Blue 5 As One of CraftBeer.com’s Great American Beer Bars? I’d Think So, And I Have The Memories To Prove It.

•August 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Taps at Blue 5A few weeks ago, I watched a look reminiscent of a kid on Christmas morning come over the face of a friend who had recently begun his trip into the world of craft beer.  He was visiting Blue 5 for the first time, and the sight of the restaurant’s forty six taps of craft beer placed phrases such as “So, I’m going to be here for a while” and “We’re going to need to come back here again, and soon” into his mouth with relative ease.  Without a doubt, the nearly fifty beers at Blue 5 make the restaurant a fantastic place to explore most any style from stout to sour.  For those of us a little more accustomed to the sight of the numerous tap handles which line the wall behind the bar, what keeps us returning time and time again are the regular weekend changes in beer lineup, events such as the Bourbon County release party and Christmas In July celebration of dark beer, the pre Microfestivus parties, the tap takeovers, the flights, and of course, the sight of the restaurant’s craft beer Manager, Chaz Blevins, who is always willing to chat up craft beer, and what’s coming next to the downtown restaurant.

But regardless of how many beers those of us who frequent Blue 5 have tasted there, or how many flights we’ve sampled, the most memorable visits to the restaurant can also come down to – at least for me – a single beer.

wpid-aviary_1399175631663.jpgIn early May of this year, on a late Saturday night, my wife and I ran into a few of our friends at the restaurant.  After a couple of flight tastings, a large bottle showed up before us with tasting glasses for all, a surprise order from one of our friends.  Over the next hour or so, some of the same folks who had come to my wife and I’s wedding reception a few weeks earlier split Goose Island’s highly acclaimed Belgian style wild ale Madame Rose – a Belgian style wild ale, barrel aged on cherries – over the retelling of stories from our blast of a reception night which eventually became a roving party of sorts.

Several weeks later, I would be standing at Blue 5’s bar again, splitting a bottle with a few friends.  The beer had recently just been released and Chaz, having tasted it already, was having a difficult time holding in his own favorable first impression.  At his suggestion and everyone else’s desire to try it, the bottle was soon in front of us.  The beer was a Belgian style stout, aged in bourbon barrels, and then given a sour treatment with the addition of lactobacillus, and I wondered how the beer would go over, especially with one person in particular.  Admittedly, one of our friends was new to the world of sour style beers, and the glass of Three Brothers Atramentous served as his formal introduction.  Among the varied impressions we all had of the beer – smoky, roasted malt, sour cherries, bitter chocolate, something along the lines of cigar wrappers – the friend who had just tasted his first sour style beer announced he was hooked.  I ran into him again a few weeks later, seeking out another taste of the beer at a festival.

There have been other many other memories made than those described above at Roanoke’s Blue 5 between myself, my wife, and our friends.  And I know we cannot be the only ones.  It has often been said that beer brings friends and family together, and when you have the events and the selection that Blue 5 has, these types of moments are bound to occur.  Sure, you can look at the tap takeovers and other events from a purely practical standpoint, and you’d be hard pressed to many craft beer bars with the selection that Blue 5 has.  But you could look beyond the numbers, beyond the forty six taps, and think of what the beer – but more importantly, the place, provides – a spot to try the beer, often side to side with those who know you well, and then naturally, and more importantly in the long run, a place to spend some time with those friends.

I truly believe it is because of this reason Blue 5 deserves to find itself squarely in the middle of the final voting for CraftBeer.com’s “Great American Beer Bars” contest for this year.  Numbers of taps and frequency of events may sway many a voter in such a poll, but I, for one, cast my vote based upon the type of thing that reaches well beyond any statistics – that of fond memories.  Cheers.

—Have similar recollections?  Check out the poll website here.

The Virginia Craft Brewers Fest

•August 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Virginia Craft Brewers Festival 2013It’s not that I want Virginia’s official Craft Beer Month to come to an end before the calendar says it should.  After all, such an event brings a certain amount of deserved attention to the various craft breweries currently operating within Virginia’s borders, not to mention the ones in planning and yet to open.  But for the three years the state has had such a month, perhaps the most notable celebration of our in state breweries has been one that fittingly culminates it, the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest.  Close to fifty of the state’s breweries will be represented by their beers at Saturday’s festival, held on the grounds at Devils Backbone’s “basecamp” brewpub in Nelson County.  Breweries from such growing craft beer scenes such as the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas as well as Richmond, Northern Virginia, and just about everywhere in between will be in attendance.  So as both a flagship event for the state’s craft beer month as well as the best celebration that the month should inspire, you would be hard pressed to find a better party than this festival.

