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Monday, August 31, 2015

Heads Up: South Side Brewing

I was searching for a place to eat last Saturday, wracking my brain for a place to go out to dinner in Charlottesville.  Going out to dinner should be easy, especially Charlottesville, I mean, its not even two hours out of Washington, so it should be easy to come up with a place or two that serve craft beer and a fairly interesting menu.

Finally, it was there. A place that served up their own craft beer and created their own menu: South Street Brewery (106 W South Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902 V: 434-293-6550). I pulled up the directions and headed off. The South Street Brewery should be familiar to a number of you because it is owned by Blue Mountain Brewery's team of Mandi and Taylor Smack.

The South Street Brewery is in a group of developed and developing businesses on a central walk in Charlottesville.  When I walked up to the brewery, I was taken aback by how different the outside was compared to the inside. The outside is rather unremarkable, but the inside is large and nicely framed around a bar and to a lesser extent a dining room. As a matter of fact, I would say that it is more bar than dining room given that the bar is so extensive and has space all of its own.

I put in an order for a Hogwaller Kolsch and an order of fish and chips. I don't know what brewers are told about kolsch in this region of the country, but they are generally pretty weak. This kolsch was no different. The secret to kolsch is that it comes in two parts: the kolsch's unique flavor is driven by the hops and then the strength is in the body. They don't come together, but rather at opposite ends of the taste spectrum and that gives the brew its flavor. The Germans learned this a long time ago, but somehow it is getting lost in the translation to the American beverage. I was able to taste some of the kolsch flavor from the hops but it had none of the strength in the body and this kills it for me.

Next up was the Anastasia's Chocolate Fantasy which leads off with a mild ale, extra dark crystal malts,  flaked oats and roast barley. This tips the scale at great than 10% alcohol and it carries through with lots of good old cocoa and Russian Imperial taste. One sip and I was off of the kolsch and into the chocolate fantasy. All was right with the world and I settled into into sipping at my new topaz hops, Guatemalan cocoa nibs and Scottish ale yeast. It was a marriage made in heaven.

I can recommend South Street Brewery for the beer enthusiast. Avoid the kolsch and head straight for the Imperial Russian stout. I have yet to try the other dark beers, but if they even come close to the Russian Imperial, I think we have a winner.  It has all of the pieces for a nice, safe, "go to" place in Charlottesville. I know I will be going there again.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jolly Good Fellows: Virginia Craft Brewery Festival

Jolly Good Fellows: Virginia Craft Brewery Festival: There are a lot of brewery festivals and craft contests in the world of craft brewing, especially as craft brewing is expanding to fill the ...

Virginia Craft Brewery Festival

There are a lot of brewery festivals and craft contests in the world of craft brewing, especially as craft brewing is expanding to fill the whole of North America. People like to show off their ability to adapt to the wide variations that craft brew presents, and that is a good thing.

Virginia is no different and this weekend they had the Virginia Craft Brewery Festival in Nellysford down in Nelson County. This is the fourth time they have had the festival and this is the third time I have packed up to attend. Each year it has grown and taken over the Devil's Backbone brewery cafe for the weekend. This year was no different - except that it was bigger than ever before!

This year 60 brewers attended the festivities with two beers each for 120 beers just to be sampled.  Also, they had a series of three awards in a range of brewing categories. Some of the categories were new this year, including sours. Every brewery is invited to enter each individual category; there is no size requirement, which makes this comptetion an investment of equals.

This time, in addition to the usual food trucks, they had outdoor games and an arcade. (Hey, I raked in 14,000 on Centipede!) It is a complete afternoon of fun and frolic - not to mention a complete range of beer.

