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.
Three notches, like small slashes, mark both an historic road running east/west through Central Virginia and an accomplished Charlottesville brewery. Three Notch’d Brewing Company takes its name and its trademark from the road of the same name. But it also takes its inspiration from it and its historical surroundings, naming most of its beers after places, events and artifacts of the local past.
Opened in 2013, this relatively young Virginia brewery has already managed to “make its mark.” With three locations from Charlottesville to Richmond and a national award — Hydraulion Red won the bronze in the Irish-Style Red Ale category at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival — Three Notch’d appears to be striking the balance between growth and relevance well.
RVA Collab House is their most recent location to open and is located in the historic district of Scott’s Addition in Richmond. In addition to a taproom, Three Notch’d installed a 3.5-barrel brew system that they use to collaborate with breweries, local businesses and other organizations.
Between their core beers, which are solid entries in their respective style; their seasonal releases that show up on Instagram and Untappd; and their small-batch collaborations Three Notch’d can appeal to both the casual beer drinker and the beer geek alike.
On Friday, April 28, Three Notch’d will be releasing some new beers and taking over the taps at Dominion Wine & Beer from 5-8 p.m. In addition to six-packs of Hydraulion Red Ale, 40 Mile IPA, The Ghost Pale Ale, G IV IPA and Minute Man IPA, the following beers will be on tap:
- Hydraulion Red Ale
- Brew Betties — a Maibock
- Peach Ghost — Ghost Pale Ale brewed with peaches
- Minute Man IPA
- G IV IPA
- Sticky Wicket Dank IPA
Below are my thoughts on three of the releases available from Three Notch’d.
The historical reference here is one that strikes close to home for the brewery — it’s named after the founder’s father, George Henry Kastendike IV or Big G4. The brewers claim that this bold West Coast IPA is reminiscent of the way Big G4 lived. What a life!
Inhaling the aroma, I get peach nectar and citrus zest with just a hint of pine. The flavor is equally bold — bolder — with grapefruit tang and bitterness, a combination of the pith and flesh. It starts out sweet, but quickly turns bitter and dry. The slight dankness suggested by the hint of pine in the aroma peeks through mid-sip, but doesn’t linger or overpower. The current trend may be toward cloudy New England IPAs, but this fruit-forward beer stands along side the trendy ones in flavor.
The can’s art evokes both Minute Maid orange juice and the historical volunteer-based militia Minutemen. Orange juice is the main thing here. I detected orange juice concentrate, Nilla wafer and pine resin in the aroma. Not bitter at all — the 20 IBUs tell you that — the sip is sweet and dank with a juicy finish.
I was surprised that the orange didn’t dominate the flavor in the same way that it did the aroma, but I think that’s for the better. So many fruit-forward IPAs focus solely on citrus flavors, but I appreciate how this one had the extra dimension of pine. The sweetness makes is tasty without becoming cloying.
Three Notch’d Brewing Company Hydraulion Red Ale (5.3% ABV) (originally posted 2/20/2015)
Named after the only fire engine that the University of Virginia’s first fire department owned, Hydraulion is a tribute to Three Notch’d Brewing’s hometown. It’s also like a bit of history itself. Eschewing the hoppy ambers and reds of today, Three Notch’d has made a malt-balanced red ale, truly in the Irish tradition.
The addition of the English Golding hops, rather than an American variety means that the hops will be more subtle. Though this beer does not lack hop bitterness altogether, it is definitely not pronounced. What you get, instead, is a tasty malty brew that is pleasantly offset by a slight hop bitterness around the edges. You can’t go wrong with this 2014 Great American Beer Festival Bronze medal winner for Irish-style ales.
Come down to Dominion Wine & Beer to check out Three Notch’d next Friday. Cheers!
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.
I’ve been listening to the soundtrack to the musical “Hamilton” on repeat for the last two weeks. In the third song, “My Shot,” Alexander Hamilton’s friend John Laurens boasts that he’s on his third Sam Adams. Then I listened to Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch tell his own story on NPR’s How I Built This podcast.
It made me start thinking that maybe I should take another look at this venerable craft brewery. Samuel Adams’ Boston Beer Company may not have existed before the mid-80s — that’s 1980s of course — but they were among the founding fathers of modern craft brewing.
I know what you’re thinking: Sam Adams feels ubiquitous — often they are the only craft beer option on tap at national chains. For the craft beer connoisseur, there’s little to be excited about in their unsurprising offerings. Despite their forays into West Coast IPAs (a bit behind the curve) with the Rebel series of IPAs, their beers are seen as also-ran.
And they don’t seem terribly small. At nearly 4.5 million barrels of production across seven brands, Boston Beer Company ranks second among the more than 5,200 craft breweries, behind Pennsylvania’s D.G. Yuengling & Son. The Brewers Association limits craft breweries to 6 million barrels annually.
Another key stipulation of being a craft brewery is that less than 25 percent of the craft brewery can be owned by a company that is not a craft brewery. Samuel Adams’ parent company, Boston Beer Company, meets all the basic criteria. To put this in perspective, Anheuser-Busch brews more than 100 brands in the U.S. alone.
Sam Adams may be the second largest craft brewery in America now, but they were one of the first craft breweries to capture the imagination of American beer drinkers. The origin story, which Jim Koch vividly recounts on the podcast, sounds like the story of American craft beer.
So, I started thinking: What if I’m wrong about Sam Adams? What if we all are? For instance, I’d recently written about their Oktoberfest and how it’s exemplary of the style. I decided I had to try again and see for myself. I selected three recent releases and gave them a fresh look. I wasn’t disappointed.
This is a classic, a relic of another time. Boston Lager won the Best Beer in America at the 1985 Great American Beer Festival. It’s easy to see how. Today, in a sea of local nano brews rather than macro brews, it might seem less adventurous.
Sometimes a beer is an experience, but sometimes it’s just a beer. That’s when a simple, tasty brew like this really hits the spot.
Amber in color — more like a Munich lager than the more common pilsner style — it smells like honey and Wheaties. Each sip is sweet and malt-balanced, definitely a beer from a time when hops were an accent and not main contenders. In fact, the use of old world noble hops from Germany suggests a nod to tradition rather than a reach into the future.
Even if this isn’t where the hottest beers are going, it’s refreshing to know that there’s still a solid and delicious lager just about anywhere you buy beer.
This lager looks and tastes more like the beer that Americans have known as lager. Inhaling deep, I got soda crackers dipped in clover honey. In the mouth it’s crisp and honey flavored without being too sweet.
Typical of a light colored lager, the sip is brief but full flavored. I didn’t get much of anything from the orange blossom, but this beer was so enjoyable that I was fine with that. This a great one to have in your beer fridge when the days get warmer and you just want to chill.
