Beer and cheese and more!

Join Jay and me on the RVA Beer Show (97.3 WRIR-FM) as we talk with Maggie Bradshaw of Truckle Cheesemongers about pairing beer and cheese. Let her tell you which of her favorites is like “a party in your mouth.”


Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Oktoberfest! Prost!

Why is a celebration that starts in September called Oktoberfest? And what’s the difference between a Märzen and a Festbier? Join Jay Burnham and Lee Graves on this week’s RVA Beer Show, WRIR 97.3 FM for a lively conversation about the world’s biggest party and one of beer culture’s most interesting styles.

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Greg Koch, Stone co-founder, is on the RVA Beer Show

Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone and one of craft beer’s most energetic and colorful figures (read “rock star”), and Jeff Martin, director of Stone’s brewing operations for the East Coast, join Jay Burnham and me for the latest RVA Beer Show on WRIR FM 97.3. If you missed the show, here’s a link to the broadcast. And don’t forget about the Stone Throw Down on Brown’s Island tomorrow (Saturday, September 9)


Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Small brewers continue to have big impact

If you ever thought small brewers were small potatoes, the folks at the Brewers Association would like a few words with you. Or a few beers.

Described as constituting the “long end of the tail” of craft brewing, the small and independent brewers in the country have been the pioneers of a

Thousands of craft brewers and beer lovers are in Washington, D.C., this week for the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference. Photo by Lee Graves

movement that has spread from the neighborhood taproom to more than 50 countries.

“[That’s] illustrating how local the craft brewing movement has become,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association. The non-profit trade group based in Colorado represents the nation’s small and independent brewers, thousands of whom are in Washington, D.C., this week for the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference.

“Small and independent does matter–it matters big-time,” added Rob Tod, chairman of the association’s board of directors and founder of Allagash Brewing Company in Maine. He noted that craft brewers are producing nearly 25 million barrels of beer annually. And while the industry’s rate of growth had declined steadily over recent years–growth was 6 percent by volume in 2016–the number of microbreweries in the country grew by 21 percent, boosting the total number of breweries in the country to 5,301.

Tod praised early craft brewers such as Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, Jim Koch of Boston Beer and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing Company for their early efforts. “[They] stuck their neck out in a world of commoditized and industrialized beer.”

“We need to remind ourselves that before those pioneers got their start, there really weren’t too many communities in this entire country where someone was commercially making beer,” he said. “Fast forward to today. Instead of making that 25 million barrels in two or three facilities, we’re making it in thousands of facilities.” After illustrating how things have changed by taking a sip from a bottle of Optimal Wit brewed at nearby Port City in Alexandria, Tod added, “It’s no wonder the U.S. is the creative epicenter of beer today.”

Small brewers are hiring workers, spurring urban renewal, contributing to local causes and creating gathering places. “People are spending time together in our breweries,” he said.

Pease also stressed the importance of craft brewers adhering to their defining values–“independence, authenticity, a collaborative spirit and community-mindedness.”

A slightly different set of values–persistence, flexibility and not fearing failure–came into focus during the keynote address. Alison Levine, adventurer extraordinaire and author of the New York Times bestseller “On the Edge,” sprinkled nuggets of hard-earned insight in a lively recounting of her two attempts to climb Mount Everest.

The first came as leader of the American Women’s Everest Expedition in 2002. After preparing and hiking for two months to reach the tip of the 29,000-foot peak, a storm forced the team to turn back when only a few hundred yards from its goal.

“Backing up is not the same as backing down,” she stressed. “If the conditions aren’t right, you turn around, cut your losses and walk away.”

In a second solo eight years later after the death of a friend, Meg Berté Owen, she reached the summit. She had hiked without the team, but the effort required the concerted efforts of sponsors, friends and more. “Nobody gets to the top of the mountain by themselves,” she said.

The conference had its official kickoff reception Monday night with area brewers pouring beers at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. At the latter, crowds of brewers and beer lovers drank craft brews from plastic cups while gazing at the Hope Diamond or chatting in the shadow of a giant elephant frozen in mid-charge.

