Weekend Tap Update: Dark Beers Kick Off The Weekend At Blue 5 Tonight

•July 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Foothills Sexual Chocolate StoutTaste enough beer and you will eventually hear someone say something along the lines of “Yeah, well, I’m just not into [insert any style of beer here]”, writing off perhaps an entire style in one fell swoop.  (Trust me, it won’t take long.)  It could be argued that the great expanse of hop forward beers may have this situation cornered with their long road to appreciating that bitter bite, a learning curve that for some might as well be as big as the arch in downtown St. Louis.  But you’ll also hear the same being said from time to time about darker beers, and predominantly among those, stouts or porters.  (Although for the record, there are plenty of these beers that sport a formidable hop presence.)

This always throws me for a bit of a loop. Without getting into the argument over those all too common myths regarding darker beers – that they’re all too heavy, or that they’re all fuller bodied than other kinds of beers, or that they always have much more calories than other types of beers – darker beers are often full of some extremely beloved aromas and flavors.  Rich flavors.  The best, richest, most chocolaty dessert like flavors.  Your favorite-morning-beverage like flavors.

Just consider for a moment the words often used to describe stouts, porters, or other dark beers:  Coffee like, Chocolaty, Roasty, Smokey, Rich, Intense…or “tastes like” liquorice, espresso, or even dark fruits (think dark cherries perhaps).  This doesn’t even begin to touch on their typically smooth as silk mouthfeel.  Nor does it begin to delve into how aging many of these beers in whiskey or bourbon barrels can add further complexity, or how simply adding oats to the brewing process can impart an even smoother body, or how adding lactose can add sweetness to styles such as Milk Stouts.  And we’re not going to even get into the breweries that toss peanuts or peanut butter into brewing their dark beers.

Often, we tend to write things off after one less than satisfying experience and then apply what we “learned” across the board.  If perhaps you’ve only had one, two, or even a handful of darker beers (stouts, porters, and the like) and haven’t quite landed a favorite, you may owe it to yourself to come out to Blue 5 Restaurant’s “Christmas In July” celebration tonight (starts at 5pm).  According to the restaurant, close to thirty dark beers will be front and center, and I am willing to bet you can find one or two that will envelope you in their rich, roasty nature.  (And might make you change your mind about dark beer – or any kind of beer for that matter – too.)

Check out this week’s earlier post, below, for a partial listing of beer to be featured at the event.  Beers will be available in both draft and bottle form!


Also, don’t forget this weekend to turn out for plenty going on at our local breweries in and around Roanoke.  Food trucks and/or live music have become regular fixtures for spots like Chaos Mountain, Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers, Parkway Brewing Company, and Sunken City.  Daleville’s Flying Mouse will be hosting a “ShrimpFest” out at their place on Saturday as well.

Blue 5′s “Christmas In July” Event Begins To Take Shape

•July 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Blue 5 RestaurantAre you ready to indulge in the dark?  As noted in Monday’s post, Blue 5 Restaurant’s “Christmas In July”, the downtown restaurant’s annual summertime celebration of stouts, porters, and dark beers, kicks off Friday at 5pm.  Around 25 of these types of dark beers in all are apparently going to be making an appearance at the event (according to the restaurant’s Facebook page) but to get your mouth watering and ready for the upcoming dive into the overwhelming selection of velvety smooth, rich ales, below is a partial list of the ones that will be available.

Terrapin Brewing’s Wake ‘N’ Bake Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout

Three Brothers Resolute Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout

Three Brothers Atramentous (Resolute Barrel Aged Sour Belgian Stout)

Allagash Brewing Red Howes (Stout brewed with cranberries)

Perennial Ales “17” Mint Chocolate Stout

Foothills Brewing Sexual Chocolate

Boulevard Brewing Chocolate Ale

Evil Twin Brewing Biscotti Break Porter

BFM (Swiss) La Mandragore Foreign Stout

Parkway Brewing Barrel Aged Belgian Dark Ale Magella

Again, this is only a partial list.  On the restaurant’s Facebook page, a listing of breweries likely to be represented also includes the likes of Founders, Schlafly, Oskar Blues, Smuttynose, Legend, Lost Rhino, and Starr Hill just to name a few.

In addition, the night will also likely serve as our first introduction to Hardywood Park Brewery, which recently announced it would begin distributing into the Roanoke area.  Representatives will likely be on hand, and it is rumored that not only will brewery logo glasses will be available for a limited time, but the brewery may also contribute to the spirit of the night with one or two of their own beers as well.

