Great Beer & Music Always Go Together: Come Out To Parkway Brewing Company This Friday To See The Infamous Stringdusters’ Travis Book

•October 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Parkway Brewing May 12, 2010, Kirk Avenue, downtown Roanoke:  the first time I would have the good fortune to see the contemporary bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters live, and the first time I would see Travis Book, the band’s upright bass player, laying down the backbone for the band and sharing the vocals.  I had only bought a couple of studio produced cds at the time, but they provided more than enough motivation to go.  Somewhere in between the first few songs of the show, and probably about halfway through my first Shooting Creek Buffalo Brown ale (original edition, back then) and definitely before “Booksy” began singing first words of the band’s “It’ll Be Alright”, I knew I was hooked.

Book has returned to perform the occasional solo show here in Roanoke from time to time, and the band and its members are no strangers to visits and performances at breweries.  (The Stringdusters have performed at Michigan’s Bells Brewing, California’s Humbolt Brews, Georgia’s SweetWater Brewing, and have been associated with Colorado’s Oskar Blues’ charitable CAN’d Aid Foundation since at least 2013.)  Their annual multi-day music festival, “The Festy Experience”, held each October, is located on the grounds at Devils Backbone’s “basecamp” brewpub in Nelson County.  This Friday, the talented Book will return to the area for a solo performance at Salem’s Parkway Brewing.

For his solo gigs, Book plays acoustic guitar and usually weaves through set lists of Stringdusters songs as well as other personal favorites, and often covers songs he performed and wrote alongside one of his own personal heroes, a songwriter by the name of Benny “Burle” Galloway.  Many of those songs are available on Book’s recent cd release “Alice”.  Book and Galloway performed a handful of intimate “house shows” in Colorado in early September.

This Friday however, you can come out and see Book solo and of course enjoy Parkway’s beer as well!  The show itself is free, and according to the brewery’s Facebook page, begins around 6pm.  There will be a ticket giveaway during the evening for this year’s “Festy Experience”, which is coming up this year on October 10 -12.

If my memory is correct, Book himself is a fan of fine IPAs, occasionally mentioning having the good luck to come across a few Heady Toppers from time to time.

One of Parkway’s Get Bent Mountain IPAs should be right up his alley.

“From Grain To Growler”, A Documentary Film About Virginia’s Craft Beer Movement, Is Scheduled To Be Shown At The Grandin Theatre

•September 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“From Grain To Growler”, a roughly 40 minute documentary film covering the explosion of Virginia’s craft beer movement, will have a one-time only showing at the Grandin Theatre on Saturday, October 18 at 5pm.  After premiering in Richmond back in August, this Roanoke screening will be just one of about six overall planned across Virginia, definitely making it an exclusive event, and one that the craft beer curious in and around Roanoke should certainly put on the calendar.  The film touches upon some of the breweries which have been key in moving the current craft beer movement in the state forward, as well as the passing of S.B.604, the 2012 legislation which now allows breweries that do not offer food to sell their beer for on premise consumption, instead of being regulated to only offer their beer in a small sampling type format.

Produced by Alexandria based Take-A-Penny Productions, the film was also shown at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest and has been accepted into the Virginia Film Festival for this year, held in November in Charlottesville.

The Roanoke showing will include a short Q&A panel discussion with local brewers and the filmmakers after the event.  Also, beginning about an hour prior to the screening, samples of beer from five local and regional breweries will be available, including Parkway Brewing, Big Lick Brewing, Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers, Flying Mouse Brewing, and Devils Backbone, and are included in the ticket price for the movie.

General Admission tickets are on sale during normal box office hours at the Grandin Theatre, and through the website for $20 per person.  The event is a non-profit fundraiser for the Grandin Theatre.  Also, watch for Roanoke Craft Beer Tours to offer an event “experience” as well.

Please take a look at the trailer below.  If you are a fan of craft beer and of the current surge of interest in the state of Virginia or beyond, “From Grain To Growler” should be an incredibly interesting film to witness.


Weekend Tap and Event Update: Soaring Ridge at First Friday’s, A New Beer at Parkway Brewing, and Start Digging Out Those Lederhosen.

•September 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As I stood and looked at stacks of pumpkin beers earlier today, still plentiful even at local grocery stores, I knew my household’s yearly pumpkin beer blind tasting was safe.  Yes, I just might make it to fall before imbibing too many of those spiced ales and lagers yet.

Yep, the pumpkin beers can wait just a couple more days.

