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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, I'm 43 - Team D(r)INKing in Virginia: Day 2 of 3

I'm not gonna lie to you... I got a little schwilly on Friday night. Having Deuane steer the ship allows me to partake in additional libations, so I tend to take advantage of such situations accordingly. First on the agenda for this lovely Saturday morning was food, so it was off to the nearby Beer Run for... wait for it...

Breakfast tacos!

Wha-wha-whaaat?! Yes indeed. Basically, these little torpedoes of deliciousness were like mini breakfast burritos wrapped in hand-made corn tortillas. It was also helpful that they opened at 10 a.m. and served beer, so I was able to enjoy a big honkin' 20-ounce pilsner glass of Evolution's DelMarVa Pure Pils. This proved to be a great way to start my morning, and paired well with my two "Gardener" breakfast tacos filled to the brim with local eggs, black beans, cheese, organic potatoes, and daikon (translates to, literally, "big root") sprouts.

Since it was so pleasant outside, we decided to sit in the enclosed patio and enjoy our breakfast. We must have all had too much to drink the previous night (except Lisa), because we seemed to be having trouble with the menu and making any kind of decisions this early in the day. Nevertheless, we made it through breakfast without looking like total ass hats (except maybe me).

Inside, Beer Run boasted a vast bottle and take-out selection, including lots of local breweries and bigger names. They even had a pretty nice Belgian selection in a back room that we didn't notice at first, as well as a small wine selection. This proved the perfect place to kick the day into gear.

Donkeys rule! Now, point me to the goats...
For the day's itinerary, we decided to head out to the furthest destination and work our way back into Charlottesville. First up was Waynesboro's Stable Craft. Situated on the vast Hermitage Hill Farm & Stables, Stable Craft is one of several "farm breweries" that have been popping up in recent years across the country. With an on-site hop yard, Stable Craft grows and uses their own hops (when they can) and utilizes as many ingredients grown on premises as possible. I was excited to learn that not only did they have a number of horses living on the farm, but they also had a pair of donkeys - Riley and Pedro - both of whom I was able to see in action at feeding time!

Inside, the taproom was much bigger than I'd anticipated. I was expecting more of a small, rustic space with a "ranch" vibe. Instead, we were greeted by a comfortable space with lots of blonde wood and intricate metalwork decor. I was also surprised to find televisions here. I guess this was more of an "urban farm."

Inside Stable Craft's tasting room.

We perused the beer menu, and there was plenty to be had, so we each opted for a flight (except Deuane, who never gets flights). Here's the run down:

Pleeps gettin' down with our sampler flight at Stable Craft.
Pale Ale - citrusy American-style pale ale.
Sunbaked IPA - IPA brewed with Comet and Mosaic hops and 4lbs. of apricots per barrel.
Ginger Brew Ale - light, refreshing ale with ginger, lemon peel and coriander notes.
IPA - showcases Cascade and Nugget hops grown on their farm!
Throatlatch DIPA - Imperial version of the standard IPA with citrusy notes.
Munich Dunkel - dark German lager with hints of caramel, bread, and roast.
Whoa Bucker - oatmeal stout with notes of roasted malt, chocolate and coffee.
Monocle Nut Brown - nut brown ale run through a "randall" with coconut.

The sample sizes were quite generous, and all of the beers were pretty solid. The Pale Ale was a stand-out to me, and I appreciated the Ginger Brew Ale for its uniqueness.

While we were enjoying our flights, we bumped into "friends of a friend," both of whom we met through a mutual friend a few months ago at Spring House Brewing in Lancaster, PA. Turns out they (Josh and Juli) were also on a weekend beer trip and - even weirder - turns out Josh's dad lives about a block away from us in good ol' Annville! How 'bout that?!

Since the weather was cooperating so nicely, we took a stroll around the grounds and admired the horses and donkeys, took some pictures, and chatted with one of the animal care-takers about Pedro and Riley. Any time you add animals into the equation is always fine by me! All in all, it was pleasant visit and good sign of things to come.

Up next was Seven Arrows, our second of three stops in Waynesboro. It seems like every town is moving from having "its own" micro or nano brewery to having two or three... or more! Once we filed inside, I found that Seven Arrows had a Native American flair. The name of the brewery refers to the creator, the earth, the four directions, and back to the creator. So its brewery logo uses this as inspiration (4 directions and 4 basic ingredients found in beer). Pretty cool, eh?

Tap handles at Seven Arrows.
Seven Arrows opened its doors at a launch party on New Year's Eve 2014, so like most of the breweries we visited on this particular day, they were pretty new. When we arrived, there were a only few stragglers occupying bar stools. We snagged the nearest high-top table that would accommodate the six of us, and checked out the beer menu. In addition to about 12 beers on tap, they also offer a decent-sized menu of apps, sandwiches, and burgers. Brewslut and I decided to share a plate of pulled chicken nachos with queso and house-made pico de gallo. We were surprisingly hungry after each scarfing down a pair of breakfast tacos at Beer Run! These hit the spot adequately.

