Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Garrett Cruce, a Cicerone Program Certified Beer Server.
The Oxford Companion to Beer defines Christmas ales as beers that are typically on the strong side and often contain dark malts, spice, herbs and fruits. Check. This week I have some holiday beers that go perfectly with dark evenings and chilly air.
American craft brewers may have resurrected the holiday ale by adding spices when Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewing Company made its Christmas Ale in 1975, but the earliest Western example is positively Medieval. One recipe that remains is for a brew called “lambswool.” According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, lambswool was made with roasted apples, nutmeg, ginger and honey.
Spicing beer continued on in England with the tradition of the “wassail,” a mulled wine, beer or cider. For the most part today’s holiday ales are relatively tame, but a welcome change from the squashy pumpkin ales and ubiquitous Oktoberfests.
Below are four holiday ales that will warm your belly. And for those who aren’t looking for spiced brown ales, I’ve got a tasty IPA here too.
When I discovered this lightly spiced beer in 1995, Winter Warmer was already nearly 10 years old. Now approaching 30 years old, this brown ale made with cinnamon and nutmeg is a bit tamer than it seemed back then. There’s more competition and there are more extreme beers, but the consistency of this light holiday ale still pleases. What says the winter holidays better than aromas of cinnamon, raisins and graham crackers? And there’s the comforting malt forward flavor that finishes with a light but bright spice. This is the most sessionable of the beers covered here.
Cleveland, Ohio’s Great Lakes Brewing Company first brewed their famous Christmas Ale in 1992. An early entrant in the spiced ale category, Christmas Ale has grown to be a 6-time medal winner at various world beer championships.
Brewed with honey from the region, cinnamon and ginger, this beer jollily evokes cinnamon graham crackers. But it’s flavor is so much more than a children’s snack — between the peppery ginger and the herbal hops, the sip is balanced between malt and slightly bittering ingredients. It’s good that Christmas Ale only comes once a year, because its delicious flavor and light body might make moderation difficult. Don’t wait until Christmas to open this tasty brew. (more…)
Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Garrett Cruce, a Cicerone Program Certified Beer Server.
Inky black. Creamy head. Sweet and strong.
It’s the time of year for Imperial stouts to come out of hibernation. Cooler temps and falling leaves are signs that it’s time to set aside the lighter beers of Summer and Fall, and embrace the heavy and dark beers of Winter. Stouts are making a big showing — I’ve seen everything from oatmeal stouts to milkshake-style stouts this season. But the imperial stout stands apart from the rest thanks to its intoxicating blend of sweetness, roastiness and alcohol.
Brother to the porter, stouts started as stronger versions of regular porters — beers brewed with dark, roasted malt giving it a dark brown (almost black) color and mild bitterness. Eventually stouts became their own style altogether with subcategories like milk stouts, oatmeal stouts, flavored stouts and, of course, imperial stouts.
We actually have Russia to thank for our extra strong imperial stouts. In the 18th century, rich Russians loved imported English stouts. The long trip north and east was not ideal for the average stout. So, special stouts were developed for export using more hops and malt giving them a much higher alcohol content so they could stand up to the long journey. They were designated as “imperial” or “Russian imperial.” Today, we label nearly any beer that has a very high alcohol content “imperial.”
I have four classic American imperial stouts to share this week.
Subtitled “double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout,” Breakfast Stout has the potential to go wrong in a number of different ways. However, Founders delivers on its complicated promise with a beer that seems to contain all the flavors and textures listed. Distinct aromas of chocolate syrup, diner coffee and malted milk hint at the flavorful ale that is more dessert than breakfast.
The sip is smooth — thanks to the oatmeal — with a big coffee flavor up front, giving way to dark dried fruit on the way to a boozy finish. Before the alcohol bite overwhelms Breakfast Stout, the dark roasted malt kicks in with its subtle bitterness. It’s no wonder that this delicious beer has won awards — Silver at the 2014 Shanghai International Beer Festival and Bronze at the 2006 World Beer Cup — but what’s more surprising is that there aren’t more. Available each year from October to January, this is the time to stock up on this classic American imperial stout.
This Great American Beer Festival (GABF) silver award-winning stout is formidable. It’s certainly the strongest of the imperial stouts that I sampled for this column. Speedway is brewed with coffee from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Coffee, but I’ll be honest I didn’t get much coffee like the beer above. Instead, I found deeper and richer aromas and flavors. I smelled licorice, black strap molasses and alcohol. The sip was boozy and sweet with a strong showing from spicy sassafras and pitch black licorice candy. This sipper is great for dessert — a special modern classic imperial stout. (more…)
Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Garrett Cruce, a Cicerone Program Certified Beer Server.
Halloween may have come and gone on Tuesday — a day dedicated to chasing away frightening and ominous spirits by disguising ourselves and giving out sweet treats — but you can now get a little voodoo anytime you want. Pennsylvania’s Voodoo Brewery is distributing down here and is now available at Dominion Wine & Beer.
On Arch Street in Meadville, PA, just across the street from the post office, you’ll find Voodoo Brewery, started by Matt Allyn in a former cabinetry store. In the ten or so years that Voodoo has been around they’ve grown from one brew pub to five locations in and around Eerie, which is just to the north. Each location features a generous tap room with extensive tap lists of both regular and rare Voodoo beers.
Voodoo brews 5 flagship beers, a bunch of seasonal beers and has made a name for itself with its barrel-aged program. Their maple syrup infused Big Black Voodoo Daddy called Grande Negro Voodoo Papi Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout ranks 62nd on Beer Advocate‘s list of Top Rated Beers.
