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Friday, November 2, 2018

A few hours in the Windy City

I rarely get to travel for work, but when I do you can bet there will be beer involved! I recently had the opportunity to fly to Chicago to meet with some representatives of Tröegs' new can vendor, Ardagh, at its facility in suburban Chicago. I was asked to join our Marketing VP and Designer at the meeting, which would also include dinner with Joe and Dimitro, two "mediators" from a packaging solutions company based out of King of Prussia called Zuckerman Honickman, Inc., who'd be helping facilitate our change in can vendors. The order of the day was to select colors for our "pilot cans," which are essentially prototypes of the finished product. So as to not bore you with too many work details, I'll just skip to the fun stuff.

Our meeting was scheduled for a Thursday morning at 9 a.m., so the three of us flew to Chicago out of Baltimore the previous morning. When we landed, the first order of the day was to seek out the best Chicago-style deep dish pizza for lunch. At that point, I'd still been fasting, but I couldn't resist a good pie for lunch. Prior to the trip, someone had suggested Lou Malnati's - known by locals as one of the best places for deep dish pizza in the city - and we were delighted to find that the restaurant was in very close proximity to Half Acre's downtown tasting room. It was settled. Lunch at Lou Malnati's followed by a visit to Half Acre, then "something touristy." (I remember the name of the restaurant because it sounds oddly like Illuminati's.) We each ordered our own personal sized pizza and shared a "family" salad, which was enough for each of us to have about three plates. Needless to say it was a pretty filling lunch, especially since I wasn't used to eating until about 6:30 p.m. after I'd already went to the gym. But hey, this was kind of like being on vacation, so when in Chicago...

Lou Malnati's: serious Chicago-style deep dish pizza!

Unfortunately, we had to deal with not only unseasonably chilly weather for early October (it was in the upper 30s when we left the hotel), it was also raining steadily. At that point, I'd wished I had the foresight to have packed a raincoat or umbrella. Actually, I did possess said foresight; I was just too lazy to pack those items. So we swiftly power-walked about two blocks to Half Acre. I'd been there once before on a previous Drinksgiving trip, but it was during my blogging hiatus so I never got to write about it. This place is worth a visit for Daisy Cutter alone, a delicious American Pale Ale that's one of the best I've ever had of the style. The tasting room looked exactly as I remembered it, and so did the adjoining gift shop.

Beer menu at Half Acre.

We settled in to a booth and perused the beer menu. All in all, there were about a dozen various styles available including the aforementioned Daisy Cutter, a few IPAs, some dark beers, a Mexican lager and a few others; a pretty diverse list overall. We all decided on flights of four beers. Here's the skinny on mine:
  • Tuna - tropical fruit-forward pale ale with a touch of floral hops and a slightly piney finish. 
  • Wig - IPA brewed with passionfruit tea and mango.
  • Now & Then - India Pale Ale with a bit of haze and a tropical fruit cocktail-like character with a hint of resiny hops courtesy of Citra, Comet and Simcoe. 
  • Shrub Tundra - English brown ale with local coffee from Dark Matter. According to Half Acre, the final beer is 3.5% coffee, extracted from Faro and Sarchimor, both grown at Finca San Jeronimo Miramar in Guatemala. I typically think brown ales are boring, but add coffee and you have something special.
Tuna is the sweeter, fruit salad sister beer of the more citrusy, dank Daisy Cutter. Enjoyable, yes, but just not quite up to the same level as Daisy Cutter. Now & Then had a similar vibe to Tuna with its melange of tropical fruit at the forefront. Wig was pretty solid with its heavy-handed passionfruit aroma and flavor. I thought this combination would have worked better with a tart ale, but it wasn't bad. But I'd have to say that Shrub Tundra was probably my favorite of the line-up. Perhaps it's because a few metal bands I love (Judas Priest and Mastodon in particular) have done collaborations with Dark Matter. Or maybe it's just that the beer is pretty bangin'. I'll go with a combination of both. Plus the name of the beer is just fun to say: Shrub Tundra. Say it out loud three times. It just rolls off the tongue. I love me some assonance!

The line-up at Half Acre.

After my flight, I came to the realization that I couldn't visit Half Acre and not order a Daisy Cutter. If you've never had it before, do yourself a favor and order one the next time you see it on draft. I've had it many times and it never disappoints. It's definitely got a West Coast vibe going on: lots of citrusy hops, slightly dank aroma, pretty dry finish, and a moderate hop bite. Fresh Daisy Cutter is definitely a Top 5 pale ale for me, and once again it was a pleasure to enjoy this beer straight from the source!

Yeti painting at Half Acre's tasting room.

While we were finishing up, one of Half Acres founders were sitting in the booth directly behind us doing some work. We eventually got to talking to him (I think we commented on an invite-only beer festival they were hosting in the near future) and he overheard us. We introduced ourselves as Tröegs ambassadors and it went from there. He hooked us up with some sweet enamel Daisy Cutter pins (I gave mine to Brewslut for her satchel). After chatting for a few minutes, we checked out the adjacent gift shop, talked to the two clerks, and had a few samples. I'd forgotten they fill growlers and pour samples in the gift shop. All in all, it was great to get back to Half Acre and enjoy some of Chicago's finest craft beers.

By now it had stopped raining, so we decided to head to nearby Begyle Brewing Company based on the recommendation of one of the female clerks at the Half Acre gift shop. We were hoping to do something "touristy" but we were on the opposite end of town from two proposed options: The Museum of Contemporary Art and "The Bean" (you know... that big silver sculpture that looks like a giant kidney bean). But another brewery visit was more than fine with me.

Begyle considers itself a "community supported brewery." I found this curious, as any brewery could be considered "community supported" because, you know, people from the community visit the brewery and support it by drinking beer. However, there's more to it than that. Begyle offers growler subscriptions through its Community Supported Brewery membership. Based on the community supported agriculture model (CSA), whereby farms sell produce shares and shareholders receive a box of produce each week at prices lower than the supermarket. Only instead of fruits and veggies, Begyle offers beer. Think of it as a beer subscription service. Pretty cool concept, I'd say.

New brewery alert. Add Begyle to the list!

During our visit, I decided on a few small pours in lieu of a sampler flight. First up was an IPA called Four on the Floor. Hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo and Galaxy, this one features a zesty, tropical fruit-forward hop profile. This one was probably my favorite of the three. The aroma was perhaps a bit lacking, but overall this was an enjoyable IPA. 

Up next was Pinky Swear. A SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) pale ale, this one is brewed with Golden Promise malt and Amarillo hops for a golden hue, sweet malty backbone and citrusy hop character with a hint of wildflowers. This one was a bit sweet and thin in body. With its somewhat dank, musty overripe grapefruit character, I would have thought a pungent hop like Amarillo would have coaxed a more pronounced hop aroma. 

Pretty sweet coasters at Begyle!