I’ve had this twice now. Once on tap — I think that bar might want to clean their lines — and once from the bottle. The bottle wins, hands down.
Hopscape was the most complex beer I tasted from Samuel Adams and it’s very tasty. The aroma was an enticing blend of roses, honeydew melon and biscuits.
That melon carries through in the flavor — more musky cantaloupe than honeydew — along with a slight sweetness and a subtle malt backbone.
Though not a wheat beer in the style of a hefeweizen, Hopscape has a typically effervescent mouthfeel. Altogether, this fragrant, flavorful beer satisfies. It’s just subtle enough to feel like it belongs in the Samuel Adams lineup without being too old fashioned.
Do you have a secret (or not-so-secret) favorite from Sam Adams?
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.
Come celebrate the incredible Maryland beer scene! This Saturday, March 25, 2-5 p.m. Downtown Crown Wine and Beer is hosting its 2017 Maryland Day Beer Festival, inside the shop and outside under a tent. They will be serving a total of 44 Maryland beers — 22 on tap inside and 22 in the tent, and one special can release! Weather is forecast to be 73 degrees and sunny!
On tap inside:
- RAR Brewery Galaxy Hyde American IPA
- RAR Brewery Edward Hyde Double IPA
- RAR Brewery Pineapple Grenade American IPA
- Manor Hill Brewing Red Juice IPA
- Manor Hill Brewing Trinity IPA
- Manor Hill Brewing Hidden Hopyard 6 Double IPA (Reissue)
- Union Craft Brewing Older Pro Gose (Barrel Aged with Blueberries)
- Union Craft Brewing Wook IPA
- Union Craft Brewing Pajama Pants Coffee Oatmeal Stout
- Burley Oak Brewing Company Mango Blood Orange J.R.E.A.M.
- Burley Oak Brewing Company Fruit Of Our Labor: Boysenberry
- Oliver Brewing Co. Vae Victus Double IPA
- Waredaca Brewing Company Baymore NE Style Double IPA
- Flying Dog Brewery Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter
- Jailbreak Brewing Company Czech The Technique Pilsner
- Red Shedman Farm Brewery Strawberry Rhubarb Blonde
- Diamondback Brewing Company Gone Till November Oat IPA
- Diamondback Brewing Company Jazz Cabbage Pale Wheat
- Steinhardt Brewing Framboise Flanders
- DuClaw Brewing Co. Sweet Baby Java
- Barley & Hops Grill and Microbrewery Working Girl Grisette
- Peabody Heights Brewery Acid Tripel
There is no entrance fee inside Downtown Crown Wine and Beer. The tent will have a $20 entry fee for six tickets redeemable for beer pours from 11 Maryland breweries and/or food plates from participating Downtown Crown restaurants. Enjoy live music and a big screen showing March Madness games outside. Bring the entire family because, in addition to beer, there will be two special sodas from Manor Hill Head Brewer Ben Little: strawberry and blueberry lemonade sodas.
Do you have a favorite style of beer? Are you ga ga for goses? Are you insane for India Pale Lagers? What would happen if they all just disappeared?
This is the bleak future that might be ahead for black IPAs if recent line up changes at some major craft breweries and the article in the March 2017 issue of All About Beer — “Are Dark Days Ahead for Black IPAs?” — are any indication. According to data cited in the article, from research firm IRI, black IPAs are the only sub-style of IPAs that managed to lose market share from 2014 to 2016.
Perhaps the first, and largest shot across the bow of the black IPA was in January of 2015 when Stone Brewing Company ceased production of its Sublimely Self Righteous black IPA because of flagging demand. Nearly a year later, Firestone Walker put its Wookey Jack black rye IPA in moth balls to make way for more innovative styles. Like canaries in the coal mine of craft beer, the demise of these beers just might signal to any of the other thousands of breweries across America that black IPAs are bad for business.
But… But, I love them. I thoroughly enjoy a black IPA’s beguiling blend of roasted malt and hops. Like a well roasted coffee, they have both the light and the dark in one glass. They’re not juice bombs or tropical fruit pale ales, but they’re not porters or stouts either. They’re wonderful enigmas.
That enigma is probably what’s sealed their fate. Brewers can’t even agree on what to call them — I think that makes a huge difference. Some breweries call them Cascadian Dark Ales and some just call them Black American Ales. David Birks, General Manager of Downtown Crown Wine & Beer, related an anecdote about a local brewer who actually said that he’d sooner brew a hoppy porter than a black IPA. Before anyone pulls out their BJCP Styles to correct me, I maintain that whatever nuances there are between all these styles — hops and black malt are going to make a black IPA. Let’s just call it what it is. If another label is more sellable, fine.
The point is, there was no unified front. Now there’s almost no front to speak of. When I went to pick up the beer for this article I could only find two still on the shelves. Neither was “fresh.” One of them, Uinta’s Dubhe was already featured in an article from last Fall. So I grabbed a sixer of the other: 21st Amendment’s Back in Black. Below I give my thoughts on one of the holdouts in this fading category and repost some past thoughts on other black IPAs, including the defunct Wookey Jack. Enjoy. And do give this style a try. Lack of interest made it fade away, but increased interest can bring it back.
21st Amendment Back in Black black IPA (6.8% ABV) from this week
An American-style IPA — in the classic sense — with a diverse grain bill that includes black malt… duh. You know what, looking at my tasting notes they either look pretentious or unappealing. Maybe both. I love this beer — so take my comments with a dose of hops. I don’t talk enough about the appearance of beers, but it’s so important with this style. BiB pours clear and cola colored until the head begins to form and it’s suddenly black with a creamy, if thin head. Inhaling deep I get a complicated aroma that includes Dove soap, brown rice, herbs de Provence and charred wood. My sip was no less challenging, but fortunately that soapy smell resolves into a slightly spicy cardamom with cilantro and espresso. The finish is delightfully bitter and brought to mind hazelnut skin. Find some, it’s great for any occasion.
Today at 5:00 p.m., Dominion Wine & Beer will host Ocelot Brewing Company in a special tap takeover. Ocelot will feature five recent releases: Sunnyside Dweller pilsner, Acquiesce IPA, Mi Corazon IPA, Uber Home IPA and Talking Backwards triple IPA. I’ll tell you about four of these beers below.
I had the pleasure of visiting and writing about Ocelot when they were only five months old. While they are basically the same great brewery, avoiding core or flagship beers in favor of constant change, they have begun to recognize that some beers deserve to be made again. In fact, in the time since I sat down with them, The Washington Post has recognized them as the Best New Brewery in the DMV. And they have joined the local ranks of Herndon’s Aslin Brewing Company and Cambridge, Maryland’s RAR in brewing buzz worthy beers that make craft beer lovers wait in lines for.
