With so many breweries starting to pop up in Virginia, it’s easy to miss a few as they’re still quite scattered throughout the Commonwealth. What makes me embarrassed, though, is basically driving by some of the seemingly out-of-the-way locales on a somewhat regular basis. In this case, I was at the 2017 VA Craft Brewers Festival when I encountered Bald Top out of Madison. I somewhat cheekily asked them “how deep” they were into Madison County, only to have my sun-tinged dome glow a bit more red when they replied they were right off Rt. 29 Business in Madison proper. You see, as a die hard Wahoo I drive within a few blocks of Bald Top every time I head down from NoVA to Charlottesville for a UVa event. I set my blinders on when I hit Madison as it’s one heck of a speed trap on the main Rt. 29 thoroughfare, and so have never noticed the signs for Bald Top right where the road splits off for the Business element. Since one of their beers made our “Best of…” for this year’s VCBF, I made it a point to drop in on my way home one weekend this past fall. They’re not distributing yet, but if you can make it onto their farm and into their cozy taproom, this is one of the reasons why you won’t walk away disappointed.
Fresh-Hopped Mango Habañero Red IPA, Bald Top Brewing Co. (Madison, VA)
Red India Pale Ale, 6.4% ABV
Presentation: Crowler pour into nonic pint glass. Unless you’re part of Bald Top’s club, to-go crowlers are about the only way you’ll be able to get their beers off premises for the time being.
Appearance: Translucent rust with an ocher rim. A thick initial pour with tons of lattice, but no rings as you move down the glass surprisingly. The final pour was full on cloudy toffee like certain candy bars.
Taste: Resiny malts that tend more towards coffee than caramel on the nose. The body has a really rustic character that, honestly, reminded me more of all spice than the fruit and pepper adjuncts. The later pours bring some sediment which does bring out the habañero especially, but it’s more zesty and not really spicy at all. The finish has some sharp, bitter pine oils with an added acidic zing from the peppers. The fruit is the one thing I never could tease out of the beer.
Mouth Feel: It does linger in your gullet like some hot wings might. You can pull the malt from the sides of your tongue, and the oils off the roof of your mouth.
Overall: Red beers can be divisive, but I thought this fit in well with the brisk fall afternoon, especially post-tailgate. I later paired the crowler itself with a vinegary chili blend as the beer in no way overpowers your palate with either heat or the capsaicin from the habañeros. But in reality, why are we talking about this particular beer? For one, it was hopped from flowers grown directly on Bald Top’s farm. That’s great in a vacuum, but it means you won’t be able to find this beer again (at least anytime soon). All of Bald Top’s releases that we’ve tried so far, though, have hit the mark. None have been lower than this score right here, so though they’re currently stuck on a 1 BBL system, Bald Top is a place we’ll be keeping an eye on. In the meantime for all of you, don’t be afraid to actually stop off in Madison!