Virginia Brew Review Hops of Fame, Class of 2018
Dark Hollow, Blue Mountain Barrel House (Arrington, VA)
For most of us, it was our introduction into barrel aged beer. Twenty years ago in Virginia, barrels were made for bourbon and wine only. Enter Blue Mount Barrel House and their flagship Dark Hollow. It is a simple formula: fine stout, fine bourbon barrels, and time. Yet so much can go wrong to dilute the beer’s profile, or the smokiness, or that velvety booziness which defines the barrel-aged style. In a process with a ton of variables and inconsistencies, this beer has stood the test of time and still shines as one of the oldest, consistent beers in the Commonwealth. With seasonal styles and one-offs defining many tap lists these days, this is one beer you can still find year-round.
Siren’s Lure, Fair Winds Brewing Company (Lorton, VA)
We’ve had a few young breweries bring home the GABF Gold here in the Commonwealth, but not many can then lay claim to be one of the 50 fastest growing breweries in America shortly after the fact. On every visit we make to Fair Winds anymore, when somebody new asks for a recommendation, it’s always “Siren’s Lure…err, what types of beer do you usually like?” In a time when everybody is going full Belgian, Fair Winds Americanized the heck out of this hoppy Saison, and they have the accolades and the obscene growth numbers to show for it.
Choosy Mother, Isley Brewing Company (Richmond, VA)
To us, it started as a clever name. But it has become an entity all to its own. At first sip, you aren’t qualifying if it is a great beer, you are trying to come up with a list of better Peanut Butter Porters out there, and the list is short at best. And many aren’t even in a 200-miles radius of the Commonwealth. In a similar stroke of genius, we are seeing the variants Boozy Mother and PB&J Union start to make the rounds as well. Just no chunky Porters, mmk guys? Isley is the champ of Oatmeal Porters, and this is the one at the top of the list.
Brown Ale, Legend Brewing Company (Richmond, VA)
It may look like an 8-bit cartridge of a Super Mario game, because it kinda sorta is almost as old. And if you called it “The Legend of Brown Ale” we’d forgive you. One of the most iconic beers in Central Virginia and the Commonwealth has somehow been left off of this list and we never could put our finger on it. But it was this year in talking to one particular pub owner and distributor on why they always have Brown Ale on tap: it sells. It plays all year and it plays all over the state (even showing up in neighboring states, too!) Legend Brown Ale is one of the undersung heroes of Virginia craft brewing.
Crucial Taunt, Veil Brewing (Richmond, VA)
They may not have started the revolution, but they are certainly carrying the banner for it. We’ve preached that RVA and Scott’s Addition are leading the way in brewing throughout The Commonwealth, and the Veil is still the hottest name out there. And while their every rotating tap selection keeps even the hipsters on their toes, it is Crucial Taunt that gets out in the wild and goes ‘Gotcha!’ You want more of this and you want to find where it originated. From there, complete submission is advisable. These guys wail!!
Virginia Brew Review Hops of Fame, Class of 2017
Larceny, The Answer Brewpub (Richmond, VA)
A long overdue tribute to one of the most unique places in Virginia. While every brewery had their own IPAs, it was as if The Answer was trying to be a clever question to “who makes the best ones in Virginia?” We’ve always been fans of sister establishment Mekong, but Petty Larceny told us the brewing operation was for real. As other variants in the series started clogging up our “Best of…” space, so too did their popularity make them hard-to-find beers who just fly out the door. The 2015 Governor’s Cup for The Answer put all eyes on Richmond, and two years later they’re still driving the RVA IPA revolution.
Danzig, Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Roseland, VA)
It is not uncommon for breweries to have more than one outstanding beer. But it is another when you have a star that shines so bright that you might forget another quality beer. Danzig might be playing the Scottie Pippen to Vienna Lager’s Michael Jordan (and Gold Leaf the Toni Kukoc, Horace Grant, or take your pick for third wheel), but this Baltic Porter deserves a place in the HOF as well. 4 GABF medals in 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2016, with the later a nice shade of gold. We talk about quality and consistency and whatever your thoughts on Devils Backbone at this point, this beer is one that’s still on the rise and an example for everyone in the Commonwealth to follow.