Talking Backwards Triple IPA (11% ABV)
One such beer is Talking Backwards IPA, Ocelot’s collaboration with Meridian Pint that sits at #7 on the Beer Advocate “Top Rated Beers: Virginia”. Though many of Ocelot’s beers are one-hit wonders, this strong IPA played an encore in December. The occasion of its brewing was momentous enough to be the subject of an article in the Washington, D.C. edition of the news site, Brightest Young Things, and was attended by Dominion’s own Arash Tafakor.
As Ocelot founder Adrien Widman puts it Talking Backwards is his tribute to Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. Not a clone mind you, but a big IPA in the same tradition. This beer screams special. The aroma is bursting with pine sap, cotton candy and mandarin orange juice. The sip — and I do suggest sipping– is strong and sweet, dominated by tangerine/mandarin but tempered by an herbal bitterness. Talking Backwards wears its ABV well, but you still get an alcohol burn that tickles your tongue. Share this one, you’ll make a beer friend happy.
Uber Home IPA (8.5% ABV)
Talking Backwards was totally billed as a dry IPA, but Uber Home nails dryness. A double IPA at 8.5%, Uber Home is fragrant with passion fruit, apricot and pine resin. Dry is the word when it comes to the flavor — the sip seems to come and go with little to linger on. Apricot and herbs combine with a light cracker maltiness finishing in a slight alcohol astringency. In the end, with a relatively high ABV and little sweetness, Uber Home is very drinkable. Be careful not to put it away too swiftly as the flavor belies the strong beer in your glass.
Mi Corazon IPA (6.2% ABV)
Though not an imperial IPA, Mi Corazon manages to combine both the full flavor and sweetness of a bigger beer. Reminiscent of juice bombs that I’ve enjoyed recently, the aroma is dominated by mango and tangerine. The sweetness hinted at in those fruits comes out immediately in the flavor, but fortunately it’s curbed by a slightly flowery bitterness. I felt that this beer could easily have been cloyingly sweet, but for the balance of bittering hops. This is both a simpler and more enjoyable beer than it’s fellow IPAs. These are all exciting beers, but Mi Corazon is especially fun to drink — it’s refreshing and tasty. At a more average ABV, it’s also easier to justify making the whole growler yours.
Sunnyside Dweller Pilsner (5.5% ABV)
This Winter has been anything but wintry. That must explain why I didn’t feel out of time drinking this clean and crisp lager. Befitting a pilsner, the aroma is biscuit flour and a hint of grass. Curiously, honey dew melon appeared as my beer warmed slightly, but I enjoyed the suggestion of fruit. The flavor, however, walks the lager line with a clean white bread maltiness and a delightful herbal bitterness — making a formidable one-two taste punch. This beer is more than drinkable: it’s poundable. I know that Ocelot eschews the notion of core beers, but there is a great case to be made for offering beer drinkers a couple of go-to beers. I’d buy this beer more than once.
Get out to Dominion Wine & Beer at 5:00 p.m. to enjoy these beers. Be sure to get your growler before the kegs kick. You might not see these beers again!
Let’s go on a field trip. Across the Wilson Bridge and up I-95 are some breweries that are making delicious beers. Some of them are beginning to distribute in Virginia, making it easier to experience their handiwork.
Oliver Brewing Co., Baltimore, MD
In 1993, some brewing equipment imported from England was set up in the basement of The Wharf Rat, later becoming the Pratt Street Ale House. What started out as a specialty craft brewery focused on making traditional English beers morphed into a brewery making well-crafted classic styles with an eye to the trendy. In 2015, they grew into their current 12,000 square foot brewery where they package beer in kegs and cans. It’s a minor wonder that after more than 20 years in business, they only just began canning last March.
Oliver is famous for the music that they play during brewing and packaging — from classic metal to contemporary indie metal. Music drives the brewing and infuses their line up whether it’s a core beer like Ironman or their special collaborative double IPA (DIPA) series with beers like Pagan Science or Crown of Lies. The latter two named after songs by the indie metal bands The Well and Mothership, respectively, who collaborated on the brews.
This is a big beer — both drinkable and strong. It feels special. Inhale and the dankness of pine resin fills your nose followed by a hint of caramel. Full of flavor, I got strong pine and black tea with a delightful sweetness. there might be a (an awesome) skeleton king with a bloody sword on the can, but this DIPA is smooth and refined.
Union Craft Brewing, Baltimore, MD
Union began operations in 2012 with the introduction of it’s flagship beer, Duckpin Pale Ale. They may have started with a straight pale ale and not a trendy style, but their beers are constantly garnering accolades. From their Old Pro gose, which I’ve covered here, to Balt, their German Alt bier throwback, they’ve won national awards.
Named for the Baltimore native, John Waters’ film Cry-Baby, this rye IPA hits all the right notes for a delicious beer. Rye IPAs are among my favorite takes on the style — rye, long thought to only add to the pour of a beer (it can improve the density of a head), brings a peppery spice to the party that cannot be easily replicated. Here the aroma is a blend of pine, soda cracker and black pepper. That segues nicely into the sip, which is clean with a more floral hop profile and a light bitterness. The rye’s signature pepper shows up in the finish.
I’ve heard from more than one beer lover that they make sure to have some of this on stock while it’s in season. Rye Baby is a solid go-to beer that delivers on the promise of a rye beer. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Union decides to make this a year-round beer.
Denizens Brewing Co., Silver Spring, MD
Located just north of the District, is the two-year old Denizens Brewing Co. Started by Emily Bruno, Julie Verratti and Jeff Ramirez, Denizens was meant to have a neighborhood vibe that welcomed all beer lovers. Denizens began to package their beer within a year of opening. Sold in tall boy, pint sized cans, Denizens’ offerings range from a their staple rye IPA, Southside Rye, to their Belgian-style tripel, Third Party.
Named after Norman Lane, who is considered the unofficial mayor of Silver Spring, Big Red Norm is a perfect example of Denizen’s attention to its home. A homeless man who became a beloved fixture of downtown Silver Spring for nearly 25 years, Norman Lane has been immortalized in public art and in this tasty beer.
This red ale has more to offer than your average red. Bursting with black currant, wheat bread and caramel, the aroma is nearly reminiscent of an Oktoberfest. The dark berry explodes in the flavor, challenging my expectations of a red ale. More fruity than malty, this beer flips the script on red ales. I’ve been a fan of their rye IPA since I first had it when it was only on draft — Big Red Norm is now on my list of favorites from Denizens.