The conference continues through the week with seminars, roundtables, tap takeovers and a trade show.

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Richmond breweries linked on a trail of beers

Need help keeping up with Richmond’s burgeoning beer scene? Then tune into the RVA Beer Show today at noon on WRIR 97.3 FM and join hosts Jay Burnham and Lee Graves as they talk with Jennifer Hendren, vice president of marketing for Richmond Region Tourism, about the new Richmond Beer Trail. She answers questions about where to get maps and how to get swag by exploring the 23 breweries on the trail. Jay and Lee also talk about beer preferences of the Founding Fathers and why porter was such a popular style–then and now.

If you’ve missed previous shows, here are some links:

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Bold words and a bold beer evoke patriot’s spirit

I felt my father’s presence strongly at a beer event earlier this week.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe toasted the release of a collaboration among Stone, Ardent and Hardywood Park craft breweries. McAuliffe had a voice in designing the beer, an imperial stout made with Virginia blackberries and raspberries.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (third from right in gray suit) and Todd Haymore (second from right), Secretary of Commerce and Trade, join representatives from Ardent Craft Ales and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery at Stone brewery in Richmond to celebrate the release of Give Me Stout or Give me Death. Photo by Lee Graves

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (third from right in gray suit) and Todd Haymore (second from right), Secretary of Commerce and Trade, join representatives from Ardent Craft Ales and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery at Stone brewery in Richmond to celebrate the release of Give Me Stout or Give me Death. Photo by Lee Graves

The name of the beer: Give Me Stout or Give Me Death.

The phrase pays homage to perhaps the nation’s greatest ultimatum–“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”–uttered by Patrick Henry in 1775 at St. John ‘s Church in Richmond. The words fanned the flames of revolution and have been iconic in identifying an element of our spirit–remember that Virginia’s motto is “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”

The stout is not the first beer to borrow from that fiery rhetoric. Triple Crossing Brewing Company, which opens its expanded operation in the Fulton area of Richmond this week, produced a robust porter named Liberty or Death based on an English recipe from 1855.

The reason for my late father’s looming presence at Monday’s release in the Stone taproom has to do with Patrick Henry’s broader legacy. My dad spent his retirement years involved in all kinds of projects, from helping to invigorate a local library to transforming a ramshackle, deserted schoolhouse into a profitable restaurant. I believe his proudest and most useful project, however, was serving as president of the non-profit Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation. In that capacity he led an effort to have Red Hill, the final home and burial site of Henry, designated as the national memorial for Henry. It took years of letter writing and lobbying for the act to get through Congress; but dad’s “Give Us a Memorial or Give Us Your Heads” persistence paid off with the official designation in 1986, 250 years after Henry’s birth.

Chase Dipple serves a glass of the collaborative imperial stout at Stone's tasting room. Photo by Lee Graves

Chase Dipple serves a glass of the collaborative imperial stout at Stone’s tasting room. Photo by Lee Graves

What most people don’t realize is that Patrick Henry’s devotion to the cause of liberty goes far beyond those seven words. Henry was Virginia’s first governor, serving five terms and shepherding the state–and the infant nation–through trying times. He also was an adamant advocate of the Bill of Rights during the process of adopting the U.S. Constitution. It’s hard to imagine our country without those protections today.

It also turns out that Henry–along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers–was a beer lover. These men enjoyed beer not only for its convivial aspects but also for its role in commerce and as a beverage of temperance. So McAuliffe was treading on familiar gubernatorial turf in proclaiming beer’s importance, as well as his approval for the brew at hand.

“Best beer ever made!” he said, a glass in one hand and a just-opened bottle in the other. Flanking him were folks from Ardent, Hardywood Park and Stone, as well as Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore.

McAuliffe had requested that the collaboration produce a bold beer, and the stout takes no prisoners with its richly roasted malt presence and 9.5 percent alcohol by volume. The berries are understated and add complexity to the flavor, especially a fruity tartness as the beer warms. Peter Wiens, director of East Coast brewing operations for Stone, told me that Belma hops were chosen because they add a berry quality as well as citrus notes and bitterness to balance the malts. A follow-up version of the collaboration–Give Me IPA or Give Me Death–is scheduled for February.

