For all of the fresh faces and new beers at the 2014 Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, it was a familiar crew that took the stage for the best-of-show awards yesterday in Nellysford.
Devils Backbone Brewing Co. not only achieved a three-peat for the best-of-show gold medal with its Turbo Cougar Blonde Bock, but the host brewery swept the category by winning the silver and bronze as well.
“It’s stunning,” said Devils Backbone founder Steve Crandall. “I was really hoping that we wouldn’t. When they called us up for the bronze, I thought, ‘Well, that’s cool.’ And then they called us up for the silver, I thought, ‘No way would we get the gold, too.’
“The brewers that we have are amazing,” Crandall added. Devils Backbone has 14 brewers, he said, 12 at the Outpost production facility near Lexington and two at the Basecamp brewpub in Nellysford.
Eight Richmond area breweries also won medals, including three awarded to newbie Triple Crossing Brewing Co. One of those was a bronze in the imperial IPA category for Street Cred, brewed in collaboration with Brandon Tolbert of The Answer Brewpub.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Scott Jones, co-founder of Triple Crossing along with Adam Worcester and Jeremy Wirtes. “It was something we didn’t expect. We knew Jeremy was brewing some great beers.”
“It’s great to have validation outside of our local community, which has been so supportive,” Wirtes said.
Medals also went to Legend, Hardywood, Strangeways, Extra Billy’s, Ardent, Center of the Universe and Midnight breweries in the RVA area.
The competition was considerably stiffer this year, the third for the festival, which is sponsored by the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild and the signature event of Virginia Craft Beer Month. Over the course of two weekends, judges evaluated 221 entries in 21 categories. That’s up from 131 beers in 14 categories in 2013.
Medals are only one measure of quality. Judges are bound by strict stylistic guidelines, and many brewers these days take pride in pushing the envelope with creative ingredients. Beers such as the Lickinghole Creek’s Rosemary Saison and Adroit Theory’s Fear is Your Only God — another saison but an imperial version brewed with Mosaic hops, French yeast and aged in Sauternes barrels — created considerable buzz in yesterday’s crowd.
About 2,500 people attended this year’s event, which showcased beers from 52 Virginia breweries (up from 31 in 2013). Though the weather didn’t match last year’s sparkling conditions, rains abated after showers in the morning and held off until after the awards ceremony. The No BS! Brass Band closed the festival with snappy tunes that kept attendees dancing despite the soggy conditions.
The happy feet reflected a buoyant sense of good times in a burgeoning industry. Virginia has seen 75 percent growth in the number of breweries since a signature law, Senate Bill 604, was passed in 2012 allowing breweries to sell pints and growlers on site.
One of the new faces was Old Bust Head Brewing Co. from Vint Hill in Fauquier County. The brewery, which won two medals in the judging, began brewing on a 30-barrel system in its production facility early this year but just opened its tasting room last weekend.
“After four years of planning, it’s nice to be in the game, said Ike Broaddus, one of three partners at Old Bust Head. “The industry is still new in Virginia. Everybody knows they’re part of something.”
“Everybody’s welcoming us with open arms,” said Jaimis Huff, sales and marketing manager for Old Bust Head.
The brewery’s logo features a goat, which Broaddus explained. “We wanted to reflect Fauquier County’s agricultural nature,” he said. “We have goats on our farm. They’re the most playful, loyal, sturdy and honest animals. We thought they were the perfect image to portray what we want to be.”
Adventure Brewing Co., another first-timer at the festival, developed its name with a little less certainty. John Viarella, one of three homebrewers who started the brewery on a three-barrel system just outside Fredericksburg, said the founders sat around a table ready to brainstorm names. The first suggestion, “Adventure,” got thumbs up all around.
Viarella voiced a common sentiment among brewers new to the gathering. “It is the craziest thing to be here … next to people who are legends in the industry. It’s a huge jazz for me,” he said.
Even veterans have a sparkle in their eye about the blossoming scene. Kristi Mathews Griner, director of brewing operations for Capitol City Brewing Co., which has been around since 1992, said, “It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful to see.”
Capitol City, known for its medal-winning Capitol Kolsch, now has two sites — the original location at 11th and H streets in downtown D.C. and a production facility in Shirlington — and Griner said they’re brewing as much beer as ever.
“It’s awesome to see the craft beer industry grow,” said Leon Harris, a Cap City brewer.
The festival reflected growth in nearly every part of the state. Young Veterans Brewing Co. of Virginia Beach established a distinctive presence by serving beers from a military-issue Army “wall” tent with an American flag. The brewery opened Sept. 7, 2013, and has created an identity with offerings such as Semper FI.P.A. (brewed with Citra hops), Pineapple Grenade (a hefeweizen) and Beach Stormer (a black rye IPA).
Thomas Wilder, owner-president who served in Iraq, said he was glad to join ranks with the other state breweries. “This is pretty awesome. We take pride in being from Virginia. I think this is actually cooler than the Great American Beer Festival, to be part of this community,” he said.
Joe Hallock, owner of Chaos Mountain Brewing Co. near Roanoke, echoed those thoughts. “It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest,” he said. “This is some pretty good company — there are some pretty incredible beers being brewed in Virginia.”