Manor Hill Brewing, Ellicott City, MD
Operating as a “farm brewery,” Manor Hill began production in 2014 after more than a year of political maneuvering. Being a farm brewery means that they have to use at least one ingredient from their own farm, whether it’s the hops or the grain. And they can produce no more than 15,000 barrels of beer a year. Manor HilI grows cascade, nugget, chinook and centennial hops on two acres of their farm, which already supported beef cattle and corn for feed. Though their beers are available in limited quantities in Maryland, they’re worth the short drive across the river.
This fruity IPA enters a market full of both fruit-infused and hop-derived fruity IPAs. Manor Hill started with their flagship IPA, a beer flavored predominantly with Mosaic hops, and added passion fruit purée. The result is a tropical smelling beer with clear passion fruit aroma mixed with honey and herbs. The flavor ends up being more generally fruity than specifically tropical, but is a pleasure nonetheless. This beer is a refined entry into the fruit IPA category with its fruity start and light, herbal finish. Though this beer isn’t yet available in Virginia, it’s worth a short drive to find it in Maryland.
Wintertime ushers in the season of strong ales, whether they’re the hearty brown ales that I wrote about before the end of last year or imperial stouts. The imperial stouts are often barrel-aged or flavored in ways that might boggle your mind.
Barrel aging is no longer a matter of finding a set of barrels and aging the beer. Now, it’s desirable to source specific use barrels — sometimes even from particular distilleries like Pappy Van Winkle — like bourbon or port or bourbon and maple syrup.
And flavoring isn’t about adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that, nor is it just about adding coffee or chocolate anymore. Like bakers who attempt to wow by combining more flavors than are needed, brewers are increasingly adding a shopping list of items to a single beer. The goal is to recreate a particular flavor or sensory memory, as long as it’s not too overwhelming or muddled, that is.
The three beers I’m featuring today are in limited release and prove to be interesting examples of the two main types of imperial stouts that are popular this time of year. First is the bourbon maple syrup barrel-aged Michigan Maple Jesus. Then are two doozies of flavored imperial stouts: the s’moresy Dino S’mores and the cinnamony Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break. I was not surprised to find that the two flavored stouts were collaborations — they sound like they have a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen list of ingredients. But let us take a sip…
Evil Twin Brewing Company, Michigan Maple Jesus (12% ABV)
Evil Twin’s already formidable imperial stout, Even More Jesus, forms the base of this new, sweeter beer. Reportedly brewed at Dark Horse Brewing Company in Michigan then aged for 8 months in bourbon barrels that had also held maple syrup, Michigan Maple Jesus is it’s own special beer. Inhaling the aromas from this opaque black brew conjures up a comforting blend of wood and vanilla and dried stone fruits and loam. The sip is as simple as the aroma is complex. The sweet fruit of prune dominates giving way to vanilla in the finish. Aging has taken the sting out of the 12% ABV — this is a supremely smooth beer that goes down easy. You will likely only find this being sold by the 12 oz. bottle, but its worth stocking up. Drink some now and age some even longer.
Evil Twin Brewing Company/Westbrook Brewing Company, Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break (10.5% ABV)
Here we have a collaboration brew that mashes up Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break and Westbrook’s Mexican Cake stouts. If you think the name is a mouthful, check out the ingredients list: coffee, cinnamon, almonds, cocoa nibs, vanilla and habanero peppers. That pretty well checks the box for each of the words in the name. South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing Company brewed this collaboration beer. The result is a decent, strong stout that doesn’t quite get all the way to any of the promised flavors. The habanero is completely absent, an observation that I’ve heard others make. The actual experience starts with strong aromas of black coffee and cinnamon with an earthy almond skin. The flavor runs with the almond, which combines with a booziness to remind you of marzipan. Before it gets very sweet, though, the sip finishes in bitter black licorice. The result is that it never quite gets to the sweetness I expected with both cake and biscotti in the name. This is a special, hard to find stout that probably doesn’t live up the reputation of either Imperial Biscotti Break or Mexican Cake.
Off Color Brewing, Amager Bryghus and West Lakeview Liquors, Dino S’mores Marshmallow Imperial Stout (10.5% ABV)
Chicago’s Off Color Brewing teamed up with a local liquor store, West Lakeview Liquors, and Danish brewery Amager Bryghus to create this complicated stout. The shopping list on this beer includes nine different grains and marshmallow fluff, vanilla beans, molasses, graham flour and cocoa nibs. It’s a doozy. In a good way. After pouring an opaque black, the aroma transports you fireside just like the mouse toasting marshmallows on the label. Molasses and dried stone fruit combine to conjure up memories of caramelizing marshmallows. Dino’s flavors are more traditional for an imperial stout: sweet and slightly black malt bitter with a subtle fruitiness that was hinted at in the dried stone fruit aroma. Much like the Michigan Maple Jesus, this strong stout is smooth and alcohol burn free. Dino S’mores is a charming dessert stout that will brighten any evening during this season of short days.
In the cradle of our democracy and the Piedmont of Virginia, lies a winery that bears the name of the President-Elect. Trump Winery, formerly Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard, sits in the same area that Thomas Jefferson once made wine. A region that has long had its own American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation as Monticello.
Donald Trump bought the winery in 2011 for $6.2 million — a bargain compared the $28 million that was owed on it. As part of that deal, Trump gained the rights to purchase Patricia Kluge’s famous estate, Albemarle House. It is now a luxury hotel for visitors of the winery.
Regardless of the reputation of its current owner or its previous one — Kluge was the divorcee of one-time Forbes’ richest man in the U.S., John Kluge — the winery has racked up accolades from publications like Wine Enthusiast and awards in local and national competitions. Its sparkling wines are its bread and butter, but there’s plenty to like about many of their varieties.
It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump wines are a hot commodity right now with the inauguration of its namesake in a week. A quick search on eBay reveals that there is a market for these wines with the name of the next president on them — in one post a case goes for $295. In fact, the wines are in such demand that they are mostly allocated to restaurants.
We took a look at three of the wines for sale: the 2010 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, 2015 Meritage and 2015 Viognier.
2010 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc
A classic example of a champagne-style chardonnay wine made in the U.S., the 2007-2009 vintages garnered 22 awards among them. Given that the winemaker has been with the winery since before the current owner took over, the 2010 vintage of this wine stands up well.
Named Virginia’s signature white grape in 2011, the Viognier grape is well suited to the climate of the Old Dominion. This wine is fruit-forward with distinct notes of banana and pear. It’s on the lighter side with a slight hit of sweetness.
Meritage is the name of blended wines that are made in the Bordeaux style, without having to be made in that region. The designation is controlled by the Meritage Association, which dictates the grapes to be used and suggests standards. This Meritage is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc grapes. The merlot grape dominates with big blackberry notes while the cabernet franc grape brings a hint of coffee grounds, which grows stronger as this wine warms in the glass. Bottled in 2015, this Trump Meritage is young and could use time to evolve.