Don’t Miss Blue 5′s “Christmas In July” Celebration of Stouts This Friday

•July 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Blue 5 Christmas In July 2014For those who still think rich, dark beers are only for the colder months of the year, Blue 5 Restaurant hosts an event each summer to help wash away such thoughts, and to help remind everyone that a great stout is a good idea no matter what the calendar might say.  (But we’re well beyond all that, right?)  This Friday, the downtown restaurant will kick off their annual “Christmas In July” at 5pm with over 20 stouts on tap, including beers from breweries such as Harrisonburg’s Three Brothers, Winston Salem’s Foothills Brewing, Terrapin Brewing, Heavy Seas, Founders, Schlafly, Evil Twin, Oskar Blues, Legend, Smuttynose, Lost Rhino, and Starr Hill.

Of course, it’s difficult not to wonder what the individual stouts from these breweries might be.  Would Three Brothers’ Resolute be a possibility?  Founders’ or Schlafly’s Imperial Stouts?  Considering some of the beers that have shown up at this event previously, such as Foothills’ Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout, it’ll be certainly be worth coming out just to check out the tap list.

In addition, there will be some “special surprise” stouts as well.  One also has to wonder if the recent news of Richmond’s Hardywood Brewery coming to Roanoke just might play into the event’s plans somehow.

Without a doubt, this is an event not to miss if you simply love a velvety smooth, blow your mind rich, deeply flavorful, chocolately, roasty, possibly barrel aged stout – or simply love great beer regardless of style.  Blue 5 puts away many of these beers throughout the year just to put them on tap for this event alone.  Trust me, should you still think that the coming of cold weather is the only time for a great stout, you’ll definitely be missing out.

View From The Road: Three Brothers’ Virginia Dark Black IPA

•July 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Three Brothers Virginia Dark Black IPAHere’s another post in what I’m calling the “View From The Road” series, taking a look at a singular beer to seek out and enjoy, but nothing so rare that you have to refinance your house to buy any, or travel to the opposite coast to find it. Cheers!

Could it be, after all this time, the name is still an issue?  After all, it still seems as if it’s easier to find discussions on what to “appropriately” call a Black IPA – a style of beer that for the record I prefer calling, well, a Black IPA – rather than to find much about the beers themselves.  But for whatever reason, there often seems to be a black cloud (yes, and I said black cloud) that perpetually hangs over the “style” for which we can’t settle on a name for, or for that matter, the origins of.  Whether it’s the name of the style (which I doubt) or not, time after time, I still hear folks saying they can’t find one they truly care for.  Personally, I think we still have a hard time getting past the obvious.  Introducing darkness to a beer that is usually hazy at the most feels a little unnatural, as if we’re forcing it into a situation it’s obviously not comfortable in.  Or more correctly, we’re not comfortable with the thought of such a thing.  In other words, calling a beer an IPA that is as dark as pitch feels a bit like we’re taking some revered, deeply respected actor whom everyone tends to like – let’s say, Harrison Ford himself – and forcing him into some unnatural circumstance, like shooting a TV spot for Hank’s Used Cars over on Main and 4th.  It just seems wrong somehow, and immediately makes it uncomfortable to watch.  Or in the case of the Black IPA, to like what we’re drinking.

But perhaps our issue with Black IPAs is that there aren’t enough exceptional examples out there to start validly comparing one against another.  In most of the ones I’ve tried, it seems as if the two “sides” of the beer don’t play well together, and it turns out a little muddled, or the dark ale qualities seem to be almost an afterthought.  For my money, the better examples of Black IPAs come across as dark ales almost first, reminding you of Porters or even Dark Milds, the qualities of which (smokiness, light roastyness) at the very least match, if not step directly in front of, any typical IPA “attributes” (citrus or pine like for example).

Lucky enough for those of us here in Roanoke, such a quality version of the style is being produced in our own backyard.  A couple of months ago, Three Brothers’ Virginia Dark Black IPA showed up on draft in the Star City, and in the last week or so, bottles starting popping up on store shelves in spots like Sumdat and Wine Gourmet.   Here’s a quick breakdown of this tasty beer.


