One of the most exciting weeks of the year if you’re a NOVA resident is DC Beer Week. Over the past few iterations, their scope has expanded to include all manner of events from tap takeovers and food pairings to beer cruises, taste offs, and scavenger hunts (the latter of which we’ll be covering this year!) At VBR, one of our favorite elements has been the ability to interact with a host of brewers in what is at times an intimate setting, as we did with Devils Backbone, Forge, Mad Fox, and others last year. This year DC Beer Week is providing individual breweries the chance to shine with multiple tap takeovers, a national throwdown, and a DC throwdown, but something else caught our attention amidst the cacophony of limited kegs and sudsy crowds. Just today, in fact, we were made aware that a local watering hole we both frequent and love, spacebar, would be featuring “mostly” draughts from Three Notch’d (3N), the most excellent Charlottesville brewery which puts out the GABR Bronze Medal winning Hyrdaulion Red. Apparently, however, this particular tap takeover was not affiliated with DC Beer Week. What the deuce? Our interest piqued, we put the babies to bed, kissed the wives, and trekked on over to spacebar to have a look.
Event: Three Notch’d Tap Takeover, spacebar (Falls Church, VA)
Date: August 11, 2015
Beers Available: 20 (!!)
When I was tagged in a re-post advertising this event, I had to ask if it weren’t a joke. Three Notch’d is one of our favorite dark horse breweries in the Commonwealth, on several occasions having hosted an ad hoc gathering of the entirety of the VBR staff w/family and friends, but an unfortunate side effect of that dark horse status is the near total unavailability of their brews in this region. That has changed with the broadening distribution of the truly righteous Hydraulion Red, but finding more than the flagship beer on draught has come to near unicorn status. Until tonight.
With multiple visits to the Three Notch’d tasting room under our belts, we thought we’d seen most of what they had to offer. I’m happy to report that of the TWENTY beers available at spacebar for this event, Ben and I had a whopping 11 between us to try for the first time. And as one would hope for such a tap takeover, this went far beyond flagships and seasonals down to limited runs and previews. We’ll get into that in a minute, but any beer lover should know that feeling of creeping shivers down your spine when you realize you’re one of the first 5, 10, or 20 people to check in a beer. That means you’ve found something approaching original, and those beers simply demand your attention as you’re recording the flavors, posting pictures, etc. Apart from the true rarity of some of these beers, we were fairly curious as to how this event came about as it’s not listed as part of DC Beer Week 2015. If that was your only source of events, you had your pick of tap takeovers among DB, Atlas, Sam Adams, and others, but it was a few notices on our feeds from spacebar themselves which brought our attention to this particular adventure. As we downed our first flight, we inquired for some event particulars. And then things got awkward.
Busted. After realizing that a substantial portion of the crowd wore a Three Notch’d t-shirt, button-down, or polo, I pulled aside one finely bearded gentleman to ask what the story was. After getting a few notes we shook hands and turned back to the beer, but when snapping a few photos of the crew I realized we were basically looking at each other. That’s when Scott Roth, Co-Founder and President of Three Notch’d (left above), stopped by to chat. It turns out that we’re not alone in hoping that this growing brewery can spread its roots further North – if you’ve noticed at Total Wine, Whole Foods, or at any number of independent retailers, Three Notch’d has made a concerted effort to penetrate NOVA. It’s not a bad strategy given the continuing explosion of craft beer brewers, retailers, and restauranteurs, and that’s where Taylor (right above) comes in. As the NOVA regional manager, Taylor is the guy you’ll find advertising the brewery’s brand for distributors and sellers alike (in whatever fashion they appear).
Where spacebar comes into play, especially during DC Beer Week, is the fun part. Apparently as a result of ongoing conversations between the bar and regional manager, the idea of this takeover was born when the bar approached the brewery. To me, that’s where a love of beer comes into play. While Three Notch’d has a coveted portion (and location) within Charlottesville’s market, they’re a bit of a niche brewery up here in NOVA. You have to be wearing a significant pair of brass hops to dedicate the overwhelming majority of your draught lines to such a nascent brewer when typically your taps are featuring the Stones, Founders, and Bell’s of the world. That tonight’s event evolved so organically speaks to the quality that a brewery like 3N brings to the table.
L-R: Golden Pony, Fan Mountain, Blackwell’s, Hallowed Be Thy Ale
Beers Tried: 12 (11 New)
Beer Types: English Ale (Old, Brown, and Session), American Pale Ale, IPA (American and West Coast), ESB, Radler, Stout (Oatmeal, Imperial, and Irish)
Get Out and Try: Fan Mountain American IPA, Blackwell’s ESB, Hallowed Be Thy Ale, Oats McGoats Oatmeal Stout, Golden Pony Pale Ale
Sure, we took some notes. I could tell you that the Fan Mountain IPA is the best West Coast-style I’ve ever tried because it doesn’t rub your face in some of the earthy/borderline metallic hop profiles indicative of the style (thank you, Citra Hops). Or, maybe if you’re feeling adventurous you’ll seek out the Passionfruit Pale Ale for its balance between pine and sweet flavors. We have our suggestions above, but a highlight for us was the smaller crowd divorced from the greater DC Beer Week events (such as tonight’s Port City beach party), because that was how we noticed the 3N staff, and they us.
When Scott (and later Taylor) came over, our questions focused as much on the event itself as how this particular lineup came before us. It’s not every day that you realize that the Dry Irish Stout you’re sampling has not only been available for only about two weeks, but an observation that it’s a beer focused on execution is fairly well on the mark. This is the batch that 3N will be sending up to GABF this year, and it really is a better version of Guinness. But that had us talking – would it be better on CO2, Nitro, or as a Real (Cask) Ale? Ok, fine, we agree that CO2 is the best presentation, but what of the other draughts available tonight would make the best Real Ale (Bloody Mary) or Nitro (Oats McGoats)? That’s the kind of interaction you simply don’t get at some of the bigger events and festivals, yet at the same time I wished the advertising for this event had been a bit more robust. We knew about it (and inferred the presence of 3N staff) only from the tap list posted by spacebar, when the general quality of the beers/brewery deserved a bit more. It’s a double-edged sword, to be sure, but that’s simply us at VBR wanting due recognition for what we hope will become a stalwart in the Commonwealth.
Of the eleven new beers I sampled, a solid half merited a second look. Apart from the tidbits on the hard-to-find Pineapple Radler, Irish Dry Stout, Imperial Oatmeal Stout, and a few of the other limited batches (including collaborations with Corcoran and Adroit Theory) available tonight, we were given notice on the Oktoberfest that 3N will be debuting later on this month. The aforementioned Hydraulion Red and Bloody Mary Imperial Red gives me significant hope for this beer, because 3N clearly knows what it’s doing with its malts. I’ll cross my fingers that when we run into Scott, 3N, and co. again at the VA Craft Brewers Fest next week that we may get to sample it, but otherwise there’s always the fact that Three Notch’d sits about a 15 minute walk from our UVa tailgates. And if Beer isn’t your thing, we also found out that 3N will be debuting a Braggot, or a mead made with barley malts.
Late notice aside, we do want to thank spacebar once again for going out on a limb to host Three Notch’d for this occasion. Some righteous tater tots (especially the new totchos combos!) and grilled cheese creations are a good setting for such a variety of beer, and we were thrilled that so much of the 3N staff made the trek to (or through) Falls Church for the occasion. Who needs a tap takeover across the river when we have such a spoiled, amazing wealth of breweries here in VA that a great watering hole can pull one off?