The Oxford Companion to Beer mentions several pre-20th century Winter beer concoctions that used heated ale and dessert ingredients like spices and egg and bread. With names like “ale posset” and “egg flip,” these drinks were like drinking beer bread pudding or custard. Since the early 20th century, however, we’ve moved on to styles similar to what’s available now.
Since a beer called Burton ale (generically referred to as an Old ale), Winter ales have been mostly brown ales that are stronger than your average beer. American craft brewers brought back the concept of adding spices beginning with Anchor Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale in 1975. Whether they are called Christmas ales or Holiday ales or Winter ales, these beers will provide a nice respite from the blistering cold outside.
Despite not containing any food like those old beer drinks, Winter ales can still be a bit like having your dessert in a glass. Not as syrupy as a flavored cocktail, but full of the sweet flavors of Winter baked goods. Whether it’s a heavy, boozy fruit cake or Christmas pudding or cookies — there’s a whole array of sweet flavors to be enjoyed.
Below are four Winter ales that take the chill off.
Blue Mountain Brewery Lights Out Holiday Ale (7.0% ABV)
Located in the Blue Ridge mountains, Blue Mountain brews this Winter ale at their Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington, VA. It’s available through December. This relatively light Old ale is bursting with the aroma and flavor of bread pudding with raisins. Bready malts and spicy hops combine with a slightly sweet finish to evoke the dessert. Lights Out stands up well on its own and is just light enough to go well with a hearty stew or roast.
Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC) Christmas Ale (7.5% ABV)
Cleveland, Ohio’s Great Lakes Brewing Company started as a pub in 1986, but had expanded to include a separate brewing space by the time Christmas Ale was born in the 90s. An early entrant in the spiced ale category, Christmas Ale has a solid fan base. Brewed with honey from the region, cinnamon and ginger, this beer jollily evokes cinnamon graham crackers. In fact, my nostalgia for the ubiquitous children’s snack made me want some chocolate and toasted marshmallow to complete the dessert as a s’more. It’s good that Christmas Ale only comes once a year, because its delicious flavor and light body might make moderation difficult. GLBC is even getting social with their #ChristmasAleSpirit contest. It doesn’t even require the possibility of winning something to put drinkers of Christmas Ale in the #ChristmasAleSpirit.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (10.0% ABV)
Brewed at one of the few remaining Abbey breweries in Belgium, St. Bernardus, Christmas Ale is a traditional Quadrupel or strong dark ale. Like a good fruit cake — an oft maligned, but tasty treat when fresh — this beer is redolent of fruit like tropical papaya and banana, as well as molasses and dried figs. Belgian ales tend to be quite effervescent as their special yeast tends to continue creating carbon dioxide in the bottle (this is know as bottle conditioning), but Christmas Ale avoids the bubbly bite with a fine mouthfeel. The result is a smooth and strong ale that is just sweet enough to please without being cloying. This is great paired with roasted meat like fowl or pork or enjoy it on its own.
Avery Brewing Company Old Jubilation Ale (8.3% ABV)
This Boulder, Colorado-brewed Old ale even looks like it’s from a different time. The Currier and Ives-style painting on the can and the ornate script in the name gives this traditional ale a traditional look. If we’ve had bread pudding, graham crackers and fruit cake so far, it seems we’re missing a good old fashioned Christmas pudding. Those beguiling British desserts that are prepared by boiling in cheese cloth and are topped with a brandy-infused butter called “hard sauce” have a particular flavor combination of the caramel of dark sugar and the bright sweetness of the sauce. Similarly, Old Jubilation is a swirl of molasses and brown sugar from the combination of malts that is brightened by the light booziness of alcohol. This beer is a fantastic sipper fresh or aged. It’s just the thing to pop open after a commute in 20 degree weather!
What Winter ales are you enjoying? Tell me below. Cheers!
Yesterday was the first day of December and while it might not quite feel like Winter, I think it’s safe to say that we feel like it’s time for Winter to come. The seasonal releases of barrel-aged or spiced or flavored or Imperial stouts (sometimes all of the above!) cannot come at a better time. Done right, a strong stout is a balancing act of roasted malts and sweet alcohol. That dance of flavors works well in these days that can start out frigid and end mild — they’re just bitter enough to be interesting and sweet enough to warm you.
Whether you’re standing in line for the latest release of Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout or breaking up a four pack of Dogfish Head World Wide Stouts, there is no shortage of strong stouts on the market. The stouts in this article aren’t going to blow up your Instagram feed or earn you a rare badge on Untappd, but they are delicious. And they’re on the shelves now!
Lagunitas Brewing Company, High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout (12.2% ABV)
Hands down this is the strongest beer in this article, though it trails the aforementioned World Wide Stout by a few percentage points. But who’s counting? This is a total sipper. Brewed using coffee from Chicago coffee roaster, Metropolis Coffee and aged for more than 15 months in rye and bourbon barrels from Utah’s Hight West Distillery, this is one flavorful beer. These whiskey barrels have mellowed what was no doubt a boozy beer. I expected my first sniff to be slightly shocking with the sting of alcohol, but it never happened. Inhaling conjures up Christmas pudding — dark stone fruit and black strap molasses. Big flavor and no alcohol burn are the highlights of the sip. Despite having coffee in the mix, there seems to be little of its flavor remaining. Instead, there’s a huge fruity sweetness that makes this a fine dessert pairing.
Stone Brewing Company, Xocoveza Mocha Stout (8.1% ABV)
As we move through the stouts in this article, the ingredient lists get longer. Xocoveza was made with coffee, cocoa, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and lactose. The end result is more horchata than hot chocolate, but that’s just fine. The lactose — sugar derived from milk — makes this a milk stout and gives it a creamy sweetness. When you combine that with the big cinnamon bite, this beer warms while painting a picture of the sunshine and warm weather of San Diego. Unlike the coffee stout above, a good long sniff brings out coffee and cinnamon with a hint of char from the roasted malts. The horchata I already alluded to is tempered by an espresso coffee flavor. Though no session stout, this beer is lighter tasting than its ABV suggests. With all that cinnamon and sweetness, enjoy this on its own or even with some tres leches cake.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Beer for Breakfast Stout (7.4% ABV)
I just returned refreshed and rejuvenated from a two-night stay at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes, DE — see my July column about their craft beer tourism for more information about what they have to offer. My stay included the behind-the-scenes “All-Innclusive” tour of the brewery with other inn guests, a lunch with the group and our designated driver Dogfish co-worker, and culminated with an hour-long fireside chat with founder and craft beer evangelist, Sam Calagione. During my two days in the Dogfish bubble I heard one repeated refrain from “Uncle” John, who led our tour, to our innkeepers to Sam himself — Dogfish prides itself on using whole, real ingredients in its beers.