In terms of beer, I had a collection of seven beers, several of which were really good, and one of which needs to go back to the drawing board. So lets meet our final contestants:

Adroit Theory Brewing Company
Adroit Theory - The Devil Made Me
Dark, rich and bourbon flavor, this brewery was in strike with this batch. It was in your teeth kind of vicious, the brew just dared to you to try it. Untappd: 4.75

Hardywood Brewing Company - Singel
This was a another visit to Hardywood Brewing Company and it was well placed. Its a little lighter but it is still in the Belgian family. Untappd: 4.5

Apocalypse Ale Works
Apocalypse Ale Works - Lustful Maiden Belgian Dubbel
A show surprise! The spirit is in there, but the flavor is a bit weak. It got the heaf, but it is really missing a unique flavor. Otherwise is has everything. Untappd: 4.0

Fair Winds Brewing Company - Quayside Kolsch

I have tried this once before and it came up the same: blah. They are searching for the taste of kolsch and they are missing it by a wide margin. Its OK, its drinkable, but it is not kolsch. Try again! Untappd: 2.5

Spencer Devon Brewery
Spencer Devon Brewery - Soleil Levant Witbier
They have hit this on the head. Warm and charming, the witbier has spirit. It not a light beer, but it comes off that way. Its like a good friend in the bar: warm, personable and ready to help you do your bidding.  Untappd: 4.5

Parkway Brewing Company - Four Damn Fights to a Pint
This was brisk and refreshing. This beer really holds its own. It has two flavors drawn from the hops, one from the start to mid and one from mid to end. They have a flavor of one, but in a transition, It is really good. Untappd: 4.0

Tin Cannon Brewing Company - Virginia Blond Ale
This one was smooth and easy to drink. It is really well bodies and sophisticated, like a number of their beverages. It is just a nice beer to drink and you could do this any number of times. Untappd: 4.25
Virginia Craft Brewers Guild

The Virginia Craft Brewing Festival was a fun festival, replete with a number of craft breweries, awards, food, arcades and games. If you missed any part of it, I assure you, it will be back again next year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Jolly Good Fellows: Recap: What Happened in Philadelphia

Jolly Good Fellows: Recap: What Happened in Philadelphia: As most readers of this blog know, I spent Friday going to Philadelphia to discover what happens to beer coming to the East Coast, notably R...

Recap: What Happened in Philadelphia

As most readers of this blog know, I spent Friday going to Philadelphia to discover what happens to beer coming to the East Coast, notably Russian River Brewing Company's brews and their final resting place, Monk's Cafe. Simple answer: they are dealt with by Pennsylvania's alcohol control laws or Blue Laws.

Now, before I get much further, lets have a brief explanation of what is a Blue Law. A Blue Law is a very old law that has it founding in the Puritanical laws of the country. That is right, these are laws that in some cases are older that the formal founding of the states. They go right back to the colonial period when these states were actually properties of the Crown. The further north you go, the older the bodies of Puritanical law. I think that Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania as well as Virginia have the oldest bodies of law. These bodies of law are rather hilarious and usually do not apply, but when it comes to alcohol, it becomes a different story.

Since most of the laws that deal with alcohol are state laws, with fewer federal statutes, we have to pay attention very close to state laws. This is where to Blue Laws have their impact because they were issues governed state by state, or in some cases, colony by colony.  In the cases of Pennsylvania, an original of the Thirteen Colonies, Blue Laws have a foundational effect, especially in terms of who can possess and sell alcohol. This is the case with the Russian River Brewing Company and Monk's Cafe.

Because Monk's Cafe is a Pennsylvania institution it is held to Pennsylvania standards for a brewing establishment. It is governed by a different body of law than the Russian River Brewing Company, which is a California company. Pennsylvania brewing institutions have really bizarre standards when it comes to what you can sell and to whom. In Virginia, you can sell beer and wine to an individual (not hard liquor) and in pretty much in any given quantity. Not Pennsylvania. You can not sell individual containers of beer, wine or hard liquor. You have to sell them in groups and those groupings are pretty high. Period. In other Pennsylvania counties, I have seen them stipulate a twelve beverage minimum purchase.  If no one stocks a twelve bottle minimum, no one can sell it. You can order a single bottle is a store and you can drink it in the store, but the minimum order outside of the store makes it high enough to make it not so doable. At least not that a bar keep is willing to keep on hand.

