The Hard Work of Respecting Beer These Days

•February 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Generally speaking, I’ve tried not to get too involved in the macro beer versus craft beer argument over the years.  Case in point?  I have long held onto a quote by Devils Backbone brewer Jason Oliver that apparently represents his take on the division between craft beer and macro brewery beer, and the name calling and vitriol between some – not all – but some of the fans of each.  In the interview he was giving, he drew a hard and fast line between what he calls “quality of flavor” versus the “intensity of flavor”, and how a beer that is low in “intensity” does not make it necessarily a bad beer.  Specifically, he calls out “militant” beer geeks for slamming macro brewery beer such as Coors, Miller, or Budweiser.  Now, I freely admit that it is all too easy for some of us, including myself, to come to enjoy craft beer so much for all of its endless variety of aromas, flavors, and styles that it is all too easy to take sides, and then defend that side too far, even when there’s not a battle nearby to be waged.  Yet, Oliver’s opinion has stuck with me and all these years, making more and more sense as time passes, and I believe that it somewhat resonates within the “drink what you like” line that I wrote for the ‘about’ section of this blog some time ago.  Basically, hidden in between those very lines:  I won’t disrespect you, if you’ll do the same for me.

Funny enough, in that same interview, Oliver mentioned that despite his respect for larger brewery beer, he doesn’t always agree with the marketing techniques those larger breweries use.  Whatever advertising messages Oliver was referring to then, it is doubtful that he, along with everyone else in the overall craft beer community, could’ve seen coming the now infamous television commercial that Budweiser unleashed during the third quarter of this year’s Super Bowl.  You know the one.  Debuted to goodness knows how many folks during the game, it has now gone into (very) regular rotation.  Proclaiming that Budweiser is for “drinking” and not “dissecting”, the commercial whips back and forth between a bunch of obviously fun loving ‘buds’ enjoying their Budweiser beer at their local bar and three hip-ster looking fellas concentrating intensely on tulip glasses of dark, craft brewed beers in some vague, slightly stuffy brewpub setting, attempting to draw out the differences between those who obviously know how to drink beer and have a good time and those who take their beer far too seriously.  “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale”, it exclaims, not only drawing the line deeper in the sand between craft and macro beer drinkers, but filling it with water, creating a moat, and then erecting a walled fortress built of stone boulders behind it, with a Bud flag flying high above.  The commercial caught many a craft beer fan and brewer off guard, as it didn’t just attempt to defend Budweiser on its own merits, but went on to seemingly attack the craft beer community by reinforcing the already existing stereotypes of the mustached and overly manicured, dapperly dressed, opinion packing, way to serious for their own good craft beer fan.

Now, I’m not sure what the ad execs behind the commercial think we craft beer fans ultimately do with the beer in our glasses.  As for myself, I drink them.   And, as many pointed out at the time, I’d recommend Budweiser perhaps not slam the very styles of beers which the breweries they own actually create (as you already know, recent AB-Inbev acquisition Elysian Brewing does in fact make a pecan pumpkin peach ale).  At first, I was willing to look past the stereotyping.  I’d like to think that even the most regular Budweiser drinker might be able to admit that not all craft beer fans look like an updated version of a circus ringmaster.  Should they need an example to the contrary, I’ll gladly give myself up as evidence.  My usual craft beer bartenders don’t even recognize me if I don’t show up with some old brewery t-shirt and/or baseball cap on, and I’m far from alone.  I can’t even tell you the last time I was in a craft beer establishment and saw a whisper thin mustache paired with a tweed jacket and overstyled hair.  I know we exist, but I can assure you, they are just a portion of our population.  But of course, that’s not really the point of the ad, is it?

Where I truly began to feel a little hot under the collar – of my old, craft beer t-shirt of course – was when the folks at Bud proudly exclaimed their beer is brewed “the hard way”, whatever that exactly means.  Here’s a little thing I can assure you after running this blog for four years.  Although I cannot truly vouch for the brewing staff at any Budweiser facility, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that being a brewer at a small, craft brewery requires plenty of hard work, as many of the teams at those breweries can be quite small, and have to handle every portion of the business.