I grabbed 3 flagship brews to share with you. Read my reviews then head over to Dominion Wine & Beer today, November 3, for the Friday tasting of Voodoo Brewery offerings between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m.
An unfiltered IPA, Voodoo threw in 7 different hops, all of which start with the letter C. Seven different hops, there’s a lot going on here. This is an exciting beer! I got a complex aroma of peaches and candied mango with a malty white bread and herbal green grass undertone.
The sip revealed a dry, but fruity beer that finishes spicy and lightly bitter. Think melon and black pepper. Hoodoo is a unique IPA, it’s flavorful and light bodied while still packing a punch at 7.3% ABV. Grab a six-pack of this complex IPA if you need a diversion from tongue-coating, juicy IPAs.
Gran Met means Grand Master, which is an apt name for a tripel that hits all the right notes. Fruity and clean, this beer gives off the expected banana and clove aromas with sweetness of lightly caramelized sugar. In fact, Voodoo slowly feeds their fermenting Gran Met a mixture of cane and beet sugar, making for a stronger beer in the tradition of this style. I found this to be a solid American version of the classic Belgian tripel. Gran Met is hefty and smooth and drinkable — it’s everything that this style should be.
What if you took the delicious tripel, Gran Met and you aged it with some fruit — maybe some cherries, raspberries and passion fruit? What? Voodoo already did that? Oh, I get it — Voodoo Love Child. The cherries are really the star here, bringing a syrupy cherry compote flavor to this already tasty beer. I’d drink this beer with dessert any day.
Now that temperatures are finally dropping and we’ve left the pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests behind (almost) it’s time for Winter ales to begin appearing. Back on the shelves, we welcome the classic Winter ale from DC Brau: Stone of Arbroath. I snagged a can to review along with a couple of other perennial favorites from the local brewery.
If you want to fill up on some fresh On the Wings of Armageddon Imperial IPA, it will go on tap in the growler station at Dominion Wine & Beer for a special price ($19.99 down from $24.99) on 64 oz. growlers today, Friday, October 20th.
Founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, both DC residents, joined forces to bring the District its very own locally brewed craft beer. Bringing their years of experience in brewing — Jeff Hancock started with Franklin’s Restaurant and Brewery, moving to other breweries including Frederick, MD’s Flying Dog Brewery — they began to build a brewery that has become a household name and won awards, most recently The Washington Post‘s Best Brewery distinction on their “Best of DC” list.
Whether you’re looking at their flagship beers, their seasonals or their rarer fair– you’ll find a can of well crafted beer.
Brewed in honor of the District’s founding father of brewing, Christian Heurich, Brau Pils is a German-style lager. Simple and straightforward, this beer smells of water crackers with an earthy wild flower spiciness.
The clean lager yeast gets out of the way, leaving a sweet and malty brew that is just lightly bitter in the finish. This pilsner goes down super smoothly and is gone before you know it. It’s a good thing this is available year round.
Clever. This beer was made in honor of the Mayan calendar’s apparent claim that the world would end on December 21, 2012. Fortunately, it didn’t and we can still enjoy this single-hop imperial IPA. Made with the proprietary, brand-name hop Falconer’s Flight, OTWOA is bursting with big citrus aromas that are deepened and complicated by hint of caramelized sugar from the malt — like a candied grapefruit peel.
Despite the inhaled suggestion of hop forwardness, this beer is actually quite malt balanced. It’s sweet, part citrus part honey. Having Armageddon in the name suggests a Palate Wrecker-type beer, but this is really very drinkable and smooth. Just don’t over do it!
DC Brau’s Winter beer, Arbroath is a Scotch Ale. Perfect for colder temperatures, the Scotch Ale (like the Old Ale, barleywine or even Belgian Quad) is a sweet, strong beer that tends to have little to no bitterness.
This beer gave off a delightful aroma of dried stone fruit, hazelnuts and yeast rolls. Light and smooth in mouthfeel, Stone of Arbroath blended the dried fruit zip with a brown sugar sweetness to form a malt forward taste that finishes just a tad bitter. That change at the end keeps this big beer from overstaying its welcome with each sip. Despite the sweetness, you want to keep sipping. Since this just released for the season, stock up. We just might have a doozy of a winter.
Two breweries are newly available, one at Dominion Wine & Beer and one at its sister store Downtown Crown Wine & Beer in Gaithersburg. The former is welcoming Athens, Ohio’s Jackie O’s Brewery, while the latter is offering several bombers from Brooklyn-based, Sterling-brewing Grimm Artisanal Ales.
Jackie O’s Brewery — Athens, Ohio
In the small college town that is best known as home to Ohio University sits a brewpub that began life in 1995 as O’Hooleys, but became the famed Jackie O’s in 2005. Art Oestrike bought the brewpub and began a new era of brewing in Athens, naming it after it his mother Jackie. The name was to be a sort of memorial as she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer around the same time.
In 2013, Jackie O’s purchased a former cheese factory building and opened their 8,000 barrel production brewery. They have already distinguished themselves from their peers as they have four beers currently on Beer Advocate’s Top Rated Beers list, all of them dark, rich beers.
While their stouts have made that list, they are also known for IPAs and sours. As Jackie O’s production capability expands, so does their distribution. The modest, but superlative Midwest brewery began distributing from coast to coast. Their beers, which are kegged, canned and bottled, are currently available at Dominion Wine & Beer.