I think my dad would have liked this beer. He became adventurous in exploring new brews, partly I think to accompany me on my explorations in the beer world. He was that kind of father. I’m not so sure, however, if he would have been excited about the use of Henry’s signature phrase being commandeered for commercial purposes (and this is not to point a finger at those involved in the collaboration, for their intent is honorable). Dad’s bottom line, though, was always to honor the spirit and memory of a great patriot and dedicated steward of the principles he espoused.

“Patrick Henry has been dealt short shift for many generations,” he wrote in a letter that I revisited yesterday. He was irked that a national TV broadcaster had attributed the immortal words to Nathan Hale, not Henry. “Due to the controversial nature of some of his positions in later life, and thanks to some poison penmanship of contemporary politicians, [Henry] has never received the acclaim and honors justly due. … Please give us a break and help do something to commemorate a great patriot.”

Yes, I think dad would have been a huge fan of this and any other well-made beer that would bring Patrick Henry’s spirit to our lips.

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Legend expansion shows knack for location, location, location

When Tom Martin was casting about in 1993 for a place to locate Legend Brewing Company, his eye settled on a spot looking out on weeds, trash, scruffy trees, grimy buildings, grumbling trains and a dump.

But there also was a sparkling river and a dramatic skyline to enjoy from that vantage point in South Richmond.

“Through [everything] that was growing up, there was a very nice view of the city,” Martin told me some years ago. “I thought, ‘This is a nice spot, right here. Right over this end a deck could be built eventually, and we could have a great location.’”

The view of Richmond's skyline drew Legend Brewing Company to locate in Manchester just south of the James River. Photo by Lee Graves

The view of Richmond’s skyline drew Legend Brewing Company to locate in Manchester just south of the James River. Photo by Lee Graves

That eye for location—the Legend deck provides arguably the best view of Richmond that can be savored with a pint of delicious beer—has served the brewery well over the years. Now, another river view will be part of Legend’s identity.

Brewery officials announced Monday their plans for a second location in Old Towne Portsmouth in a historic building looking onto the Elizabeth River.

“There will be no deck, but we will have outdoor seating in the adjoining park area,” Dave Gott, vice president of operations, told me on Tuesday. “We’re excited about the new location.”

Legend plans to open a full-service brewpub in the first floor of the Seaboard Coastline Building, which dates to 1894 and once served as a train station. The spot is on the water near the south landing ferry at 1 High Street.

Gott said the area has always been a strong spot for sales of Legend beer. “It was one of the original places that we delivered beer to,” he said.

When the 120-seat facility opens in late spring or early summer of 2017, patrons can expect stalwarts such as Legend Brown Ale and Hopfest as well as beers brewed on site. Possibilities include an oyster stout similar to the 2014 collaboration with Hampton’s St. George brewery that yielded Teach’s Oyster Stout, named after Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) and brewed as part of the Urban Legend Series.

That and other small-batch offerings will be brewed on a three-barrel system on site (one barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons). Compare that with Legend’s 30-barrel capacity in Richmond, which enables the brewery to produce about 10,000 barrels annually for distribution around the state.

The Monument Companies, a Richmond-based developer, has been key to renovating the historic site. “Having seen firsthand how much Legend helped transform the Manchester neighborhood in Richmond, I’m really excited to see what good things they can bring to downtown Portsmouth,” Tom Dickey, principal of Monument Companies, said in a news release.

Legend’s stature as the oldest operating craft brewery in Virginia will add to the brewing history of that region. In 1982, Chesapeake Bay Brewing Company began building its operation in an industrial park in the Lynnhaven area. It was the first commercial craft brewery in the South and won kudos and medals for its beers.

