During a wine run this weekend, our timelines got messed faster than a perm on a muggy day. With a standing invitation to join some friends at one winery, and the need to pick up a wine shipment at another vineyard about 15 miles apart, we decided to forego a tasting at the pick-up and head straight to meet our friends. Our destination was a winery called Quattro Goomba’s which we’d never heard of before – not surprising given most of our wine comes from the Delaplane and Purcellville areas. Imagine my genuine surprise, however, to see a handwritten sign in the muddy parking lot proclaiming, “QGB Brewery 12-6.” If you’ve not heard of this brewery yet, join the crowd as we’d stumbled onto their second preview day!
We Went There: Quattro Goomba’s Brewery, Aldie, VA – @QuattroGoombas
Owner: Jay DeCianno
Brewmaster: Brandon Flanigin
First Opened: Currently doing previews; Grand Opening April 3, 2015
Atmosphere: Overall, both sides of Quattro Goomba’s – the winery and the brewery – are meant to evince a sort of open air warehouse. Bare walls send echoes rocketing throughout, and on the first warm day in what seems like months a frisky crowd doesn’t mind that it’s standing room only. Due to license issues, the winery and brewery products had to be strictly separated which led to some amusing exchanges between the staff and customers.
Wait, so why the half-finished barn decor? Apparently the tasting room was built out of the remains of an old barn, and they simply ran out of the reclaimed wood about halfway up the walls. Personally, I dig it.
Brewer’s Direction: After not finding an entry for Quattro Goomba’s in Untappd, I went about adding it in myself (later on I found a list under the erroneous “Quattro Goomba”), but realized I couldn’t shoehorn the first beer into the app’s one-size-fits-all style listing. After showing the dilemma to one of the bartenders, they rushed off to bring over Brandon Flanigin, the brewmeister. After the awkward chuckle at how similar our names are, we got down to business.
Having been a home brewer for about six years, QGB is Brandon’s first foray into production brewing. With a 1.5 barrel capacity, their initial run is comprised largely of quick hitters to keep the tasting room sudsy; distribution will follow but growlers will have to suffice for now. Their first preview on February 28th featured four beers (honey wheat, English pale ale, rye IPA, and a milk stout), and they hope to role out one new style a week for crowd testing leading up to the grand opening. The new entry on the day we visited was a black IPA.
With 8 total styles in the works as well as a huge branding push, my reading of QGB’s strategy is one of simplicity: “Hey, check this out!” I’ll save the detailed business strategy for some reference links below, but I’d wager that Brandon and QGB owner Jay DeCianno are well aware that they’re first to market in their region – to find another microbrewery, you’re headed at least 20 miles in just about every direction whether that’s Warrenton, Leesburg, Manassas, or Purcellville. Being partnered with what is clearly a winery that draws inquiring customers, QGB should be an easy sell. But how about the beer itself?
Beer #1: Cake Eater Honey Wheat
Tasting Notes: This beer led to lots of confusion. Was it a Hefe? Kolsch? Pilsner? Wit? Pale Wheat Ale? The answer was a resounding, “well no, but…” At 18 IBUs, we’re talking a European-style Wheat, but the hops are all American. After talking it over with Brandon, I settled on Pale Wheat Ale (think Lagunita’s) as far as Untappd is concerned, but this is really a Hybrid Wheat that’s crisp yet sweet instead of tart.
Early Score: 6.3
Tasting Notes: Another foray into the, “what’s in my mouth?” game. Brandon dismissed the tasting notes which had “English Pale Ale (ESB)” written down. I agree, as this is in no way an ESB. But the description of an EPA is about right, as American hops and English malts are meant to be the stars. I could pick out some of the caramel notes, but at this point the conversation turned back to Beer Science. Some sauced visitor had complained that this beer had skunked, but that was not the case. What did surprise me was that they were hitting Full Gravity in only about 4 days, and going grain-to-tap in a total of about 10 days. I’ll touch on this again in a bit.
Early Score: 6.2
Beer #3: Rye Not? Imperial IPA
Tasting Notes: The heaviest hitter on the menu both in terms of ABV and flavor. The floral notes were spot on, all but beating those 93 IBUs into submission. During our discussion another guest asked the brewer if they planned on attending any festivals; while the business response of “not great for the margins” was enlightening, an early release beer this good should be in every tasting glass from here to Richmond this Spring festival season. Well done.
Beer #4: Dark Vader Cascadian Ale/Black IPA
Tasting Notes: A trending style, but to me this is a hard beer to pull off. Big hops and big malts don’t seem to be the best bedfellows.
Early Score: 5.5
Early Score: 6.0
Overall Impression: Some growing pains ahead, but that’s to be expected. One thing QGB might consider is aging the beers a bit to allow the flavor profiles to develop and mature. 10 days grain-to-tap is perfect if you’re going fresh-hopped or into the Imperial realms to which the Rye Not? is the perfect example. For more subtle flavors – and especially as you go down in IBUs – another couple of days/weeks can make a world of difference. What vexed me on most of the beers is that I could taste the ingredients just fine but what seemed to be missing was the taste of beer.
That observation isn’t a reflection on QGB, really, but more so on the craft beer industry. Whether IPAs and high gravity really taste better is an opinion; the lamentable fact is that those beers taste better quicker than other styles. So if you’re limited in production capacity, the only wise business move is to churn out batches as quickly as possible so you can scrub everything down and start again. Great for hop heads, not so great for experimenting or branching out.
Brandon has some good ideas for QGB, but to me what he needs is time and a few extra kegs. To really experiment on some small or nano batches, a few more variables need to get mixed into the equation than just ingredients, equipment, and schedule deadlines. Beer is a science, but it’s also equal parts art and a labor of love. But heck, as long as that Imperial Rye IPA is in there, they’ve got one convert.
On a final note, props to anyone else who chuckled at the Mighty Ducks reference.