My last beer at Begyle was Maybe Next Summer, described as a "late summer ale." This hoppy ale is brewed with Motueka hops, a New Zealand varietal, to produce refreshing tropical fruit flavors. This one was pretty tasty too, but it just didn't have enough oomph for me. The beers here were all promising, though. They were clean and pretty well-balanced, but they all lacked a distinctive aroma and complexity in the finish. Obviously, the SMaSH pale ale was brewed to focus on single ingredients, but the other two, while "fine" by most standards, just weren't memorable to me in the long run. I applaud the concept of this newer brewery, though, and look forward to revisiting its beers the next time I'm in the area. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed an amazing dinner with Joe and Dimitro at a fantastic restaurant called The Publican. With a well-curated beer selection focusing on inventive sours and Belgian-style ales, there were definitely plenty of interesting options available. Food-wise, everything was off the hook. Menu items are served "family style," so we basically just went crazy and ordered a variety of appetizers, small plates, and entrees and just shared everything. The Publican is also known for its superb selection of raw oysters, so naturally we had to partake in those as well. Thankfully, our hosts picked up the tab (which had to be close to $500 including tip). But it was a pretty epic meal to say the least!

And then, there was the beer.

For my first selection, I went with the evocatively named Bread Zeppelin. A beer for carb junkies and classic rock fans alike, this collaboration between Freigeist Bierkultur and The Publican is a slightly sour amber ale brewed with smoked malt, rye, and approximately 440 pounds of German black bread added directly to the mash. Fermented in a copper-clad, cast-iron open fermenter with a wild yeast strain and a sourdough yeast culture, this was like liquid rye sourdough bread. I was pretty head over heels with this beer, actually.  

The other beer I had with dinner was another collaboration beer (this time between Firestone Walker and The Publican) called Pixie Dusted. This American wild ale gets its unique citrusy flavor from Pixie tangerines from Friend’s Ranches. By adding the juice and zest from this fruit to the Publican’s proprietary barrel blend, they concocted this 2018 GABF Silver medal-winning beer. This was another stellar beer that I'm so glad I got to try, because you simply don't come across beers like this on tap too often. After dinner, we said goodbye to Joe and Dimitro and decided what to do, since it was still relatively early (around 8:30 p.m.). 

While we were Ubering to dinner, I noticed that Haymarket Brewing was just down the street from The Publican. I suggested stopping in for an after-dinner drink. We were all pretty travel-weary by then, but we mustered up enough strength to swing by for a few small pours. Haymarket was probably my favorite of the Chicago breweries we'd visited during "Drinksgiving: The Chicago Excursion" a few years back. 

Since we were Ubering back to the hotel after this stop, I decided to make it count. Upon scanning the beer list, I decided to go with small pours of two high gravity beers. First up was Clare's Right Hook, a barleywine aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels for 5 months. At 10.5% ABV, this was actually the lighter of the two beers I ordered. The other, a Belgian-style Quad aged for 11 months in Woodford Reserve DOUBLE oak barrels named Super Sexy Quads, weighed in at 12% ABV. I definitely felt the burn after these two heavy hitters... but in a good way! It was a quick stop, unfortunately, but a quickie is better than nothing, right? Needless to say I was feeling pretty laid back on the way back to the hotel. 

The next morning, we met with the Ardagh team and got down to business for a few hours before catching a flight back to Baltimore. I was definitely missing Brewslut and Pleeps at my side, but I'll never turn down an opportunity to visit some breweries... especially on someone else's tab! Until next time...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Give me breweries or give me death!" or Richmond, VA: Part II - The Conclusion

Welcome back to our episode, which is already in progress. Let's continue where we left off... in Richmond, VA, of course! With a penchant for creativity and a strong desire to explore, Garden Grove (our next stop after Three Notch'd) focuses on brewing small-batch beers with unusual ingredients, many of which are local, organic, and even foraged for by the brewery. They also have a pretty extensive barrel-aging program for a small brewery, and utilize French and American oak wine barrels exclusively (sorry, no bourbon or rye whiskey barrels, folks).

With that said, I opted for perhaps the most intriguing beer on the list, the aptly named Native Ale. This wine barrel-aged Belgian-style ale features organic malt, wildflower honey, and foraged spicebush leaves and lemon verbena grown by Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens of Richmond. Sweet with a hint of mild oak and white grape, this beer finished with a floral bouquet and a hint of spicy Belgian yeast.

Aside from that particular beer, I'm struggling to remember anything specific about Garden Grove, unfortunately. Perhaps a quick Google image search will help shake up the beans in my noggin.

Break for station identification. You're reading The Pour Travelers blog, a blog about the craft beer travels of Ffej, Brewslut and their simian drinking companion, Pleeleus (or Pleeps for short). 

OK we're back. Oh yeah, that place.

The colors...

Sometimes my mind gets a bit fuzzy round about midday when we're hitting a different brewery every two hours or so. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Following the enjoyable Native Ale, we shared a pour of The Empress, a robust porter infused with cold brew Café Femenino Colombian organic coffee. A collaboration with Bright Spot Coffee, a specialty coffee roaster based in Richmond, this beer is medium bodied with a dominant coffee aroma and a touch of roasty bitterness in the finish. I like my coffee porters to have a bit more oomph to them, but this one was pretty solid overall.

Impressed with what we tried initially, we decided to share one last beer. Enter Mammoth, a classic West Coast IPA loaded with Simcoe hops for a wash of mango and creamsicle and a moderate bitter finish. This one was quite enjoyable as well, especially amid the sea of haze we'd been experiencing. Simcoe is a pretty diverse hop. Sometimes it can come across as quite fruity; other times, you get an almost peppery, spicy pine-like flavor. Gotta love Simcoe for its chameleon-like range of flavors.

One of our favorite pastimes is identifying brewery stickers.

And with that, it was off to the next stop. Surprisingly, Triple Crossing was lightly attended when we arrived. Apparently, we were both craving hops this time, because we each ordered IPAs. I'd heard a few positive rumblings from folks adjacent to my beer circle, so the brewery was on my short-term radar. Aside from The Answer and The Veil, it was the brewery I was most looking forward to checking out on this little excursion. My bronze medalist, if you will.

Curious about the name, I checked out Triple Crossing's web site only to come up empty handed with details pertaining to the impetus of its namesake. So I took to old reliable Google and found the following:

Triple Crossing in Richmond, Virginia is believed to be the only place in North America where three Class I railroads cross at different levels at the same spot.

And suddenly it all made sense. Let's get that up on your "About Us" page, eh?

Who here likes trains?!

With hops on our minds, we decided to go with a pair of IPAs. Firsts up was Dawn Chorus, a DIPA hopped with Citra, Galaxy and Vic Secret for tons of bright pineapple and peach. This one had a soft, supple mouthfeel and virtually no bitterness despite its juicy, hop-forward flavor. Meanwhile, Brewslut was working  on a glass of Mosaic Triangles, a soft, full-bodied IPA hopped assertively with (as the name implies) Mosaic featuring low alcohol and bitterness. Mosaic hops lend a juicy flavor that comes across as part citrusy, part tropical fruit, and part summer melon. Both of these beers were quite enjoyable. And so it goes with my love/hate relationship with hazy IPAs.