“No kettles were soured in the making of this beer.” So goes the claim on the 16.9 oz bottle. Jackie O’s ages their cultured beers in the solera method, which usually involves moving beers from one vessel to another as the liquid ages.
The Berliner Weisse ages for three months before being packaged and distributed. Pouring a light amber, this sour wheat beer gave off aromas of bitter citrus — lemons and oranges — with a faint hint of acetone. Given the fact that Jackie O’s avoids the typical lemony tang of kettle-soured beers, this is a complex tasting beer. Sour plum and green apple combine to bring the tartness while the malt adds a slight sweetness, which lingers on the tongue. Refreshing and refined, this sour deserves a good look, especially in these summery Fall days that feel warmer than October should.
Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It was written by Arash Tafakor.
Simply put, Prosecco is an Italian White Sparkling wine. But many customers do not know exactly what Prosecco is other than it’s Italian, it has bubbles and they like it.
Prosecco sales have soared in the United States the past 10 years, and in 2013 worldwide sales of Prosecco topped Champagne sales for the first time ever. Prosecco’s light body, citrus flavor profile, off-dry nature and affordable prices make it a much more approachable every day sparkler than Champagne.
So what is Prosecco?
Prosecco is made in the Northeastern regions of Italy with a grape named Glera. Dating back thousands of years to the Ancient Romans, the Glera grape was widely used to make still white wine until the 20th century when secondary fermentation was discovered.
Unlike Champagne, Prosecco is made with a method of secondary fermentation (what creates the bubbles) called the Charmat method. Instead of the labor intensive and time consuming Champagne process of secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle, Prosecco undergoes secondary fermentation in large stainless steel tanks which greatly reduces costs. The end product is a vibrant, fruity, low in alcohol, affordable sparkling wine that is meant to be consumed young and fresh.
For around 10-15 dollars you can get a Prosecco that offers delicate fruit and enticing aromas. On the palate you can expect Prosecco to deliver ripe assorted apple, pear, citrus and often some nutty flavors. Since most Prosecco is on the drier side and inexpensive they are also perfect for mixing with orange juice, grapefruit juice and especially peach puree to make a famous Italian Bellini. Next time you are hosting a brunch and need a mixing sparkling wine for Mimosas, the smart choice is Prosecco.
You can also pair Prosecco with a variety of foods. Traditionally used as an aperitif or by itself, Prosecco pairs well with most cheeses and light charcuterie as well as seafood, Asian fare, Spicy food and creamy Italian sauces. Prosecco is a very forgiving food friendly sparkling wine option.
In June, the Brewers Association announced a seal that craft breweries could use to identify themselves as “independent.” The seal is a way for craft breweries who do not have the distribution power of big beer to differentiate themselves.
In the wake of craft brewery purchases by international beer companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) and Heineken, it is apparent that distributors and consumers might be a bit confused about who is being mass produced and who is still a local or regional — or even national — craft brewery.
An upside-down bottle with the words “Certified Independent Craft” comprises the seal, and is intended for use on everything from windows to packaging. Not restricted to members of the Brewers Association, they require only that you be a commercial brewery and that you meet their requirements for being a craft brewery.
The idea is to draw a bright line between those breweries that appear to be independent, but are part of a larger corporation, and those that have retained their independence.
Since June, more than 2,000 of the 5,000 craft breweries in the U.S. have signed on to the program. Though the Brewers Association hasn’t published a list of participating breweries, an informal survey of local and nearby breweries includes Port City Brewing Company, Solace Brewing Company, Black Hoof Brewing Company and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.
Here’s my big question to you: Will this seal help you choose beer in the future?
Last summer, I wrote about Dogfish Head Brewing Company’s craft beer tourism efforts in Delaware while I was on vacation there. This year, we took a special trip to the island of Maui in Hawaii where I decided to pay a visit to the two commercial craft breweries there — Maui Brewing Company (MBC) and Koholā Brewery.
The former is a brewery that upgraded to a large, new facility in the South Maui town of Kihei and the latter is a brewery that took MBC’s place at their original Lahaina location.
According to the Brewers Association, there are 14 breweries in the state of Hawaii placing it 48th out of 50. But that stat doesn’t tell the whole story. When you’re in Hawaii, each island can feel like it’s own country.
Two craft breweries on Maui means that you have plenty of options as most popular restaurants and hotels offer either or both breweries as choices. Occasionally you’ll even find something from one of the other 12 Hawaiian breweries. Of course, Kona Brewing Company is always represented. But when you can have fresh beer from truly independent craft breweries that are just down the road, do it.
Maui Brewing Company, established by Garrett Marerro and Melanie Oxley in 2005, is like the older brother of craft brewing on Maui. You can find it in the South Maui town of Kihei, just up the hill from the highway that separates the foothills of Haleakalā and the ocean. The tap room at the brewery reminded me of Ocelot Brewing Co. with plenty of room for tables and even some indoor games. You’ll find a long bar with more than 20 taps featuring mostly Maui beers with several guest takeovers.
If you’re lucky you’ll even run into Garrett Marrero talking to beer lovers by the bar — you’ll see him in the lower right corner of the taproom photo. Sample some of their beers in flights, full pours, or to-go in crowlers, growlers or cans. Both craft breweries on the island have crowler machines to make it easier to enjoy their beers on the beaches where bottles are not allowed.
Specializing in whatever they happen to be brewing at the time, MBC takes inspiration from and regularly uses local ingredients and flavors. For instance, the Pineapple Mana Wheat Ale uses the extremely flavorful Maui Gold pineapple to create juicy, crushable Hawaiian-style hefeweizen. I sampled a few of their less common offerings to give you an idea of how rewarding a visit to their brewery can be.
