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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Happy Birthday, I'm 43 - Team D(r)INKing in Virginia: Day 1 of 3

Readers of the Pour Travelers blog have likely deduced that Brewslut and I typically travel as a pair (OK... technically, a trio; I can't forget about our beloved Pleeps). However, we also enjoy a good group outing. It had been a while since we planned a beer trip with friends. Team D(r)INK had been talking about it for a while now, and a group of us landed on the weekend of March 24-26. "Sweet!" I thought. "My birthday weekend." We eventually settled on Charlottesville, VA (uncharted waters for the Pour Travelers), and Captain Deuane took care of making all of the arrangements. We'd be spending two nights at Dunlodge Cabin, a 4-bedroom, 2-and-a-half-bath home on five acres of land, complete with a cozy sun room, patio, and outside fireplace. Although we will have not gotten there until much later in the evening, I'll include some pics of our accommodations for the weekend (courtesy of Carolyn's Facebook page):

Sun Room

Living Room

Our bedroom. We took the kids' room with two twin beds.

Now, back to PA. Deuane picked me up at home and we headed to Carlisle to meet our wives. While we were waiting for Carolyn (Deuane's wife) to finish up at work, we realized we had time for a quick one-and-done visit to a new brewery in Carlisle, PA. When we arrived at Desperate Times, the place was completely empty, save for the bartender. I joked to Deuane that it might be difficult finding a seat. We moseyed up to the bar and perused the chalkboard. Deuane had visited before and enjoyed the Black Forest Schwarzbier, so that's how I kicked off the weekend. Overall, it was a very good interpretation of a style (a dark German lager) that I seldom see on tap at local breweries. Same goes for a Rauchbier (a German smoked beer). So when I find a beer style on the menu that doesn't get a lot of love, I'll gravitate to the underdog.

My view from the bar at Desperate Times.

Inside, the tasting room was vast and spacious, boasting high ceilings, modern decor with lots of shiny metal and tile, and a large, handmade bar that arced around the bartender's serving area. Soon after we arrived, Brewslut showed up with Pleeps in tow, and more customer started to file in. She settled on a pour of Turtle Stout, an Imperial Stout with notes of chocolate and pecan to mimic turtles candy. She was digging it, as was I. We didn't have a whole lot of time, as we wanted to get on the road to Charlottesville, VA (our destination for the weekend).

I'd wanted to visit our next stop, GearHouse out of Chambersburg, PA, since it opened, but Chambersburg isn't exactly a hop, skip and jump away from Annville. So I was excited to swing by and check out Dave Kozloski's new digs. I know Dave from his tenure as a brewer at Tröegs. He'd always been a friendly, talkative guy with me. I find that brewers are either at one end of the spectrum or the other with regard to social skills, and there's seldom much middle ground. Needless to say, Dave's a good guy and I was happy to see him finally open his own place after many, many months of preparation.

The brewery and adjoining tasting room were both much bigger than I had anticipated. Actually, I was pretty blown away by the atmosphere and obvious amount of time spent making the space into a fun, comfortable place to hang out with friends. The sprawling floor plan included a bar area, lounge with various chairs and sofas, and air hockey and shuffleboard tables, offering plenty of space to spread out and get some drinking done. I was glad to see the place brimming with customers on a Friday after work. After reviewing the draft selection, I opted for IPA #3, the latest in the GearHouse IPA series. This one features a blend of Warrior, Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus hops to elicit piney, resinous hop notes. It was well-balanced and smooth, and curbed my IPA craving for the time being.

Interior shots of GearHouse
After getting cozy in the lounge area on an old sofa, Dave came in from his smoke break and showed us around the brewery. He was also kind enough to share a few upcoming beers via his "test batch" bar in the production area. We enjoyed two different beers: Puzzling Pilsner, an unfiltered German-style Pilsner brewed with Enigma hops from New Zealand; and a yet-to-be named IPA that smelled like a fresh pack of Juicy Fruit gum. I was really digging the aroma of this one! Flavor-wise, it was quite tropical with a huge smack of mango and guava, but finished very bitter and almost chalky (in a good way). This was a really interesting IPA that I'd love to revisit once it gets a proper release. (NOTE: The Pilsner went on tap once we returned to the tasting room area and found that one of the other beers had kicked.)

Pleeps posing with Conco Gin.

After our brewery tour and sampling, we returned to the tasting room for one final beer - Conoco Gin. This limited offering is a gin barrel-aged version of GearHouse's Birch Run Brown Ale. If you've read my past blog about our trip to Portland, OR, you may remember an abundance of breweries tinkering with gin barrels. I'd hoped this trend would find its way eastward, and it looks like it did! This particular beer, which takes its name from the nearby and (sometimes) muddy Conococheague Creek, spent 46 days in the gin barrel to impart hints of juniper berry and some earthy, floral notes around the edges. It was pretty sharp at first, but really softened up as it warmed. hopefully Dave will continue to experiment with the gin barrel. (Hint: put some of that Juicy Fruit IPA in there for a few weeks and see what happens!)