Their core beers all sounded pretty pedestrian - a pils, a wheat, a Vienna lager, and a red IPA. However, one beer jumped out at me: Bear Mountain Barleywine. Now, I usually steer clear of a 9% beer this early in the day, but this particular beer was also infused with Perk Place coffee, so I couldn't resist. After a few sips, I realized I'd made a sound decision. I've been doing this for a while... I'm no dummy! (Editor's note: That's not entirely true. Sometimes, I am a dummy, as you will read about later as the day progresses.)

Brewslut opted for a pint of Azeotrope IPA, inspired by the hazy New England heavy hitters a la Tree House, Trillium, etc. These types of IPAs are popping up everywhere like genital warts on prostitutes. OK, maybe that was a bad analogy. But you catch my drift. It seems almost every brewery has one or two of these hazy IPAs nowadays. Not that it's a bad thing (especially if they are well done, as you will read about at our next stop). With that said, this one was a pretty solid example of the style. Azeotrope was dry-hopped four times, each time with a different variety: Cascade, Mandarina Bavaria, Falconer's Flight, and Citra. They also included flaked wheat and oats in the malt bill to soften the body a bit.

Continuing on our Waynesboro trifecta, next on the agenda was a stop at Basic City. Surprisingly enough, Deuane didn't know the backstory of the name Basic City. We never researched it during the trip, but a quick trip to trusty Wikipedia provided some insight, which you can read about here if you are so inclined or curious.

The brewery itself is situated in a large, most likely decommissioned warehouse. We ended up sitting back in the loading dock area, which they opened up since the weather was cooperating. They also have patio seating out front, and there were a good number of people enjoying the outdoors with a beer. On the way back to the loading dock area, the vast open room featured plenty to keep you occupied - ping pong, video games, pinball machines, and cornhole. But, let's talk about beer! While perusing the beer menu (a projector illuminating the wall with the day's selections... brilliant!), Deuane was the first to spot a beer called Lithia, an IPA brewed with Alchemist yeast (you know, Heady Topper) and Amarillo hops. Deuane quickly ordered one and upon smelling it, he made what I call the "Deuane face," which is a combination of childish naivety and giddy discovery. To paraphrase my favorite comedian, Patton Oswalt: his face "lit up like a pinball machine at Binion's." OK, I needed to drive some of this stuff down my gullet too.

I must admit, this was a pretty bangin' IPA! Using Amarillo hops exclusively coaxed out a flourish of citrus and spice with a huge smack of orange. We agreed that this was one of the best beers of the trip, and his favorite of the day thus far. (More on that later.)

To take a quick break, I ordered a 16-ounce pour of house-brewed Trager Bros. coffee on nitro. Any time I see coffee dispensed via nitrogen at a brewery, I NEED to get it. It's not open for debate. Even if it's 11 p.m. and I know I'll have trouble falling asleep that night, it's going to happen. After the nitro coffee, it was back to beer, and this time I opted for The Advance, a juicy, unfiltered DIPA brewed with Citra, Cascade and Falconer's Flight. Perhaps it was a bit muted after the coffee, but it was solid, although I definitely preferred the Lithia over this one.

We were on the fence about stopping at Blue Mountain (next on the itinerary and situated in the town of Afton), because Deuane said it was going to be a "shit show." (For a frame of reference, think of the last time you visited Tröegs on a Saturday on the same day as a concert at the Giant Center.) However, we checked out the tap list in advance, and noticed a cognac barrel-aged variation of its Dark Hollow Imperial Stout with coffee, cherry and chocolate. Um, yeah... we decided to stop.

I love this monkey on my back!
As expected, the parking lot and adjoining patio area were both packed with customers, but we managed to get a table for six inside. Finally, when we were seated and our waiter arrived, he seemed quite relieved that we were only getting beer. Despite being packed elbow to asshole, I'm glad we stopped by, because this beer was very enjoyable. With plenty of black cherry flavor (obviously), this was quite a complex, nuanced Imperial Stout featuring notes of vanilla, earthy truffles, cigar box, and vanilla. With so many additional ingredients and an unusual barrel dropped into the equation, this beer could have been a complete disaster. However, it was well-balanced despite having so many cooks in the kitchen, and any residual boozy heat remained at bay. Overall, it was insanely drinkable for such a huge beer teetering at just under 10.5% ABV. I'd definitely have it again!

Next up was a short drive to the oddly named town of Crozet for a stop at Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery. I thought this was a peculiar name for a brewery, mostly because I had no idea what it meant. Luckily, there was a doctor and a pharm tech in our group who filled me in. Although the literal translation is "for the affair born," Pro re nata is a Latin phrase meaning "under present circumstances" and is commonly used in medicine or medical prescriptions. Sounds like a good name for a brewery, right? Well, my present situation was twofold: hunger AND thirst.