It’s on their new packaging and it’s particularly apparent in this beer. Are you ready for the list of ingredients in this one? There’s cold-pressed Guatemalan Antigua coffee, maple syrup, Rapa brand scrapple, molasses, lactose, brown sugar and chicory along with a diverse grain bill that includes a smoked barley. Just reading about this beer is a real doozy, and, if you’re adverse to scrapple like I am, perhaps a bit intimidating as well. Let me put your mind at ease. This complex, drinkable stout is definitely not the soup that its ingredients suggests. While I definitely got some of the meatiness in the aroma — more corned beef than processed meat — I also got a good nose of smoke and delightful Turkish coffee. The flavor all but avoids the strong umami flavor that meat provides, instead favoring a sweet and darkly bitter coffee and finishing with a distinct smokiness. This is a special release right now, but I hope that it makes it’s way into the line up like Flesh and Blood and Seaquench ales have managed to. This is one of my favorite beers of the year.
What stouts can you just not get enough of? Let me know below. Cheers!
Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). This column is written by Dominion owner Arash Tafakor.
A brewer once told me that it’s not just ingredients and skill that makes a beer taste delicious; that it’s the love and passion for brewing that makes a beer shine.
You begin to discover these special beers more and more as a result of brewery collaborations. The magic of collaborations occur when breweries, restaurants and/or bottle shops from all over the world combine to brew something unique and limited. These beers are brewed based on each participant’s strengths, passion and craft trends. A couple of key factors that make the product extra special are the love and fun that flows into the process.
In a growing and rapidly changing beer industry, collabs are nothing new. They’ve been around our industry for a very long time. But in a market with increased competition between breweries, distributors and bottle shops, collaborations are an escape from our increasingly evolving industry. Sharing ideas, developing long term relationships, and bringing people together help bring a sense of community within the Craft beer world.
Dominion Wine and Beer is no stranger to collaborations. Recently, we coordinated a collaboration called All Eyez on Me with Aslin Beer Company (Herndon, VA). All Eyez on Me was a New England Style Double IPA with a unique hop profile. Aslin is well known regionally and nationally for brewing incredibly juicy IPAs. The opportunity to brew a beer with such a fine brewery was an incredible experience for Dominion. Dominion also brewed a Citra Hopped low IBU IPA beer with Three Notch’d Brewing Company (Richmond, VA) that turned out fantastic and we can’t wait to brew again.
Three Notch’d also recently launched a new project called “RVA Collab House,” to enable individuals or groups in the Richmond community to leave their mark through the art of Craft Beer. If anyone is interested, the signup form is attached HERE. Both collaborations proved to be a huge hit and very popular among the beer community. The Aslin / Dominion All Eyez on Me lasted about 15 minutes, flying out of the cooler in our pre-filled crowlers. Similarly, our Three Notch’d collaboration lasted only a couple of days on the menu and sold out quickly at the brewery. These results exceeded our expectations.
Jace Gonnerman, the Beverage Director of Meridian Pint, Brookland Pint, and Smoke & Barrel, three craft beer centered restaurant establishments in Washington D.C., is the “King of Collaborations” in my opinion. I spoke to Jace about this article and he explained to me how collaborations are an integral part of his restaurant group’s identity.
If a local brewery crosses your mind, there’s a good chance that Jace has already been there to brew a collaboration. Jace noted that collaborations help support local breweries and foster lifelong personal and business relationships with brewers and breweries. Jace’s collaborations are also legendary. His collaboration with Ocelot Brewing Company (Dulles, VA), called Talking Backwards, is an extremely drinkable high ABV Triple IPA, was considered one of the best IPAs ever brewed in Virginia. The industry cannot thank Jace enough for all his hard work and dedication to the craft. He sets out and pursues collabs, invites friends of his in the industry to come share the wonderful experience.
Be on the lookout for the following upcoming collaborations:
- Boulevard Collaboration No. 6 Barrel Aged Blend with Firestone Walker, a blend of each breweries barrel aged beers.
- Aslin and Manor Hill out of Ellicott City Maryland are brewing an IPA, bringing MD and VA together.
- Meridian Pint, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer, and Union out of Baltimore have a collab scheduled for early next year.
What are your some of your favorite collabs? Any we should be on the lookout for to put on tap?
Three Notch’d Brewing Company and Oskar Blues Brewery Black & Goldings black ale (6.3% ABV)
Dave Warwick of Three Notch’d and Tim Matthews of Oskar Blues first met when they were starting their careers in Pittsburgh. Black & Goldings is their tribute to that time. This beer is pretty simple — the black malt adds a welcome bitterness that you don’t get with the refined Golding hops. Simple is not bad. This is classified as an American black ale, but it’s more porter (a black ale) than black IPA. Freshly poured, Black & Goldings smells enticingly of coffee and dark chocolate. The tangy bitterness imparted by the black malt borders on smoky giving this beer an unexpected flavor kick. This a limited offering, so I’d pick one up soon.
Old Ox Brewery Black Ox rye porter (6.0% ABV)
Back in August the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild held the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup — Black Ox won gold in the American Dark Ale category. It’s really no surprise why. Old Ox Brewery of Loudoun County brews this porter almost like a black IPA, with the rye really spicing things up — so to speak. The aroma blends the expected coffee with exotic licorice and a hint of floury biscuit. I’m no porter purist — I definitely love a hoppy black IPA — so this beer is pretty exciting. Despite the description on the web site, Black Ox in the can appeared to be hop-forward. It combined the bitter tang of the black malt, the peppery spice of the rye with a bit of the dankness that hops impart. This was the kind of beer that you finish and immediately think of pouring another. It’s frankly delicious.
AleSmith Brewing Company Anvil ESB (5.5% ABV)
San Diego’s AleSmith Brewing Company considers Anvil its flagship beer. This American take on the classic British pub ale, the Extra Special Bitter, is both classic and fresh seeming. Essentially, a bitter is a pale ale. When brewed with mild British hops, however, the malt tends to take over. Anvil, brewed with appropriate hops, nevertheless manages to balance the malty tendencies of the bitter. Before I even took a sip, I picked up the pumpernickel and brown sugar in the aroma. I was surprised, however, by the complexity of the flavor. I expected a malt bomb, but I got winey raisin with a malt backbone that is clipped by a slight bitterness in the finish. Overall, this was a super drinkable beer that wasn’t too much of any one thing. At 5.5% it’s even sessionable — share a 22 oz. bottle or enjoy it all to yourself.
