Three hours southwest of Washington, D.C. is rural Nelson County, Virginia. With a population of about 15,000 people, this region at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains isn't exactly where I would expect to find three craft breweries and a whiskey distillery. But I have found that Nelson County is the home of the Blue Mountain Barrel House, a spin-off of the Blue Mountain Brewery, and they consistently deliver amazing beers. Their take on a Belgian Tripel called Mandolin is not exception. The first time I saw it on a shelf I immediately grabbed a bottle. The second time I saw it, I grabbed another. I’ve only recently been able to resist the impulse. The quality is great, though that isn't a huge surprise, as the Barrel House spin-off was purposefully built around a series of high quality, special and big beers.
So what does Mandolin taste like? Well, that is hard to answer. Every time I try this beer I notice a different nuance of flavor. It pours nicely into a glass with a deep golden hue and a moderate head – and immediately gives off a bouquet of spicy Belgian yeast, and wet grass/hay. The carbonation is spot on, with the bubbles providing just the right amount of effervescence to enliven and enhance the numerous flavors, but not so much that the beer feels too thin or fizzy. Actually, on my second taste I thought it was perhaps a bit too sweet or syrupy – but I’ll attribute that to batch variation, as each subsequent try provides a lush, mouth-coating but even-keeled sensation. It feels like I’m drinking something a little upscale, maybe a fancy import from Belgium, and I want to sip it while sitting in a deep, plush leather armchair.
As I work my way though a glass there are flavors of raisins, melon, green apple, honey, coriander and white pepper that commingle on my tongue, and end with a slight note of bitter orange rind. It’s really quite interesting how the flavors come in and out over the course of the bottle.
I hope you get a chance to try this beer, but be forewarned – if I have been to your favorite craft beer store recently, I may have bought out the stock.
For those of you who are married, or are in the process, you know that there are a lot of decisions to be made. Despite the fact that many of these decisions end up having little consequence on the outcome of the day – each and every one carries your mark, and they often have a deep meaning to you or your spouse. Among the decisions I needed to make for my wedding last spring was what to serve at the reception. Many caterers had a limited set of offerings in packages that ranged from expensive and boring to outrageously expensive and still boring. Fortunately, our caterer allowed me to select and purchase whatever I desired.
I decided to embrace my new home and provide a selection of local craft beers to our guests. With three carefully selected choices, one each from D.C., Maryland and Virginia I had to find something that would offer great flavor, pair well with the warm spring weather, and please a diverse group of people.
Optimal Wit – a Belgian style white ale brewed by Port City Brewing Company was the hands down winner to represent Virginia and is still a household favorite when the spring and summer months roll around. Take a deep breath before your first taste and you’ll find that notes of coriander and ginger dominate. In your mouth those spices hit first, followed closely by a mellow sweetness, orange zest and grains of paradise all juxtaposed against a backdrop of a mildly spicy Belgian yeast and raw wheat. When the temperatures get warm “spiced” beers can start to turn my stomach, but Optimal Wit exhibits a balance, both in the use of spices and in the degree of carbonation that keeps things crisp, flavorful and refreshing.
I can’t help but notice the similarities to the popular Sam Adams Summer Ale, and if you are a fan of that beer you’ll find that there is a little bit more body and depth of flavor to Optimal Wit and, of course, the Belgian yeast adds a fun element as well. Most importantly, you can bring this to the picnic table at a crab feast and not be heckled for bringing a Massachusetts beer to a Mid-Atlantic tradition. Over the course of a hot summer afternoon cool beers and conversation flows as crabs are picked for their sweet meat. The coriander, ginger and grains of paradise in particular compliment, not overshadow, the delicate sweetness of crab, while the beer cuts through the Old Bay seasoning and cleanses your palette for the next bite.
You shouldn't be reading this right now. You shouldn't be drinking a beer or planning whatever it is you’re planning for tomorrow. You shouldn't exist. In fact, neither should I. Remember all that hype about the world ending on December 21st, 2012? Were you prepared for that to be your last day on Earth? I sure as heck wasn't, and one reason was that Washington, D.C.’s DC Brau released an Imperial IPA, dubbed “On the Wings of Armageddon” to honor the transition from the living world as we knew it to the post-Armageddon unknown.
Yet, for reasons I can’t explain I did not seek out the beer even when it was available on tap at my neighborhood bars. I knew it was going to be good, so I have to believe I was waiting for the right time to have my first sip. With a packed brewing schedule the beer is only available periodically, it seems to be less than 2 months between releases, I missed the boat on the first batch.
Fortuitously, the inaugural release of OTWOA in cans was the same day that Jeff from Drink Craft Beer was due for a visit, so I rode my bike over and loaded up with a few six-packs to share. The time was right and we didn't waste much time breaking into the first few cans! [Editors Note: Thanks for grabbing those, John! Freaking delicious! I shared a few up here in Boston as well and people loved it!]
