Thursday, September 29, 2011

California Trip

In July, my wife and I went on vacation in California for 11 days. I wrote a post about it for the blog Road Trips for Beer so check it out on their site. Read up on their other articles too if you are interested in travel for beer. If you are interested in festivals and other beer events, their weekend beer forecast goes up every Wednesday and lists out basically every festival/event relating to beer all over the country.

This map shows the route we took and the major places we visited along the way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Virginia - Breweries in Planning

Just in case you were as interested as I was, I emailed Blue Mountain Brewery to find out how using whole flower hops affects the flavors of the beers that they brew. The response I got was that the whole flower hops create a much stronger aroma than pellet hops. Pellet hops are better at bittering and for adding flavor. So there you go.

These are the breweries in Virginia that are in the planning stages and are not yet commercially available.

Bedford Alehouse, Bedford. No Website.
Treehaus Brewery, Charlottesville.
Creek Bottom Brewing, Galax. On hold due to lack of funding.
Northern Neck Brewing, Kilmarnock. No Website.
Ardent Craft Ales, Richmond. No Website.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Richmond.
Haxall Brewing, Richmond. No Website.
Old School Brewing, Richmond.
James River Brewing, Scottsville.
Beaver Run Brewery, Stanley.
Kilt Brewing, Williamsburg. No Website
Black Couch Brewery, Alexandria.
Robert Portner Brewing Co, Alexandria.
Lost Soul Brewery, Burke.
Jurnee Brews, Centreville.
BarnHouse Brewery, Lucketts.
Corcoran Brewing, Waterford.
Virginia Brewing, Winchester.

I'll finish up Virginia later this week with Trailies and the Map.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Virginia - Northern Virginia Breweries and Road Trips

I visited Blue Lab Brewery in Lexington, VA this past weekend. Unfortunately we couldn't take a tour, but they have a small tasting room and the wives of the two guys who run the brewery were there to educate us about their beers. They were extremely nice and answered a bunch of questions that our group had. We got to try their Fresh Hop IPA that they made with recently harvested hops from Southwestern VA. It was not as bitter and had more aroma than their normal IPA. More proof that good breweries are popping up all over the map, even in sleepy small towns (perhaps especially in sleepy small towns) like Lexington. If you are ever on I81, take a short detour and give them a visit.

Sign out front of Blue Lab Brewing in Lexington, VA.
Ok, let's get to the Northern VA breweries.

Port City Brewing, Alexandria. Started in January 2011. Their slogan is "Brewing Great Local Beer for People Around Here." Ugh. Gotta work out the slogan kinks. They are new though, so I'll cut them some slack. They make an IPA, a  Pale Ale, a Porter, and a Witbier, whose labels are use the same logo but with different label colors. They are distributed in D.C. and VA.

Shenandoah Brewing, Alexandria. They are a brewery, brewpub, and B.O.P. (Brewery on Premise). Their four beers (Pale Ale, Red, Scottish Ale, and Oatmeal Stout) are available in VA and D.C.

Lost Rhino, Ashburn. Old Dominion Brewing used to be Virginia's most successful and prominent brewery. Then they outgrew their location and relocated to Delaware. Lost Rhino was started by people who used to work at Old Dominion and they bought back the old brewery equipment in order to start making their own beer. Seeing as how they have some big time experience and a slogan like "Experience the Adventure and the Awesomeness" I expect that they will do pretty well. Their Face Plant IPA has a picture of a BMX biker ditching his bike and about to smash his face into the ground. They have four beers, the IPA, a Marzen (Oktoberfest style), a Pale Ale, and a Pilsner. I really like their logos. It seems that currently they only fill growlers at the brewery, but they probably distribute to bars in the D.C. area.

Blue and Gray Brewing, Fredericksburg. Good God, the website is a disaster. All caps white text on a blue background. It looks like it was designed in Geocities. (If you don't remember Geocities, you didn't mess around with the interwebs enough in the mid ninety's.) Wow. I've never had the beer, but I hope it wasn't brewed in 1994. They run a brewpub that was opened in 2002, and before that they contract brewed at other breweries. They have four year round beers and five other beers. The most interesting I saw was a Chocolate Raspberry Stout. I'll give them a try, but I'm starting to like them less. Their description for their Fred Red Ale is "Fred Red is the best beer you've ever tried." Problem is, they only distribute in the Fredericksburg area, so most of us have probably never tried it. Dang.

