Saturday, September 26, 2009

Local GABF Winners

The winners at the Great American Beer Festival were announced today.

Congratulations to the Virginia winners!

Devils Backbone Brewing Co. : Gold Leaf Lager : Gold : International-Style Pilsener
Devils Backbone Brewing Co. : Natural Born Keller : Silver : Kellerbier/Zwickelbier
Devils Backbone Brewing Co. : Danzig : Silver : Baltic-Style Porter
Devils Backbone Brewing Co. : Vienna Lager : Silver : Vienna Style Lager
Great American Restaurants (Sweetwater Tavern) : Crazy Jackass Ale : Gold : Rye Beer
Great American Restaurants (Sweetwater Tavern) : Wit's End : Bronze : Belgian-Style Witbier
Rock Bottom Brewery - Arlington : Dude! Where's My Vespa? : Gold : Coffee Flavored Beer
Starr Hill Brewery : Dark Starr Stout : Gold : Classic Irish Style Dry Stout

Special kudos to Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone for the impressive showing of 4 medals!.

Our friends at Clipper City and Flying Dog were among the Maryland Breweries bringing home medals.

Brewer's Alley Restaurant and Brewery : Brewer's Alley India Pale Ale : Bronze : English-Style India Pale Ale
Clipper City Brewing Co. : Clipper City Marzhon Vienna Lager : Bronze : Vienna Style Lager
DOG Brewing Co. : Pub Dog Black Dog Stout : Bronze : Classic Irish Style Dry Stout
Flying Dog Brewery : Horn Dog Vintage 2007 : Gold : Aged Beer
Flying Dog Brewery : Dogtoberfest : Gold : German Style Märzen
Flying Dog Brewery : Gonzo Imperial Porter : Gold : Imperial Stout
Flying Dog Brewery : Barrel Aged Gonzo : Silver : Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

In addition to the 4 medals, Flying Dog Brewery, and brewer Robert Malone, also won the award for Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.

North Carolina breweries were well represented on the winners' podium as well.

Foothills Brewing : Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout : Bronze : Imperial Stout
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Inc. : Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter : Gold : Baltic-Style Porter
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Inc. : Duck-Rabbit Barrel Aged Baltic Porter : Bronze : Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

I'll be sure to look for some of those North Carolina beers next weekend at the World Beer Festival in Durham.

You can see all the GABF winners here.

Photos ©2009 :
TOP: Aaron Riley (bartender @ DBBC), Jason Oliver (head brewmaster @ DBBC), Charlie Pazian (President of the Brewers Association), and Steve Crandall (owner of DBBC) accept their awards at The Great American Beer Festival.
BOTTOM: Mark Thompson (brewmaster @ Starr Hill), Jason Oliver, Steve Crandall
Photos by Heidi Crandall.

Update, September 29: Draft Magazine has posted an interview with Jason.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blue & Gray Oktoberfest This Weekend

The 7th annual Fredericksburg Oktoberfest at the Blue & Gray Brewing Company officially kicked off this evening with the ceremonial tapping of this year's Oktoberfest beer. A large crowd was on hand Friday evening to enjoy the LOW'n'BROWS oompah band and plenty of German food. Of course, the Blue & Gray beers were also flowing.

The celebration continues through Sunday at the brewery. There are family-friendly activities planned all weekend, rain or shine. This year's Oktoberfest beer is very nice with a smooth, sweet malt backbone and just a touch of bitterness. Be sure to get some before it's all gone.

Ball Park Brewery in Loudon?

A proposal for a ball park in Loudon County includes plans for an onsite microbrewery. Ball Park Digest reports:
Organizers of a new Loudoun County ballpark in suburban D.C. are looking at quirky features for their new ballpark in the proposed Kincora development.

That could include any number of features already found in Peter Kirk ballparks in suburban Maryland, like a water-based bumper cars and a climbing wall. It could also include a microbrewery, which organizers say would be the first in a minor-league ballpark. (Coors Field, of course, has its own microbrewery on the MLB level.)

More on the proposed development here.
Hat tip to the loudon Twitter account for the news.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Maltese Beer

At the end of our pilgrimage, we were excited to spend two and a half days in the island nation of Malta. Malta has a fascinating history and we visited some of the oldest pre-historic ruins in Europe; the Tarxien Temples and the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum. We also visited numerous early Christian sites, including the grotto where St. Paul passed his three-month captivity on the island.