Monk's Cafe - Philadelphia, PA
So, when you go into Monk's Cafe and request a bottle of Russian River Brewing Company beverage, they have to say "no"  because they do not carry that much. Applies even in the bar, where they do have Russian River's gold standard "Pliny the Elder." Not for sale. So, when faced with this problem, I said that I would take a single bottle and drink it. It was good, REALLY good, so I satisfied the law, but there was no way I could deal with the outside law. Kind of silly, but that is the way that have dealt with it.

Monk's Cafe - Philadelphia, PA
Now, this begs the question: is it fair? As a native Californian (Go Bears!) and even as a Virginian, I have to say "no." We have come a long way since the Puritans and the Blue Laws and it does not seem fair to hold alcohol any longer in its grip. However, this is woven into the fabric of certain states, Pennsylvania being one of them, and they are not likely to walk away from it. It is also a significant source of revenue for the states and even in Virginia, when they talk about changing the revenue stream surrounding alcohol, people take notice. In the short term, there won't be a switch to the alcohol system, but in the long term, there has got to be.

And how about Russian River Brewing Company and Monk's Cafe? Well, Monk's Cafe will keep selling Russian River, they have a good relationship and everyone is all smiles, and I will keep going up to order it. Pennsylvania is on my list of places to go for beer, even if it is a little weird.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Three Simple Glasses: The Interesting, the Wise and the Wicked!

Three simple glasses was all it took. One with a simple name and two that are somewhat unpronounceable, but still three simple glasses of beer. It framed the evening, formed a triangle, and bounded it.  No one ever said beer drinking was not without its surprises!

Simple Life by To Ol
The first was the most exotic and came with the most straightforward name: Simple Life by To Ol of Denmark. It was complex and alive, so many facets coming to life all at once, it felt like an explosion of brilliant colors. It is one of those that starts off smooth and then builds, weaving a taste through out your mouth and then it just melt away. Each and every time. It was like feeling a someone just tying your mouth into a ball of fine velvety threads and then wanting them to come back for more. It was wonderful and I did not want the glass to end. Powerful stuff and oh so smooth. It rated a 5 star on Untappd.

The next round was kind of confusing, so I asked Zach, my server, for his advice.  He kind of surprised me because he said they were the same thing, just two varieties of cherry. I asked him again and he said "cherry": one wild and the other refined. Very refined.

Spontanframboos by Mikkeller Brewing
So, I ordered the very refined cherry and was pleasantly surprised. Spontanframboos, made by Mikkeller, takes its cherry formula from the cherry itself. This was the formal cherry. You will not find a bit of it that is not cherry. Not a bit. It was like drinking cherry juice with a small hint of alcohol in it. You simply will not find a higher volume of cherry in a drink and it was simply fantastic. There is no better way to describe it. If you can find this somewhere, try it and you will not have cherry taste again.

Slaapmutske FLOSS by Browwerij Slaapmutske
Before I even taste the second glass, I knew what to expect. It would the cherry, but it would be something that had a flaw, something that I would say was almost there but it failed that test. Boy, was I ever wrong! Slaapmutske FLOSS by Brouwerij Slaapmutske

is a really good wild cherry, totally different from the Mikkeller and almost as good. It had the charms of a wild cherry, the kind of berry that you plucked off the tree and savored in July and August. You wanted to savor it, sitting out one a summer day, just kind of day dreaming, and occasionally biting into one of these wild berries. It was distinct, different and good.

It was time to call it quits after a total of five beers (we did not even get into the other two beer which were also quite good) and head for home. Zach, who is a regular bar tender at the ChurchKey in Washington, DC really made it a special evening and I will make this page tonight dedicated to him. He knowledge, experience and willingness to make the evening special really made tonight a bonus. Congrat, Zach!

An Old Adversary - Blue Laws

So, I made it to Philadelphia in good time and I legged out to the Monk's Cafe. Wonderful old place with lots of crack and crevices. Philadelphia at its finest. Now, when you look at the menu, you will find absolutely no beers from the other side of the country - nothing to be sure from the Left Coast. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked, and yes, they do have brews from the West and proudly advertise them (in the front portion of the menu which mine was absent.)