Holy Brew Brewing Co, Leesburg. They make two brews; Heavenly Light and Purgatory Pilsner. The Heavenly Light says it's brewed with corn and a small bit of hops and "is highly carbonated and light in body, this product lends itself to a highly thirst quenching profile." Anytime you hear thirst quenching, high carbonation and light body in the same description, be very skeptical that it's going to be good. It's 3.8% ABV and Purgatory Pilsner is 4.3% ABV, so it seems to me that these guys are trying to take away from the Bud/Miller/Coors Market. That's fine by me, but I won't be helping them out. Distributed in VA and D.C. if you are interested.

Road Trips:
I might be a little bit biased, but there are a lot of cool things to do in Virginia. If you're visiting the Northern Virginia breweries they are all within about an hours drive to D.C., so you can visit the museums on the National Mall. From the farthest North down to the farthest South brewery it's about a 6 hour drive on I-81 which, for an Interstate, has some good scenery. Take Skyline Drive through the mountains for at least some of the trip. It goes slow, but the views, especially in the fall, are great. Make a stop in Blacksburg to see Virginia Tech, which is one of my favorite college campuses. There is a bar called Rivermill in Blacksburg that has a great craft beer selection. From there you can cut across the Southern part of the state and go to the VA Beach region. There you can fish, do historical stuff at Williamsburg, or chill at the beach. Virginia is a lot bigger than it seems, so to get a decent feel for all three regions and have time to check out the breweries definitely would require at least 5-7 days.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Virginia - Southern Virginia Breweries and Music

I've decided to start with the Southern VA breweries. I've had to explain many times that "yes, I am from Virginia" but "no, I don't have a crazy moonshine-making Southern accent because I'm from Northern Virginia." So my arbitrary decision that "Southern" Va is anything below Fredericksburg comes with a disclaimer. I am including some breweries that are geographically in the Northern part of VA, but they might not exactly fit the social mold of what is known as NoVA, since they reside outside of the two or three closest counties to Washington D.C. There aren't too many farms in NoVA, but there are plenty in what I am calling Northern Virginia, if that makes any sense.

Last week I went on vacation that involved me driving from Northern VA down I81 to Blacksburg then across the Southern part of the state and into North Carolina on mainly small highways. On the way home we drove through VA Beach and up the Eastern Shore of VA. So, essentially I drove most of the the border of the fine Commonwealth in the last week. Unfortunately I didn't parlay that into much VA beer drinking and I'm disappointed to say that from the brewers on this first list, I've only had beer from Starr Hill.

Wolf Hills, Abingdon. Located in SW VA near TN they distribute to a few towns in VA and TN and I think they want to stay that way, because they emphasize fresh and local on their site. They make three year round beers and seven limited releases. Each beer is named after something relating to the geography or history of SW VA, and the story behind each name is on the website. In general I like when breweries put stories on their bottles, or at least explain how the specific beer is made. If I'm going to kill brain cells while I'm drinking your product, I'd like you to at least educate the ones I have left.

Blue Mountain Brewery and Hops Farm, Afton. Founded in 2007, they bottle, can (first in VA to do so), and run a brew-pub. They have 9 year round and 20 seasonal draft-only brews. Decent logo, nothing flashy, but respectable. 2500 barrels a year, VA distribution. I think the coolest part about this brewery is that they grow their own hops, which are used in their Full Nelson Stong Pale Ale. They also use their first 150lbs of freshly picked hops for a harvest celebration beer. Many breweries make beers with freshly picked hops in the fall, so wherever you are, be on the lookout.

Starr Hill, Crozet. Outside of Charlottesville. Started in Charlottesville in 1999, they moved to a bigger location a little bit out of town in 2005 due to growing demand. They distribute to D.C., MD, VA, WV, NC, TN, SC, and FL. 6 year rounds, 3 seasonals, and 3 reserve beers. I like the Lucy, which is a light, low ABV, spiced golden ale. Also, if you dig unfiltered hefeweizen's, The Love is one you should check out. I had one down in Blacksburg and it turned into three.

St. George Brewing, Hampton.Opened in 1991 as a BOP, they have grown and are now distributed in D.C., NC, SC, MD, and VA. They make 11 beers (7 year round and 4 seasonal) and they do some contract brewing as well. Their labels all have a medieval theme and their beers do not have specific names. Their website could use an update.

Blue Lab Brewing, Lexington. My grandparents live in Lexington and my Grandfather tipped me off to Blue Lab a while back, close to when they opened in January 2011. However, I will be down there next weekend, so maybe I'll get a chance to swing by and see if they actually exist or are just a figment of my Grandfather's imagination. Happy Birthday Grandpa.

Jefferson Street Brewery, Lynchburg. They are located in downtown Lynchburg, and they opened in 2007 as part of a revitalization of downtown. They brew their beers for the restaurant that they are located above. They also do tastings and tours so you can sample the 5 styles that they brew.