Much has changed since Legend poured its first batch of Legend Brown Ale at Commercial Taphouse & Grill in 1994. From being the only craft brewery in the city in 2010, Legend now rubs shoulders with a score of breweries in the greater metropolitan area and more than 150 around the state. And it joins several RVA operations that have announced expansions in recent months. Triple Crossing on Foushee Street is building a new facility near Rocketts Landing; Strangeways on Dabney Road plans to open a tasting room and brewery in Fredericksburg; Hardywood Park on Ownby Lane has a major expansion under way in near Goochland County and a smaller venture planned in Charlottesville; and Center of the Universe in Hanover County has targeted a specialty brewery in the town of Ashland.

If the past predicts the future, Portsmouth patrons can look forward to years of river views and Legend brews.


Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Virginia matches high mark for medals at Denver festival

Virginia won 14 medals in competition at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this year, and that put the state in some interesting company.

Ryan Aldridge, vice president of sales for Blue Mountain Brewery, sports the three medals won by the brewery's group. Photo by Lee Graves

Ryan Aldridge, vice president of sales for Blue Mountain Brewery, sports the three medals won by the brewery’s group. Photo by Lee Graves

The Brewers Association, the non-for profit trade group that organizes the festival and represents small and independent brewers, keeps track of statistics such as how

many medals a state won compared with the number of entries by breweries in that state. Yes, it’s higher math, admittedly, but the ratio landed Virginia in third place among all states, behind Wyoming (45 entries and five medals) and Hawaii (28 entries and three medals). Virginia had 200 entries from its 150-plus breweries.

Fourteen medals is the most for Virginia since 2013, when it also won 14, but times have changed. This year’s competition was the stiffest yet, with 7,227 entries from 1,752 breweries, large and small. Judging required the talents of 264 beer experts from a dozen countries and spanned three rounds over four days.

One of the big winners nationally was Uberbrew of Billings, Montana, which carried home two golds, a silver and a bronze—plus it was named Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.

In Virginia, three areas of the state had multiple winners, and a standout was the Brew Ridge Trail in the Charlottesville area. Starr Hill took the stage first to claim a silver medal in the Pro-Am competition. The Crozet brewery partnered with home-brewer Gary Layton to produce Vernal Equinox, an English-style IPA. It was the first of six medals for breweries in the greater Charlottesville region.

The Devils Backbone crew at the Great American Beer Festival includes Dizzle Clark (from left), taproom manager; Wade Hughes, pathfinder; Matt Castoro, senior brewer; and Heidi Crandall, co-founder. Photo  by Lee Graves

The Devils Backbone crew at the Great American Beer Festival includes Dizzle Clark (from left), taproom manager; Wade Hughes, pathfinder; Matt Castro, senior brewer; and Heidi Crandall, co-founder. Photo by Lee Graves

“The Brew Ridge Trail kicked butt,” said Heidi Crandall, co-founder of Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Its Vienna Lager, produced at the brewery’s Outpost facility outside Lexington, won gold in that category; Danzig, from the Basecamp brewpub in Roseland, also won gold in the Baltic-style porter category.

Three medals went to the group of breweries owned by Taylor and Mandi Smack. Blue Mountain Barrel House and Organic Brewery in Arrington took home silver in the Vienna-style lager category with FIVE Ofest. South Street Brewery in Charlottesville took a silver for Twisted Gourd (in the pumpkin spice beer category) and bronze for Slippery When Wit (in the session beer group).

“This is the most medals we’ve ever won,” said Ryan Aldridge, vice president of sales for Blue Mountain Brewery, the group’s mother ship in Afton.

Lincoln Smith (left) and Dominic Finney (center) of Ardent Craft Ales join Charlie Papazian onstage. Photo by Lee Graves

Lincoln Smith (left) and Dominic Finney (center) of Ardent Craft Ales join Charlie Papazian onstage. Photo by Lee Graves

The Richmond area was led by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, which won silver among historical beers for Grosse Teufel. “Grosse Teufel is [a] take on the once nearly extinct Lichtenhainer—an Eastern German ale that strikes an exceptional balance between its smoked barley base and lactic acid tartness,” the brewery’s website says.

Ardent Craft Ales in Scott’s Addition of Richmond won bronze for its Brett Saison—brett refers to brettanomyces, traditionally a wild yeast that gives beer a funky, earthy characteristic.