We also needed a snack, so we split a small pizza, which hit the spot and added a bit of fuel in the tank to get us through to dinner. These two beers certainly good enough to coax us into staying for a second round, but for whatever reason we decided to move along to the next place.

Pleeps enjoying my Kool-Aid.

It was already pretty dark outside by the time we rolled into Champion, which was supposed to be our final stop of the day. Inside, the space reminded me of an old theater with a very high ceiling and open floor plan. There was a large stage to the back of the room, and they were projecting Scream 3 onto the wall above the stage; after all, it was Halloween season. Perhaps that's why it reminded me of a theater. Brewslut grabbed a table near the stage and I got in line for beer. I decided on a sampler flight of the following four beers:
  • The Pils are Alive with Citra - rotating series of dry-hopped pilsners to showcase specific hops. Each batch features the same base beer; only the hop profile changes. This one featured a crisp pilsner backbone with a wash of citrus fruit. 
  • Missile IPA - IPA dry-hopped with Cascade, Simcoe, and Summit with firm bitterness and intense citrusy aroma. 
  • Amarillo by Morning - big juicy DIPA bittered with Apollo hops and dry-hopped with Summit and Amarillo for a dank, heady nose.
  • Five Armies - white wine barrel-aged golden sour ale.
The beers all seemed good enough albeit not overly memorable, with the Amarillo by Morning taking the cake as far as my preference goes. But let's backtrack a bit. While I was waiting for our beers, I noticed a group of patrons off to the side debating on what beer to order. As they uttered a series of ridiculous questions, I came to the obvious conclusion that these people clearly didn't know anything about beer. I chuckled to myself and reveled in the moment of yet another clueless group of people attempting to find something that essentially tasted like macro-produced light beer. One of the younger women (who was apparently dressed in a soccer uniform), was the biggest culprit. Clearly the bartender was annoyed as well, but you know what they say: "the customer is always right." Brewslut happened to find a table directly behind these people, and I politely called out to her something like the following: "Are we sitting over there?" The clueless soccer girl tersely replied, "Um, no!" Of course, I had just the right amount of beer in my system to not let her off the hook so easily. I replied, "Actually, I was talking to my wife, but let me know if you need help picking out a beer, because clearly you don't know what you're doing." I was, of course, met with no response. Sometimes it's little victories like these that make me most proud. Brewslut probably just would have punched her in the solar plexus.

In case you forgot where we were...

Anyway, let's get back to the beer. While we were working on our sampler flight, the bartender (coincidentally a young twenty-something female) came over to our table with a complimentary pour of Black Me Stout. She then added, "I loved the way you handled that girl in line. I have to deal with people like her all the time but can't say anything because I work here." Needless to say, this was gratifying to hear and it kind of made my night, to be honest.

As for the beer, this one was brewed for a Florida-based band called Against Me!. Not being familiar with them, I checked out their web site. Based on photographs of the band, they appeared to be some hybrid of punk and metal, although Wiki calls them an American punk band, so I probably wouldn't like them. (Editor's note: I watched the video for the song that shares its namesake with the beer. Not my thing. It's music for depressed 15-year-old girls trying to find their identity.) The beer wasn't bad; perhaps a bit too thin and one dimensional for the style (kind of like punk rock, I guess). Looks like the name of the beer was inspired by the band's song "Black Me Out" from its 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. A punk musician dissatisfied with life? Maybe they should actually learn how to play their instruments. Just sayin'. However, the title of their 2002 debut album is pretty amusing: Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose. Poor Axl. Not really. Of course, I'd rather listen to GNR any day of the week over any punk band. Plus I'll always take the opportunity to diss punk rock when I can (although there are a few bands I appreciate, such as Ramones).

Pleeps is a champion!

After our quick visit to Champion, we decided we still had one more in us, so we headed back to The Answer for a second round. Following an enjoyable romp through a variety of primarily dark beers during our previous visit, we decided to try a few of its hoppy offerings this time. First on the agenda was something called So Close I Can Almost Smell Them. The beer - with its lengthy Tired Hands-esque moniker - turned out to be a pungent, fruity double dry-hopped DIPA with Columbus, El Dorado, and Galaxy. Brewslut was also feeling like hops and ordered I Know Dats Ripe, a DIPA overflowing with ripe tropical fruit aromas (hence the name). Simcoe and Mosaic comprise the kettle hops, and further heavy dry-hopping with Mosaic imparts a huge tropical nose. Ripe indeed!

We couldn't leave without trying one of The Answer's signature "Frozan" slushee concoctions. After perusing the beer list, we determined that the Frozan Hurricane sounded most interesting (and delicious) so that's what we ordered. This was basically a slushee version of the Hurricane beer we'd had the previous night featuring blood orange, passionfruit, and rum-soaked cherries. Don't you kids go trying to make these at home! While I appreciate the uniqueness of these beers, they are definitely more of a "try it once" kind of thing for me. I mean, I can't stand when someone serves me beer in a frosted mug, so I don't really feel much of a kinship to a beer Slush Puppy. Maybe if I was at Knoebel's on a hot day. Otherwise, I'll stick to the non-frozen beer. Plus I won't get brain freeze.

We finished up our second visit with a recent addition to the tap list since the previous night. Instead of big or go home, we decided to go big and then go home. I mean, where else can you go from this beer? The beer I'm talking about is Double Barrel King Kahuna, a massive 14.5% imperial stout aged in Laird's apple brandy and bourbon barrels with Kona coffee, hazelnut, macadamia nuts, and toasted coconut. Jesus! That's a lot of ingredients. For me, the stouts here are the must-try beers, although everything was delicious and well-executed.

Beer aside, the food here is pretty bangin' too. The menu is Asian-inspired, with a variety of Vietnamese pho dishes and banh mi sandwiches as well as dumplings, sliders, salads, and more. Oh yeah, and the best freakin' ice cream sandwiches ever... and I mean EVER, like of all time in the history of ice cream. The fat kid in me was in frozen dessert heaven with these delectable treats from Richmond-based Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches. The first night we were there, I inquired about them and heard they were delicious. I ordered Fat Elvis, which is made with banana ice cream and soft peanut butter cookies, then dipped in chocolate. My head was spinning! The following night, I tried one made with The Answer's own raspberry "frozan" beer, which was also as good but not quite as mind-blowing as Fat Elvis. Seriously, these were amazing! And with that, we'd discovered our favorite brewery in Richmond.

The next morning after breakfast, we programmed the GPS for Manassas, VA, which is about 100 miles north of Richmond. We got a slightly late start, but we still arrived at our first stop of the day, Heritage, at a decent time. We chose Manassas because there were two breweries in close proximity, and it allowed us to get almost two hours of travel in before we had our first beer.

Exterior of Heritage Brewing Co. in Manassas, VA.