Grand Wailea 25th Anniversary Gose (5.5% ABV)
It’s important to note that MBC occasionally brews exclusive beers for local businesses, this is one of those. It was only available at the South Maui resort, Grand Wailea. Brewed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the resort, this gose was brewed with the popular salty and sour dried plum, li hing mui, and honey from the Big Island.
I enjoyed mine in a plastic cup by the Grand Wailea’s enormous pool, which was perfect. Definitely smelling of stone fruit, this beer is a mild gose — malty and salty with a light tartness. It turns out that in the tropical heat and humidity, such a beer just hits the spot.
Having this at the beginning of my trip, I had no idea what li hing mui was. I made it my mission to try li hing mui syrup, reduction, or powder on every shave ice that I had, what a treat.
Shave Weisse (3.5% ABV)
Speaking of shave ice — the popular Hawaiian frozen treat made by rotating blocks of ice across a blade to shave it and sweetened with syrups — MBC couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make this beer. Fruity and tongue-curdlingly sour, lemon, banana and unripened plum combine to make a liquid version of the popular treat. Though delicious and refreshing, I imagine this would be even better with a choice house-made syrup to take the edge off the sour. Either way, it’s a must-add to your flight.
The only MBC flagship beer that I included in my tasting flight — largely because I don’t gravitate toward this style — proved to be one of the most satisfying. As I mentioned above, MBC uses the sweet, aromatic native Maui Gold pineapple in this otherwise traditional wheat beer.
As you lift your glass toward your mouth, the expected banana and clove explode with fresh pineapple and a slight honey sweetness. This is a simple and refreshing beer — perfect at sunset as the temperature begins to drop.
The tourist luau these days is typically just a big dinner theater, often with an open bar and a traditional Hawaiian buffet. After the welcome Mai Tai, I ended up enjoying MBC’s Pineapple Mana Wheat for the whole evening at our luau — it was super tropical and sessionable.
Imperial Coconut Porter (9.4% ABV)
MBC first came to my attention in 2012 when the Coconut Porter won the Washington Post’s Beer Madness 2012. That was just the regular porter, now known as Hiwa Coconut Porter, the darkest MBC flagship beer. Since then, MBC has played with the winning combination of coconut and roasted malt making imperial versions that improve on the original.
One of the brewery’s offerings at this year’s SAVOR in Washington, D.C. was their rum barrel-aged imperial coconut porter called Black Pearl. That’s still my favorite version, but it’s very difficult to come by.
What’s easier to get and readily available at the Kihei brewery is the non-barrel aged imperial porter, winner of the gold medal in Field Beer at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It’s like drinking a coconut confection: toasted coconut, vanilla cake and a bit boozy. Being an imperial style, this was the strongest beer I had on the island. It’s a sipper unlike most of the beers that abound. Enjoy it in the light of the ubiquitous gas-fed tiki torches with the crashing of the waves always in the near distance.
Koholā is the definitely the younger brother brewery — they even use sort of handed down equipment. Opened in 2015 by husband and wife, Christine and Ian Elumba in the original home of Maui Brewing Company, Koholā brews low alcohol beers to be enjoyed in the year-round sunshine on Maui.
Currently only available in kegs, Koholā’s various beers can be found around the island at hotels and restaurants and at the industrial-style tasting room inside the brewery in Lahaina. I was reminded of the intimate setting inside Aslin’s garage doors.
Named using the Hawaiian word for “whale” — a common sight off the coast during the winter months — these beers are far from the typical craft beer connotation of the word. Meant to be accessible and drinkable, Koholā’s beers are the opposite of the whales, hard-to-find beers, that cause lines to form and populate Instagram and Untappd.
The smallish 21 and over tasting room was hopping with a combination of locals and curious tourists. Patrons at the bar chimed in with the both Christine and Ian as we chatted about the beers on tap and favorite local businesses.
After consulting with both Ian and Christine, I chose three crowlers of their super fresh beers.
Lokahi Pilsner (5.5% ABV)
Invoking the Hawaiian word for harmony, Lokahi pilsner is truly a balanced and refreshing brew. Winner of the bronze medal in the German Pilsner Beer category at the 2016 GABF, this is a clean and simple lager. The aroma was jam packed with Italian bread, chamomile, green apple and white grape.
Sweet and smooth, Lokahi is a malt balanced lager with a slightly floral edge that cuts the grain. As we relaxed by the pool on our final day, I opted for this crushable pilsner over a tropical mixed drink and was not disappointed. It’s a great beer at cookouts, after yard work or with friends on the beach.
Shaka Island IPA (5.5% ABV)
A true session IPA, Shaka Island is meant to be enjoyed liberally in the very warm climate of Maui, particularly in Lahaina, which is Hawaiian for “cruel sun.” It’s a hop balanced IPA with a slight malt backbone.
I enjoyed the bright herbal flavor that was enhanced by a dry bitterness. This is not a sweet, cloying IPA, but rather it’s one that refreshes with a relatively brief burst of classic hop flavors. Made for day drinking, grab this IPA if you prefer more hops than a traditional pilsner provides. Grab a crowler and enjoy it al fresco.
Mean Bean Coffee Stout (6.4% ABV)
The impression that I got from my brief, but engaging conversation with Ian is that Koholā focuses on simple, approachable flavors in their beers. So, I was a bit surprised when he said I had to try their Mean Bean Coffee stout — coffee stouts are simple enough, but this is still more involved than their other offerings. He assured me that it had a good story to go along with it.
