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.

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  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!)


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