RhinO’fest, Lost Rhino Brewing Company (Ashburn, VA)
We are so spoiled by great Oktoberfest-style beers in the Commonwealth. You’d almost be remiss by forgetting that Lost Rhino not only won gold at the 2013 GABF but then also silver at the 2016 World Beer Cup with RhinO’fest. When we brought it to one of our themed tailgates a few years ago, it scored the best of all Virginia beers with the little crowd who helped us score the bottles we shared. The malts are rich and delicious, reminding you of caramel without being cloyingly sweet. Lost Rhino has a habit of taking up space in our kegerators, and this beer is just one more superb example for why.
Salad Days, Pale Fire Brewing Co. (Harrisonburg, VA)
Sometimes it takes a while to find that one special beer. And sometimes you hit a home run right out of the gate. The latter is how we would describe this beer, as from the first time we had it we were extremely impressed. It’s difficult to judge a Saison or Farmhouse Ales as the styles are more fluid than IPAs. That allows someone like Pale Fire to think outside the box, and they made a very earthy/vegetable farmhouse that broke the mold in what others were doing around the Commonwealth. They have been rewarded with a Bronze Medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival and recently a Bronze at the 2016 World Beer Cup (the latter bit of news arriving just as we sat down to review it!) It now sits here as the first Saison in the HOF.
Virginia Brew Review Hops of Fame, Class of 2016
Raspberry Stout, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond, VA)
A beer that unfortunately got nudged off our 1st ballot, Raspberry Stout was “only” a GABF Gold Medal winner in 2014, but more importantly, a unanimous selection for our Beers of the Year list in 2015. We’ve said it before, but The Commonwealth knows how to do Stouts, and Raspberry Stout is another nationally sought after one from Hardywood. And since they have added this to their Bourbon Barrel line, the demand has peaked for this seasonal brew. Adequately described as a “raspberry that floats on a sea of chocolate,” its domination as the best fruit stout in the state has little objection, and nationally is hard to beat.
Heir Apparent, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland, VA)
If there is one single beer that could claim to have had the best year in 2015, Heir Apparent would be your front runner. While the momentum for this beer had been there for a while, Lickinghole Creek followed up their Silver at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup for Herb, Spice, & Vegetable Beer with a Silver at the Great American Beer Festival for Chili Beer. Both are some of the hottest (pun intended) and trendiest beer categories around right now, and the extensive knowledge of the Lickinghole Creek brewers shows in this beer. What is equally as noteworthy is the ability to take their knowledge of Imperial Stouts (VA Black Bear, Obsession, etc.), build from that base, and then tweak them to make even better beers, as evident to Heir Apparent’s big brother, Supreme Leader, a consistent Top 25 beer in the state of Virginia by Beer Advocate and a crowd favorite every year at the Beer Writers & Bloggers Convention.
Orange Whip IPA, Mad Fox Brewing Company (Falls Church, VA)
Craft beer is not for everyone. Some don’t like the (typically) higher ABV, or the (typically) dominant hop profile, or the dense body. We, on the other hand, were already craft beer fans when Mad Fox came along and blew up our expectations of what the IPA can or should be. Our love affair with the Orange Whip on Twitter is shamefully well known, but there’s something about first loves that always stays with you. Orange Whip is that beer. It introduced us to Citra Hops, showed us how balance in execution can tame the bitterness in IPAs, and now the line to get a keg is measured in luck, not time. While Orange Whip probably doesn’t have the hardware some on this list do, it has been a Top 20 beer in The Commonwealth for a little over 5 years now. But this is one of those times where we don’t need a panel of sippers to tell us what a great pint of beer looks like. If you find a pint, count yourself lucky. And if Mad Fox ever starts making Orange Whip year-round and getting it on shelves and not just in tap lines, consider yourself even luckier.
Jomo, Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, VA)
Whether you want to accept the “alias” Jomo, or its original name MoJo, this beer has the hardware. The Vienna Lager/Light “Amber” Lager has 4 GABF medals, including 2 Golds in 2004 and 2011. Again, this is the consistency you see from Starr Hill. In fact, if it wasn’t for another Starr Hill brew with similar credentials, you might have seen this one last year, but the veterans committee is a stickler for the 1 beer, 1 brewery, 1 year limit. Not a lot of places in the country were doing this style of Lager, and when it was re-branded as “Vienna,” Jomo was already one of the best in the country. This has a year round spot in the Starr Hill rotation, and now it has one on our list.