Founded in 2013, Heritage joins the ranks of quite a few veteran-owned breweries we visited over the last several years. The two owners also happen to be brothers. The brewery offers four flagship beers as well as limited and seasonal releases (under the "Lincoln's Hat" series). It appears they also have a pretty robust barrel-aging program based on the number of wood-aged beers on its website. Overall, the place was bigger than I had anticipated. Looks like they even distribute to a few other neighboring states (MD and SC, for example).

Like so many other breweries we've visited over the years, Heritage is also situated in an industrial park amid rows of warehouses. Not the best for foot traffic, but the brewery itself boasts a pretty large production space. Unfortunately, the tap list was pretty scant during our visit. Several beers were kicked (despite the fact that we were the only two visitors all day, and they'd already been open for about an hour and a half). We opted for pints of two of its flagship beers: Freedom Isn't Free and Force Multiplier.

You can't have freedom for free... but Pleeps can!

Both beers were solid, no-frills offerings that would fit nicely in any brewery's year-round line-up. Freedom Isn't Free, an American IPA brewed with Cascade, Centennial, Citra and Simcoe, offers notes of wildflowers and citrus fruit backed by a crisp malt character. Not bad at all. Force Multiplier, a DIPA, is named after an old military saying whereby if you provide troops with something to increase their effectiveness, it's known as a Force Multiplier. Kind of an apt name for a DIPA produced by a veteran-owned brewery, I'd say. This one had more of a West Coast vibe with a good bit of pine resin and citrus rind. I preferred the house IPA a bit more, but both were pretty solid beers overall. We were there for about an hour, but no other customers set foot into the tasting room while we were there. Perhaps folks in Manassas aren't in the mood for beer on Sunday afternoons.

Inside Heritage Brewing Co.

Just down the road in a small shopping plaza is BadWolf, a small-batch craft brewery serving up unfiltered, unpasteurized beers. The brewery was founded in 2012 by a married couple who grew up in northern Virginia, and opened its doors in June 2013. The tiny tasting room featured six house beers including not one but two grisettes as well as a variety of other styles. I opted for Tepache, a golden sour ale inspired by a traditional Mexican fermented drink featuring pineapple, ginger and habanero peppers. I usually stray from ordering a full pour of something with peppers hotter than jalapenos, but this one just sounded really tasty. Turns out it was! Brewslut went with a NE-style IPA called The Juice, which didn't jive with me at all. It just had some kind of funky yeast I'm not used to, I guess. I had one sip and that was enough for me.

Beer selection at BadWolf Brewing Co. during our visit.

While we were at BadWolf, we enjoyed talking to two locals and muggers, Dene and Angie, about beer, or travels and the yada yada. They were familiar with Troegs but hadn't made it to the brewery yet, so I gave them a couple bottles of our latest Scratch Fest Lager, which they appreciated. (If you guys are reading this: "Hi!")

We were really looking forward to getting back to Vanish. You may recall that they made my Top 10 New Breweries Visited in 2017 list. When we arrived, the parking lot seemed pretty full, so I was certain they were going to be busy. That's an understatement. Turns out they were having some kind of community event for a charity organization involving dogs. Fine with me, as we absolutely love dogs. However, with dogs come families, and with families, well... you know where this is going.

As we walked up to the main entrance, we decided it was too windy and chilly to sit outside. I noticed they'd just released a brand new Milkshake IPA called Frostnite that sounded tasty. Once we entered the main tasting room, my suspicions were verified. They were, indeed, packed (or Pi-DACKED as Brewslut would say). Surprisingly, the line for beer was pretty non-existent, so we were able to get served quickly. As a result of the massive crowd of people, they were serving beers in plastic cups. Somewhat bummed, I turned around to see if we could spot somewhere to sit and enjoy our beers. No sooner did we begin walking when some untethered little miscreant ran into me at knee level and almost spilled my beer. Agitated, I looked around only to notice assorted tot-sized mongrels, many donning face painting of some sort running rampant throughout the tasting room. It was then that I realized why the beer line was short: 50% of the people there were children. We made our way through a sea of strollers and diaper bags to the back of the room where the food service stations were located. I really wanted to try the pulled chicken, as I've heard their BBQ is pretty legit. Sadly, they were sold out. Nothing else fit into our diet and we didn't feel like having a cheese pizza, so we retreated to the opposite side of the room and kept our distance from the wave of toddlers stomping about. There was a guy playing acoustic guitar who sounded pretty good (he played some Tom Petty), but we basically decided to finish our beers and head to nearby Frederick to visit Attaboy, a recent favorite of ours (and honorable mention on the aforementioned "Best of 2017" list). Last time we visited, they were hosting an awesome food truck that had amazing veggie burgers. A quick perusal of their Facebook page confirmed that, in fact, the very same food truck - Boxcar Burgers - would be there until 7 p.m. Dinner problem solved... and yet another audible called!

Behind the bar at Vanish.

But back to the beer. Both my Frostnite and Brewslut's Cabernet Stout were kind of underwhelming; not necessarily from a flavor perspective but in general. Both beers were served quite cold and were borderline flat. The Frostnite did have a pleasant orange and vanilla creamsicle flavor, but it simply didn't suck me in like the last time we visited. As for the Cab Stout, wine barrel-aged stouts are generally hit or miss for me, and while I did detect a nice woodiness and dark fruit character, the lifeless body and somewhat thin mouthfeel did little to enhance our experience. We noticed a Cherry Lime Gose on the board (which I'm surprised Brewslut didn't initially order), which was also available in pre-filled crowlers to go, so we ordered a sample pour to see if we should get one to take home. It didn't really wow us, so we passed.

By this time hunger was calling, so we bowed out of Vanish earlier than expected to head to Attaboy for what would be our final brewery of the weekend. But first thing's first: food! As soon as we arrived, we ordered two black bean burgers with some tasty fixins and a large size of fries to share. We mentioned that we really enjoyed the burgers last time we visited, and she was happy to hear we were return customers. Our food came up quickly, but unfortunately she forgot to ring in the fries. However, she was kind enough to comp an order for us, which was unnecessary but nevertheless much appreciated. 

Our view from the bar at Attaboy.

We started off with a regular pour and decided on a flight of three samples later. First up was Tarts McGee Peach, a low ABV "tart ale" brewed with peach and apricot. Think slightly tart with hints of dried apricots and hard peach candy. This beer was nice and refreshing, and I couldn't help but think of Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone exchanging insults while I sipped on this tasty beer. Brewslut went with Darlin Clementine, a hazy pale ale with notes of orange juice and pine. She enjoyed it quite a bit. I had a few nips and it was, indeed, tasty. However, I was in the zone with my pour of Tarts McGee, and I unfortunately bogarted most of it.  

Attaboy, Pleeps!