It turns out that there are coffee farms on Maui — you’ve heard of Kona coffee (that’s on the Big Island). The space next to Koholā is occupied by the Maui Grown Coffee Company roaster. Some of the Maui Grown Coffee employees are regular visitors to the brewery and suggested a collaboration.
They could bring the coffee and Koholā could bring the brewing equipment, you get the idea. They ended up using a variety of bean called the Red Catuai, a wine-like coffee bean that is grown up the highway on Maui Grown’s Ka’anapali farm.
The result was my favorite beer that they had to offer. The aroma is rich with espresso, vanilla, cereal and cocoa –pretty expected. What I was not expecting was the sip — a light mouthfeel with healthy amount of bitterness from the coffee and the roasted malts — which was almost reminiscent of a black IPA.
The use of bittering Magnum hops and flavorful classics, East Kent Goldings adds to the complexity of this stout and perhaps allows a drinker to blur the lines between styles. Though Mean Bean is not hop forward, there’s still a dance between all the flavors that makes this a beer for a variety of beer lovers. Incidentally, Ian recommended the coffee at Maui Grown, which was heartily seconded by a couple of the locals at the bar. It’s good stuff, I only wish I had known earlier in the trip!
Though you have to travel to Hawaii to find Koholā beer, you can find Maui Brewing Company’s flagship beers along with some seasonal offerings at Dominion Wine and Beer. Wherever you go, you’re bound to find great beer. Maui is a perfect example of this. As they say in the Aloha State: aloha and mahalo. Cheers!
Two local stories are part of Dominion Wine & Beers expansion of non-beer or wine fermentables: Baltimore’s Charm City Mead Works and Upstate New York’s Graft Cider (more about their local bona fides later).
I thought I would take a break from writing about fermented water, grain and hops to shed some light on recently or soon-to-be available fermented water and honey and water and apple cider. The fact that neither of these companies makes their beverage in the way that I think is typical or expected makes them compelling.
Charm City Mead Works — Baltimore
Fellow mead lovers, James Boicourt and Andrew Geffken, founded Charm City Mead Works in 2014 after meeting at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum where they both worked. Very much like their brothers and sisters in beer, the pair parlayed home brewing enthusiasm and skill into a full-time business.
Mead has a rich history in nearly all ancient and many contemporary cultures. Found in Chinese vessels that date back as far as 7000 BCE, residue of honey and evidence of fermentation show that the fermentable sugar in honey has been known for a very long time.
More recently, sort of, the Norse — Vikings — wrote elaborate stories about the divine properties of mead. Notable is the story of how Odin stole the Mead of Poetry, a tale of murder and deception and a divinely sourced mead that gave the drinker great powers of poetry.
It has been an alternative to foul and filthy water, the drink of gods, the drink of Renaissance Fairs, but Charm City just wants you to enjoy the labor of their love. They offer 12 oz. cans of carbonated meads — albeit lightly carbonated — and larger bottles of still mead. They recommend either enjoying them on their own or as mixers in cocktails.
I tried a few of their offerings.
I’m going to be honest, my experience with mead prior to writing this article was with the treacly sort that purports to be the official drink of the Ren Fair. I was not prepared for the white wine-like experience that I had.
When Charm City claims that this is the Champagne of meads, they’re not far off. I almost couldn’t believe my nose at first, I tried to paint a picture that was not white wine until I had to admit that what I was experiencing was, in fact, very much like wine. It’s even fruity and lightly sweet, but you won’t be disappointed as the finish leaves a distinct honey flavor lingering in your mouth.
At 6.9% ABV, this is certainly not wine and it went down very smoothly. I enjoyed mine chilled and maybe even a tad too quickly. It’s that drinkable.
Billed as “Not too much heat, not too much sweet,” this mead is a limited Summer release that celebrates warm sunshine. Inhaling, I got more white grape mingled with clear mango and red pepper flakes — an intriguing mix to be sure.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know what the Comapeño pepper was — I still don’t know actually. Is it going to be unbearably hot like the habanero Sculpin? The reassuring answer is, no. I found just enough heat to get my attention that started mid sip and continued through the finish. This is a fruity mead that doesn’t necessarily convey the aroma of mango into the flavor, but still manages to create a summery experience in the glass.
Though Charm City makes a carbonated mead with hops, this still mead uses rosemary as a bittering flavor. They even claim that rosemary works better with mead than do hops. Since I was not able to try the carbonated hopped mead, I can only speak to the experience of drinking their rosemary mead.
White wine in the aroma shouldn’t surprise anyone by now, but I also got a distinctly sweet clove spiciness. In the mouth, the rosemary mead was lightly sweet — like a Riesling — and slightly tart, again avoiding the syrupy sweetness I kept expecting. What rosemary flavor I got came through as a clean, almost pine flavor that stayed in the background.
You’ll notice that this still mead is almost twice as strong as the canned meads above. I’ll confess that it did not seem so strong to me, it was so drinkable. As for how to drink it, I enjoyed mine on its own. But, Charm City reached out to me to recommend using this mead as mixer. I’ll definitely try that next time I get this.
“Modern Times is proof that a start-up brewery can compete and win in the craft beer market without selling out, all the while taking outstanding care of our employees and rewarding our investors.” — Jacob McKean, Modern Times founder, CEO and majority owner.