Breweries from literally around the corner, such as Devils Backbone, Wild Wolf, Blue Mountain, and Champion, will showcase their beer right next to several from Richmond, such as Triple Crosssing, Strangeways, and Hardywood Park.  The Norfolk/Virginia Beach area will be represented by the likes of O’Connor, Smartmouth, and Back Bay, while breweries such as Mad Fox, Heritage, and Port City from the Northern Virginia area will be in attendance.  The event kicks off at 2pm (1pm for VIP ticket holders) and runs until 7pm, and camping and RV options are available.  According to the event website, VIP tickets will include a special tasting of beers from Adroit Theory, Champion, Brass Cannon, and Devils Backbone.  Area food trucks will be on site as well.

With so many of our state’s craft beer in one place, such a festival is impossible to pass up for any craft beer fan, but especially if you’re curious about what Virginia’s breweries have to offer.

More information is available at the event website here.

Roanoke Craft Events For The Rest of The Week!

•August 13, 2014 • 2 Comments
Chaos Mountain's Will Landry with his Microfestivus award

Chaos Mountain’s Will Landry with his Microfestivus award

A couple of craft beer related events gets the Roanoke area back into the swing of things post Microfestivus.  According to their Facebook page, tonight (Aug 13), Jack Brown’s is having a steal the pint event featuring Bluegrass Brewing Company.  The details of the event mention the appearance of at least one beer which looks fairly uncommon, the brewery’s “Barbarian Honey” ale, a strong ale given an addition of (obviously) honey and apparently a collection of spices.  Considering the reviews found online, it’s a sipper of a beer at around 8.3% abv, and most mention that it manages to reign in any sweetness you might expect pretty well.

Roanoke’s kick-off-the-weekend celebration First Friday’s continues to not only feature craft beer but smartly vary the selection week to week.  This Friday’­­s event will showcase winning beers from last weekend’s Microfestivus, including ­­­­Chaos Mountain’s 4 Mad Chefs, winner of the Belgian style award, Victory’s Dirt Wolf (winner for IPA), and Apocalypse Ale Works’ Golden Censor wheat ale.

Friday also means that Roanoke’s newest beer (and, ok, wine) store, Barrel Chest, will be opening on Route 419.  The store has been in the works for some time now, and most notably will be offering a selection of several beers on draft, which the store should rotate regularly.  Check out the store’s Facebook page for their first draft list, which includes a version of J.W. Lees’ Harvest Ale, a well respected English Barleywine, and the Alvinne (Picobrouwerij Alvinne) Calvados Barrel Aged Melchior.  Call it a strong ale, a Belgian strong, a winter (as the brewery website alludes to), or whatever, this ale was held in barrels that once stored both Cognac and apple brandy, and scores nearly a 90 on both BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.com.  You may want to get a taste of this one.

Roanoke’s Microfestivus Is Here. Cheers.

•August 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Microfestivus 2011My father in law, who years ago worked for a beer distributor here in Roanoke, remembers helping set up his company’s breweries at some of the very first Microfestivus events.  He’ll gladly retell those stories at the drop of a dime.  They’re the kind of stories with plenty of nostalgic feel to them, so much so you that when the pictures begin to be created in your mind, you can almost see an old photo, golden hued, weathered kind of tone around their edges.  He retold those stories while sampling beers at last year’s Microfestivus, and like each time before, one detail in particular stood out.  But this time it was detail that felt as if it had been written in bold and underscored a dozen or so times, considering that at the time, we were standing among the sixty plus breweries that were being represented.  You see, within those early Microfestivus stories, he’ll tell you that he helped set up the beer tasting stations for roughly a handful of breweries.  A handful.  If that.  The fourth Microfestivus apparently featured a grand total of fourteen breweries.  Fourteen.