We decided to end with a flight since there were a few remaining beers that we wanted to try. The one to pique my interest was something called Lunch Break, referred to on the beer board as a "patersbier." Weighing in at only 4.8% ABV, its flavor notes suggested a dry, biscuity flavor with hints of cherry. I must admit I'd never heard of the "patersbier" style before. Upon investigating its origins, I found its name is Dutch for "father's beer" and it's a light ale that sometimes is referred to as "lawnmower beer for Trappist monks." (Funny, because I'm pretty sure monks don't cut the grass... although I wonder if the gardener also has to take a vow of silence.) To perpetuate the Dutch references, the beer style is sometimes known as "enkel," which translates to “single” in Dutch. Most beer drinkers know their dubbels and tripels, but singles, I find, are few and far between. Most breweries refer to a light Belgian ale as a "Belgian blonde" or "golden ale." The style is thought to have first emerged when brewing monks performed additional sparges of mash to extract leftover sugars. The monks then used this to create a low ABV, sessionable beer (aka "lawnmower beer"). Interesting story. Sadly, I wasn't too jazzed about the beer.

The second beer in our flight, however, was probably the best beer we had all day. Guava No Guava is a New England IPA (I know, I know!) with juicy notes of citrus fruit and (duh) guava. A tropical fruit popular in Mexico and Central America, the guava is rarely used as an ingredient in brewing. Occasionally, I'll come across a beer brewed with guava. I'm not sure why it isn't more prominently featured in beers (especially IPAs and sours) because this beer was pretty damn delicious! With a flavor ranging from sweet and juicy to slightly tart, it is a versatile fruit that displays a big smack of tropical fruit punch-like flavor.

The third and final beer of the flight was a NE-style DIPA called Juicemaster 5000, which kind of sounds like some type of industrial strength smoothie blender. I had to chuckle at the flavor notes for this one: "Tangerine, Papaya, Mayhem." I've tasted mayhem before, and sadly it didn't taste as good as this. With that said, I felt Guava No Guava was far superior to this DIPA. This one was indeed fairly heavy on the tropical fruit, but it just didn't have the same gusto as GNG.

We debated making one final stop of the day, but ultimately we decided to head home, unpack, and chillax on the couch with some good old fashioned TV. Besides, we've got the 10th anniversary of our Drinksgiving trip coming up, so there's plenty more to come from the Pour Travelers in 2018. Unil next time...

Saturday, October 27, 2018

"Give me breweries or give me death!" or Richmond, VA: Part I

Let me begin this post with a prologue of sorts...

I was going to name this particular blog entry "Drinkin' in River City." Why, you ask? Well, Richmond, VA, is commonly known as The River City. That has a nicer ring to it that its other nickname, RVA (whatever that means). Then I learned that Patrick Henry gave his famous Revolutionary War-era "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in 1775 at St. John's Church in - where else? - Richmond, VA. Although I'm not 100% sure I'd trade my life for the freedom to drink beer (that'd be a tough call), I thought the title had a nice ring to it. OK, please proceed.


It's amazing how much you can cram into one 48-hour span of time. We'd been wanting to get down to Richmond for the full brewery experience, but simply hadn't had the right opportunity. We'd passed through a few times (typically on days when most breweries are closed or have less than convenient hours) and only had the opportunity to swing by Strangeways on one particular occasion. With a rare free weekend, we took the opportunity to make it happen.

On Friday afternoon, I had some time to kill while waiting for Brewslut to meet me at a predetermined Park & Ride just off Rt. 15 near Gettysburg. I was on a rare "field trip" for work, which took me to a vendor in New Oxford, PA. So rather than driving back to rendezvous with my traveling companions (don't forget about Pleeps), we saved time by meeting at the Park & Ride. (Editor's note: The Park & Ride was kind of sketchy, by the way. Despite being on the Commuter Services of PA's list of official Park & Ride locations, there was no signage at all; it was basically a big gravel lot next to a church and a fire company. Thankfully, we didn't get towed.)

I decided to use my spare time to check out a relatively new brewery in nearby Hanover called Miscreation. Ten years ago, we'd make it to a new brewery within a few months of its grand opening. Well, it took me almost 4 years to get here. Better late than never, I guess.

Outside Hanover's Miscreation Brewing.

Located at Center Square right smack dab in the heart of the Snack Capital of the World, Miscreation is open seven days a week and offers a variety of house brews, a small pub menu featuring panini sandwiches and such, and live music on the weekend. The space has an interesting multi-level layout with an upstairs loft that overlooks the front of the tasting room. They also have outside seating on the sidewalk.

View from my seat at Miscreation.
I decided to head upstairs (since that's actually where the bar is) and joined a few local muggers at the bar. The people were friendly, and the server seems like she was one of the owners. I mentioned it was my first time here, and they welcomed me with enthusiasm. To avoid drinking on an empty stomach, I decided to have some lunch (a tasty Buffalo chicken panini) with my beer. I started with an 8-ounce pour of a pale ale called Severed. This struck me as a pretty standard, bare-bones American pale ale with a mix of floral and citrus hop notes and just a touch of spicy pine sap in the finish. At 6.6% ABV, it's beginning to approach IPA territory.

Waiting for lunch with Severed.

My second choice was a pumpkin cream ale called Booo!!! This one features a smooth, creamy body similar to a nitro pour with a pumpkin spice flair that's heavier on the cinnamon and lighter on the clove with some nutmeg and allspice thrown into the mix. I like smoother beers like cream ales, porters, or stouts as the base beers for "pumpkin" ales rather than amber or Belgian styles just for the creamy texture those styles possess... at least when they're done right. This one had a rich, smooth mouthfeel and didn't overdo it with the spices.


Overall, the beers are solid and the prices are reasonable. I was hoping to hit another newer brewery called Something Wicked while I was in town, but unfortunately they didn't open until 4 p.m., so it will have to wait for another day. No worries, as I killed my last thirty minutes at a record store around the corner from Miscreation (although I left empty-handed; a rarity for me after spending any amount of time in a record store). And with that, I made the short drive to the designated Park & Ride just off Rt. 15 in rural Gettysburg to meet Brewslut and Pleeps.

As we were driving to our first brewery (which was supposed to be Hardywood), we passed a sign advertising a brewery called 6 Bears & A Goat. "There's no way we aren't stopping there," I said. I mean, come on... goats! We quickly took the next exit to stop in for a quick beer and take a break from the horrendous Virginia traffic. Seriously, this was like Chicago bad. Enter audible #1... and we hadn't even gotten anywhere yet!

Outside 6 Bears & A Goat Brew House.

As we pulled up to the brewery, cars were parked along the roadside leading up to the entrance of the parking lot. "Looks pretty busy," I said. Inside, the place was brimming with customers enjoying dinner and beers. I was surprised not only by how big the place was but also by the sheer number of people there. The greeter said the wait for dinner was about 45 minutes, but we politely mentioned we just stopped in for a quick beer. There was one lone stool available at the very end of the bar near the serving area, so Brewslut snagged it, and I stood.

With such a curious name for a brewery, we obviously wanted to learn of its origin. The name was inspired by its founders and the mascots of their respective military services. The six "bears" represent 20-year retirees from the U.S. Coast Guard, while the "goat" is a retiree from the U.S. Navy.

