Over the Memorial Day weekend, the family and I decided to make it a day in the country and head out strawberry picking in Loudoun County, VA. Unfortunately, the farm where we planned to go picking was picked out already by the time we got there. Undaunted, we had a picnic and then planned what to do for Plan B. Well, Plan B turned out to be visiting the Adroit Theory Brewing Company in nearby Purcellville, VA. Purcellville is a quaint country town about an hour outside Washington, D.C. that has a combination of antique shops, a walkable downtown area with an old train station turned museum, a number of nice small restaurants, an independent book shop and in the area, two breweries, a distillery and a few wineries. I had heard a little bit about Adroit Theory and I wasn’t sure if I would like it. I knew they had a sort of heavy metal theme and I thought they were aiming to make solely big beers (big=high alcohol content). I was pleasantly surprised when I got there at the decor. There was some good artwork on the walls. They had a nice patio with garage doors. The bar was nicely configured and they had their aging barrels lining one wall. It was also a lot more crowded than I would have expected. It was a little hard to get the attention of the guys behind the bar. At a certain point, it seemed like the bar was 3-4 people deep. I figured this had to be a good sign. Once I got the bartender’s attention, I ordered tasters of the G/I/A/A (God is An American – inspired by the David Bowie song “I’m Afraid of Americans”), an Imperial IPA with citra hops aged on charred ash; Legion, a Belgian Stout and B/A/Y/S (Black As Your Soul), an Imperial Stout with cherries and hazelnuts aged on American Chestnut wood, a virtually extinct kind of wood that the brewers found on an old barn and reconditioned it in the form of a honeycomb to age the beer on, giving it a distinctive flavor. Each one of their beers was very impressive. However, the B/A/Y/S was so good I had to come back a second day a couple of days later and have some more and I bought a bottle as well. This was literally one of the best stouts I’ve ever had. It poured very dark, almost black with an off white head. It had aromas of chocolate and dark roast. The body was light and drinkable though. There were notes of bitter chocolate, a tad of hoppiness and a unique earthy flavor I would attribute to the wood. The cherries were not strongly distinguishable, but added a little fruitiness to the flavor that balanced it out. I give this beer five out of five proper pints. One more thing to note about Adroit Theory is that they have a club called the “Black Hearts Society” with three levels. You join and get exclusive access to certain releases, along with discounts on other purchases and an invitation to a members release party. I’d say this looks like a pretty good deal and a unique way to market themselves. I’m definitely a fan of these guys and plan to keep an eye on their new releases and watch for them to hit the shelves.
This is a special beer that Sierra Nevada puts out using fresh, I mean literally fresh – within 7 days of being harvested they are put into the beer. You also need to drink the beer quickly. They call it a 100 day beer. Not that it would be awful after that, but not as good. These hops come from New Zealand – Southern Cross, Pacifica and Motueka hops. Most fresh hops in this country would be harvested in August-October. These are fresh in April/May. This poured a dark copper color with a thick white head. The nose was definitely hoppy – with strong notes of grapefruit, pineapple and a little grass. The taste was a bit malty with strong caramel notes. The hops followed through with grapefruit, pineapple, a little mango and grass. The flavor was nicely balanced and not overly bitter. It was moderately carbonated and drank very easily. This is a nice summer backyard beer. I like this one more than I like other Sierra Nevada beers I’ve tried. I give it four out of five proper pints.
So it was a nice Saturday afternoon and I always like to check out the new breweries nearby. I knew about Forge for a while and had heard good things. I decided to call up a buddy and bring the family and the dog over to Forge for the afternoon to check it out. Of course it involved some bribery for the kids of a promise of frozen yogurt. So my buddy was surprised at the location. Forge is in a small industrial park off the Fairfax County Parkway exit from I-95, near Fort Belvoir. I’ve seen this model many times in other states, but maybe it’s not that common in Virginia. My buddy thought it was in the fancy town center of Lorton. So he was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a pretentious yuppie place. It was kind of bare bones being in a space that could just as easily be a garage (complete with rolling doors). However, I thought it was awesome. And they had these cool high top tables that were wooden barrels with a round table top attached to it. The person behind the bar, who I think may have been the owner was very friendly and liked to talk about beer. It happened that they had 12 beers on draft that day, which is an unusually large number for most nanobreweries. We decided to try all 12 in tasters and then each of us ordered one full beer. I also took home a growler of my favorite. There were too many to effectively write reviews on, but there were definitely a few standouts. I really loved the Belgian IPA and that was what I got the growler fill of. Very fruity with a nice piney hop nose, but very little bitterness given the yeast flavor mixed in with it. They also had a Roggenbier (German rye) that was quite good. One of the people I was with got the Abbey Ale, which was very nice as well. My wife got the Oatmeal Stout, which was very smooth, dark and roasty. The Petite Saison also stood out. It was only a 3.3% ABV beer, but was nicely flavorful and light. A good beer for a hot day. Their Seaward Double IPA is also worth a mention. Nice blend of malt and subtle hoppiness. Very smooth. Almost reminded me of Dogfish Head 90 Minute. Of all, I would definitely recommend the Belgian IPA. They get kudos too because they are dog friendly, meaning we could bring the dog in with us and not leave him outside. They have their own dogs too. I give this brewery four out of five proper pints.
