Sunday, June 23, 2013

Northern Virginia BrewFest

So Saturday was the Northern Virginia BrewFest. When I say it exceeded my expectations, you have to understand that I set my expectations for thisp thing almost painfully high. My dad's been asking me to come for years, and the list of breweries--including Stone, Bell's, Firestone Walker and more--really had me pumped.

Somehow it was better than I expected. I was pouring for Yards Brewing out of Philadelphia, and one of their distributors named Jason was there. He was a certified cicerone, and he really knew his stuff. I learned a decent bit from him.

Yards had two beers: their Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale and their Love Stout.  Both were quite tasty and some of the more popular beers of the festival, but very different.

Jason described the Tavern Ale as "an English Strong Ale brewed with honey, about 8% ABV". He's a pro, and he does these festivals for a living, so I'm sure he knew what the patrons wanted to know, but the story behind it was the interesting part to me.

"I have no reciept [sic] for brewing," Jefferson wrote, "and I much doubt the operations of malting and brewing could be successfully performed from a reciept," according to the Monticello website. Strange, for a man who kept such careful records. Nonetheless, Yards brewed a beer with the sorts of ingredients that might have been available at Monticello, and used a recipe that might have been used at the time. It contains malted barley, rye, flaked maize, and a decent bit of honey, which forms the most prominent note. It has very little on the way of hops, as Jason said they'd not have used hops at Monticello, hops being introduced to the colonies nearly one hundred years later by German settlers.

I'm not sure I buy the explanation--the Monticello site says they grew hops for beer in 1794, no doubt from Jefferson's meticulous notes on his garden.  The Reinheitsgebot was enacted in 1516, specifying hops as one of the ingredients in German beer, and my own ancestors emigrated from Hamburg to New York in the early 1600's--nearly two hundred years before Jefferson was brewing.

Nonetheless, it's the historical tie-in that I find so fascinating about this beer. They have a line of "Ales of the Revolution", and the concept thrills me.

The other beer was their Love Stout, a draft-only English stout carbonated with nitro to emulate cask beer. It was quite tasty, and the nitro gave it a smooth, creamy body that really worked well with the mild flavor. I'm hoping it makes its way into restaurants in the area.

I managed to knock one beer off my list: Allagash White. They were a few tents down, and volunteers could basically sample at will. I also got to try Bell's Oberon, a very tasty wheat beer (they didn't have Hopslam or Two-Hearted, more's the pity). Stone had both their IPA and Arrogant Bastard there for the hopheads, though; Green Flash brought their West Coast IPA and Firestone Walker had both Union Jack and Wooky Jack. Most of the other breweries also had IPA's as well.

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