After perusing the beer list, I opted for the Pilothouse Pumpkin Porter. A variation of its Pilothouse Porter, this variant features the addition of a variety of pumpkin pie spices amid the beer's canvas of chocolate and coffee flavors. Aroma-wise, it hinted of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove as well as a bit of chocolate, and the mouthfeel was actually pretty spot-on. The initial flavor was also pretty pleasant, but unfortunately there was some kind of metallic off-flavor in the finish that just lingered on my palate. Not sure if it was a flaw or a slight infection from equipment, but for lack of a better term it had a "dirty" finish. Otherwise, it was pretty solid.

Pilothouse Pumpkin Porter at 6 Bears & A Goat.

Meanwhile, Brewslut was working on a pour of Passionfruit Goes Ahhh. I had a few sips and this was a straight-up passionfruit bomb. It had a fruity tartness but lacked the complexity of a well-executed gose. Again, it wasn't bad overall but in the grand scheme of the gose world, let's just say it needs some tweaking.

Despite its middle-of-the-road beers, it was nice to see a small, local brewery booming on a Friday night during dinner hours. At the very least, it was worth a stop just to take a break from the grueling start-and-stop traffic we'd experienced since entering the DC Metro area.

Since traffic put us back about forty minutes, we decided to call audible #2 and rather than head to Hardywood, we stopped at the Fredericksburg location of Strangeways. In retrospect, I'm glad we stopped here because we'd already visited the smaller Richmond site on the way home from our last Drinksgiving trip to Virginia Beach. This was a much larger, open space in full sight of the production facility, complete with a stage for live entertainment and plenty of seating options.

We ordered our beers and settled in at a four-person table somewhere near the middle of the room. The place was sparsely attended, but it looked like some kind of show was going to begin shortly, as there was a sound guy twiddling some knobs at the sound console. Turns out Strangeways was hosting some kind of burlesque show later that evening. I saw a few tattooed ladies (one of them with a freshly shorn noggin) getting all decked out in corsets and other Victorian-esque garb. Sounds like burlesque to me. Absinthe and burlesque sounds like a better combo than beer and burlesque. Either way, we'd be gone by the time the show started.

I kicked off our visit with a juicy pale ale called Everything Changes. Part of its "Directional Pale Ale" series, this is a double dry-hopped pale ale featuring copious amounts of Green Bullet and Pacifica hops to elicit flavors of ripe mango, orange marmalade, and pineapple juice.

Pleeps doesn't react well to change.

Meanwhile, I'd been scoping out some of the sour and tart ales on the beer list, as they were plentiful. I was feeling a Berliner Weisse, and they had two base Berliners (a standard and an imperial version) with a variety of flavored syrups. I eventually decided on Imperial Lucky Charms, which was described as an Imperial Marshmallow Berliner Weisse. Turns out it's basically their Fred Zeppelin Imperial Berliner Weisse with traditional German woodruff syrup. Fine by me, as I love woodruff syrup. This green-tinted syrup imparts a sweet marshmallow counterpart to the beer's inherent tartness. Turns out it was a delicious concoction, and I'm glad I went with the imperial version, which had a thicker body and a bit more tartness (I sampled both base beers prior to ordering).

View from our table at Strangeways.

We decided to share a pour of Apes in the Hammock, a sour ale brewed with a house lactobacillus strain and fresh lemongrass and apricots. Actually, Pleeps pretty much forced us to order this beer because of the name. There were several monkey and ape-themed beers from which to choose, but he liked this one most. It's always good to stay on Pleeps' good side when drinking. He can sometimes go heavy on the imperial stouts, and if he gets agitated - for whatever reason - he might start flinging poop. Generally, he's pretty well-behaved, but it happens to all of us (the going too heavy on beers, not flinging poop; of course, I've been known to crop dust from time to time). But back to the beer. This one's fermented hot with a house Kveik yeast strain (from Scandinavia) for a vinous character, this tasty sour features notes of white grape, apricot, sour candy, and lemon zest. Kveik (pronounced “kwike”) literally translates to “yeast” in a particular Norwegian dialect. We actually started using a few of these Kveik strains at Tröegs for some recent Scratch beers. (You can read more about this fascinating yeast in a recent article from Draft magazine if you care to learn more.)

Pleeps likes Strangeways for obvious reasons.

Once again, we weren't able to connect with the elusive Mike Hiller, one of Strangeways' brewers (he used to own Bavarian Barbarian in Williamsport a decade ago). But we had a good visit and were able to skedaddle in time before the burlesque show started... not that I'm offended or anything. I just prefer to keep nudity and comedy segregated (unless Sarah Silverman or Nikki Glaser want to start a new genre of comedy). While Strangeways seems to get overshadowed by trendier places like The Veil and The Answer, I'd highly recommend including a stop on your itinerary if you ever plan a trip to the Richmond area. Their beers are legit... and, you know, monkeys! 

We still had time to make it to Hardywood before they closed for the evening. We hoped they would have a food truck on-site. Luckily they did, and I was able to get some tasty shrimp tacos just before they closed up shop. I'd enjoyed Hardywood's beers for many years and we'd been to its taproom in Charlottesville during my birthday weekend in March 2017, but this marked our inaugural visit to the production brewery in Richmond.

Hardywood's no-frills tasting room.

Before I dug into the beer, I quickly checked out the bottle selection in the adjacent room. To my surprise, their price points are pretty low! I got a 750mL of the rum barrel-aged pumpkin and a gin-barrel aged peach Tripel for only $12.99 each. Smaller 500mL bottles were only $4.49. Good value for the money, I'd say!

Pleeps posing with my haul from Hardywood.

But back to the task at hand. I knew we only had time for one beer each and maybe a shared third beer, but that was it. I opted for Tropic Like it's Hot, a sour ale brewed in collaboration with Ardent Craft Ales and Center of the Universe Brewing. This one is brewed with passionfruit, pineapple, and butterfly pea flowers. Wait... huh?! I'd never heard of butterfly pea flowers. Turns out the flowers of its vine were thought to have the shape of human female genitalia, hence its Latin name Clitoria ternatea. So this beer was brewed using a flower that looks like a vagina. You learn something new every day. The beer has a lovely magenta hue (courtesy of the vagina flowers) and boasts a fresh, tropical aroma with a slightly tart, dry finish. It even tasted good in a plastic cup.

Brewslut went for the hoppy beer this time with something called But Does it Make Sense? This NE-style Double IPA is hopped with Galaxy and utilizes Mosaic lupulin powder. If you've never heard of lupulin powder before, it's something that's catching on among craft brewers these days. It's kind of like a super-concentrated version of whole-leaf hops containing all the resins and aromatic oils for an added dose of hop power.

For our "shared" beer, we settled on something called Tropication 2.0. Described as "liquid recess," this beer features plenty of Mosaic and Nelson Sauvin hops to impart tropical fruit aromas reminiscent of passionfruit, mango, pineapple, and lime. This one was bright and juicy, and quite enjoyable. Sadly, our time at Hardywood quickly expired as the staff began cleaning up while we finished this tasty beverage. I wish we had a little more time, but at least I've had many Hardywood beers in the past.