Palo Santo Marron is almost like an out of body experience. I don’t have it often because it is high octane at 12% ABV. It really is almost more like wine than beer. I know that Sam Calagione thinks of making beer more like making wine and reads wine trade magazines to stay ahead of what is happening in the wine business. At it’s base, this is an American Brown Ale. A style I would generally consider somewhat boring. However, this one really gets kicked up several notches by being aged on Paraguayan Palo Santo wood. The wood is often used in wine making in South America. It imports strong notes of vanilla and caramel, which clearly come through in this beer. Both in the aroma and flavor. It pours a dark brown with a small off white head. It is a little thick and a little chewy. However, it is literally like drinking velvet. It tastes almost like a vanilla, caramel milkshake. There are strong alcohol notes, similar to bourbon. It has a whopping 12% ABV, but the beer is not overwhelmed with it. I love this beer. I give it five out of five proper pints.
I was recently reading the book by Sam Calagione called “Brewing up a Business” and came across the story of how Raison D’Etre came to be. Apparently Sam had only a small 10 gallon home-brew system in his original brewpub in Delaware and would have to brew 2-3 times per day in order to keep up. He would get bored making the same recipes all the time and wandered into the kitchen to look for things to spice up the beer. In this case, he took a handful of raisins and added it to a Belgian brown ale. I think this beer would probably be good anyway, but the raisins fit right in and add a little something. It pours a dark copper color with a small white head. It has the aroma of Belgian yeast, aka a little fruit somewhat like banana, but not too strong. There is also a bit of caramel and raisin in the nose. The taste is of brown sugar, raisins, a little molasses or sweet malt and bread. Not real heavy. Easy drinking. Well balanced, and easily hides the 8% ABV. This is my go to beer at Dogfish Head. I give it five out of five proper pints.
I read that Norm’s Beer and Wine in Vienna was getting this one in and wanted to try it. Especially since I had just been to San Diego and tried a great Habanero Sculpin IPA at Ballast Point. I brought it home and had it with the usual Friday night pizza. This was a perfect accompaniment. It poured a dark brown with a small off-white head. It had aromas of smoked malt and a little coffee and chocolate. The first part of the flavor was consistent. Stone Smoked Porter strikes a nice balance of the slight smokiness mixed with a little coffee and chocolate flavors. It’s very smooth and drinkable. Also, manageable at only 5.9% ABV. This one coats your tongue in the smoky, roasty flavor of the Porter, then follows up with the bite of smoked Jalapeño. It’s a slow burn, but very nice and not over the top. You won’t be bent over heaving for air or anything. The smoked jalapeño adds a nice spicy flavor, that builds to a medium point. Not super hot, but still noticeable. I really liked this beer a lot. I give it four out of five proper pints.
As a I may have mentioned several times, Dogfish Head is really one of my favorite breweries. I’m reading Sam Calagione’s book, Brewing Up a Business, now. He really has a knack for finding tasty combinations of ingredients to throw in the brew. A few of his experiments have not been so impressive, but he often hits the ball out of the park. He did it again with Burton Baton. So the idea is they blend two styles of beer. An English old ale and an Imperial IPA. They are fermented separately, then blended together and poured into oak barrels. I believe the 90 minute IPA is the Imperial IPA used. This combination really highlights some of the best of both styles. Of course, the 90 minute IPA is one of the best IPAs available. It’s strong flavor comes through. You can definitely detect the resiny hoppy flavor of the 90 minute along with a strong malt backbone. However, there are also flavors of raisins, nuts and figs from the old ale. There is also a definite alcohol burn as it goes down (it is 10% ABV). Still, this comes across as a very smooth beer that paired well with the chicken tortilla soup I at it with, but would probably go well with pizza, pasta and burgers as well. I give this one five out of five proper pints.