Matched up step for step with a definite, earthy pine like aroma and taste from the hops, Virginia Dark rolls out a ‘just enough’ roasted graininess flavor with each sip.  Again, think of the roasty nature of a good Porter, or almost to a dry stout.  With a couple more tastes, you’d swear there’s a bit of smokiness in the background.  There’s a dryness that aids in the whole “earthy” feeling of this beer.  Given some time to warm a bit, the smokiness may come out a little bit more, but still, none of the other characteristics really back down either.  Somewhere in there, there’s a quick thread of citrus too.

Many Black IPAs seem to have two distinct sides that don’t mesh well, one featuring whatever characteristics that were given to it by the malt that was used, and that of the hops.  But in Virginia Dark, the two work together to bring about a beer which is full of earthy tastes and aromas and make one great tasting beer, no matter what you want call it.


Events This Week And Looking Forward

•July 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On Wednesday, Jack Brown’s in downtown Roanoke will be having a Steal The Pint event featuring Allagash Brewing.  Known for both a well crafted line up of year round, primarily Belgian style ales, the Maine brewery also produces a long list of complex limited release beers which utilize a variety of techniques to achieve their flavors and aromas, from wine barrel aging to the use of their own “house” Brettanomyces strain of yeast.  The event starts at 5pm.

This weekend also brings the opportunity to attend a beer (and wine) festival in nearby Forest, Va.  “Kegs & Corks” will feature close to fifteen Virginia and North Carolina breweries and will be held at Forest Professional Park from noon to 6pm on Saturday, July 19.

Of course, we are also getting ever closer to Roanoke’s own Microfestivus beer festival, which will be held on August 9 from noon to 6pm.  This marks the 17th anniversary of the festival.  A current listing of breweries is available on the event’s Facebook page – with notable inclusions from new Roanoke area breweries Chaos Mountain and Flying Mouse to two Richmond breweries, Hardywood Park and Isley Brewing.

Hardywood Park, Welcome To Roanoke.

•July 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hardywood ParkNo longer will a taste from one of Richmond’s most well known and highly thought of craft breweries mean a road trip is necessarily in order.  Hardywood Park Craft Brewery have announced that they are expanding westward, and it looks like they have signed a deal with Roanoke’s PA Short for distribution into our area.

Many craft beer fans in Roanoke are likely familiar with Hardywood Park, and personally, no trip to the state capital is complete without a stop by the brewery.  Likely many more have only heard of the brewery, but so far have not had a chance to taste their beers.  Hardywood has rolled out to areas beyond Richmond gradually, taking their time to carefully craft a reputation for well made beer, generating interest from their home city.  Perhaps most well known for the annual release of their Gingerbread Stout, Hardywood produces a wide range of beers, from their Great Return IPA and Capital Trail Pale Ale to several Belgian styles, including their flagship Singel, an Abbey style Blonde Ale.  I wrote a review of the Singel in a post about American Craft Beer Week back in 2011, which you can take a look at here.  With Hardywood looking to include several of their beers in their plans to distribute here in Roanoke, look forward to reviews of others in the near future.

According to the official press release, Hardywood will begin rolling out their beers the week of July 21.  Needless to say, this is great news for Roanoke beer fans, as the brewery has long carved out a niche in the Richmond area for producing well crafted beers in that area, and is a excellent flag bearer for Virginia craft beer.

Welcome to Roanoke, Hardywood!  Cheers!

Below is a copy of the official press release:

—Hardywood Heads West!

Richmond, VA July 10th, 2014- Hardywood Park Craft Brewery of Richmond, Virginia is proud to announce new partnerships with Virginia Eagle Distributing, and P. A. Short Distributing. The partnerships will allow the brewery to begin expanding its distribution footprint to include the western part of the state of Virginia.

“The enthusiasm we’ve seen from customers who come down from western Virginia to visit us and try our beers has been wonderfully encouraging. The craft beer community out west is thriving and we are excited to head to the mountains and become a part of it”says Ben Petty, Regional Sales Manager for Hardywood Park.

“Now that we have the infrastructure in place to expand into new territories, we are excited to partner with such esteemed wholesalers as Virginia Eagle and P. A. Short” says Patrick Murtaugh, Co-founder and Master Brewer of Hardywood Park.

“We are ecstatic to partner with Hardywood Park and help bring their fantastic beer to the Roanoke Valley. Richmond already knows what makes Hardywood such a fantastic brewery, and it’s time for Roanoke to get their own taste!” says Aden Short, Vice President of P. A. Short Distributing Co.