For a little reflection, today, there are a handful of breweries in operation here in our own area.  And at Microfestivus, which is celebrating its seventeenth anniversary today, there are just a few more than a handful of breweries being represented – about seventy or so.  To gauge Roanoke’s own growth, which has slowly but surely mirrored the festival’s, several local restaurants have long since jumped on board with promoting and serving craft beer, tap takeover events have become the norm, stores which sell craft beer are growing, and soon, we’ll have our own craft beer bus tours rolling around the streets of our area.

I wasn’t at those very early Microfestivus events, but I’ve going for some time now.  I have my own story to tell from my first Microfest, when I was just beginning to be entranced with craft beer, involving Troegenator doppelbock.  It was one of the first beers that “turned on the lights” for me, beginning a deep curiosity about just how amazing beer could be.

Without festivals such as Microfestivus, moments like this, for myself and I’m sure many others, might not have happened, at least when they did.  And the growth in craft beer interest which Roanoke is currently experiencing might not be occurring, at least to the degree it is.  As the city continues to move forward with that interest, it’s certainly fun to look back over how far Microfestivus has come, but then also to realize its importance to that growth in curiosity.

At today’s Microfestivus, I certainly hope there will be more memories made, such as my own, or my father in law’s – at a future Microfestivus perhaps, or other event which has been born out of Roanoke’s growing craft beer interest.  Regardless of when or where, they are the certainly the kinds of memories which are best retold over a great beer.

Cheers, and have fun at Microfestivus.

(Below, find the past week’s worth of blog posts about today’s festival with more specific info on the beers and breweries we’ll see today!)

What? No 60 Minute? (It’s Ok.) Seek Out New Beers At Microfestivus.

•August 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Microfestivus 2011One day left until Roanoke’s Microfestivus.  What beers are you planning on seeking out?

Regardless if you tend to scan a beer festival’s beer list the night before the festival – over a beer, of course – or only at the moment you’re handed the festival map at the gates, I’m betting that you are mainly scanning for beers you have never had.  With the selection that most festivals give, the opportunity to try something new, and hopefully, find a new favorite beer or style, makes for the most memorable of festivals.  You’re looking for beers about which you’ve heard a good thing or two, ones that just sound interesting enough to try, or ones that fall into a favorite style, but again, have yet to try.  After all, this is one of the most endearing attributes of craft beer – the variety of flavors, aromas, styles – and any beer festival offers the best chance to explore.  Sure, you might mix an old standby in for good measure, but overall, you’re seeking a new beer that you’ll be telling everyone else about hours after the festival winds down, if not days, or longer.

Taking a look at the list for this year’s Microfestivus, it at least feels as if there are more beers than possibly ever before which are at the least new to the event, if not to the area overall.  Working off of some of the latest beer list information at hand, I’ve listed a few of these below.  Take a look, consider seeking at least one or two of these out, and remember, a few favorite might be around the corner.  Cheers!

The Richmond Invasion:  There have been a number of tap takeover events around Roanoke since Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery began distributing here roughly two weeks ago, but if you haven’t had a chance to reach any of them, the well respected brewery should have its flagship Belgian Blonde Style Ale Singel, the fruit added wheat Virginia Blackberry, its Czech style Bohemian Pilsner, as well as possibly their lower abv session style IPA “Float”.  All of the latter beers have made appearances around town so far, but if Float makes it to the festival, it should be the first appearance in Roanoke.  Also, Richmond’s Isley Brewing will be represented by at least their Oatmeal Porter “The Bribe”, a solidly rated beer.   A couple beers from Lickinghole Creek, a farm brewery just outside Richmond, should also be available, including their Three Chopt Tripel.

Firkins:  Small cask beers kept at relatively cool temps (not cold) based upon (mostly) natural carbonation, firkins always gather plenty of attention at festivals.  There should be at least two at Microfestivus, including one from Hardywood Park and another from Baltimore’s Heavy Seas.  Hardywood’s is apparently a hop forward wheat ale, possibly their recently released Centennial Wheat.  The Heavy Seas beer is their highly rated Dark Belgian Holy Sheet, and considering that cask conditioning often gives its beer a silk like smooth body, this already rich beer should be a treat come Saturday.

A classic summer quencher:  Ok, so this category only has one beer in it, but if Three Brothers continues on their run of solid to very delicious beers, their Pilsner “Pilsnerd” is one to seek out early.