Malta has an interesting beer culture. There is just one brewery on the island, Simonds Farsons Cisk, simply called Cisk (pronounced chisk). The Maltese are quite proud and fond of the Cisk beers. Before the trip, I made a query on Twitter regarding beer in Malta and received an immediate reply from a representative of the Malta tourism group regarding Cisk. The beers are everywhere. You'll see them in two sizes of cans, in bottles, and on draft. Three different Cisk beers easily found; Cisk Lager, Hopleaf Pale Ale, and Blue Label Ale.

Cisk Lager is bright yellow with copious carbonation. The flavor is grainy and slightly sweet. This is the most popular of the Cisk beers and in every café or bar the bright yellow cans can be seen on tables. I enjoyed the ubiquitous Cisk Lager both canned and on draft several times during our short stay. The Hopleaf Pale Ale seems to be the next most readily found beer. The initial taste of the english pale ale is that of mild, bitter hops. Unfortunately the aftertaste was metallic and not pleasing at all. I only had this one once, so there's the chance that we had an off-flavor sample, but one that was left unfinished on the table.

The final Cisk beer we had on Malta was Blue Label Ale. This one was a little more elusive. I didn't order it the first time I saw it offered. When I asked our Maltese guide about it, he replied "It's a dark beer." After two weeks of pale lagers, I was intrigued. Blue Label doesn't seemed to be offered in as many places as the other two so I went out on a search specifically for Blue Label one evening. When I found it, I was reading the can when the cashier told me "That's a dark beer." Well, dark is a relative term. The beer was only slightly darker than the Cisk lager, but definitely not anything I would label as "dark". However, it was a decent English-style ale. A little nutty with a bready malt base. When we were leaving Malta, I had the chance to order another Blue Label at a restaurant in the Malta airport. This time the beer was served on draft. The beer was darker than the previous serving, with a thick, creamy head that lingered to the end. (Pictured bottom right.) I suspect the beer was served on nitro, but didn't have time to investigate.

The Maltese beers are mild compared to the typical American craft beer. Indeed checking BeerAdvocate scores reflects that. (BeerAdvocate reviewers are generally biased towards "big" beers.) However, this only serves to illustrate one issue with review sites such as BA. It's my feeling that they don't take in to account the whole experience of enjoying the local foods. (Yes, don't forget beer is food.) After walking for a few hours in the hot Mediterranean air, that can of Cisk with the ice on top was especially refreshing. All of these beers would qualify as session beers; Blue Label has an ABV of just 3.3%. The beers are as much a part of the local delicacies as any food. One morning we headed into a local restaurant for breakfast. It was just 10:00 AM and the servers were already clearing away empty bottles of Cisk Lager the locals had been enjoying. Try that with your Double IPA.

Beer isn't the only alcoholic beverage local to Malta. We also enjoyed Bajtra Liqueur. The liqueur is made from the fruit of local prickly pears, which are the fruit of the widely-grown Opuntia cactus. Served chilled, this liqueur has a mild, watermelon-like flavor.

Cisk also makes a cola drink called Kinnie. We were given samples of this when we arrived at our hotel. The carbonated beverage is made from bitter oranges and herbs. It's definitely an acquired taste. Both Kinnie and Cisk Lager are also offered on board Malta Airlines. If more airlines served local beer, plane travel would be more enjoyable. (Air France, which carried us across the Atlantic, offered only Heineken.)

We enjoyed our visit to Malta very much. I was also intrigued to see the enthusiastic following for local Cisk beers, and how it was so much a part of the eating and drinking culture.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wolf Hills Brewing Update

Last week I received a note from Cameron over at Wolf Hills Brewing in Abingdon. I was travelling at the time and couldn't post to the Musings. The brewery has received their off-premise license and they held their first "growler hours" last Thursday night, September 17. They had three Wolf Hills beers available; Stonewall Heights Stout, Creeper Trail Amber Ale, and a version of the Pale Ale. The brewery posted a few photos from the event on their Facebook page. Since then, Wolf Hills has received label approval and they expect to begin selling kegs to local restaurants soon, possibly as early as this weekend.

Congratulations to yet another Virginia brewery that's up and running! My introductory musing on Wolf Hills Brewing is here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Italy Trip

We recently made a two-week trip to Italy and Malta. The trip was planned as a religious pilgrimage rather than a vacation, but we managed to find time to do tourist things as well. Along with about 25 other folks and a Priest, we visited holy sites and shrines in Assisi, Loreto, Lanciano, San Giovanni Rotundo, and Rome in Italy. (I'll report on Malta in an upcoming post.)