In the days that have followed the commercial’s debut, Budweiser has responded to the criticisms by saying the company wasn’t attacking craft beer, only pointing out what their own product is known for – for simple “drinking” and not to be “fussed over”.  Paste magazine news editor Jim Vorel, in his response to the commercial, gathered that this must mean that Bud’s product is essentially for pouring “straight down your stomach in one fell swoop while bypassing the taste buds altogether”.  And I suppose that “fussy” beer must be a beverage created so well, on so many various levels, that even Bud admits it inspires taking a moment to fully appreciate it.  Budweiser ad execs continue to defend the commercial to this day – and I’m sure for many to come – by saying it was intended to be about what the beer is and not about what it isn’t, but that is clearly just a talking point for the media, and not even a well thought out one.  Even the most non argumentative beer lover must admit the tv spot included plenty of stinging jabs towards the craft community by unfortunately reinforcing, underlining, and showcasing the existing stereotype of the too serious craft beer snob, before attempting a knock out with that “brewed the hard way” roundhouse, which was really just a sucker punch thrown well after the bell had already sounded.

Well known for ads featuring Clydesdales and slow motion pours of their beers to inspire their existing fans, this time, they attempted to bolster pride by including a shot or two at the competition.  It was bound to come, I guess.  Craft beer has been stealing the headlines away from them for quite a while, not to mention plenty of sales too.  But as many have noted already, continued marketing such as this may not only keep the Bud drinker drinking Bud, but may also drive off any developing curiosity among them for craft beer.  I still see those curious souls in the grocery store on weekends, on Friday and Saturday nights, walking back and forth between the more familiar macro beer aisle and the craft aisle, plenty unsure of the latter.  Many still leave with the old standby tucked under the arm, and perhaps even more will now.  But if you’re listening, and still remain curious about craft beer – and don’t believe that all craft beer folks are uppity snobs as some would try to lead you to believe – a respectful hand from this side of the growing divide is still extended, if only to the macro drinkers themselves and not to the company still trying so desperately to hang onto them.


Sources:  Interview with Jason Oliver, published March 17, 2011 on the popular beer blog “Drink With The Wench”; Paste Magazine article posted online, written by Jim Vorel on February 2, 2015

Come “Fall In Love With Local Craft Beer” At Blue 5 Tonight

•October 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Taps at Blue 5Roanoke’s Blue 5 kicks off the weekend tonight with a spotlight on Virginia’s craft beer community, featuring a line up of beer from specifically chosen from within the state, including several from breweries in Roanoke.  The restaurant’s “Fall In Love With Local Craft Beer” event should feature more than ten beers, half of which coming from the Star City.

Perhaps just as notable, if not more so, than the fact that these beers are from within the state’s boundaries is that the ones from Roanoke represent a step outside those brewery’s regular line up of beer.  Of course, if you pay any attention at all to the choices at your local beer store on a regular basis, you already know that new releases, whether they be one offs, seasonal, or otherwise, are constantly hitting the shelves, something that seems to be almost entirely consumer driven.  Though it might be impossible to truly gauge, basically, not only are more folks trying craft beer, but those who have taken a more than extremely casual liking to craft want to try something different – constantly.  Not that you can really blame them.  (Or should I say, “us”, since I’m as much a part of this desire to search out the newest as anyone.)  After all, “different” is what got most of us into craft beer to begin with.  This trend to put out something truly new – especially beyond the brewery’s walls – has been, arguably, somewhat slow to catch on among Roanoke’s breweries.  Lately, however, that seems to be changing – and it’s a good sign indeed.

So that brings us back to the line up at Blue 5 tonight.  Parkway Brewing Company’s new Double IPA Four Damn Fights To A Pint, if you haven’t yet tried it, is a must to seek out.  But consider the brewery’s newer fall seasonal, Seeing Colors – instantly among some of the better fall, spiced beers I’ve tasted.  Chaos Mountain’s relatively new smoked vanilla porter seasonal sold well at the brewery on its first go round.  It is just the latest in several smaller batch beers the Callaway based brewery has produced, but one of the few to make it outside the brewery’s walls.  Not so oddly enough, it is also one that was produced after local restaurant owners had heard about it and wanted to put it on draft, no doubt prodded on by customers who simply wanted to try something different.