Cherry Coal Train
We examined the beer list and I quickly made my selection: Cherry Coal Train. Let me tell you, this barrel-aged cherry porter just may have been the highlight of the day for me, nudging Basic City's Lithia out of the top slot. Aged in Cabernet Sauvingnon wine barrels from Pollak Vineyards, this amazingly supple porter features Michigan-grown Montmorency tart cherries. Wow! The balance of this beer was amazing, with intense notes of Belgian chocolate and tart cherry followed by rich vanilla and a tinge of oak astringency and tannins from the barrel. Yes indeed, this was one to savor!

Brewslut was equally impressed with her Beans Deep Coffee Stout. This medium-bodied stout features coffee additions from Trager Brothers (the same roaster that provides the nitro coffee at Basic City) for hints of espresso and chocolate. Meanwhile, I headed over to the food truck to join Lisa, who was waiting in line for some grub. I decided to go with a huge boat of tots because, well, why not?! Tots rule! By this time, I had already abandoned my "I'm-gonna-eat-healthy-this-weekend-to-compensate-for-all-of-the-beer-I'm-going-to-consume" mantra, so tots sounded like a good idea at the time. I don't regret it. 

By this time (a little after 7 p.m.), a live band started playing inside. They were pretty quiet, surprisingly, given that they were a 4-piece with drums, bass, guitar, and keys (instruments listed in order of importance, obviously). The drummer was using "hot rods," or brush sticks, and they sounded pretty solid. The name of the band was "INSERT MAIN GUY'S NAME HERE" Band, so not too clever there. Overall, everyone in the group really dug this place, and I concur. I mean, it was worth it just for Cherry Coal Train. I can still mentally taste it almost a week later. Now that's the sign of a good beer!

I also need to mention that a large group of customers was celebrating some 30-year-old woman's birthday while we were there. James schwicked one of the party hats for me (thanks buddy!) and I ended up wearing it for the rest of the evening. NOTE: The ridiculousness of the hat you wear is sometimes directly proportional to the amount of beer you've had to drink. Case in point, this...

"Happy birthday, I'm 43."
This one is a little more "metal"...

It was time to bid a fond adieu to Pro Re Nata, for we were off to the brand new Pilot Brewery & Taproom for Hardywood! I'd had a number of their beers in the past, and was pretty bowled over with the barrel-aged DIPA. The barrel-aged Gingerbread Stout ain't too bad, either. Needless to say, this was one of the breweries on the trip I was familiar with (though I'd never visited the brewery). These new digs were also conveniently located to Dunlodge (about 2 miles, give or take a stumble).

The Pilot Brewery & Taproom houses Hardywood's 3.5-barrel pilot brewhouse used exclusively for test batches and experimentation (think Tröegs Scratch Series). The taproom features 16 rotating draft lines with stuff that you won't find outside of this place. Sweet! I'm always up for trying one-off and weird beers. With that said, here's where it started to go downhill for me.

Still, I managed to drive a few more beers into my libation locker. Mango VIPA, a variant of the standard VIPA, is brewed exclusively for Wegman's Pub locations in VA. Empress Evelyn, an imperial version of its Evelyn Session IPA, was quite tasty, considering my wrecked palate.
Brewslut opted for Ruse, an imperial milk stout aged in red wine barrels. At 11.3%, perhaps this wasn't a good beer from which to take a few nips. Live and learn. But here's what really did me in... a full pour of the Bourbon Cru, a Belgian Quad aged in whiskey barrels. We'd recently been talking about Gran Cru at Tröegs during a meeting, and we basically deduced that it's not really a beer style, but more a "catch all" for a "big ass, high gravity, specialty beer." Fair enough. Anyway, how much harm could a 12% ABV beer do to me now? Well folks, the struggle was real. As if that wasn't enough, I also sampled some Quadrahop, an Imperial IPA brewed with Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin, Citra, and Mosaic hops (four of my favorite varieties). I wish I'd been in a better state of mind, because I really have no recollection of how these beers tasted (I'm sure they were great). Oh well. Next time, we'll have to start at Hardywood rather than end there.

Pleeps was in better shape than me at Hardywood!

Back at the house, I was in worse shape than even the night before, but I managed to get a pair of new beers from Elk Valley checked in: Le Ferme (a Brett saison) and Pumpion (imperial pumpkin ale aged in bourbon barrels). I wish I could say I remembered these, but at least I have Untappd to log these for me. I capped off the night with one of my favorites, Serendipity from New Glarus. Then Brewslut put me to bed and it was hoppy dreams from there. Right Pleeps? 

Stay tuned for Day 3 when we head back to PA and return to the real world. 

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The Pour Travelers thank you for reading about our beer travels!