The trip was glorious and exciting beyond expectations. Standing on the same ground as so many early Christians, and seeing the relics of so many of these Christians and martyrs was at times simply overwhelming. The trip was a well-organized group tour. However, in addition to the planned tours, several of us made efforts to immerse ourselves in the local culture. Each evening we ventured out and walked the towns. We enjoyed gelato, espresso, and other local foods and beverages. We took in local festivals and parades. Sleep? That's something best left for when we returned home.

In Italy, wine rules and we enjoyed local wines with every dinner. As far as beer goes, Italy is a land of lagers. I read about a few artisanal Italian beers before the trip, however I did not run across them while there. Granted, no extreme effort was expended in the search. There was just too much good wine readily available.

Any beer I had in Italy was accompanied by a quick lunch, or alone as a refresher between meals. The most common beers I saw in shops and cafés were Heineken and Becks. I didn't bother with those, though it was apparent they were popular with the local folks. The most commonly offered Italian beers we saw were Peroni and Birra Moretti. Both of these pale lagers are available in the U.S. but I don't think I've ever tried them before. They were as expected, mild and drinkable. Served cold, these beers are refreshing, but at first un-exciting to an American palate more accustomed to bolder "American" flavors. But they aren't horrible either. I didn't experience any "skunky" flavors one often finds with pale lagers in America. Of course, these beers had not been shipped across the ocean either! Nastro Azzuro was another new beer for me. This is a another Peroni product. I purchased a Nastro in a 50 cl can during a roadside stop for lunch. Of the Italian beers, the Peroni drafts I had at a sidewalk café in the Borgo Pio in Rome, with anchovy pizza for lunch, were the most enjoyable.

One other beer I had in Italy was actually an import from Denmark, Ceres Strong Ale. This one seemed to be offered widely, especially in Rome. I grabbed a bottle at a small market down the street from our hotel and enjoyed it right from the bottle. The 7.7% ABV gave this lager a bit stronger flavor that the other european-style lagers.

None of the beers were typical of beers I generally drink. However, they are the beers consumed by the majority of Italian beer drinkers. Pale lagers for sure, but lagers with flavor. Whether it was related to being in Italy or not, I found them more pleasing that the mass produced lagers consumed by the majority of American beer drinkers. After I returned home, I looked up these beers online. As I expected many of the ratings were low, but not reflective of my impressions of these lagers, and the overall experience of drinking beer in Italy.

While we were in Italy I also tried for the first time Grappa and Limoncello. Grappa is made from the leftover grape pressings from the wine making process. It's clear, strong, and will quickly open up your sinuses. I consider it one of those "must try while in Italy" experiences. (Okay, that's done.) Limoncello is a much more pleasant drink. Like grappa, it's served as an after dinner digestivo. It's served chilled and is surprisingly refreshing.

Following Italy, we traveled to Malta. My beer experiences there were both interesting and unexpected. I'll tell you about that soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Festival Conflicts

What's wrong with this picture?

October 3, 2009, Durham, NC:
14th World Beer Festival Durham

October 3, 2009, Fredericksburg, VA:
7th Annual Capital Ale House Oktoberfest

October 3, 2009, Shirlington, VA:
10th annual Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest

That's right, they are all on October 3. I'll be attending the World Beer Festival in Durham. That's a "guys' weekend" for me and some buddies. So that eliminates the options to attend the other two. I hope all you local beer fans will come out and support the Capital Ale House Oktoberfest. There's been some local opposition, so come out and show the downtown merchants you support these types of events. I suppose in theory, it might be possible to hit both the Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia events the same day. Theoretical, not practical. What's a beer lover to do? Be happy that there are so many options, that's what!

If you are so inclined, the Fredericksburg Wine Festival is also taking place that weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

25 Years!

This post has nothing to do with beer, though it's of great significance. Today, September 15, Colleen and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

To my beautiful wife, you are the love of my life. I thank God every day for all the blessings you bring to our family.

Here's to another 25 years!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Capital Ale House Fredericksburg Octoberfest

An Oktoberfest block party will be held in downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday, October 3 with German food, music and dancing evocative of the 16-day festival held in Munich each year. The Fredericksburg Capital Ale House will host the street party in the 900 block of Caroline Street. The events begin at 12 noon with the traditional tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. The festivities continue through the afternoon and evening with children’s activities, German and polka music, dancing and the food of Germany.