Is Stone Brewing Officially Coming To Richmond?

•October 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Stone Brewing 1Sure, so it wasn’t Roanoke.

But according to all reports, the Star City did well in the running for Stone Brewing’s east coast brewery expansion project, making it well into the final rounds of the decision making process.  And after Roanoke was dropped from consideration, for many craft curious in the area, the question then became something along the lines of… wouldn’t it be something if those Stone IPAs were being brewed just a few hours away?  Because a few hour drive to Richmond – a city that has been actively named in the rumors also since the beginning – seems well worth it to land (very) freshly brewed batches of some of the most sought after craft beers in the country.  Still, it seemed as if there were still at least a couple of other, non Virginia cities in the running, at least up until yesterday afternoon.

But just after 4pm Wednesday, the Richmond Times Dispatch posted a story on their website stating that Richmond city officials and Governor Terry McAuliffe were planning to make some sort of economic development statement on Thursday, and “sources” were saying that it involved the Escondido, California based company.

If you believe the action on Facebook and Twitter, Richmond has already landed the deal.  Regardless of its exact nature, however, the announcement will hopefully shed some light on the rumors that began circulating on social media after those news reports came out.

With any luck, it’ll let us know that in the not so far off future, a relatively short, three hour drive to Richmond will not only mean we can visit the city’s own existing and eclectic mix of breweries in order to taste their beer, but also to perhaps taste some incredibly fresh Stone IPA that’s being brewed right just down the street from them as well.


Virginia Brewery Snapshot: Williamsburg’s The Virginia Beer Company

•October 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The Virginia Beer Company logoEven as archeologists were unearthing the remains of what’s thought to be a colonial era brew house on the grounds of Williamsburg’s College of William and Mary, two friends – alumni of that very school, no less – were busy unearthing ideas for the foundation of their own brewery just a few miles away.  And even while the most casual of beer geek would probably have a difficult time not day dreaming about what the beer from the former might have been like, no such contemplation will be needed about the beer from the latter.  When Williamsburg’s The Virginia Beer Company opens their doors mid 2015, founders Chris Smith and Robby Willey, along with Brewmaster Jonathan Newman, will be more than happy to pour you a glass or two to satisfy any such curiosities.

Smith and Willey met while attending William and Mary, honing not only the skills that would serve them in careers in finance but also developing a shared interest in craft beer.  Although Smith and Willey’s post college paths would take them in different directions and well away from Williamsburg as they landed jobs in New York, Boston, and Northern Virginia, the two kept well in touch, and often took trips together, visiting craft breweries as their mutual interest in craft beer continued to grow.  During this time, the two began home brewing, and eventually began discussing merging their business lives with their passion for craft beer to open their own brewery.  It was during these conversations that Willey and Smith felt a call to return to Williamsburg, the city where they had met and began their craft beer curiosities, and by 2012, had done so.  However, apart from “some volunteer work at local breweries” and their own home brewing experience, the two lacked experience in larger scale brewing.  So in 2013, Jonathan Newman, formerly of SweetWater Brewing in Georgia, was recruited as a consultant to the brewery.  Roughly a year later, as Willey proudly states, Newman “became the brewery’s first full-time hire in Summer 2014”.

With Newman’s guidance and experience, the brewery plans on first focusing on “a small, high quality core lineup of year-round products”, Smith continues, and then building upon those three to four year round offerings to include “a boundary-pushing rotation of limited edition beers”.  The brewery has already begun to create test batches of possible year round offerings, understanding that “while we have ambitious plans to offer a sizable variety of beers and flavors, we also realize that we want to make our name in the quality of our early recipes”.  The early test batches include a citrusy American Wheat Ale, an IPA hopped with Azacca (a relatively new variety), an Oatmeal Stout, and an Amarillo/Simcoe Rye ESB.  The series of more limited releases has already taken on a name, “Burg Beer”, and along with the core beers, will be the products brewed on the brewery’s primary 30 bbl brewhouse.  The brewery also plans to fully utilize a smaller 3bbl pilot system.  “Using the two, we aim to offer three to four year-round offerings as well as a multitude of one-offs in the taproom.”  Depending upon the season and how those one are received, those may be moved to the primary brewing equipment.  Willey continues, “We also plan to get creative with cask ales, so we are really stoked to take advantage of our planned brewing capacity and taproom to have some truly invigorating styles while at the same time offering something for everyone.  In addition, the use of pins and firkins will allow us to be exceptionally creative and get feedback from customers, fans, and retailers to drive new [recipes].”  Between the year round offerings and the more limited seasonal and taproom only beers, The Virginia Beer Company seems well aware of the wide variety of craft beer drinkers, as well as being cognizant of their wide ranging and often shifting tastes.  “We’re focused on bridging the gap between those who don’t know much about craft to the people working in the industry who live, breathe, and drink it every day, so quality and variety are integral to Virginia Beer Co.’s future success.”

