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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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.