A healthy dose of idealism peppers the enthusiastic blog post announcing the 30 percent stake that San Diego’s Modern Times Beer granted its employees. It’s not surprising when you consider where the company got its name and the names of most of its beers — utopias, both real and fictional. “Modern Times” refers to a failed utopian society that was built in 1850 on Long Island, NY — not the Charlie Chaplin classic as I had supposed.
You can read a fantastic article about the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) over at Brewbound, but here’s another quote from McKean about the importance of the decision: “It ticked every box for us: achieving an outstanding return for our investors, maintaining our independence, rewarding the employees who have made our success possible, enhancing the collaborative culture that’s so vital to the company, and creating a sustainable ownership structure that will replace me when I’m ready to move on.”
Started in 2013 by former Stone Brewing Company alumnus Jacob McKean, Modern Times has grown enough to distribute to Virginia, California, Nevada and Hawaii. Since late June, the much loved San Diego brewery has been available at Dominion Wine & Beer.
Their flagship beer may be the Belgian style farmhouse ale, Lomaland, but they are not a Belgian style brewery. They claim to specialize in “aroma-driven, complex, flavorful, sessionish beers” — the four beers I’m sharing below certainly — mostly — fall into that category.
Billed as a tropical fruit gose, Fruitlands is brewed with guava and passion fruit. It’s no surprise, then, that the aroma is all passion fruit. Flavor-wise, mild tartness and malty cracker steps to the fore — the fruit in the aroma ducks out of the way. Though carrying the tell-tale lemony sourness of a kettle-soured beer, Fruitlands is relatively mild. It’s light and exceptionally drinkable. Enjoy them on a hot, humid Virginia summer afternoon.
Fortunate Islands Tropical Wheat Ale (5.0% ABV)
Basically an IPA with wheat in the grain bill, Fortunate Islands is dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo hops. The result is a crisp beer with aromatics of juniper and fresh laundry. Pine needles, peppercorns, sweetness and mild tropical fruits burst through in the sip. At 5%, this beer is super crushable — it’s light bodied and full of flavor.
Universal Friend Grape Saison (7.2% ABV)
Brewed using Modern Times’ proprietary Belgian yeast blend Lomaland and Pinot Noir grapes, Universal Friend is an adventurous spin on their flagship saison. Inhaling deeply invokes a delightful memory of Welch’s grape soda. The flavors are a bit more complex, though. Grape flesh emerges first, followed by juicy tartness with cloves. As this beer warms, the fruit hides behind the spice — it is a saison after all. Many American saisons tend to have an astringent bite, but Modern Times’ interpretation of the style is smooth with a hint of tartness.
Holy Cow! First, imperial porters walk a fine line between black IPAs and stouts. To me, the difference is in the lack of hops for the former and the lighter mouthfeel than the latter. All that’s just a technicality. You want to call your black beer an imperial porter and not a stout? If it’s tasty, I don’t care. Haunted Stars happens to be super delicious. Full of vanilla and wonderfully bitter black malt with a bite like dark chocolate, this beer makes a perfect dessert beer.
Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Arash Takafor.
Thanks to Reverie Distribution out of Richmond, Prairie Artisan Ales are now available in Virginia. Reverie, a small boutique distributor that also distributes popular Virginia breweries such as Veil, Ocelot (RVA only), and The Answer specializes in distributing fresh beer to high quality establishments.
Since most of the breweries Reverie distributes release such a limited quantity outside of their taproom, getting these brews are a privilege. Even though Prairie is distributed throughout the U.S, getting their brews has proven difficult for most avid craft beer drinkers, especially in Virginia.
Founded by brothers Chase and Colin Healy in Tulsa, Okla., Prairie set out to brew complex farmhouse and barrel aged beers. Believing that the craft beer industry was getting crowded with common types of brews, Chase worked on brewing expressive beers such as inventive sours, wild ales, and other funky barrel – aged projects. With his brother Colin in charge of label art and marketing, the Healy brothers have created a niche product for beer geeks.
Due to a large geographic footprint and a limited amount of barrels abled to be brewed, Prairie’s beers are in high demand and low supply. Being able to be one of the first in Virginia to be able to sell these brews to the public is extremely exciting. One of Prairie’s cult like following beers is called Bomb! A 14 percent stout aged with espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans and ancho chilies. Drinkers go nuts for it’s harmonious flavor.
Right now at Dominion Wine and Beer we have stocked from Prairie:
- BOMB! – Imperial Stout aged on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers.
- Birthday BOMB! – Stout with a complex mix of hops and malt with a healthy dose of the signature coffee and spices.
- Paradise – Coconut vanilla stout
- MERICA – Single malt, single hop farmhouse ale
- Funky Gold Mosaic – Dry hopped sour ale with Mosaic hops.
- Funky Gold Citra – Dry hopped sour ale with Citra hops
- Prairie-Vous Francais – Refreshing Farmhouse ale with Brett. Slightly tart and a touch hoppy.
- 4th Anniversary – Sour beer aged on ginger.
- Phantasmagoria – Prairie’s version of a West Coast Style Double IPA. Low in Malt, high in hops.
Those three words were the catalyst for two-week old Solace Brewing Company’s name. Co-founder Jon Humerick woke up in the wee hours one night in the months leading up to the opening of his new brewery. Find. Your. Solace. He shared it with his partners immediately, and the rest is history.
Now the Dulles brewery that Jon, and partners Drew Wiles and Mike Arms brought to life is open and bearing the inspiring name. I had an opportunity to visit Solace a week after they opened and sit down with Jon Humerick to sample their brews and learn a bit about Loudoun County’s newest craft brewery.