Schedule of Events:
12 noon - Ceremonial tapping of the First keg of Oktoberfest beer
12 noon to 10 p.m. - The SGTEV Hirhsjager Dancers
1 to 3 p.m. - Children’s balloon twister
12 noon to 3:30 p.m. - The Continentals (German and polka music)
4 to 6 p.m. - Die Dorf Musikanten (German traditional music)
4 to 6 p.m. - Children’s balloon twister
6 to 10 p.m. - The Continentals (German and polka music)
9:45 p.m. - Closing Ceremony and on-stage drawing for a trip for two to the Munich Oktoberfest 2010.

Each guest of legal drinking age will receive a complimentary one-liter Capital Ale House stein upon entry. Families are welcome however anyone under age 21 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. There is no cover charge.

In addition to the Fredericksburg celebration, other Capital Ale House locations are holding Octoberfest events as well; September 18th & 19th at the downtown Richmond and Midlothian locations, and September 25th & 26th at the Innsbrook location.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Blue & Gray Brewing Octoberfest Weekend

The 7th annual Fredericksburg Octoberfest at the Blue & Gray Brewing Company will take place September 25-27. This weekend-long event will take place at the brewery's new home, which happens to share a parking lot with their old location. This looks to be a fun-filled weekend. Blue & Gray events are family-friendly so bring the whole gang and enjoy the festivities.
Free Admission. ALL WEEKEND!

In traditional Bavarian fashion, Fredericksburg comes together under the big tent in September to celebrate the 7th Annual Oktoberfest!

Family fun, music, magic, song and dance. Newly released authentic Oktoberfest Beer and Hefeweizen from Blue & Gray Brewing.

Numerous vendors selling delicious German foods and pastries. Free fall crafts table for the kids. Free samples of Blue & Gray Oktoberfest beer while it lasts. Beer for sale in 12oz or 16oz mugs, or 33.8oz (maas) commemorative stein. (Sign up on brewery homepage for 1/2 off coupon)

Friday: 5-10pm keg-tapping ceremony and OOOmpah band

Saturday: 12:00 LOW'n'BROWS band OOOMPAH! Sing-along for prizes. 1:30 German Shepherd Exhibition Spotsylvania County K-9 Unit (Invited)

Sunday: 11am-4 Roving accordion, preztel making!

Come join us!

Friday, September 25, 2009 (5:00 PM-10:00 PM)
Saturday, September 26, 2009 (11:00 AM-7:00 PM)
Sunday, September 27, 2009 (11:00 AM-4:00 PM)

See the Blue & Gray website for updates.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Special Tastings at Blue & Gray This Weekend

Over at the Blue & Gray Brewery this weekend, you will have the opportunity to get a preview of this year's Octoberfest beer. The brewery opens an hour early today for tasting (at 2pm) and stays open an hour later on Saturday (until 2pm.) Free samples only, no sales yet. The Oktoberfest beer will be officially tapped during the keg tapping ceremony on September 25th at 7pm during the Octoberfest celebration. At that time it will be available by the glass, growler, and keg.

During the recent move to new quarters, the brewery sold "unfiltered" Classic Lager while they reassembled their piping, and received rave reviews. The beer is slightly richer and more full bodied because it still has a lot of the "good stuff" (proteins) suspended in the beer. Unfiltered beer may be a little more hazy than what you are used to, but the flavor is the same, or better. Blue & Gray decided they would occasionally make the unfiltered beer available for sale. This weekend, they will be offered tastings and growler sales of a "young" Falmouth Pale Ale. Jeff describes it as having a "real citrus-like aroma, like grapefruit juice, and is cloudy with suspended proteins and yeast." Might be worth dropping by for a growler of this one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pub Cacophony

"Hey, let's get together for a beer!" No finer invitation from a pal could reach my ears. Meeting friends at a local pub is always a fun way to spend time. But usually the point of the meet up is to talk while enjoying that beer. That's where so many pubs are lacking. It's hard to talk to the person next to you if you both have to shout to be heard. Great tunes playing in the background are welcome. Too bad you have to go into the bathroom to hear what's playing. Having a quality beer selection is a laudable goal for a pub, and many establishments go all out in that area. Why not put some forethought into noise abatement as well? Put in some sound partitions, or install sound absorbing materials on the wall. That hardwood looks great, but it bounces and amplifies noises. It's no surprise that a room will get loud when it's full of people drinking and having fun. So why not plan for it?

No one expects a pub to be as quiet as a library, nor should it be. Certainly some effort to diffuse the inevitable sound of fun is certainly warranted. What do you say? Are pubs too noisy for conversation? Does it matter to you?