On the Wings of Armageddon pours a deep orange color with a head that won't quit - and the beautiful hop aromas hit your nose almost immediately as you pour into your favorite glass. There are big helpings of citrus, followed by tame bready and floral scents - and the taste matches. Without a taste you can tell this is going to be a hop-lovers favorite. The first sip is simply amazing - as if you have transitioned from one state of being to another. The huge aromas provided by the Falconers Flight blend of hops are present in your mouth but incredibly mellow. With a bitterness that builds over time, good carbonation and a nice dry finish you don’t find a sticky hop coating in your mouth like you might with other hop-heavy dIPAs. In fact, your palette stays surprisingly fresh – making this a great beer to pair with food.
Stay tuned to the DC Brau Twitter feed for the next release date and grab yourself some while it lasts. Then sit down, share some OTWOA with a friend and remember that every day since 12/21/12 has been a gift...thank goodness those Mayans were wrong!
There are physical and mental changes that occur when you ride your bike – sure there is the elevated heart rate, increased perspiration, and slow release of endorphins – but you also change your perspective on the world around you. You notice storefronts you never noticed before, you realize which roads go uphill, and who minds when you drag your sweaty self into a bar for a refreshing drink. I find myself to be much more in tune with my surroundings on a bike, and that creates a strong sense of local pride.
The thing is craft beer can do similar things to you. You might yearn to connect with your local brewer, or observe (and want to try) new beers on the menu you hadn't noticed before, and if you find something you like you keep coming back for more – like that favorite biking route.
It is in the spirit of commingling our shared love for gears and grains, hops and handlebars that we’re launching the Drink Craft Beer Brewvet Challenge.
In short this is a challenge to inspire you to get on your bike and explore your surroundings – and your local craft beers. The event will run from May 30th, 2013 through July 14th, 2013.
What is a Brewvet?
A friend and award-winning blogger in Washington, DC, Mary of Chasing Mailboxes, provides the inspiration for the concept. Two years ago Mary combined her love of the long-distance cycling sport known as randonneuring and the simple pleasure of a good cup of coffee and created the Coffeeneuring Challenge. Since a randonneuring event is called a brevet, it only made sense to call our take on this concept the Brewvet.
The brewvet concept follows the spirit of the Coffeeneuring Challenge - incorporate take 12 separate bike rides, each of which fitting into a specific category, for a total distance of 100 km (62 miles). Just like in a brevet, you must provide documentation of each stop on your adventures. If you complete the challenge you’ll even get a little prize.
A ride qualifies if you either stop to drink a beer during your bike ride, or purchase a beer on your bike ride that you drink shortly after you get back home.
- Buy Local: Ride to your favorite local bar and enjoy a beer.
- Brew Local: Take a break during your ride to enjoy a locally brewed craft beer.
- Enjoy your Hops: Enjoy an IPA on your ride (obviously not while you ride...take a breather and get your IPA on).
- Cider Century: Ok, we don’t mind if you ride less than 100 miles – but at least try a crisp hard cider!
- Spring Classic: The first rides of the professional season are in Belgium, seek out some Belgian beer.
- Macro Ride: Sometimes you end up in the middle of nowhere, and all that’s there to drink is one of the beers from the macro-brewers. Plan your route better next time!
- Porteur Ride: A porteur bike is built for carrying loads - but a porter is built for enjoyment – and we hope you try one!
- Go Exploring: Try a new craft beer for the first time!
- ‘Tis the Saison: Originally brewed for farmers laboring in the fields, saisons are crisp, refreshing, and a perfect complement to a warm bike ride.
Rules? Yes, there has to be rules! That’s another quirk of these randonneur events. It seems like a lot, but I promise you’ll still enjoy yourself.
- In the interest of safety, you can only count 1 ride per day. If you have more than 1 beer per ride, it still only counts as 1 ride. Know your limits and be safe!
- You must complete at least one ride in 7 of the 9 categories above, and a total of 12 rides. Each category can only be used twice.
- The 12 rides must be completed between May 30th, 2013 and July 14th, 2013.
- There is no minimum length for each brewvet ride, but once you have completed all 12 rides, the total distance you've covered must be at least 100km (62 miles).
- Complete the Brewvet control card at each stop. Document the location, the beer you enjoyed, the miles you rode, and the date. Also be sure to take a photo! Get your Brewvet card when you sign up here!
- Once you have completed your Brewvet submit your 12 photos and completed control card to john “at” drinkcraftbeer dot com. Photos can submitted on your blog, as links to a photo sharing website or tweets, or via email. Deadline for Brewvet submissions is July 21, 2013.
- Everyone who successfully completes the Drink Craft Beer Brewvet will receive a prize. In fact, even if you try but fail, we might send something your way so feel free to submit whatever you can. To participate, sign up here.
How to Sign Up
To sign up, you'll need to register for the Drink Craft Beer Brewvet by clicking here and filling out the form.
Be sure to tweet using the hashtag #DCBBrewvet so we can follow your adventures!