Jon and Drew met at Beltway Brewing Company, the Sterling contract brewer where Jon was director of operations and Drew was production manager. After years of brewing beers for others, the idea of doing it themselves began to ferment. Then in December of 2016 they broke ground on their own brewery.
Capable of brewing 3,000-4,000 barrels annually, Solace is currently a draft-only brewery, with pours on premises and growler fills. They look forward to offering crowlers soon, as they have the machine, but are waiting for the cans. Even further into the near future, they will use a mobile canning system to can some of their beers.
Once Solace has established itself, it plans on being a force for good — partnering with local charities to brew collaborative beers and donate proceeds. For the time being, the crew at Solace are happy to entertain their neighbors. The space is enormous and designed similar to good friends Ocelot Brewing Company who are just down the road.
There’s a bar on one side and a large seating area that will comfortably accommodate large crowds of both beer geeks and families on the other. In fact, the seating area is separated by a low wall that makes for a nice corral for families with small children.
Speaking of beer geeks, I don’t get the sense that Solace is trying to be the next “line-around-the-corner” brewery. Their aim is to brew beers they like for others to enjoy.
Just look at their opening line up: an India Pale Lager brewed with Ocelot Brewing Company, a brown ale, a watermelon summer ale, a wheat beer, a session IPA, and an IPA. Approachable. Even better, they have, on limited offering, coffee on nitro from Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters for the designated driver. If they’ve run out of the coffee, you can always get a flavored seltzer water — a welcome change from the beer or canned soda choices of other local breweries.
I sampled all of their starting line up. What variety! While each of Solace’s first beers was interesting, three stood out to me as a great sign of where they might go.
Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Arash Takafor.
When it comes to Rosé wine, vintage is more important than most people think. Rosé recently has become the cool thing to drink outside amongst friends. I mean, why not? It’s fresh, fruity and goes down extremely easily. Even men will slug a couple glasses of rose instead of their usual craft beer these days.
However, there is much more to Rosé wine than just a light refreshing summer drink. Simply put, producing a great bottle of Rosé takes skill by the wine maker to decide when the grapes are perfectly ripe to pick based on the weather the region had that year.
The amount of sun and rain and other important factors determine how good or bad the vintage will be. More sun and less rain equals more concentrated flavors, while less sun and more rain equals diluted flavors. Winemakers love a balance between the amount of sun and rain the grapes are exposed to, but timing of these events is important as well.
When it comes to Rosé, the grapes used are generally riper than others. The fruit flavors of the grapes show better, especially in Rosé, which is all about the juice since it’s made to drink fresh.
In Provence, France, the 2016 vintage was a dry vintage, which producers say turned out to be great for quality but bad for production. Given that 2016 was a dry year for Provence, the grapes were smaller and more concentrated but yielded 25 percent less juice than normal. Since almost every wine region produces Rosé wine now, picking the right Rosé can be difficult, but it all comes back to how good or bad the vintage of that particular region was.
Here are some of our 2016 Rosé recommendations at Dominion Wine and Beer.
One of the most old school, well known Rosé producers out of Provence, this estate was founded by the Knights Templar in the 13th century. This delicious Rosé is full of ripe red fruits, is bone dry, crisp and ready to drink. It showcases the quality 2016 vintage of Provence.
2016 Wõlffer Estate “Summer in a Bottle” Rosé, Long Island, New York
Similar to Provence, Long Island had an abnormally dry vintage resulting in wonderful ripe, lush fruit full of aromas and ideal to make great Rosé. Hints of melon and lychee fill the glass; the mouth feel is lush and vibrant with bright fruit and lively acidity. Most importantly, the bottle is beautiful.
A warm dry summer with a few heat spikes made these grapes ripen earlier than usual, which is great for grapes destined for Rosé. This popular Grenache-based Rosé is light and almost effervescent in the glass. Tastes of lime, watermelon and peach make this a delicious choice for your next Rosé.
Just what is the difference between a craft brewery and “big beer”? The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association for American craft breweries, defines a craft brewery as a small brewery (6 million or fewer barrels brewed per year), an independent brewery (less than 25 percent can be owned or controlled by a non-craft company in the industry) and a traditional one (this one is more complicated these days).
The key factors that differentiate a craft brewery from a company like Anheuser-Busch InBev are the production limit and the ownership stake. If a craft brewery is assumed into a company as large as ABI, is it still craft to you?
In 2011, ABI bought a 58 percent stake in the Chicago brewery that makes Goose Island beers, including the coveted Bourbon County Barrel-Aged Stout. The division of ABI that absorbed Goose Island is know as The High End.
They also oversee their imports like Stella Artois, Becks and Bass; and their pseudo craft labels like Shock Top wheat ales and Landshark Lager. After spending a couple years increasing Goose Island’s production, maintaining a boutique stout brand that has people lining up for it, and blurring the lines of what craft beer is, they began a cross country shopping spree.
In February 2014, Long Island’s Blue Point Brewing Company was the next to join ABI. Later that year, in a purchase that I remember garnering negative attention on social media, ABI picked up Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing Co. 10 Barrel’s local presence with brew pubs in both Oregon and Idaho endeared them to craft beer lovers in the Pacific Northwest.
Going from the homegrown experience that had been 10 Barrel to the ABI-owned piece of the High End portfolio appears to have had little lasting negative effect on the brewery or its beers.