Winners among Northern Virginia breweries were Ocelot of Sterling, gold for Sunnyside Dweller (in the Kellerbier or Zwickelbier

Patrick Murtaugh (left) and Eric McKay (right) with Charlie Papazian. Photo by Lee Graves

Patrick Murtaugh (left) and Eric McKay (right) with Charlie Papazian. Photo by Lee Graves

category); Ornery of Woodbridge, gold for Light of Cologne (in the German-style kolsch category); Lost Rhino of Ashburn, silver for Face Plant (in the English-style IPA group); Port City of Alexandria, silver for Colossal Five (in the old ale or strong ale category); and Great American Restaurants/Sweetwater Tavern in Centreville, silver for Wit’s End Ale (in the Belgian-style witbier category).

Spencer Devon of Fredericksburg took home a bronze for Sunken Road, a Belgian-style blonde ale in that category.

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

Tasting Denver–a tale of three breweries

As a member of the credentialed media at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival, it is my privilege and duty to report on the proceedings here no matter how fuzzy my brain is from disrupted sleep patterns, road warrior weariness, chronic dehydration, geographical dislocation—oh, and tasting dozens of beers one or two ounces at a time.

Professionalism requires starting early. So I joined two busloads of similarly credentialed media at noon yesterday on a tour of three breweries in Denver—Great Divide, Mockery and Tivoli. We were informed that the selection of these three was intended to show the diversity among Colorado brewers, and that point was made successfully.

Great Divide's Yeti imperial stout is the brewery's signature beer. Photo by Lee Graves

Great Divide’s Yeti imperial stout is the brewery’s signature beer. Photo by Lee Graves

Great Divide is the alpha dog of the three in terms of volume and reach. Ro Guenzel, brewery manager, told me (as we stood in the barrel-aging room at a cool 50 degrees with pours of Great Divide’s pale ale and 22nd Anniversary ale being offered in small plastic cups) that the brewery cranks out approximately 37,000 barrels annually with distribution going to 36 states (one barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons). Great Divide deserves great recognition for balancing consistent quality—particularly with its signature Yeti imperial stout—and innovation (the 22nd Anniversary brew, for example, is a dark American sour ale aged in red wine barrels; we also sampled a barrel-aged version of Hibernation, an English-style old ale). Great Divide is contributing to the renaissance of the River North (aka RiNo) Art District of Denver, with plans for a beer garden and restaurant on a five-acre plot that now is an eyesore jumble of stuff.

Cans, which make up about 20 percent of Great Divides packaging, await delivery. Photo by Lee Graves

Cans, which make up about 20 percent of Great Divide’s packaging, await delivery. Photo by Lee Graves

Mockery is just across the street and a polar opposite. The name comes from the brewery’s intent of making a mockery of the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law passed in 1516 that established the four basic ingredients of beer—barley, hops, water and yeast (not in the initial law but added later).

Mockery's atmosphere is one of fun and creativity. Photo by Lee Graves

Mockery’s atmosphere is one of fun and creativity. Photo by Lee Graves

Zach Rabun, owner and brewer, told us that Mockery is content to be a small, neighborhood destination with the goal of creativity, to the point of not brewing the same beer twice. “For the most part, everything we do is one and done,” Rabun said. “We’re brewing the beers that we want to drink.”

So there’s no flagship, which he acknowledged creates some head-scratching among patrons who have been told by a previous imbiber to try a certain beer that no longer is available. The environment is infectiously fun (check out the tank named “Steamy Ray Vaughn”), and the beers are challenging.

We sampled four brews, including Turn That Brown Upside Down (a sour brown ale made with cherries and cocoa nibs), Shout at the Pineapple IPA (resonating with pineapple, peach and pink peppercorn) and Fresh Hop Brown IPA (balanced and bitter with 87 IBUs). Mockery has been open about two years and uses a 15-barrel system to crank out roughly 1,000 barrels annually.

Tivoli's towering facade indicates its stature as Colorado's oldest brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

Tivoli’s towering facade indicates its stature as Colorado’s oldest brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

The upstart ambience at Mockery contrasted significantly with the relative antiquity of our next stop. Tivoli Brewing Company dates to 1859, making it the oldest site of brewing in Colorado and second only to Yuengling in venerability in the U.S. (Yuengling started as the Eagle Brewery in 1829 in Pottsville, Pa., in case you were wondering, and continues as America’s oldest functioning brewery).

Tivoli also has a Virginia connection, in that the Robert Portner Brewing Company that started in Alexandria in the 1860s and became the largest brewery in the South offered a Tivoli lager it marketed as “I Lov It” spelled backwards (another bit of trivia you couldn’t live without). Corey Marshall, founder and CEO of the revived Tivoli brewery, led us through a maze of equipment that paid homage to the past as well as promise for the future. We sampled the helles-style lager based on the original 1859 recipe.

The recipe for Tivoli dates to 1859. Photo by Lee Graves

The recipe for Tivoli dates to 1859. Photo by Lee Graves

We also saw how new brewing tanks had been squeezed into the tightest of spaces. “You couldn’t put a hair between them,” said one of my credentialed media companions.

Corey Marshall, founder and CEO of Tivoli, explains the history and current operation of the brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

Corey Marshall, founder and CEO of Tivoli, explains the history and current operation of the brewery. Photo by Lee Graves

Part of Tivoli’s future is through education. Located on the Auraria Campus of Metropolitan State University of Denver, the brewery participates in the brewing program of the school’s Department of Hospitality. Students get a taste (sorry, couldn’t resist) of professional brewing through courses in the bachelor of science Brewery Operations Program.

Visiting those three sites consumed the bulk of the afternoon. All counted, we sampled approximately a dozen beers (a few ounces each). Yet to come was the first session of the Great American Beer Festival, where 780 breweries would be offering 3,900 beers.

As a credentialed media personage, duty required that I participate. That yarn is yet to come. Don’t change the dial.

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment

UK beers rock, but IPAs from the USA punch my ticket

I’m feeling guilty.

But not too guilty.

Les Strachan, AKA Beer Buddy, and I have been in Scotland four days. We’ve been conscientious about trying local beers—or at least ales brewed in the home country.

We started with Skye Red from the Isle of Skye Brewing Company.

Les Strachan savors a glass of Skye Red in Arisaig, Scotland. Photo by Lee Graves

Les Strachan savors a glass of Skye Red in Arisaig, Scotland. Photo by Lee Graves

This seemed appropriate since we were nearly on the Isle of Skye. Arisaig, to be exact, which is a lovely little fishing village with a wicked little golf course that beat us up so badly that we did indeed need a beer. Several, in fact, factoring in that we were under the influence of jet lag after flying out of Dulles International Airport the day before.

Skye Red came to us in a bottle while we savored the waning sunlight of a rare blue sky in early September. At 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, it leaned more toward the sessionable side—typical of many British ales—than the beefy profile of some American craft counterparts. The brewery’s website says Skye Red is brewed with three kinds of malts (pale ale, crystal and roasted) milled on site, which is not atypical for many breweries. Challenger, Fuggle and Pioneer hops provide 15 IBUs and a modicum of hop aroma, more earthy than citrus or piney as with American styles. The Red was clean and highly drinkable, but in the end it left us wanting a bit more substance.

That’s when Les and I started realizing we were spoiled by American craft brewing. More specifically, we had become hop heads of the most addicted sort. We should be attending support groups—Hop Heads Anonmyous. Hop-Anon. On the 12-step program, the first step of which is to acknowledge being powerless over the seductive magic of hops.

That explains why I’m feeling guilty at the moment. Here in the Scottish town of Peebles, a few leagues south of Edinburgh, I discovered a pub that carries American craft beers. Not just any craft beers, but West Coast IPAs pumped with mouth-puckering IBUs.

It’s not that brewers in the UK are clueless about IPAs. After all, the Brits originated the style, renowned for its high-gravity, high-hop intensity that made it suitable for sea voyages from Liverpool or Burton to Calcutta or New Delhi. But let’s keep in mind that IPAs had disappeared from the face of the earth until American brewers—Fritz Maytag at Anchor and Bert Grant with Grant Ales—revived them and sent them on the path to becoming the predominant style in the United States.