“We are thrilled to represent the Hardywood brand in our area. The Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and their people are the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit that is thriving in the Virginia craft brewing community. I’m sure the local retailers and consumers will find a place on their shelves and in their refrigerators for these outstanding awarding winning brews” says Scott Heinz, CEO of Virginia Eagle Distributing.

Beginning the week of July 21, 2014, Hardywood will begin rolling out into the new territories with the

breweries’ full portfolio, including Singel, Capital Trail Pale Ale, Cream Ale, Hoplar, Saison Rustica, and Virginia Blackberry.

About Hardywood

Founded in 2011 by two lifelong friends with a passion for craft beer, Hardywood Park is proud to be a

member of the thriving craft beer scene in Richmond, VA. Being environmentally and socially responsible is a core value for Hardywood Park, with all power sourced from renewable energy sources. Hardywood also employs high efficiency equipment which helps minimize water usage at the brewery, recycles its residual grain for composting and feed, uses 100% recycled packaging, uses reclaimed and sustainably “TreeCycled” wood for furniture, fixtures, tap handles and coasters. After two full years in business, Hardywood’s beers have earned a 2012 World Beer Cup medal, three Virginia Beer Cup medals, a 2013 Style Weekly Best in Show accolade, a 2013 Virginia Living Magazine Best of Virginia award, a perfect 100 score by Beer Advocate Magazine, and seven of its beers currently rank in the top 50 in the world for their respective style based on BeerAdvocate.com user reviews. The company was awarded the 2013 Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce Business Council Business of the Year Award for the City of Richmond. Hardywood currently distributes in central and northern Virginia, and Washington DC. To learn more about Hardywood Park, please visit us on the web at www.hardywood.com.


Hops 101

•July 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I thought it was about time the blog needed a refresher post on at least one of the basic components of beer, and what better one to focus on than hops.  Here’s a basic look at what hops do and a fairly simple shot at explaining how they do it.  Thanks to Will Landry for helping out!

HopsTo this day, I still get a little kick over an acquaintance’s certainty that there were absolutely no hops present in their can of Miller Lite.  While it’s true that hops may not make much of an overall impact on a can of Miller Lite, versus, let’s say, what they provide a can of Heady Topper, most of us know that regardless of the myths that still surround them, they are indeed present in just about any modern day style of beer you find.  Certainly, most of us also know that they can provide so much more than just a balancing bitterness, and when used various ways, in different amounts, together or separate with other hop varieties, and so on, hops present countless possibilities of aroma and flavor.  We know it so well that even though every brewery on the block has an IPA or two, we’re still curious.  We still seek out hop forward beers as if they’re the long lost idol behind the trap door, and we’re Dr. Jones, but instead of defiantly proclaiming that the treasure belongs in the museum, we defiantly proclaim (at least to ourselves) that the IPA we’ve tracked down belongs in the beer fridge.  Yes, I’d venture to say that when it comes to our overall, collective beer conscience, hops are still the most cherished topic concerning what’s actually in the beer we drink for these reasons, taking only a back seat to the endless capabilities of yeast.  Whether it’s a fascination with the some hop variety so new it’s known only by a number, or which one is the latest and most accurate at mimicking some tropical fruit, or even a classic variety which we still can’t get enough of, I propose that hops are still the world’s undefeated champion of holding our unwavering attention.

But how do they get into our beer loving souls the way they do?

To better understand just what’s going on when hops are added during the boiling portion of beer when it’s being brewed, let’s think about a grapefruit – and why not?  The aroma and taste of the grapefruit (or other pithy fruit, like an orange) are often said to resemble the same in a hop forward beer.  Of course, by no means do these similarities cover the whole field.  Hops provide a wide array of tropical fruit like characteristics, as well ones often referred to as pine-like, “dank”, and on down the line.  But for our breakdown, a grapefruit works well.  Think about both the wonderfully tropical, somewhat sweet aroma and taste of a fresh grapefruit.  Think about the taste of the white pith of the fruit as well, that is, the parts in between the sections of the fruit, and along the inside of the rind.  Those pithy sections of a grapefruit are traditionally quite bitter.  It might be a worn out comparison, but as we all know, hop forward beers often showcase not only the tropical fruit like characteristics of hops, but also their bittering capabilities as well, from mildly to extremely so.

