery New District Brewing. The second annual celebration, which will feature a selection of local beers, live entertainment, and a variety of food trucks and vendors serving traditional German fare, will take place on Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 1-4 p.m. at The Grounds, located at 12th and South Eads Street in Crystal City.” [Press Release]
D.C. Developments Now Touting Proximity to Arlington — The announcement of a large, new mixed-use development in the District touts its 750 market-rate residential rental units, 42,000 square feet of co-working space, and “great access to… emerging areas, including National Landing.” [Twitter]
Catholic Newspaper Reducing Publishing Frequency — The Arlington Catholic Herald will be moving from weekly to biweekly publication, as part of a series of changes that also includes expanding the number of households to which the paper is sent. [Arlington Catholic Herald]
Sewage Leak Along Spout Run — “Residents are advised to avoid a generally inaccessible portion of Spout Run due to a sanitary sewer main break east of the Spout Run Parkway-Lorcom Lane fork. County staff are on site establishing a bypass.” [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
A Sense of Place Cafe is considering catering to the happy hour crowd by serving wine and beer in the evenings.
Earlier this month, the independent coffee shop at 4807 1st Street N. in the Arlington Forest Shopping Center submitted an application to Virginia ABC to serve wine and beer on premises.
Owner Kim Seo said the cafe was still awaiting an inspection and that she doesn’t expect to receive a permit decision until early August, but that hasn’t stopped her and her sister from planning ahead.
Seo is hoping to cater to an after-work crowd, potentially staying open in the evenings (the cafe currently closes at 3 p.m.) for a happy hour and light appetizers.
“Once we get the license we will work on our actual menu,” said Seo.
Seo said she and her sister, Kay, decided to rethink the hours of operation after taking note of how many people visit the shopping center in the evening, after Sense of Place closes for the day.
For now, A Sense of Place will continue with its usual hours of operation: from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Saturday from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
A week and a half ago, just ahead of its 9th Anniversary celebration, Mad Fox Brewing Company’s Bill Madden announced that the Falls Church brewpub would close its doors this coming Sunday, July 21.
With more breweries opening than ever, closings are also becoming more frequent, but the loss of Mad Fox has reverberated throughout the D.C. and Northern Virginia beer scenes like… well, a loss for the local beer scene.
Madden is a D.C. area legend, a mentor to brewers who can be found all over the area, and a brewer whose recipes at Mad Fox ranged from a world-class Keller Kolsch and excellent Pilsner and American Pale Ale, to robust Barleywines, to some future-forward IPAs — the Citra hop laden Orange Whip was years ahead of its time.
I always admired Two Hemispheres: A Wet Hop IPA featuring a blend of Citra and Galaxy that debuted in 2011. Galaxy was already out there, but that beer felt like a harbinger of things to come.
We’re also losing a hub of activity for local beer enthusiasts. Mad Fox’s festivals were well run, well-staffed and always featured a great selection of beers and breweries. The Spring Bierfest, Barleywine Fest, the Cask Ale Fest; lovely lecture/tasting evenings with Bob Tupper; the Festivus release parties. All gone.
So, what happened? Mad Fox’s closing announcement cites the proliferation of taproom breweries among the challenges it faced in staying afloat. Opening in 2010, Mad Fox didn’t have the option of opening a brewery with a taproom; SB 604 wouldn’t become law until 2012, allowing on-premise retail sale and consumption at Virginia breweries. The rise of strong craft beer programs for restaurants has made tougher competitors of them, as well.
As a brewpub, Mad Fox was walking the tightrope of running two high-risk, high-overhead businesses under one roof. The irony, I think, is that as you see taprooms focusing more on food features or planning to add kitchens, it feels like we’re just a few years away from a brewpub renaissance. Alas.
Running a little early on my way into Arrowine on Wednesday, I detoured into Falls Church to drop in on the Fox. Bill was at the end of the bar, spinning all the necessary plates to keep everything running through Sunday’s last service. He noted that the lunch run was the busiest he’d seen in a while, which, of course, right?
He’s obviously had a hard few weeks but was as kind and gregarious as ever, with high praise for the staff sticking things out with him. We caught up and ended up swapping stories, which is impossible not to do with him. I’m hoping to have an interview with him up for you soon. Not before Bill gets some deserved and needed downtime, though.
This will be the last weekend for Mad Fox; if you’re around at the right time on Sunday you might just catch me enjoying a last beer or two.
Upcoming Arrowine Events:
Friday, July 19, 5-7 p.m: Sean Michaels of The Bruery
Saturday, July 20, 1-4 p.m.: Laura Boyle from Three Notch’d Brewing
Saturday, August 10, 1-4 p.m.: ANXO Cidery!
Friday, August 16, 5-7 p.m.: Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m.: Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing
Police Operation in Ballston — Arlington County Police say they arrested a wanted individual in Ballston Wednesday evening, in front of the DARPA building on N. Randolph Street. Officers used a “diversionary device” — witnesses described it as a flashbang grenade — during the operation, a police spokeswoman told ARLnow. “One suspect was taken into custody without incident,” ACPD spokeswoman Kirby Clark said. Additional details were not immediately available. [Twitter]
‘Perfect Friday Night Date in Rosslyn’ — “A round of miniature golf is one of summer’s pleasures, whether putt-putting past pirate statues at a course by the beach or playing in a regional park closer to home. It works equally well as part of a date night or a group outing with friends. And it’s definitely not the kind of thing you’d expect to find popping up in the plaza outside a Rosslyn office building.” [Washington Post]
Beer Hall Nears Opening in Ballston — The opening of Bronson Bier Hall in Ballston, the successor to A-Town Bar and Grill, is about a month away. Most of the major interior construction appears to have been completed. [Instagram]
Amazon Hosts LGBT Reception — “A special reception [was] hosted by Amazon at a location in the heart of its massive planned expansion was held at Freddie’s Beach [Bar in Crystal City] to greet the area’s LGBT community.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Subsidies for Late Night Commuters — “The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has kicked off an effort to support late-night workers who travel when transit service is not available. Since July 1, qualified workers – such as those in the hospitality or health-care industries – have been eligible to receive a $3 subsidy toward travel on Lyft for trips taken between their home and workplace between midnight and 4 a.m.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Community Foundation Awards Scholarships — “The Arlington Community Foundation awarded new college scholarships totaling more than $540,000 to 72 students who will attend college next year. An additional 105 scholarships totaling $281,000 were renewed for returning college students, for a total of 177 recipients.” [Press Release]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman