My wife and I went to the first annual DC Beer Festival held at Nationals Stadium in Washington, DC last night. You can see from the map there were quite a few breweries. Somewhat disappointing was the large presence of macrobreweries and their pretend craft brewery subdivisions. Overall, I would say the event was well organized and carried out. It was fairly crowded, which was probably a result of there being four sessions planned (2 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday) and the Sunday evening one was canceled in advance because of the expected weather. Sunday evening ticketholders were invited to go to any one of the other three sessions. This led to long lines at the beer booths at first. Over time, the lines thinned as people got their beer and went off and talked or did whatever else they did. There was a pretty good live band playing and in another area a DJ. The crowd was pretty happy with a few overindulgers. In the three hours session, I managed to sample 12 beers in 4 ounce cups. The biggest standouts were Three Stars Brewery from DC. They had an Imperial Brown with Pecans called “Southern Belle” and a Peppercorn Saison that were both very, very good. I also sampled the upcoming Blue Jacket Brewery’s Saison infused with saffron. That was also very good, though I could not say I was able to distinguish the saffron taste. Another standout I had not had before was Burley Oak Rude Boy. Burley Oak is a brewery in Ocean City, MD. The Rude Boy is an Imperial Red with flavors of burnt sugar, raisins and smoke. This was also one of my favorite samples. Another worthwhile one was the Flying Fish Brewery from New Jersey. Exit 4 (a Turnpike reference) is a Belgian Tripel. It was a very nice rendition with the characteristic combination of banana and citrus flavors. They also had a Red Fish, which was a “West Coast Hoppy IPA” in their words. I would say it was a good IPA, but truly as hoppy as a Stone or Green Flash. A couple of other notable ones were Weyerbacher’s Merry Monk. Another Belgian Tripel, a little higher in alcohol than the Exit 4, also very tasty with the characteristic banana/estery flavor. I can’t say for sure which one was better, though I am leaning toward the Exit 4. Also Starr Hill from Virginia had a saison as well that I had not tried before. It was definitely worth a try if you happen to come across it.
All Day IPA is marketed as a session IPA. At 4.7% you can definitely have a few of these without crippling your liver. It is actually less alcohol than Budweiser. However, when it comes to flavor, it’s a whole different ballgame. This weekend, I started grilling. The weather has taken a turn toward Spring and this was the perfect accompaniment to the grill. Very refreshing, still brightly hoppy like you expect from an IPA. This one with a strong hint of grapefruit. It did have a lightish body reflective of a lower malt profile. Still, this beer does not suffer from a lack of flavor. I give it a 4 out of 5 proper pints.
St. George Porter is the last of a group of Virginia beers I am tasting. The group was selected by Grateful Red, a local beer and wine shop at which I am a member of the monthly beer club. I highly recommend checking them out if you are in the Clarendon area of Arlington, VA. The St. George Porter is a very strong contender for my favorite Porter. It pours a nice dark mahogany, almost black color with a medium head that lingers. The aroma is of roasty malt, chocolate and coffee. The mouthfeel is moderate.It is a very smooth and drinkable beer with a relatively light 5.5% ABV, meaning you can have more than one responsibly. Although it has a full bodied flavor to it, it did not strike me that it would be as filling as other beers. I had this with a steak that had a coffee rub and it was a perfect compliment. I would go with 3 out of 5 proper pints.
Probably my favorite beer so far of the series of Virginia beers I’ve been tasting is another from Blue Mountain’s Barrel House called “Local Species.” With a picture of a shark on the front, you might think it has some connection to Dogfish Head like I did when I first saw it. It doesn’t, but it is very good. It is a Belgian strong ale aged in bourbon barrels. This one comes in at a relatively low 6.6% ABV for the bourbon barrel trend. It is not overpowered by the taste of the bourbon, nor is it overly boozy. It does have the familiar aroma and taste of Belgian yeast. It also has slight hints of coconut and oak with a little vanilla. It is a very smooth tasting beer and goes down quickly. I could see this one going well with steak or pork. I had it with a burger, but it was a complex burger with soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, onions, garlic and cheese mixed into it and the beer went with it very nicely. I give if 4 out of 5 proper pints.
Continuing on the theme of Virginia beers, the next in the series I tried is Blue Mountain Brewery’s Barrel House line “Mandolin.” Mandolin is a Belgian tripel. This beer pours a light copper with a good sized head that dissipates quickly. It has a the distinctive earthy, estery aroma of the belgian yeast. The flavor carries a little bit of coriander and some pepper, but not overpowering. It has a smooth drinkable quality that is well balanced and neatly masks the 9% ABV. The estery flavor of the yeast is clearly the most distinct flavor in the beer. I like it, but it is not complex. That is probably OK, but I was expecting a little bit more. I would have Mandolin again, but I might not seek it out if I were looking for a complex beer. I give it 3 out of 5 proper pints.
My second in a series of Virginia based beers, I tasted St. George Brewery’s English Style IPA. The IPA pours a nice copper color with a medium sized white head. There are immediate bready overtones from what I think is Maris Otter Malt. It does not have the bright flowery aromas of a West Coast IPA. This becomes immediately noticeable when you take the first sip. This is a mild, malty IPA, in the English tradition. It has an ABV of 5.5% making it very drinkable and good for having a few while watching a game or making a full evening of it. Nevertheless, the mildness of flavor makes it a little bland. I like it as a session beer. It would probably go well with burgers or other pub food. However, it does not stand out on its own. I would give it 2 out of 5 proper pints.
There is an interesting trend in craft beer with breweries experimenting with the use of wild yeasts to see what kind of different flavors can be achieved. Virginia based Blue Mountain Brewery’s foray into this area is a wild success. Using their Dark Hollow Oak Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout as a base and they added lactobacillus yeast to it. The product may not appeal to everyone, but all of the bourbon barrel aging flavors come through along with a luscious imperial stout with a velvety chocolate flavor and mouthfeel. However, in addition there is a light sourness from the yeast. It is most noticeable at the beginning and over time dissipates. It really adds an intriguing complexity to what is already a great beer. I give it a four out of five proper pints.