So what in hops give them their characteristic grapefruit like (and other) qualities, and allows them to add bitterness as well?  Here’s where this post could very quickly and easily begin to hinge on multi-syllable, vowel-laden words that only someone in a white lab coat might begin to appreciate.  While that kind of reading is, to tell the truth, informative and interesting as well, here, we’re shooting for a basic working knowledge.  Keeping things somewhat simple, the spotlight will be on two components, the alpha acids and essential oils, both of which are found in the yellow dust known as lupulin, or perhaps more commonly and generally as the “resin”, (of which there are actually more than one type) found at the base of the petals within each hop cone.

In a nutshell, those alpha acids are what brings the bitterness to beer – and essentially, represent the pith of our grapefruit – but only after those acids are exposed to heat and go through a chemical conversion called “isomerization”.  To better understand this, I reached out to an actual, real life brewer.  Chaos Mountain’s Will Landry was willing to help shed a little light on the role of alpha acids and essential oils in the brewing of beer.  Landry:  “Alpha acids go through ‘isomerization’ in the boil, which [is a chemical process] that takes that hop resin and turns it into the hop bitterness we know and love in our IPAs”.  But a fair amount of time within the boil is needed for this process to occur, generally 45 to 60 minutes or so.

This is particularly important to know because the portion of the resins primarily responsible both for adding the non-bitter flavors to the beer as well as the contributing to the beer’s aroma, the essential oils, are basically lost over that same period of time that is needed to impart bitterness to the beer.  In other words, over a 45 to 60 minute boiling time, most of what gives us the flavors and aromas, or our grapefruit “flesh” characteristics of our beer, basically evaporate and are lost.  Brewers such as Landry simply get around this by adding hops closer to the end of the boil.  Typically, when hops are added somewhere around the 20 to 30 minute mark, a trade-off between adding bitterness and flavor is achieved.  Landry continues, “somewhere in between a 60 minute addition and [the end of the boil] lies a window for ‘flavor’ additions. For me it’s about 10-15 minutes left in the boil. This window is where you start to get some conversion [of the alpha acids] but still some oils remain and the result is a ‘balance’ perceived as flavor.”  For retaining the kinds of aromas we all love in hop forward beers, brewers add hops within the final few minutes of the boil, or even afterwards, which is called dry hopping.

All this information is better illustrated by taking a look at Landry’s current recipe for Chaos Mountain’s Mad Hopper IPA, which also includes the names of the individual hops (Chinook, Centennial, CTZ, Summit):

Mad Hopper IPAAt 60 minutes, Landry uses Chinook hops for bittering, which are also a hop with a fairly high alpha acid content.  With an eye towards adding flavor, hops are then added towards the middle of the boil, when “we use a 15 minute addition of Centennial hops, and a 10 minute addition of CTZ.”  “These are both high alpha we could use to bitter at 60 minutes, but I prefer the flavors I get with both at this addition.”     If you’ve had Mad Hopper, you may notice an earthiness, or even an herbal note within the beer, with a slight citrusy tone in the background.  Centennial, one of the most treasured and common hops in hop forward beers, is often described as having citrus like (grapefruit perhaps) or floral attributes, while CTZ, though often used as a bittering hop, can also impart an herbal or earthy flavor.  

Finally, Landry adds hops near the end of the boiling process for aroma, choosing more “CTZ hops, followed by an addition of Summit, right as we turn off the heat and stop the boil.  Once fermentation is complete we dry-hop with a blend of three more hops.”  Summit is often said to give beers an orange, tangerine, or grapefruit like aromas, which you may notice in the aroma of Mad Hopper.

Of course, a recipe such as this is merely one example of how hops are utilized within every beer.  An entirely different conversation would revolve around how each type of hop is chosen, in this and every other beer, as well as when they’re used in the recipe, based on their individual characteristics.  An in depth conversation about hops might go into the various kinds of alpha acids present in hops and how they differ, or in the essential oils, which possibly number into the few hundred within hops.  When brewers purchase hops, they consider their statistics, such as their alpha acid percentage. In terms of how they are used in making beer, you can even start a discussion about the natural pros and cons of using whole cone hops (of which the largely unused portions of the plant can serve as a natural screen to pass beer through, for adding additional aroma or flavor) versus the much more concentrated, dried hop pellets you’ve probably seen before.  The role of hops even extends beyond bittering, or even flavor or aroma, to things such as their natural ability as a preservative to helping retain a foamy head.

With all their potential flavor and aroma capabilities, and how those abilities are dependent upon when they’re used in the brewing process, it’s easy to see why brewers are often referred to as half artists (and half scientists).  But it’s also no wonder why we continue to be so intensely curious about the next beer that pushes what hops can do front and center.



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