Our last stop of the night was one of two reasons I wanted to spend a weekend in Richmond: The Answer (the other being The Veil, but more on that later). When we arrived, we were confused at first because they appeared to be closed. Upon further examination, we soon discovered that entry was in the rear (that's what she said), so we headed out back behind the building to park.

Once we started checking in our beers on Untappd, our Team D(r)INK compadre, Jamberg, caught wind of our shenanigans and, being only a few blocks away at his hotel, decided to surprise us with a visit (even though he had visited for dinner). Turns out he was down in the area with one of his  colleagues, Brandon, for the Phish concert at Hampton Coliseum. (I too had seen Phish there back in November 1998, and the shows were later released as a live album called Hampton Comes Alive.)

Now... onto the beer!

The beer list was pretty ridiculous and encompassed everything from imperial stouts brewed with a laundry list of items found in your grandma's pantry, IPAs, sours, fruit beers, and The Answer's signature "Frozan" concoctions, which are essentially beer slushies dispensed out of a - you guessed it - slushy machine. After a minute or two, I decided to go with a flight of four decadent-sounding dark beers. I really wanted to dig into the beer list, but so many of these just sounded too damn good to ignore. Here's a quick recap:
  • Out on Bail: Bondsman's Breakfast - A variant of Out on Bail porter conditioned on Rostov's hazelnut coffee, cacao nibs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. 
  • Deanna Breakfast - Imperial Oatmeal Stout with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, Dark Vermont maple syrup, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
  • Swiss Chocolate Macaroon - Imperial Chocolate Stout with Swiss Almond coffee, Swiss White and Dark chocolate, and coconut chips.
  • Papa Bui - Imperial stout based on an Italian "love cake" with decadent notes of chocolate, hazelnut, and coconut. 
Each successive beer was more impressive than the last, and to be honest, Out on Bail set the bar pretty high. Overall, these are some of the best porters and stouts I've enjoyed in our travels. The mouthfeel was right in my wheelhouse and what I'd call perfection: Smooth and luscious with low carbonation but full-bodied and slick. They all drank like 6% beers with virtually no noticeable alcohol heat; however, three of the four beer were in the 8.5% to 11.5% ABV range.  

Question: Why is Pleeps so happy? Answer: The Answer.

Since our visit turned into a hang with friends, I neglected to snap a decent number of photos as I typically do when visiting a brewery. Such is life. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow of good company and good conversation. That didn't stop us from enjoying more beers, though.

We decided to dip into some of the fruit beers, which all sounded fantastic on paper. Let's see how they translated to the finished product. First up was Virginia Cobbler: Cherry Peach. The Answer describes this beer as a "Cobbler style Gose," so that already sounds delicious. Cobbler is such an underrated dessert, and it's also fun to say out loud. This sweet-tart beer is brewed with Morello cherries, peaches, and a touch of cinnamon and vanilla.

Back to another stout, this time we ordered a pour of Raspberry Fluffernutter, an Imperial Chocolate stout with Jif peanut butter, fresh raspberries, toasted marshmallow, and a touch of vanilla.

Drive Thru Daiquiri: Hurricane - Part of the "Joose/Sips" series and a collaboration with Parish Brewing out of Louisiana. The impetus of this beer was to replicate the famous Hurricane cocktail. Brewed with passionfruit, blood orange, and rum-soaked Morello cherries, this one definitely straddled the line between beer and cocktail.

We arrived at The Veil about ten or fifteen minutes before they opened for the day, so we chilled in the CRV for a bit. We were able to grab a spot in the parking lot, which shares its space with a beer-garden-of-sorts featuring a covered area with outside seating (likely for overflow). About five minutes until, we got out and there was already a small crowd amassed in the parking lot. Inside, the tasting room area is narrow and rectangular. Within thirty minutes, the place was packed with a mostly Millennial crowd of twenty-somethings and hipsters... LOTS of hipsters. Remember my comments about Dangerous Man? Yeah, like that. Hipsters aside, we were surprised by another visit from Lamberg and Brandon. And later, we ran into some of my Tröegs peeps, who were also headed to the Phish show in Hampton later that evening.

Inside the mothership for hipsters.

I started with Young & Pure, an IPA hopped with Citra, Galaxy, and Simcoe. The Veil is known for its juicy, hazy IPAs with minimal bitterness and malt presence. This is one of them. I don't know. It seems to me it's as if these newer, hip breweries are trying to cater to the haze craze and the fact that young beer drinkers constantly want something different so that they can get another Untappd check-in. While I like using Untappd as much as the next beer geek, it makes me wonder if a brewery like The Veil (and I'm only using it as an example because I happen to be writing about this brewery at this precise moment) brews the same IPA with a different name so people will continually line up for a can release and buy whatever is new at the time. They all look the same and taste pretty much identical. ***cough***Trillium***cough. Some are better than others, but there's not much deviation from the formula, which might be something like this: 1. Does it look like something you'd drink for breakfast? 2. Is it double dry-hopped? 3. Does it smell better than it tastes? 4. Is is juicy or dank, brah? If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, then you have yourself a NE-style IPA. The trend now, it seems to me, is that appearance trumps flavor. And to me, that's absurd. I'm not buying a beer to look at it. I'm buying a beer to drink it. I'm not trying to single out The Veil by any means. I've just reached the point of critical mass with hazy IPAs and decided to write about it. This was a fine beer, but I just feel that hazy IPAs lack the complexity and depth of flavor as, say a West Coast style IPA. There. I said it. Let's move on.

Up next was a beer named Salted Caramel & Oreo Hornswoggler, which I must admit sounded amazing on paper. Described as a chocolate milk stout conditioned on salted caramel and Oreo cookies, it indeed sounded decadent and inviting. Lamberg ordered a pour of this sickeningly sweet, muddy-looking brownish stout to share with the group. It resembled liquid stool that comes out of a baby whose diet consists of nothing but breast milk. I'm talkin' straight from the teet. I mean, I've produced excrement that was prettier than this beer. Everyone HATED it; I thought it was OK, but after about three sips, I'd had enough. So it sat on our table for the duration of our visit... like dookie in the street.

Things picked up with my next beer, Crucial Taunt, The Veil's house Double IPA. It's also named after the band fronted by Wayne's girlfriend Cassandra in the movie Wayne's World. Brewslut got the reference immediately. I did not. I should have, but I didn't. This one was soft and tropical with virtually no bitterness and a big smack of fruit in the aroma; certainly all hallmarks of the NE style.

Since I enjoyed Crucial Taunt, I decided to give another DIPA a spin, so I opted for Nice Nice Relationship Relationship. This double dry-hopped DIPA features a blend of Galaxy, Mosaic, and Ekuanot, and honestly wasn't that much different than Crucial Taunt, at least to my palate. By the way, the name of the beer isn't a typo. It seems all of its "double" or "imperial" beers have similar names that sound like a kid with a stuttering problem (Master Master Shredder Shredder, Never Never Forever Forever, etc.). I guess that's kind of cool; or at least a bit off-kilter.