Bell’s Brewery Roundhouse India Red Ale brewed with honey (7.5% ABV)
Ranked 7th among all craft breweries in America by the Brewer’s Association in 2015, Bell’s is large enough to offer great variety in its beers. Whether you’re looking for the reliably hoppy Two Hearted Ale or the hop bomb Hop Slam or one of their milder malt forward offerings, there’s plenty for you. Neither plain nor extra fancy, Roundhouse — with its playful boxing ring turnbuckle on the can — brings the hops and the malt to the party. Just smelling it gave me the impression that I was about to be assaulted by a malt-forward beer — bready malt mingled with earthy hops. Despite the aroma, Roundhouse starts out with a peach black tea bite that is softened by the malt in the finish. While I definitely don’t mind a good wallop from hops — and kind of expect it from a beer that puts “India” in it’s name — this beer pulls its punches. In the end though, it’s still a tasty brew that goes down much easier than its 7.5% ABV might suggest.
Though Halloween is over, there are plenty of treats to be had. These are just several of the delicious new offerings that this Fall is ushering in.
In the mid-nineties two breweries opened across the United States from each other. One in a former mechanic shop in Utah and the other in a brew pub in Delaware. They each had a philosophy that drove them. They each developed an aesthetic that defined them. In 2016, they both underwent a facelift, a redesign of their core beer labels.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery started in 1995 as a brew pub in Rehoboth, Delaware. From the beginning, Sam Calagione saw his beers as intrinsically connected to food. Whether it was his use of the wine-bottle sized bottles to encourage sharing over a meal or the exploration of beers that used culinary ingredients, the brewery was establishing a consistent approach. In the 21 years since opening, Dogfish Head built a recognizable brand with the shark logo and Sam-inspired “Doggy” typeface.
The importance of the ingredients and the basic elements of Dogfish Head’s design have come together to create the new look of their core releases — their IPAs and other year-round releases. Prior to this year, Dogfish labeled its core beers with a plain label that used “Doggy” and the shark, while its ancient ales had unique labels that featured imagery that evoked the origin of the beer. Now all of the core releases, which includes some ancient ales, sport colorful labels that feature painterly illustrations of key ingredients along with brewery ID and beer name/description in playfully set “Doggy.” Off-centered, like it’s beers, is the shark logo as it breaks out of the label. Dogfish Head’s in-house department worked with Boulder, CO-based food and beverage packaging design studio, Interact, to develop the new look.
Uinta Brewing Company
Out west, in 1993 Uinta Brewing Company set up shop in the state with the fewest beer drinkers. Their first beers included three that remain in their core beers to this day: Cutthroat Pale Ale, King’s Peak Porter and Trader IPA. In 2005, Uinta created the specialty brewery called Four +, which was responsible for beers like Monkshine and Wyld. In 2011, they introduced the compass to their brand. This year, the compass at the center of their brand and their various 12 oz. releases finally came together to form a consistent Uinta-infused look.
Working with studios like Portland-based Sincerely, Truman and Nashville-based Anderson Design Group, Uinta introduced both a new logo and refined look that ties all their core releases together. Starting with a new logo that streamlines the well-known compass and mountain range mark to feature a simple east-west pointing diamond with a clean, bold typeface. The labels tie together beers like Punk’N and Monkshine — whose labels were simple and type only — with their illustration-based releases like Dubhe and Cutthroat. Prior to this redesign, the illustration-based labels used WPA-style images that evoked National Parks posters. Now all of their labels feature the colorful nature images, uniting all their beers and making them stand out on the shelf.
In this age of Instagram and Untappd, breweries’ core releases are increasingly considered passé by beer drinkers looking for the next big thing. A good redesign generates fresh buzz. A good redesign gets at the essence of a brand — the personality and the visual style. A good redesign re-introduces a brewery to beer drinkers. We all win with these two redesigns, since we get attractive packaging and delicious beer. Go ahead and judge these beers by their labels, you won’t be disappointed.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Midas Touch Ancient Ale (9% ABV)
Part of the Ancient Ales category, Midas Touch always had a unique label. An oversized golden fingerprint sat a top a solid purple label with the words “Midas Touch” in an evocative typeface that suggested Mesopotamia. Now, the purple carries forward with the gold transferring to the beer name. Rather than referring the golden touch that King Midas was said to have, Dogfish focuses on the ingredients. That, after all, is what makes this beer so unique. The illustration under the Dogfish shark logo depicts generous amounts of muscat grapes, barley and honey comb.
Midas Touch has been in the Dogfish Head line up since it first arrived in 1999. This early example of the wine hybrid beer adds mead to the mix — based on analysis of residue in vessels taken from the tomb of King Midas in Gordion, Turkey. Make no mistake about this beer — it’s not in the same vein as their much loved IPAs — this is a sweet, delicate brew with grapes, honey and malt at the fore. Let Midas Touch warm slightly out of the refrigerator and you’ll get a nose full of ice wine. If you have a taste for dessert wines, you’ll enjoy the sweet fruitiness up front. A malty finish keeps you from forgetting that this is still a beer. Despite its sweetness, I always feel that the honey takes a backseat to the grapes. Enjoy this winey beer with some cheese or a creamy alfredo.
Uinta Brewing Company Dubhe Imperial Black IPA (9.2% ABV)
Uinta’s year-round black IPA made a modest change from its previous look. Dubhe’s previous label featured a nighttime scene in a Monument Valley-like setting featuring the name swooping underneath the mountains. Now, the setting is the same, but at twilight as the smallest amount of orange light remains on the horizon. In the foreground is a red VW bus, which sits directly above the name, which is now set in a condensed sans serif typeface that appears hand drawn like the illustration above. Shining brightly in the dark sky is the official star of Utah, Dubhe, which makes up part of the big dipper.
Dubhe pours stout black with a rich, creamy head. Between the appearance and the aroma, which balances black coffee and cocoa with the cardamom sharpness of pine sap, you’d be excused for confusing it with a spiced Turkish coffee. This beer is appropriately sweet, thanks to the alcohol, but the dark roasted malt combines with the dank hops to create a richly flavored beer that evokes the spiced coffee that is hinted at in the aroma. Black IPAs are one of my favorite emerging categories and this beer is regularly a go-to for me.
The harvest period for hops in the Pacific Northwest happens to coincide with the end of Summer and beginning of Fall. As rows and rows of bines — that’s what hops grow on, though they resemble vines — fill out with bright green leaves and hop cones, farmers reap what they sowed. Most hops are processed in a kiln to dry them and keep their valuable oils stable. A certain portion of hops are shipped directly to breweries so they can use them to make “fresh hop,” “wet hop” or “harvest” (though there can be confusion between a fresh hop “harvest” beer and a brown ale called a “harvest” beer) beers.