Me & Dave Kozloski.
By this time, the place was hoppin' with customers, and rightfully so. If GearHouse wasn't located in Chambersburg, I'd definitely visit often. It's easily one of my favorite spaces of any start-up breweries in PA over the last few years. The beer ain't bad, either! I'm definitely looking forward to a return visit in the near future.

After busting my GearHouse cherry, it was time to hit the high road to Virginia. We had about an hour-ish drive until we reached our next destination. Located in the heart of "Old Town" in Winchester, Alesatian is situated above Roma's Old Town Wood-Fired Pizza. Lucky for us, Alesatian offers Roma's pizzas on the menu, and we were all PDH - pretty damn hungry! We settled on the Chipotle Chicken pizza featuring spicy chipotle tomato sauce, roasted red peppers, provolone, and smoked Gouda, and it was delicious. I personally loved the crust.

Pleeps digging into my 320 Citra Wheat!
Beer-wise, there were only about six house beers available, as well as a handful of guest taps. I started off with a pint of 320 Citra Wheat, which I enjoyed immensely. This one was drenched in tons of Citra hops, providing total grapefruit dominance. Pleeps typically gravitates to dark beers, but he was loving this one! I'm rarely in the mood for traditional wheat beers (hefes, weizenbocks, etc.) but when you introduce copious amounts of American hops, well... sign me up! This one hit the mark, and was an omen for what was to come with our next beer.

Loka Koko, a ridiculously amazing coconut stout, turned out to be one of the best beers of the trip. Coconut beers can be all over the map (some I've sampled in the past have had a chemical, or "fake," flavor), but not this masterpiece. To infuse natural coconut flavor into this beer, the geniuses at Alesatian used wood-fired toasted coconut. Sounds like a good method when you already have a wood-fired pizza oven, right? In hindsight, I wish I would have procured a growler of this beer, because it was THAT GOOD. Oh well. I guess I have to get back there again sooner than later.

My view from the bar at Alesatian.
Rounding out our visit was a goblet of Paw Paw's Seein' Tripel, a Belgian-style Tripel Ale. Deuane and I were curious if this was brewed with paw paw fruit (akin to a mango and abundant in some parts of the Eastern U.S.). We asked but alas it was not. It was a solid interpretation of the style, but overall a little too sweet for my palate.

All in all, this place delivered the goods, and the young staff was friendly and talkative. Deuane and I went out to the van to bring back a few gifts to share with our servers (who double as brewers - or at least one of them do), and they were appreciative. When traveling and we visit a brewery, it's a good sign if we come bearing gifts. We typically reserve special beer gifts for our very favorite breweries. These guys definitely made the cut!

Pleeps was still pretty chipper at midnight.
After an enjoyable visit to Alesatian, we had just enough time to swing by one more place before they closed up shop for the evening. Random Row out of Charlottesville, VA was close to where we'd be calling "home base" for the next two nights. Soon after we arrived, they made "last call" so it was a one-and-done stop. I decided to go with the Method IPA, described as its flagship beer. Brewslut opted for Sublimation, an oyster stout. We didn't really get to soak this place in, unfortunately. While my beer was pretty solid, there was some chatter among other Team D(r)INKERs about certain beers being less than stellar. Still, overall they don't seem to be doing too bad for a new start-up brewery (Google searches revealed that Random Row opened in mid-2015). Although for a Friday night, the place was sparsely filled with customers. Perhaps it was because we arrived right around last call. At any rate, I wish I would have gotten a sampler flight here to give them a fair shake. While the IPA definitely didn't possess that "wow factor," it was pretty tasty. It's also worth a mention that the young staff were nice enough to let us finish our beers after closing time while they mopped the floor and cleaned off the counter, tables, etc.

Back at the homestead, we decided to crack open a few choice nuggets, including Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine and Bourbon County Stout, both 2016 vintages. These are always enjoyable, and James (aka "Jamberg" if you follow me on Untappd) also brought two other BCB beers, but those would have to wait until later. I also decided it was time to crack open my 10-year-old bottle of Sam Adams Triple Bock. I had been regaled with depressing stories of disappointment about this beer for the last decade, so I had always held off on opening this. Well, tonight was the night! Turns out, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated. I liken it to maple-aged soy sauce. Sure, it was sludge-tasting (especially at the bottom of the bottle), but for a beer I'd kept hiding in my cellar, it was still quite drinkable and not as hot or boozy as friends had suggested. So there you go. Right, Pleeps? Stay tuned for Day 2 as we really dig into what north central Virginia has to offer. Until then...

Pleeps says, "Sayōnara!"

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