Central to the vision Willey and his partners have for The Virginia Beer Company will be the site at which the beers will be primarily available, the brewery’s taproom.  The team well understands that the visitors to the brewery will span a wide variety of craft beer fan, from the locally based Williamsburg native to the tourist looking to check out a new brewery while on vacation.  But regardless of each visitor’s level of craft beer experience or reason for stopping by, The Virginia Beer Company wants the taproom to feel inviting to all.  “First and foremost, we want people who visit our brewery to feel welcome. All types of people, be they tourists, locals, students, or families, should sense the community atmosphere we will try to create.  We’re [aware] that in a place like Williamsburg we  need to cater to groups coming in to check out a band on a Thursday evening as well as families coming through for the weekend who may enjoy a Sunday afternoon on the patio.”  Hosting various community events is but one way the brewery hopes to build such a comfortable atmosphere.  The brewery also plans to have a green area near the patio where during the warmer months, patrons can bring a picnic or participate in lawn games.  Without a doubt, it sounds as if Willey and Smith have learned – likely through their many travels to breweries over the years – that the more successful breweries are ones which become a social destination for families and friends to gather, instead of simply being a tasting room with a bar.  “We want our customers to walk away feeling inspired by the experience they received by enjoying something created with so much thought, effort, and love.”

While The Virginia Beer Company’s long term plans include growing beyond the taproom and distributing on a regional basis, Willey, Smith, and Newman realize that success begins, as it should, at home.  “We have been seeking a space with more capacity than we need now so we can grow into that location over the next 10 years, and we’d certainly love to be a regional brewery by that point.”, Willey says.  “[But] we don’t want to expand too quickly – we want to make sure our year-round offerings are constantly available around Williamsburg and the surrounding areas before we move to new cities.”  So while the brewery certainly has plans to distribute draft beer throughout Virginia within the first few years of operation, first on draft and then hopefully in bottle and can formats, “for now we’ll just focus on opening so people can come to us and sample some Burg Beer, but we plan to get out to the people as soon as we can!”

The Virginia Beer Company team certainly seems to have built a solid foundation, beginning with Smith and Willey’s return to Williamsburg, where their interest in craft beer all began.  As the brewery’s founders explain, “A lot of research went into the name of the brewery as well as its final destination but after a lot of due diligence, Williamsburg, Virginia emerged as the perfect place to start the [brewery]. It’s the state where Robby was raised, where Chris & Robby first met, and one with a thriving beer scene. In addition, Williamsburg, beyond being the birthplace of the duo’s interest in brewing, is an incredible city with a rich history and thriving culture that has ample room for more growth in the world of craft brewing.”  So far, the city has been receptive to the venture.  “We’ve received a great deal of support from the City of Williamsburg and the surrounding counties, as well as from local breweries ranging from in town to Richmond to Charlottesville to Washington, DC.”  And while the brewery certainly has a robust plan in terms of brewing a great variety of beers and attracting loyal customers through quality examples of those styles, the VBC team is starting with a time tested and simple recipe for success.  “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a name for yourself – beer drinkers appreciate a well-crafted ale or lager, and if you do it right, you’re more likely to get [return] customers…If you’re willing to be polite, patient, and work hard, [the brewery] will be accepted by the powers that be and the peers around you.”


–Thank you so much to team at The Virginia Beer Company for letting me do this little write up about their brewery.  Please check out their Facebook page here.


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.


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