First Friday's Roanoke VaMaking it easier to put them off is a forecast that looks like the rain may just move on at some point mid afternoon for Roanoke, and there are plenty of other ways to enjoy some great craft beer tonight and this weekend, beginning with tonight’s First Friday’s at Five.  Tonight, the popular end-of-the-work-week, downtown Roanoke gathering will feature beers from Roanoke’s Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers, including their Virginia Creeper Pale Ale, Trail Head Brown Ale, and Berry White Witbier style ale.

Callaway’s Chaos Mountain Brewing will be celebrating International Talk Like A Pirate Day at their location this evening, and those who come dressed for the occasion are automatically entered in a raffle to win gear from the brewery.

Of course, this weekend is also the first full weekend Roanoke’s newest brewery, Big Lick Brewing, will be open.  Cheers to Bryan and his family and team, who have all worked tirelessly to open.

And even though I might not be completely ready for pumpkin beers, I could always make an exception for a new local beer, since that’s always worth noting.  Parkway Brewing is officially debuting their “Seeing Colors” Pumpkin seasonal this weekend.

martins_oktoberTruly looking ahead to fall, here are a couple of Oktoberfest themed celebrations in Roanoke to take note of.  Martin’s Downtown Grille will hold their annual two day Oktoberfest block party October 10th and 11th.  Big Lick Entertainment’s Big Lick Oktoberfest event, a “Celebration of German Beer and Brats”, will be held on the 25th, at the Wells Fargo Plaza near the City Market Building.

Cheers to Big Lick Brewing Company As It Readies To Open This Weekend

•September 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

wpid-20140913_155408.jpgIf the countless “window shoppers” who have been stopping by Roanoke’s newest brewery to check on its progress are any indication, Big Lick Brewing Company is set to have one very successful opening weekend.  For the past few weeks, owner and brewer Bryan Summerson has seen many a curious face peering through his brewery’s front door as he has worked tirelessly to ready it for opening.  That curiosity is about to be satisfied as Summerson will officially open his doors at 4pm this Thursday, September 18, at its location near the corner of 2nd  Street and Salem Avenue in downtown Roanoke.

This past weekend, Summerson invited a few friends and family down to the brewery’s tasting room to take in its cozy, beautiful décor and taste some of the beers that will be making more of a public appearance at the official opening.  One of those beers, “This Time IPA”, highlighted Big Lick’s approach – keeping a consistently changing line up of roughly six beers on draft in order to keep things interesting for the brewery’s patrons.  The brewery will offer tasting flights, full pours, and growler fills of its beers, depending on the size of the batches.

Changing the available beers on a regular basis fits in well with the constantly changing curiosity of many craft beer fans.  While some breweries thankfully do this with one or two offerings, typically available only at the brewery itself, Big Lick plans to vary all of their beers over time, making for a great spot for the truly curious to try different styles of small batch handcrafted beers.  In addition, the six taps at Big Lick should offer a wide variety of beers at any one time.  This past weekend, for example, the available beers included a Porter brewed with toasted coconut, an English style Brown Ale, an Imperial IPA, a Cream Ale, and a Black Saison in addition to the “regular” IPA.

That IPA, as well as the other selections, was delicious, and sported the kind of pungent, tropical citrus like aroma and flavor that make most fans of the style a little weak in the knees.

Down the line, the entire line up of beer followed suit by being flavorful examples of its style, and in the end, offered another perspective on Big Lick’s potential success – and one much clearer than you would be able to gather by just peering in through the front door.

Check out a few snapshots of inside the brewery below, and visit their Facebook page here!

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Local Roots and The Beer Road Take a Fresh Look At Pilsners With Chaos Mountain’s Cross Czech Pilsner

•September 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Beer Golden to “straw-like yellow”, and clear as a bell.  Outwardly, a classic Pilsner might look and seem about as mild mannered as it gets.  A showcase for crispness and typically a champion for those noble hops (you remember those, right?), they seem well intentioned enough.  But somehow, under the weight of the last dozen massively Citra dry hopped IPAs, it’s also a style that can seem as if it’s relegated to sitting quietly in the craft beer back seat.  Although toying with them does happen, rarely – “Imperial” versions are fairly uncommon, and a few of us might remember the Stone (or even Devils Backbone) “Black Pilsner”.  For the most part, you likely think you know what to expect from the two major, by the book, classic versions:  Bohemian/Czech and German.

But do we really remember how good they can be?  Sure, for some, the style seems to be a little lacking in the street cred department.  The latest IPA “worthy” of travelling five states and waiting in line for three hours for may own that territory. But amid the endless numbers of home run hitting IPAs, a good Pilsner is the beer that keeps swinging away, hitting near .400 and reaching base with regularity.  So an honest look at the style just might reveal that their current reputation for being overly tame is, of course, more than a little unfair.  Well done versions are startlingly crisp, helping make them perhaps the classic heat wave reducing summer beer.  A typically low abv% makes them immensely crushable and a great session beer.  And for those who can appreciate the floral and sometimes spicy edged nature of the hops typically used in Pilsners, they can be a nice switch up from the citrusy or pine like varieties so common in IPA and Pales.

