Fresh off a good showing from Virginia breweries large and small – to include the independent brewers at Gordon Biersch and Sweetwater Tavern in NoVA! – at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival, let’s think a little bit differently on the state of craft beer in the Commonwealth. Sure, as we pointed out back in March, some places have fallen on hard times, but we’re happy to see turn key facilities reopened by a Tucked Away, or an Ornery find a new home. With so much change, could you really say you’d heard of all the Virginia breweries which brought home hardware…or all the different beers?
(we’ll wait until you put your hand down)
Here are five beers we think you need to try, like right now. They’re from new places, or familiar faces with something uncommon that’s nonetheless a joy to drink and a delight to find off the beaten path.
Angry, Angry Alice – Rocket Frog Brewing Company (Sterling, VA)
We were lucky enough to make it out to Rocket Frog the day they opened (Insta or it didn’t happen, amiright?) Since we like to be trend setters, wasn’t it great that in our first visit we were already talking up Wallops Island, their Brown Ale that just took home Bronze at GABF? #humblebrag Rocket Frog joins a prestigious club including the likes of Mad Fox, Three Notch’d, Fair Winds, and Pale Fire that all brought home the goods from GABF shortly after opening…and as with Fair Winds, Rocket Frog did it within 6 months!! So now you know about Wallops Island, and let us tell you once again about Angry, Angry Alice. That was our Day 1 Favorite, going home in a growler, and it’s hitting tap lists all over NoVA since it debuted. The clarity is insane for a Double Dry Hopped (DDH) DIPA, and it was equally crisp and tropical. There may not be another beer like it in NoVA.
Maoritanga – Commonwealth Brewing Company (Chesapeake, VA)
Bottle shops love to post the equivalent of “beer porn” with their “fresh drops.” To be honest, places like Commonwealth, Ardent, Adroit Theory, and a few other kings and queens of the limited release do engender enough of a fervent “blink and you’ll miss it” following. Recently, this included Maoritanga, a juicy Double IPA with a fairly new breed of hops called Waimea. These are a varietal from New Zealand that were released back in 2012 and are so rare it basically takes a special order from the West Coast to get any. With an alpha acid level right in between, say, Cascade and Citra, Waimea imparts both pine and an assertive, juicy citrus that’s more tangerine than orange. We had a few sips of Maoritanga then ordered us a pound of Waimea for our own homebrewing purposes. Unreal stuff. Cans hit shelves the first week in August, and we’ve also seen it on tap lists as far north as ChurchKey in Washington, DC.
SuperNerd – Brothers Brewing Company (Harrisonburg, VA)
An imperial version of fan favorite PilsNerd, this hazy little 7.1% beauty drinks as much like an India Pale Lager as a Pilsner. The added hop bite does wonders to bridge styles. More so in 2018 than in previous years, we’re starting to see “imperial/double” versions of lots of different Old World styles. An Imperial Witbier was certainly a new one to us, but we’ve seen Imperial Pilsners out of Blue Mountain and the style translates well into being supercharged. Released for the first time in June, SuperNerd is still available at the Brothers’ taproom in Harrisonburg though other keg availability near RVA and NoVA appears to be petering out.
Black Forest – AleWerks Brewing Company (Williamsburg, VA)
AleWerks first released Black Forest, an Imperial Chocolate Stout aged in whiskey barrels with cherries, just over a year ago. This is a gang that is no stranger to big seasonals and limited runs, and whereas in the past we waited on drops of Bitter Valentine, Secret Admirer, or BBP, let’s just add Black Forest to that mix right now. The chocolate was more truffled than purely sweet, and the cherries made any bite from the barrel more pleasant than cloying. Bottles are on shelves right now, with an occasional keg floating around.
Rhinaldo – Lost Rhino Brewing Company (Sterling, VA)
We’ll close with another alternative from a GABF-winning brewery. Lost Rhino may have more accolades than any other VA locale that you haven’t heard of. Their Dry Irish Stout, Shooter McNunn’s, just won Lost Rhino their second Gold medal, and third overall (RhinO’fest took Gold in 2013, and Face Plant IPA Silver in 2016). We happen to know that they were pouring their new Brut (aka Bière de Champagne), Rhinaldo, at GABF this year. When we tasted it last month, we found it dry but with some intriguing white grape sweetness. Brut-style IPAs are becoming a thing as 2018 progresses, sort of like sours, NE IPAs, DDHs, and so on in previous years. Pat yourself on the back if you had some this past week, because this one may be gone soon!