“What??  No 60 Minute?”:  That’s right folks.  If the festival list is right, when you head on over to the Dogfish tent, you’ll do it for either a taste of something that yes, you may have had before, their peach infused Berliner Weiss Festina Peche – or even better, “Namaste”, the brewery’s Witbier, made with dried orange, coriander and lemongrass.  No, really, you should try this.

Pucker Up:  For those of you who have tasted Atramentous, Three Brothers’ (Harrisonburg) Sour Belgian Style Stout aged in barrels that previously held their Resolute Imperial Russian Stout, you know why you should head over to their tent.  If not, and especially if you are still on the edge of the pool of sour style beers, consider finally dipping your toes in by trying this one.  There is a theory that complex beers can be too difficult to enjoy, that you spend all your time thinking instead of enjoying, but Atramentous bridges that gap.  The first time I had this beer, it was among friends, and though everyone agreed on some of the aromas and flavors, each one of us also found something a bit different as well:  rich, chocolaty, woody, slight bourbon, raisin like, something a bit like cigar wrappers, and on and on, with of course a prodding tartness.  Still not sure?  Again, if you’re curious, this is well done and worth the try.

There are many more than this to add to the mental list, even an English IPA from St. Louis’ Schlafly that rates very highly.  But a list is available for download from the event’s website, and the festival is just a day away.  Time to start planning – but however the day ends up, I hope you have found a new favorite beer or style.  Cheers.

 

 

Celebrate #IPAday 2014 With An Eye Towards Saturday’s Microfestivus

•August 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

2014 microfestIn honor of today being #IPAday, that social media construct and unofficial beer holiday which began back in 2011 to celebrate the style which I personally find myself celebrating, well, every day of the year; and considering that my hometown’s Microfestivus craft beer festival is in just a couple days, I figured I’d throw together a list of a few of the IPAs that are going to be making an appearance at the festival and break down why you might not want to miss them come Saturday.

IPADAYWidget1For this post, we’ll bypass all the usual reasons IPAs remain one of the most cherished styles around.  We’ll steer around the generalities of why we love them so, and not go too deeply into the endless aroma and flavor capabilities which the style is capable of bringing us.  For so many of us who are “into” craft beer, our love of IPAs and other hop forward beers should be obvious.  There are a ton of examples on most every store shelf, yet new ones keep flowing from breweries as if we’ll never be satisfied.  We continuously seek them out.  We emphasize drinking them fresh.  We build mental tiers of the best, better, and lesser examples and then discuss them at length with friends.   We even buy new t-shirts emblazoned with pictures of pint glasses filled to the rim and spilling over with whole cone hops or ones with the phrase “I Love Craft Beer” on them, but with a drawing of  hops fashioned into the shape of a heart, replacing the word “Love”, and then proudly display such shirts at craft beer festivals, sort of the same way sports fanatics wear their team’s logo to the big game – except we’re all on big hop loving team.  Admit it, we can be a little like that, and that’s ok.  It’s more than ok.  We simply love what hops do for our beers, and therefore the styles which are most representative of what hops give to beer, such as the IPA.  (At least we don’t wear big hop shaped, foam “Hops are Number 1!” fingers.)

But onto some of the IPAs that will be at this year’s Microfestivus.  With so many examples of the style present, the list will be broken down into at least two categories:  “Can’t Miss” and “Don’t Miss” IPAs.  “Can’t Miss” represents the ones that year in, year out, simply do just that.  They can’t miss.  They have established themselves as great examples of the style and chances are, you’ve likely had them before.  Yet, should you feel a need to revisit them from time to time, this may be a good opportunity to.   “Don’t Miss” are ones that might have – might have – gotten under your radar, and for one reason or another, you haven’t given a go of yet.

“Can’t Miss”

Victory Dirtwolf.  This double IPA brings a ton of volume to the table with bunches of varied tropical and other kinds of fruit notes in the flavor and aroma including mangoes, peaches, oranges, possibly some lemon thrown in as well, some peppery spiciness, as well as some “dankness” in the aroma, and then completely nails a cleanly supporting sweetness which is no more in the way than a soft hum in the background of the song, then finishes dry.  One pretty amazing DIPA.