O'Connor Brewing, Norfolk. Their philosophy is "Fresh is Better." The president and founder quotes Jack Handey (from SNL) on his bio, so I immediately like him. They make four beers, I like the style of the artwork on all of them, and their names relate to nautical terms or geographical locations in Southeast VA. They are distributed in SE Virginia from Williamsburg down to Chesapeake.

Legend Brewing, Richmond. Opened in 1994. They make five year round beers and four seasonal specials and distribute all over Virginia and also operate a brew pub in Richmond. Last year they made 5000 barrels.

Roanoke Railhouse Brewery, Roanoke. Their slogan is "Engineering Balanced Craft Beers" so brace yourselves for some straightforward beer styles with cheesy railroad names. I haven't even looked at the website yet, but I can almost guarantee it. Ok. I looked. I was half right. They make three beers; Track 1 lager, Caboose Imperial Lager, and Railhouse IPA. I don't mind the labels and an Imperial Lager is definitely not something I've seen before.  The names are definitely cheesy train names, but hey, if you're going to commit to a theme, you gotta go 100%.  After all, a beer from a railroad themed brewery named Choo Choo Chocolate Stout wouldn't make sense if there was a picture of a turtle on the label. They distribute all over VA and NC.

Beach Brewing, Virginia Beach. They brew six beers year round, and several seasonals. The beer names are all ocean related. They distribute all over the VA Beach area but nowhere else and it looks like it's just on draft, no bottles. The founder has a quote on his bio page that I think is slightly funny. "I don't understand what the big deal is with these new 55 and 64 calorie beers. It's not like it's a new concept; Deer Park and Aquafina have been bottling water for years." ZING! That's my kind of joke.

Williamsburg AleWerks, Williamsburg. Opened in 2006. They brew six beers year round and even though they aren't flashy I think these are my favorite labels so far. They make three seasonals, one of which is a Coffee Milk Stout, which I generally love. They also make two reserve beers (a Bourbon Porter and a Barleywine) and two brewmaster's choices (one is a 9.4%ABV Belgian Farmhouse). I like the styles of beer these guys make. They are the most creative brewery I've found in VA so far and they are distributed in VA, MD, DE, and D.C. so if you are on the East Coast, check them out.

Carbon Leaf is a band that started in Richmond and got a lot of airtime in D.C. in the early 2000s with their song "The Boxer." They have a Celtic feel to a lot of their music, but they also rock out and their songs have some really good stories/thoughts behind them. One of my favorites is "Life Less Ordinary."

Virginia Coalition (VACO) started at T.C. Williams High School, which was made famous in Remember the Titans. They have a lot of funk inspiration. I've seen them three times and they really really put on a good show. Yup. Two reallys. Check out this live video of "Walk to Work."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

#10 - Virginia, "The Old Dominion State" - Intro

I've been on two great vacations in the last two months and as a result had to work a lot in between them. But now I'm back on the trail with Virginia.

A lot of breweries are popping up near D.C., bringing with them a little bit of character and style to a region that lacks an accent. It very well may be that as a teenager I was blind to some of the cultural aspects we did have, but to me, the sense of shared local experiences built up over time isn't as deep in the D.C. metro area as it is in other places. Possibly because about half of the people are transplants that work for the government or the military*. But I love Virginia, so my hope is that with the growth of craft breweries comes the growth of other cultural measuring sticks like art, film, music, and a wider breadth of industries.

Southern VA is a whole different ballgame and that is where most of the older micro-breweries in VA are located. There are some really beautiful rural areas, and some nice little towns.

*Complete guess, but probably accurate.

Population: 8 million people (12th largest state)
Breweries: 16 currently operating
Breweries in Planning: 18. Some of these 18 projects have already been put on hold, but even if 10 full breweries get off the ground, that will be 26 breweries in VA.
Brew Pubs: 15
Suburbs: Too many too count. If you are in Northern Virginia and you get lost, good luck finding any landmarks to help guide you to where you want to get. "Go past the office park" "drive by the sub-development" and "take a left after the next supermarket but before the next oversized high school" could lead you in about 4000 different directions.

Virginia is my home state, but when I lived there I knew very little about beer and I think Virginia as a state also lagged in the beer department. However, these days, the beer scene in Virginia is exploding. It makes sense to me; the state has a lot of people, it's centrally located on the East Coast, and it has three metropolitan areas to support a growing desire for craft beer. We'll see how many of them can stick around for the long haul. Perhaps Virginia is destined to be the next big state in the craft beer world, alongside California, Oregon, and Colorado.

Hopefully later this week, I'll get the post on the first set of breweries up.