Brewdog's Punk IPA was a finalist in the IPA category in this year's Scotland beer awards. Photo by Lee Graves

Brewdog’s Punk IPA was a finalist in the IPA category in this year’s Scottish beer awards. Photo by Lee Graves

In fact, British brewers are making some rewarding versions, including the Punk IPA from BrewDog that was my second beer of the trip. At 5.6 percent ABV and 45 IBUs (IBUs stands for International Bitterness Units), this Scottish brew uses six varieties of hops—Chinook, Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin—to create “our tribute to the classic IPAs of yesteryear.” I doubt if Nelson Sauvin, a New Zealand hop, was available when Hodgson and Burton breweries made the style popular in the 1800s, but BrewDog calls it “post modern,” which gives it a Clockwork Orange twist. Punk IPA was among the finalists this year in the first Scottish Beer Awards, as was another IPA I sampled—Pale Keith from Keith Brewery Ltd. I would have given Keith an award for the clever wording in its marketing. Example: “This strong and refreshing hop beer has American hops added at every stage of the brewing process. This makes it anything but bland—a bit like America in fact. But smaller.” It also should be noted that English IPAs are not the same beasts as American IPAs; the stylistic guidelines differ, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program. English versions generally are more moderate with hop profiles emphasizing earthy, grassy and/or floral characteristics.


Anyway, Les and I enjoyed several evenings of sampling cask ales—Caledonia, Belhaven, Strathaven, An Teallach, Glenfinnan and even a pale ale brewed on a nano-system at the Old Inn in Gairloch. All were in the sessionable category, meaning they were relatively low in alcohol to allow the imbiber to have a drinking “session” with minimal hangover and liver damage. Creamy, quaffable, satisfying but not challenging, these beers left us trembling for a hop fix.

Here in Peebles, I did some Googling and discovered that the Cross Keys pub offers Lagunitas IPA from sunny California. Plus the online beer menu sports Resin, a double IPA from Six Point Craft Ales in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Les enjoyed a pint of Strathaven poured by Rab Wallace, owner of The Bankfoot Inn. Photo by Lee Graves

Les enjoyed a pint of Strathaven 80-shilling Scottish ale poured by Rab Wallace, owner of The Bankfoot Inn in Perthshire. Photo by Lee Graves

I boogied through the evening mists to Cross Keys, a bustling bar in the town center, and ordered a bottle of Lagunitas IPA (Point of clarity–Lagunitas is now 50 percent owned by Heinekin, which puts it outside the craft brewery category as defined by the Brewers Association). At 51.5 IBUs and 6.2 ABV, it was a definite step in the right direction for my spoiled taste buds. It was the perfect accompaniment to a conversation that I struck up with a fellow at the next table, a gent who had spent 30 years in London before returning to his beloved Scotland, where he was intent on indulging his passion for fly fishing. Judging from the copper-hued brew in his pint glass, he was drinking one of the “real ales” that dominated the Cross Keys beer menu.

It wasn’t until I ordered Resin that I achieved true beer enlightenment. Named for the resins in the lupulin glands in hop plants that provide the acids and oils that give bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer, this brew rocked the casbah with 103 IBUs. That sounds off the charts—and to some palates, it probably is—but Six Point pushes the grain bill to balance the hop howitzer with malty sweetness. My accompanying meal was a smoked salmon, cream cheese and “rocket” bagel (“rocket” is an leafy vegetable with a slight bitter taste similar to arugula).

Hurl all the “American beer snob” invectives at me that you can muster. I deflect them by saying Les and I have not had a bad beer while in the U.K. Every one has been well made and well served, particularly those from the cask engines that require special attention. The Strathaven 80-shilling Scottish ale we drank at the Bankfoot Inn was particularly delicious. And you’d be hard pressed to find American breweries offering the same variety of milds that are common in many British pubs.

But when it comes to appreciating the skill of American brewers in certain styles—well, color me guilty.

Posted in Beer adventures | Leave a comment