While I enjoyed the three hoppy beers I tried, I felt they all kind of blurred together. Henceforth, I shall refer to this phenomenon as the "Trillium Effect." By the way, check this shit out...

Taking a break on the set of the upcoming remake of Heathers.

These four stuffy young ladies look like they came straight from the golf course (or perhaps the croquet court). I didn't notice any white wine spritzers on the menu at The Veil, but I could be mistaken. At first, we thought they were wearing Halloween costumes, but then we realized it was a little too early for that nonsense. Rich kids? Maybe. But in all actuality, the quartet was likely a group of pretentious wannabes trying to gain some street cred by hanging at the "hip brewery." The only reason I bring this up is because they were in such stark comparison to the rest of the patrons (especially me, but even the hipsters) that they stood out like a turd in the punchbowl. Perhaps I should offer kudos to The Veil for bringing together a truly eclectic clientele into its circle of fans. Brewslut, on the other hand, wanted to punch each of them in the solar plexus. (I had to laugh at this, because I'm typically the one in "angry old man" mode when we come across people like this.)

So we left the cast of Heathers and continued onward to our next destination.

Right around the corner from The Veil is Väsen, a brewery that's making its mark with forward-thinking sours, fruit beers, and Belgian-inspired ales. Taking its name from the Swedish word “väsen” (which translates to "inner essence" or "way of being"), it pays tribute to the founders' Scandinavian heritage. Gotta love them vikings!

Outside Väsen.

I was immediately drawn to the Smoked Blood Peach Sour. Although they had me at "smoked," I must admit that "peach" sealed the deal. I'd never heard of blood peaches before (blood oranges, yes) so I was intrigued. I won't bore you with the history of this fruit, but here's a link to some more information in the event you are curious. Obviously, a lot can go wrong with a beer like this. Smoked malt. Fruit. Sour fermentation. This beer, however, was a home run! The smokiness was minimal but apparent up front, eliciting a hint of beechwood. The flavor followed through with tart peach gummy candy and a nice bit of pucker in the finish. Overall, a well-executed beer that could have easily gone wrong. Nicely done, Väsen!

View from our bar stools at Väsen.  

Brewslut opted for Everything Floats on Passionfruit, a double-dry-hopped sour conditioned on (according to Väsen) "nearly half a ton" of passionfruit and generous additions of Vic Secret, Mandarina Bavaria, and Citra hops. Passionfruit dominates the flavor (obviously), but there's also hints of grapefruit, pineapple, and tangerine present.

Pleeps + passionfruit = a winning combo!

We definitely got reeled in by our first choices. My Smoked Blood Peach Sour was one of the highlights of the weekend, so we felt obliged to stick around for a second round. I decided to switch gears and go with The Wired Walrus, a stout cold-steeped with Blanchard's coffee beans from Ethiopia and Guatemala. Actually, it should come as no surprise that I ordered a coffee beer. This lighter bodied stout features hints of mocha and strawberry with a hint of chocolate.

Surprisingly, Brewslut went with a pour of Barrel Aged Grapefruit Tripel, an Abbey-style ale aged for 4 months in Chardonnay barrels with grapefruit to impart intense flavors of citrus zest, oak, and vanilla. Nelson Sauvin hops provide subtle fruitiness and enhances the white wine character with notes of white grape. Belgian yeast provides additional nuances of spice akin to clove and black pepper as well as dark fruit. This one had a lot going on, and I enjoyed the peppery grapefruit rind flavor that came through in the finish.

Pretty sweet large mural painting at Väsen.

Looking back, this place really stood out from the pack. It was one of the most memorable visits of the trip, and it's a place I will definitely visit again next time we're galavanting around Richmond.

When we arrived at Ardent, the Tasting Room and adjacent beer garden area (despite being rather windy and chilly outside) were both pretty full. The beer menu looked varied and inspired with a few IPAs, saisons and pilsners. However, we were smack dab in the middle of our day and starting to get a bit fatigued, so we opted for a one-and-done visit. After getting our beers and searching for somewhere to sit, we gave up and went around back where we set up shop on a cement walkway near the food truck.

Beer board at Ardent.

I decided to throw caution to the wind with my one-and-done beer here: Sweet Potato & Sage Saison, a dry, farmhouse-style saison. This one was quite earthy with an herbal bite. It was also quite fragrant thanks to the addition of fresh, local sage. But it sounded interesting, so I ordered it. It was... ok. I mean, it had a lot going on: prickly carbonation; an earthy (almost starchy) character courtesy of the sweet potatoes; a sharp herbal bite; and a lingering dry, spicy finish. I don't know what I was hoping for, but I just don't think I was in the mood for this beer at this precise moment. Perhaps it was a well-executed beer; it just didn't sit well with me for the duration of the imbibement (is that a word)?

Sweet potato & sage saison.

Brewslut went with the Pineapple & Passionfruit American Sour Ale. I guess beer names are really hard to come up with these days. Anyway, this beer is a blend of sour blonde and sour wheat ales aged in oak barrels with pineapple and passionfruit. Needless to say, there's a heavy-handed tropical fruit presence (especially passionfruit) in both aroma and flavor, but it finishes on the sweet-tart side of the spectrum.

We tried to get comfy here but it just didn't pan out. The place was packed (inside and out), and it was too windy and cold to really camp out on a concrete sidewalk for more than the duration of a single beer. Plus, the beer didn't inspire us to stay for seconds. So, onward and upward.

For some reason, Three Notch'd wasn't even on our initial itinerary. However, once we arrived and I realized it too was situated in Richmond, we squeezed it in. I'd had one of its beers not too long ago at the Mellow Mushroom when we last drove through the area, but that was my only other encounter with the brewery until now.

Since we hadn't planned to visit, we opted for another one-and-done stop. I was ready for a West Coast IPA, so I was drawn to 40 Mile. Brewed with an abundance of American hop varieties for a tropical and citrus-forward hop experience, this beer is heavy on grapefruit and tangerine with hints of peach and pineapple. This beer's name refers to the number of miles Jack Jouett raced to warn Thomas Jefferson that General Cornwallis had ordered their capture. Jack Jouett’s ride is legendary in Virginia and put Three Notch’d Road on the map as a central story in the fight for our country's independence. And there's some more colonial-era trivia for you.

Brewslut went with As You Are, a pineapple mango gose. I've been getting kind of gose'd out lately. Every once in awhile, I like to throw one in to clear off the old palate, but honestly all of the various fruited versions just mask the flavor of the base beer, which to me is quite simple and refreshing. Some of the fruited versions are subtle, but so many turn out to be fruit bombs. Just an observation.

I didn't really feel much of a connection with this place unfortunately, so we split after one drink.

Never fear! There's still more to come as we explore River City. Stay tuned for the conclusion of our romp through Richmond, coming soon to your friendly neighborhood Pour Travelers blog soon. Until next time...