Founders Double Trouble.  The sweetness is dialed up a little some here, as if the grapefruit has been macerated with sugar somewhat, but overall, it is still an onslaught of bitterness, mango or grapefruit, perhaps a bit of oniony flavor/aroma and at around 9% abv, gives a little heat at the very least.

Here are a couple others that just can’t miss, time in and time out:  Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (perhaps a bit more balanced than the others above, with still plenty of citrus and pine), Lagunitas IPA, and one of my personal favorites, Troegs Perpetual IPA.

“Don’t Miss”

Hardywood Park.  Hardywood may be bringing their “Float” Session IPA, which has been making a few rounds in Richmond throughout the summer so far.  A session IPA at around 4.0%, this is just one of a few lower alcohol IPAs that may be appearing at the festival.

Parkway Brewing’s Factory Girl.  Chances are you’ve gotten a taste of this since it was released in the last few months, but if you haven’t, seek it out.  This one’s a solid “Session” style IPA in that it is low in alcohol percentage but still manages to bring plenty of flavor.  There is a light, almost fresh melon like taste and aroma to this, with a light, clean bitterness.

Heavy Seas’ Riptide.  If you thought that Heavy Seas only does Loose Cannon, you might be surprised to find that they also offer this seasonal release as well, which rates an 86 on RateBeer and an 89 by the Alstrom Brothers on BeerAdvocate.  A “White IPA” in that it is brewed with wheat malt and spices, like a Witbier, but with IPA style hop additions, the fruity Belgian like flavors from the yeast work well with the light citrus notes from the hops used.

Others to seek out include Isley Brewing’s (Richmond) Scott’s Addition IPA, which adds some more regional flair to our list of IPAs, and Stone Brewing’s Go To IPA (yet another session style with a great aroma).

These are but a few suggestions to possibly seek out come Saturday.  As with any beer festival, the opportunity to try something new is one of the best parts of the day.  Who knows what doors of interest you’ll open by seeking out something different.

Of course, these suggestions are based upon the latest list provided by the folks with Microfestivus, and as always with any beer festival, the beer line up can change at the last minute.

 

Events and Local Beer News To Count Down The Days Til Microfestivus ’14, Plus a Couple Beers To Check Out At The Festival

•August 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A few days remain until Microfestivus, but here are a couple events happening between now and then to tide the Roanoke craft curious over, along with some new beer news from one of our local breweries and a couple of festival notes to check out as we get ready for the big event on Saturday!

Hardywood Bohemian PilsLocal Roots will be hosting a tap takeover event featuring Richmond’s Hardywood Park tomorrow night.  Along with the brewery’s flagship Belgian Blonde style Singel, their Virginia Blackberry, a Belgian style wheat beer brewed with the obvious addition of Virginia grown blackberries, their Bourbon barrel aged Imperial IPA, the restaurant will also have their Czech style Pilsner on hand.  The event begins at 6pm.

Recently, our own area’s Chaos Mountain Brewing (Callaway) produced a small batch of a Pilsner, available only at the brewery.  Head Brewer Will Landry recently mentioned through email that the Czech style Pilsner, dubbed “Cross Czech” has been roughly outselling the other offerings nearly 2 to 1 at the brewery.  Landry is currently working on a Belgian style beer made with an addition of rye malt as well as a smoked vanilla Porter.  Both of those beers should be finishing up soon, though it is unclear whether or not they will be brewery only or not.

On Friday, Jack Brown’s in downtown Roanoke is hosting what their Facebook page is calling an all day steal the pint event featuring Dogfish Head, including a keg of their rarely seen on draft 120 Minute IPA.  Their event page also alludes that the event will feature some of the brewery’s more rare offerings.

2014 microfestAmong the more curious beer listings on the current Microfestivus beer lineup (available by pdf download on the event’s Facebook page) are two beers from Devils Backbone.  One is simply listed as a “special release” which, if past offerings for the festival give any clue, may be a cask beer of some kind.  The other is a Hefeweizen called “Trail Angel”, which looks like it may have spent some time as a beer available at the original Roseland, Va brewpub before beginning to show up as a rotating tap/seasonal offering from Devils Backbone just recently.  Also, there is a mention in that same festival list of a “specialty TBD” beer from Bluegrass Brewing.

 
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