Chaos Mountain BrewingThis summer has seen a handful of new Czech style Pilsners pop up in the area.  Three Brothers (Harrisonburg) released their “Pilsnerd”, Hardywood (Richmond) their Bohemian Pils, and closer to Roanoke, Chaos Mountain has recently produced one of their own, “Cross Czech Pilsner”.  Previously available only at the brewery in nearby Callaway, it will make what will likely be its only appearance outside the brewery this weekend at Local Roots Restaurant.

Head Brewer Will Landry offered a couple tasting notes for the beer, noting that “a soft grain sweetness leads off the taste, fading to a crisp finish while not drying out”, adding that “it’s a great entry beer to craft”.

I’m betting that for many craft beer curious, it’s been a while since the last revisit of a good, solid Pilsner.  This weekend at Local Roots, make your way out, check out an example of what a hand crafted Pilsner can be, and look beyond that seemingly mild mannered, clear appearance.

View From The Road: Williamsburg Alewerks’ Pumpkin Ale

•September 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

wpid-20140903_132631.jpgI had held out long enough, I suppose.  While I might leave the getting up on the seasonal beer soapbox to others, I still wasn’t quite ready for my first Pumpkin beer.  Still, I knew that the coming of cooler weather or one more page turned on the calendar would probably do it.  So roughly 48 hours before the start of September, lacking in very many other choices at the time and mostly due to the knowledge that, cooler weather or not, pumpkin beers might be gone before the first leaf actually fell, I took the plunge and ordered my first pumpkin beer of the season.  Of course, it also helped reinforce my decision that the one available to me at the time is one of the best around – and arguably, might be the best period.

For some time now, Virginia’s Williamsburg Alewerks has been turning out their wonderfully delicious Pumpkin Ale.  Deservedly so, a couple of number based ratings back up this beer’s credibility:  93/94 on, and 97 on  But such ratings cannot duplicate the experience of tasting any beer of course, and each year, at least for me, it happens the same way.  I tend to enjoy at least a couple while the beer is available, but once the beer disappears from store shelves, I have only those one or two memories – as strong as they are – to recall just how solid this beer is.  When the season comes back around, and the beer reappears, those memories are brought fully back to life, and I recall just how good it is.  On first sip, I instantly recall that not only does it stand out among the glut of pumpkin beers that hit each year, but it begins to transcend the “style”, as well as the “season”.  You’d be hard pressed to find anyone saying “yes, it’s good for what it is” here.  It’s simply a very well done beer, no matter what the label might say.

Williamsburg Alewerks Pumpkin Ale:

While many pumpkin beers lead with an onslaught of spices, the better ones often are said to taste like “liquefied pumpkin pie”, and some, as a friend pointed out recently, taste very much like the crust of a pumpkin pie (with just a bit of the filling left behind), Williamsburg Alewerks’ version delivers it’s aroma and taste on top of a foundation of rich but not overly done so sweetness.  It’s a little reminiscent of the caramelized, slightly torch-burnt sugars on top of a serving of crème brulee, possibly assisted by the use of brown sugar in the beer.  There is something else there as well, something also slightly rich but a little “roasty”, which I would imagine is the roasted pumpkin meat that is used in the beer.  There is a good amount of spices as well – cinnamon and nutmeg – but instead of taking over, the spices have melded perfectly with that rich sweetness.  So many pumpkin beers operate on sensory spice overload, but everything here works so well together.  Every sip is sturdily supported by that rich, slightly burnt sweetness, with the spices tumbling around within.  All of this is delivered by a smooth, nicely weighted body and light carbonation so as not to get in the way.  There is even a tiny bit of dry, maybe slightly bitter pie crust like quality off in the background as well, just to keep you lost deep in the enjoyment of the beer.  If the best pumpkin ales mimic a slice of pumpkin pie, this one is a slice that’s been baked in a five star restaurant’s kitchen, dialed up for a special occasion.

Pumpkin Ale, spiced beer, dessert beer, winter warmer, darn good beer – whatever you want to call it, it is without question revisiting year after year.

Williamsburg Alewerks Pumpkin Ale – by the numbers:

Seasonal release “ale brewed with roasted pumpkin and spices”, 7.3% abv, available on draft and in bottle formats, out on store shelves now.

Blue 5 As One of’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’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.


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