Hydraulion Red, Three Notch’d Brewing Company (Charlottesville, VA)
As increasingly difficult as it is for a brewery to snag a medal at GABF, imagine it’s your first or second year on the scene. Unless you’re immune to growing pains or just that damn good, you’re going to being measuring, experimenting, tasting, and starting all over again. We’ve been to dozens of breweries after they’ve recently opened, and we almost always reserve judgment for return visits to see how they’ve matured. We did not have to do this for Three Notch’d. They had a star practically out of the gate with Hydraulion Red, and we lost our collective ish when they brought that GABF Bronze Medal home. Then they go and follow it up with a Silver at last year’s Virginia Craft Brewers festival. And all of this, mind you, is for an Irish Style Red, a style you just don’t see in Virginia. Vindication is an amazing thing, as are seeing constant “sorry, we’ll have more soon!” signs on the shelves where sixers of Hydraulion used to be. This beer will be a VA mainstay for years to come, just as it will be in our Hops of Fame.
Virginia Brew Review Hops of Fame, Class of 2015
Double IPAs are hard to make. It take time, money, and talent to create this unique stlye of beer that for decades was a west coast invention. Alewerks took the challenge very early on in their business to set out and not only make the best DIPA in the state, but one of the best beers in Virginia. Hopheads from around the US flock to Williamsburg around Valentines day to savor this beer consistently rated the best in the Commonwealth, with most recent awards from MSN, to Business Insider, to Paste Magazine. It’s seasonal release cause a frenzy every year with local media staked out for that first taste of NW hops. In addition, it really started the craft beer trend in Hampton Roads, which has sprouted nicely over the past 15 years.
There would not have been such a push in the popularity of Virginia Craft Beer over the past decade without Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company. From following up their 2013 GABF Small Brewery of the year award with a 2014 Mid-Sized Brewery of the year award, it is only fitting that Vienna Lager, their main flagship beer, is on this list. From its first medal in 2009, Vienna Lager has been consistently pushing the macros off beer taps for 6 years now. And while it is the gold standard in the US for Vienna Lagers, its versatility cannot be matched by most other Virginia beers. A true inspiration beyond just the pint glass, more and more home brewers are starting to use this beer as a basis of design, and cooks around the state are even using it in their dishes. We can only imagine where DB will be in 5 years, but you can rest assured that Vienna Lager will be leading that charge.
On a freezing early November Saturday, hundreds and hundreds of people drive to downtown Richmond and stand in line for hours (and in some insane cases, days) to be one of the first people to enjoy the almighty GBS. Multiple awards and a perfect score from Beer Advocate lead to the rock show that you see annually in Central Virginia. But it is not just the hoopla – there is a lot of quality that backs this beer up. Every (and we mean EVERY) ingredient is scrutinized and handpicked for this stout, and it shows in every sip. It is the hot ticket item for the holiday season (with special and reserve releases even carrying a “one per customer” restriction), and if you were given a bottle in December, you must have meant a lot to that person for them to give up this treasure
As the craft beer scene in Northern Virginia begins to expand to no end, Port City and their award winning Optimal Wit is at the forefront. Highlighted by a gold at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, it has been a benchmark of Belgian White Ales for several years now. The only beer to receive a perfect score on Virginia Brew Review, its reach has started to expand throughout the state, and around summertime it becomes a hard tap to leave off your draught list (the VBR crew almost always has it one of our kegerators). That’s only the tip of the iceberg for PCBC, a frequent destination and source of suds for the VBR crew, but this beer in many ways brought us into the Virginia beer scene.
What a long, strange trip it’s been. Living most of my college/single life in Charlottesville, I watched the evolution of Starr Hill from a microbrewery/art gallery/upstairs music hall to one of the giants in The Commonwealth. With all The Dead references not lost on us, Dark Starr was more than an inside joke – it’s one of the best craft beers around, period. The most decorated GABF winner still being produced in Virginia, Dark Starr is the definition of consistency. Its storied history resonates on the national level, too, with its domination spanning GABF gold wins in 1999, 2005, and 2009. And to be around as long as this beer has and still be at the top of the heap nationally says a lot about the beer and the brewery.