Pizza Port is one of the literally hundreds of breweries now operating in San Diego. However, it’s not just a pizza place that brews beer. It’s one that brews beer that wins awards at the Great American Beer Festival – 9 in 2009 alone. Their Carlsbad location was also named large brewpub of the year. They have 6 locations, including a bottle shop. I visited the one in Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is a little area in San Diego that is a Mecca for surfers and aging hippies, along with a few hip-sters. It was a gorgeous sunny day when I came by. I may have been the only one for miles wearing jeans on a sunny 89 degree day. Anyway, I ventured in to try some beer. I had previously had their Old Viscosity Imperial Stout, which was a fantastic thick, dark, slightly sweet and strong stout. First, you walk up and you approach a counter where you can either order just food or beer and food. I chose the beer and food counter, though I had no intention of ordering food. It is not advertised, but you can order a flight of any four of the beers they brew (they also have guest brews – including Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA on draft!!!) for $6. I had Mangosaurus, a double IPA with mango, a Hawaiian themed wheat (can’t remember the name), OB Chronic Amber Ale, and another IPA I can’t remember the name of (should have written it down). I was really impressed with the Mangosaurus. It was a nicely hopped, but still slightly malty double IPA with noticeable mango and pineapple notes. It had a nice full bodied mouthfeel and was very satisfying without being too bitter or too filling. It would pair perfectly with…pizza. I also liked the Hawaiian wheat, even though I can’t remember the name. It was nicely light bodied and refreshing with a distinct orange-y flavor to it. It was lightly carbonated and tickled your nose as you lifted the glass. The other IPA and the OB Chronic were slightly non-distinct. I would probably not have the Chronic again, but I am not partial to amber ales anyway. I give Pizza Port three out of five proper pints.
I recently visited the beer Mecca of San Diego for a legal conference. That is sort of like…hmmm…going someplace where there is a lot of really good beer and wasting key beer tasting time by talking about something that’s not beer. Anyway, since time was limited, I wanted to hit a few spots I’d been wanting to get to, but so far had not made it to on a prior visit. Ballast Point was one. It had not been high on my radar I was in town because while the Sculpin was no doubt very good, I felt I had tried one or two others and not been impressed. However, I was wrong. Ballast Point has multiple locations these days. The original is in the Home Brew Mart, near the campus of the University of San Diego. Another one well worth a visit is in Little Italy. However, I digress. For my first round of three samplers, I had the Black Marlin Porter with Coffee from the cask, the Reef Rye Brown, and the Three Sheets Barley Wine. The Black Marlin Porter is already very good, but with coffee from the cask, it was awesome. It pours a dark, dark brown, almost black. It had roast, nutty flavor to it with very distinct coffee notes. I would give this one five out of five proper pints. However, I think it was only available at the brewery. Unfortunately, the Reef Rye Brown was a little non-distinct. It could be that it just couldn’t follow the Black Marlin, but it was a bit bland. It was malty, with a bready note to it. I couldn’t really distinguish the rye. I give it two out of five proper pints. The Three Sheets Barley Wine, however, finished the trio nicely. It was a tad sweet without being syrupy. There were definite notes of molasses, raisins, and caramel with a hint of bourbon and a slight boozy taste. However, it was very smooth drinking and you could easily have one too many of those. I give that one four out of five proper pints. I decided at that point I didn’t want to leave just yet, so I had another round of three tasters. I clearly should have saved the Barley Wine for last, but hadn’t really planned ahead. Anyway, for the second round of three tasters, I went for the Calico Amber, The Big Eye IPA and the Fathom IPL. The Calico was my least favorite of the three. It poured a nice amber hue, and head a malty aroma to it. It tasted of malt, a little caramel and biscuit with just a slight bit of hop bitterness. It was balanced, but a little unremarkable to me. I give it three out of a five proper pints. The Big Eye IPA is a hoppy IPA. It is a little different from the Sculpin. I would say the Sculpin is a little more balanced, but this one has more of the hop bite to it. It is still very good. It brings flavors of pineapple, mango and some earthy hops. It was very refreshing, I would say. I give it four out of five proper pints. Last, but not least, I had the Fathom IPL. This was a clean and refreshing lager with a hint of alcohol to it. It had the light, bready flavor characteristic of lagers with a little bit of sweetness. There was a maybe hint of mango as well. At 6.8%, this one could sneak up on you. It drinks quickly like lemonade on a summer day. You would not know it was a little high in the ABV department. Overall, a nice beer, though I’m not a big lager guy. I might consider having this one while grilling in the backyard though. I give it three out of five proper pints.
Well Great Lakes you’ve done it again. You’ve made a near perfect beer. It pours a darkish orange color with a creamy off white head. The aroma is mango and other lovely tropical smells. The flavor is slightly malty with a nice mellow mango hoppiness to it. There is a hint of grapefruit in the finish. There is some similarity to Hopslam, but I would call this one mellower. Definitely more along the lines of the tropical hop flavors and aromas. I give it four out of five proper pints.