With such conspicuous growth in the sector, what’s the next step for the industry in Virginia? Crandall talked about developing more agricultural resources such as hops and barley, not only to foster local enterprises but also to keep brewers supplied with high-quality staples of the trade. The state’s craft beers constitute only 2 percent of all the beers consumed in Virginia, as opposed to about 8 percent nationally, so there’s plenty of room for growth, he said.
And judging from the number of new brewers that took the stage to have medals draped over their necks, there will definitely be a growing market for high-quality ingredients in the Old Dominion.
“It’s great to see these new breweries coming in and taking gold medals,” said Aaron Reilly, an assistant brewer at Devils Backbone Basecamp. “The people in Virginia want quality products and they want local products, and we’re happy to be part of the team of breweries in the state to supply that. It’s just a great time to be a beer drinker in Virginia.”
Here are the full results of the judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup:
Best of Show — Gold: Devils Backbone Outpost, Turbo Cougar; silver: Devil’s Backbone Basecamp, Smokehaus Lager; bronze: Devil’s Backbone Basecamp, Berliner Metro Weiss.
American and German Lager — Gold: Devils Backbone Outpost, Turbo Cougar; silver: Blue Mountain Brewery, Living Helles; bronze: Devils Backbone Outpost, Schwartz Bier.
Pilsner — Gold: Lost Rhino Brewing Company, Rhino Chaser Pilsner; silver: Legend Brewing Company, Pilsner; bronze: Mad Fox Brewing Company, Praha Pils.
Vienna and Oktoberfest — Gold: Devils Backbone Outpost, Vienna Lager; silver: Sunken City Brewing Company, Sunktoberfest; bronze: Lost Rhino Brewing Company – RhinoFest.
Kolsch and Blonde Ale — Gold: Champion Brewing Company, Killer Kolsch; silver: Parkway Brewing Company, Bridge Builder Blonde; bronze: Capitol City Brewing Company, Capitol Kolsch.
Light and Amber Hybrid Beer — Gold: Bull and Bones Brewhaus, Appalachian Alt; silver: Sunken City Brewing Company, Steemboat Beer; bronze: Champion Brewing Company, Stickin’ in my Rye.
English, Scottish and Irish Ale — Gold: Apocalypse Ale Works, Heavy Red Horseman; silver: Midnight Brewery, Rockville Red; bronze: Old Bust Head Brewing Company, Bust Head English Pale Ale.
American Pale Ale — Gold: Beach Brewing Company, Ghost Ship; silver: Triple Crossing Brewing, Easy Now; bronze: Center of the Universe Brewing Company, Ray Ray’s Pale Ale.
American Amber and Brown Ale — Gold: O’Connor Brewing Company, Red Nun Red Ale; silver: South Street Brewery, Browntown; bronze: Wolf Hills Brewing Company, Creeper Trail Amber Ale.
Porter — Gold: Parkway Brewing Company, Raven’s Roost Baltic Porter; silver: Old Ox Brewery, Black Ox; bronze: Port City Brewing Company, Porter.
Stout — Gold: Apocalypse Ale Works, 6th Seal; silver: Chaos Mountain Brewing, Coco Borealis; bronze: Three Notch’d Brewing Company, Oats McGoats Oatmeal Stout.
India Pale Ale — Gold: Starr Hill, King of Hop; silver: Port City Brewing Company, Monumental IPA; bronze: Sunken City Brewing Company, Red Clay IPA.
Imperial IPA — Gold: Three Brothers Brewing, Admiral; silver: AleWerks Brewing Company, Bitter Valentine; bronze: Triple Crossing Brewing, Street Cred.
German Weizen — Gold: Lost Rhino Brewing Company, Final Glide Hefeweizen; silver: Extra Billy’s, My Only Weiss; bronze: Smartmouth Brewing Company, Sommer Fling.
Strong Ale — Gold: Wild Wolf Brewing Company, Wolfinstein; silver: Triple Crossing Brewing, Yoke of Oxen; bronze: Old Bust Head Brewing Company, Gold Cup Russian Imperial Stout.
Belgian and French Ale — Gold: Old Ox Brewery, Saison d’Ox; silver: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Singel; bronze: Bull and Bones Brewhaus, Sun Lit Wit.
Belgian Strong Ale — Gold: Chaos Mountain Brewing, Agents of Chaos; silver: Apocalypse Ale Works, Lustful Maiden; bronze: Blue Mountain Brewery, Marsedon.
Sour Ale — Gold: Devil’s Backbone Basecamp, Berliner Metro Weiss; silver: Champion Brewing Company, Tart Berliner Weiss; bronze: Strangeways Brewing Company, Uberlin Berliner Weiss.
Fruit Beer — Gold: Wolf Hills Brewing Company, Watermelon Wheat; silver: Devils Backbone Outpost, Pear Lager; bronze: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Virginia Blackberry.
Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer — Gold: Blue Mountain Barrel House, Spooky; silver: Ardent Craft Ales, Honey Ginger; bronze: Wild Wolf Brewing Company, Ginger Lager.
Smoke-Flavored/Wood-Aged Beer — Gold: Devil’s Backbone Basecamp, Smokehaus Lager; Silver: Starr Hill, Bourbon Barrel Bandstand Barleywine; bronze: Blue Mountain Barrel House, Dark Hollow.
Specialty Beer — Gold: AleWerks Brewing Company, Lover’s Greed; silver: Starr Hill, Whiter Shade of Pale Ale; bronze, Devils Backbone Outpost, East/West India Pale Lager.