Fresh hop beers can only be made during and immediately following the hop harvest as the wet hops (they are literally wet with moisture and fresh hop oils) have a short life span if they are not dried. The oils risk spoiling and worse, the moisture can lead to rot. Before long all those lovely, fresh hops are garbage. That’s why fresh hop beers are so special. That’s also why Fall is truly the one seasonal period for craft beer that cannot be superseded by seasonal creep. A fresh hop beer cannot be made before its time.
Thomas Cizauskas gave me the idea in a comment on my last column. He inquired about whether I had any favorite fresh hop beers that are limited to Fall. Since that article was about my faves up to that column’s release, I couldn’t say. There just weren’t any fresh hop beers available to me.
As it is, I had to cross the Potomac to Dominion Wine & Beer’s sister store, Downtown Crown Wine & Beer to find two locally brewed fresh hop beers. These beers represent another aspect of the fresh hop category: the appeal to locavores. Both are made using only locally harvested hops, while one even uses locally sourced grain and honey.
Waredaca Brewing Company, Whetstone Session Pale Ale (4.4% ABV)
Located in Laytonsville, MD, Waredaca is designated as a farm brewery, which means that they include at least one ingredient grown on the farm. Established on the Waredaca farm, the brewery brews small batches of draft-only beer. Their Whetstone is a fresh hop beer that is made with Cascade and Chinook hops from their farm and a Maryland hop farm, Pleasant Valley. The result is a beer that smells of biscuit with an earthy overtone and a hint of pear. The sip is light-bodied with a subtle hop fruitiness that gives way to hints of pine. While there’s a bitterness in the finish, it’s very light. As it warms, the green grass that can be a hallmark of fresh hop beers begins to come out in the flavor. Subtle is THE word with this style and certainly this beer, too.
Oliver Brewing Company Harvest Ale (5.6% ABV)
Oliver Brewing Company started in 1993 with a focus on traditional English style beers. Since then, they have expanded from the basement of a brew pub to their current location and began to can their flagship beers. They still brew smaller batches of special beers, like Harvest, that are only available on draft. I had actually just sampled this fresh hop beer at the Ale House of Columbia days before grabbing my Crowler from Downtown Crown. Oliver’s fresh hop ale is more of an amber ale that gives off a delightful scent blending honeycomb, Nilla wafer and dark berries. Similar to the Whetstone, Harvest is light on the tongue. The flavor is more malt than hop flavor, though a hint of smoke appeared as my glass warmed. Oliver sourced its fresh hops from Black Locust Farms in Maryland, its grain from Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia and honey from Miller Bee Yards in Maryland.
These two beers aren’t merely entries in a brief annual release schedule, they are celebrations of local farming and economies. I set out to learn more and to share with you about a style that I knew existed, but hadn’t given much attention. I ended up finding a style that can be used to epitomize the concepts of #drinklocal and #shoplocal.
Check out Dominion Wine & Beer to see what fresh hop beers they have. These subtle beers are worth exploring now since the season for them will be gone before you know it. Cheers!
It’s wonderful to be able to drink and talk about pumpkin ales and Oktoberfest lagers in the actual season they are made for. With the first day of fall on Thursday, we are officially in the season of beers that began appearing on store shelves in August. Some of these and some recent releases have become my “faves” of the season. I’ve gone back to these beers, savoring them, and now I’d like to share them with you.
Ballast Point Brewing Pumpkin Down Scottish Ale with Pumpkin (5.8% ABV)
San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing is known more for it’s West Coast IPAs and fruit infused beers than it is for earthy, spiced brews. But, every once in a while, they make an Indra Kunindra — a curried stout — or this pumpkin-loaded version of their potent Scottish ale, Piper Down. Once you pour this dark amber beer, the earthy aroma of squash mingles with cinnamon and nutmeg obscuring a malty honey wheat. Ballast Point avoids creating a pumpkin pie beer by rooting this in the malt forward style of the Scottish Ale. Slightly sweet and spiced at first, Pumpkin Down turns slightly bitter with the flavor of cooked pumpkin flesh. I’ve bought a couple sixers of this delicious Fall mashup. It’s tasty and versatile — enjoy it with a meal or on it’s own.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Punkin Ale (7.0% ABV)
Punkin Ale has been a staple of the Dogfish Head line up since their earliest days — 1995. It’s distributed in nearly every state and might be the entry point for many into their beers. Though they have controls and labs and all, they are still a craft brewery that relies on humans for analyzing the flavors of their beers. What this means is that some years their Punkin Ale is just alright and some years it’s fantastic. This year’s falls into the latter category — and it has awesome label art. Bursting with aromas of sweet potato pie, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet biscuit, Punkin seems to be poised to be a Pumpking-like beer. But it isn’t. It’s a solid brown ale that warms the palate with pumpkin pie spices, more winter warmer than typical pumpkin ale. Only in the finish is there a pumpkin presence, and it tends to be more of an earthiness than straight up pumpkin. Whether you’re looking for another pumpkin beer to try or can’t stand the sight of another, this beer might just be right for you. Available in four-packs as a strongish seasonal, this beer is worth a visit or a revisit.
Sixpoint Brewery Tesla Hop-Charged Lager (7.1% ABV)
You can always rely on Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery to have fun with it beer names. Tesla, named for the inventor and not the electric luxury car brand, refers to the story that Nikolai Tesla once electrified a neighborhoods water supply causing homeowners to get a shock. Joining the recent trend of hoppy lagers or so-called India Pale Lagers (IPLs), Sixpoint has “hop-charged” this lager with American hops for a big, juicy lager. As you’d expect, the aroma is packed with tropical fruit and pine sap from the hops with a hint of Nilla wafer from the underlying lager. This beer is crisp, which is to say that it’s a typical lager, but almost immediately the hop flavors explode your mouth. What I enjoy most about hoppy lagers is that the beer is a nearly neutral vehicle for the varied and robust flavors of hops. This strong lager comes in the signature Sixpoint can and it goes down smooth with very little bite.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. Oktoberfest (6.5% ABV)
I had to include at least one Oktoberfest beer in this article. Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company delivers one of my Fall Faves in their own Oktoberfest. Hewing close to tradition, they brew their Fall lager with the darker Munich malt, which lends this beer its brown bread and raisin aroma. Malt is the name of the game here, too. I confess to crave the sharper flavors of an IPA or a sour, but each Fall there is something comforting about a malt-bomb of an Oktoberfest beer. The flavors here round out with a nuttiness that is satisfying. Grab a couple bottles or a Crowler of this traditional style and enjoy the cooling days.
These favorites and more are available now at Dominion Wine and Beer. Cheers!