So, the $64 question: could I have one? Pretty please - I didn't even say I was from the Left Coast - and the answer is "maybe." Yep, "maybe" is actually the correct answer because they are ruled by that oldest tradition - Blue Laws. Just when you thought that they were dead, the Blue Laws wrangle their ugly heads. Damn things have away showing up. So, you could drink them there is the Monk's Cafe, and but you could not take them out of the establishment. Not a drop could leave the place. They even had Pliny the Elder at the front bar but it could not leave.

I did what any red blooded American would do - I order one and drank it. And I have to tell you it was GOOD, really GOOD. Now they let me keep the bottle - they are only going to thrown it away - so there was a bit of solace in that - but it was tiny bit compared with bringing one home.

Now I know there are those among you who would have come up with someway of getting the bottle out of the bar and at least a little left in it, but I look at this as a long term relationship.  At least we know where we can change to law and even if we can not change it in Philadelphia (or Pennsylvania as a whole) there is place that we can have friends, and where you can have friends, you can have allies.

Anyway, at least we know where we can have a cold Pliny in future.


Russian River Brewing and Monk's in Philly

OK, what do the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA and Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia have in common? Well, plenty, actually. Monk's is the ONLY outlet that features the Russian River Brewing Company east of the Mississippi River. That's it, no more, just the one! Now you may ask yourself why that is important? Well, Russian River is the one and only manufacturer of two brews: Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. Today we set off in search of these brews (Pliny the Elder being the more likely) and all sorts of other things that will set us off on adventure.

Hang on, this is going to be fun!


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Stomping Ground - Really Good Breakfast

I admit it, most of the places I usually frequent specialize in late lunches, dinners and occasionally late night snacks. Its never really a problem, I am a late night diner (much to the chagrin of my mother) and I always have been. But this does cut out a class of place that has been growing in importance. They serve this thing called "breakfast" and the name of the establishment is Stomping Ground.

Stomping Ground (2309 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301 703-548-1973) is something new in the Del Ray region because of its emphasis on breakfast. Most of the places have a firm grip on lunch and especially dinner. But breakfast is a meal that most seem to avoid. There are a few that have breakfast, but they are "coffee and go" types of restaurants. The Stomping Ground seemed to put its mark on the breakfast establishment in Del Ray.

Stomping Ground
Stomping Ground does have a relationship with Del Ray Pizzeria because that share an investor. That, however, is where is the similarities end and the differences begin. It is open from 7am to 3pm, Tuesday through Saturday. It's basic sandwich is biscuit based. It is so prominent that it literally is the first thing on the menu. Then it moves on to biscuit sandwiches and then finally to breakfast. Lunch comes dead last with only three items on the menu. Breakfast is definitely in their genes.

The restaurant is very new, as they finished it in May after a delay. The service area where you place your order is right up front. It is an old building so all of the mechanicals are placed right over the service area but that it is covered. Restrooms are across the hall. You reach the larger dining area as you move to the back and a small little outside backyard. The seating area is done in rough hewn lumber and is really sturdy. Johnny Cash was playing on the musical playback. It is quite comfortable.

I ordered the Anderson Valley Holy Gose (come to find out later that this is not the name of the beer, just an interpretation) and then asked what the server for her recommendation for an entree. She recommended "The Favorite" with baked egg and bacon. The service was very good.

The beer is quite good, a sour ale, and unique to the season from California. I scored it 4.5 out of 5.0. The sandwich is about the size of a slightly larger English muffin and comes with half an orange cut up. It seem rather peculiar though having a biscuit sandwich with a gose beer. The two just don't mix well, but they did work together somewhat. I was satisfied and it is quite filling and I walked out of the restaurant feeling full and happy.

One question though is why they opted to have beer in this restaurant. Beer (and wine) seem to be a sophisticated drink and these folks have gone for gentler fare. Orange juice would have seem more adapted to the biscuit sandwich that beer. Maybe this is the evolution of our eating and drinking establishment, but it does seem rather peculiar. They certainly have a small but diverse choice of beers (six varieties) but it seems to be reach. It will be interesting if they keep it or not, or to have it seasonally through the winter.

So the flag has been planted for breakfast, along with a beer twist to the whole ordeal. I might start getting up to go down and check out this establishment. Maybe there is a reason for me to get up in the morning after all.