In 2015, ABI stepped up its acquisitions by taking control of Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Co., California’s Golden Road Brewing Company, Denver’s Breckenridge Brewing Co. and Arizona’s Four Peaks Brewing Co. It was a whirlwind year! If all that wasn’t enough to cause consternation, they actually started the year with a mocking commercial during the Super Bowl in which ABI (in the guise of Budweiser) pokes fun at beer geeks and the beers they drink (pumpkin peach ale!).
A bit of irony followed when Elysian — famous for partnering with Sub Pop records to make the independent-spirited Loser IPA and making the derided pumpkin peach ale — joined the High End division of ABI.
2016 saw only the acquisition of Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing Company. That felt like a surprise, but I was assured by a spokesperson at the time that the company would be no different under ABI. Indeed, their quality appears to have remained the same. In fact, their collaboration 12-pack proves to be one of their stronger offerings as they continue to work with nano and micro breweries in Virginia.
However, it was this move by ABI that gave me the clearest view of what their end game might be. Attending game one of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals at the Verizon Center, I went off in search of a craft beer. Between the vendors with buckets, the fancy carts and the built-in counters I saw only ABI brands — mostly Bud and Shock Top.
Eventually, I stumbled upon a cart that also had Devils Backbone. That was when the lightbulb went off. If you have precious little shelf space or tap space, how much easier is it to deal with the company you’re already working with for your biggest beer sales? If ABI has a craft brewery in a major market — look at a map and the companies above — they can get their “local” “craft” beer offering on the menu instead of an actually smaller brewery that could benefit from the exposure.
Now, ABI has bought Wicked Weed Brewing along with their sour beer meccas Funk Works and Funkatorium in Asheville, N.C. There has been a lot of pixels and ink spilled about this move. Wicked Weed’s annual Funky Beer Festival, a collaborative brewing event that benefits a charity, has been cancelled because of swift retaliation by still-craft breweries who are disgruntled.
The jury is out on whether Wicked Weed will continue to suffer for their decision to follow the money or whether their fan base will only grow with access to more distribution channels. I will be particularly interested to see if they can retain the creativity that they enjoyed when they were independent.
How do you feel about the breweries that have joined ABI’s High End brands? Have you noticed a change in quality for those breweries that were independent, but aren’t anymore?
Hey, that’s today! From 5-8 p.m., join Virginia Beach’s Commonwealth Brewing Co. at Dominion Wine & Beer for a Cinco de Mayo party and beer tasting. Check out the beers that will be on tap tonight:
- Mano Del Puma Blonde Mexican Lager
- Wapatoolie Tropical IPA
- Big Papi Double IPA
Those three beers, Papi Chulo IPA and Marvolo Imperial Chocolate Stout will be available in tall boy cans (see the photos below.) Stop by and taste all five beers and take some home.
Below are my thoughts on the five beers that Commonwealth has to offer tonight. Each beer is a fantastic example of its style — and they’re beautiful to look at. Check out my thoughts, then grab some cans or crowlers for yourself.
It’s corn that makes a lager a Mexican one. Adding corn to the grain bill adds a sweetness and contributes to the crispness that you’d expect from a Mexican lager like Corona or Dos Equis. Mano Del Puma is a simple, but delicious brew. Inhaling, I get fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro bracketed by clean, white flour. The sip is crisp soda cracker with a subtle sweetness. It’s all on point. At only 4.8% ABV this is great for a hot summer day after mowing the lawn or grilling. This isn’t just crushable, it’s totally poundable.
Often I pour so-called tropical IPAs and I find only the typical aroma of passion fruit, while not entirely unwelcome, it’s kind of plain. Wapatoolie is anything but plain. This is the first time I’ve poured a tropical IPA and done a double take to make sure that I’m pouring a beer. Hazy and straw-colored, Wapatoolie smells like a piña colada — all pineapple and coconut. Lest you think that this is going to be a frou-frou cocktail of a beer, pineapple essence blends with creamy coconut milk, there is little sweetness. This is a serious beer that hits all the right “tropical” notes in a way that I was not expecting. It was delicious and made me smile the whole time I sipped it.
Do you remember the frozen concentrate juice blend, 5 Alive? It blended orange, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine and lime. Papi Chulo is a juice bomb that took me back to the days of standing on a stool with a big wooden spoon stirring a pitcher of 5 Alive. While the aroma suggests sweet mandarin orange and dank pine, the flavor is nearly as complex as the juice it reminds me of. Rather than just candied mandarin, Papi Chulo is a delightful blend of citrus flavors with just a hint of the dankness that I smelled. The result is a seriously fruity and crushable hazy IPA.
If Papi Chulo is like a glass of 5 Alive, it’s big brother, Big Papi is like the Hawaiian juice blend POG. Passion fruit, orange and guava are the juices in POG — get it? Just like the beers above, the very specific aromas — POG in this case — carry through amazingly into the flavor. At 8% ABV, this beer is slightly sweet with a bit of astringency, imagine if you spiked glass of the Hawaiian juice. Even hazier than its little brother, Big Papi has a velvety mouthfeel. This is a special beer — it’s big and delicious — that’s perfect for sipping and savoring.
After all the bright and hazy lagers and IPAs from Commonwealth, this strong and sweet stout made a wonderful dessert. Pouring pitch black with a fine, tan head, Marvolo has a smooth body with fine carbonation. Flavors of sorghum molasses and cocoa combine to give this stout it’s namesake chocolatey-ness. There’s just enough bitterness from the black malt to keep this otherwise sweet beer from being cloying. Sip this at the very end of the day when the air begins to cool, but be careful — it’s so smooth that you might overdo it!