Quick Giveaway rules – Reston Limo Beer bus tour

The kind folks at Reston Limo have generously given us a coupon for two seats on any Reston Limo brewery tour and we’re going to give them away the weekend of May16th in celebration of American Craft Beer Week!  We took the DC Brew Bus tour a few months ago and had a great time, we’re hoping to start exploring the Loudoun tours soon as well.  These tours are the best way to experience the DC-area breweries and I highly recommend them to safety and comfortably enjoy all the Nova/DC area has to offer in the world of brewing.

Reston Limousine offers DC area brewery tours with a different route every weekend:

The gift certificate is good for 2 seats on any of the tours, transportation only.  The full promotional value is $78 bucks, so this is really a nice prize for one lucky winner.  Note that tasting fees and meals are included and are your own responsibility.  The coupon is good until December 31st, 2015 – so you’ve got plenty of time to pick which tour you’d like to take.

So, here’s the rules – we’re picking one winner at random to win, starting today the 16th and running through midnight on the 18th, anyone who retweets this tweet below is automatically entered and we will select one winner at random from all the retweets.

Note: Since this is a DC area thing, we reserve the right to disqualify any randomly selected winner if they are not in the DC area or do not respond to messages from us to clarify their ability to take the tour, in this case, we will randomly select a runner-up winner.

So, retweet early and retweet often and we wish everyone luck.  Go American Craft Beer Week!

DC Beer Bus Tour

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Gretchen hates this picture

Let’s be honest, there is nothing more annoying than someone who is a lot drunker than you having a lot more fun than you.  The combination of a lack of self-awareness and a preponderance of volume and energy can be miserable in a confined space…like say a medium sized bus.  Thankfully, Reston Limousine attempts to set the stage early in their introductory email:

“Our tour is not a rolling booze cruise…”

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Yes, I actually wore this

This combined with some peculiarities in DC beer law results in a Brewery tour that is less oriented on getting sloshed and more on experiencing the actual breweries you’re visiting. I detailed what I see as the amazing value of these types of tours in a previous blog post, and now after completing the tour I can document the journey.

Full blogger disclosure: Reston Limo contacted me directly and asked if I’d be interested in taking a free tour.  I had actually checked out their tours previously but I hadn’t explored the option yet.  I gladly accepted their offer for two free seats on the bus and we quickly paid for three more spots to expand our party to five.  The more the merrier!

We ventured out early Saturday to meet the rest of the DC Beer Bus tour at the designated East Falls Church metro station.  My wife Gretchen, Scott from Hopping Scotts, his brother, wife and myself showed up just on time in spite of my best efforts to make us late.  I marched onto the large white bus sporting my empty growler only to discover that this was a winery tour bus also run by Reston Limo picking up at the same location (if you’re into winery tours, here’s a link).  Shortly thereafter the “Beer Bus” arrived, piloted by the ever smiling Dave Lamb who welcomed us aboard.  The bus filled in with a few other parties and finally we were joined by Therese, Reston Limo’s Marketing Manager and our brewery guide for the day.  Therese showed up with a box of Girl Scout cookies for one of the patrons having a birthday, which was a really nice touch.

Plaque on Bluejacket building

Plaque outside the Bluejacket building

After a quick roll-call, Therese announced that there would be a few bloggers on the tour today (one of them was me) and passed out press release forms for everyone to sign.  Typically the tour picks up in two different locations, but today we had no one waiting at the second stop in Pentagon City, so we drove into DC early and spent about 30 minutes wandering around the neighborhood surrounding Bluejacket until they opened for business.

Bluejacket and The Arsenal

bluejacket1While wandering about the neighborhood, Scott spied Greg Engert, the Beer Director for NRG, grabbing a quick smoke and we immediately wondered if he would be our brewery guide for this leg of the tour.  Sure enough, when we finally assembled in the restaurant, the beer savant himself lead us around.

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Greg Engert, Beer Director Bluejacket/NRG

This is my third adventure with Mr. Engert, having previously taken two other beer classes with him (one detailed here), so I knew we were in store for a DEEP dive into the brewery and brewing philosophy of Bluejacket.  Decked out in his standard issue uniform of skinny black tie and equally skinny black jeans, he launched into some initial groundwork about the history of Blue Jacket and the building that became its home.

Quick fact: the brewery is named Bluejacket as an homage to the building’s US Navy manufacturing roots, the actual restaurant that shares it’s space is called The Arsenal.  While obviously not investment-free, the brewery is actually rent-free, as the Arsenal makes enough revenue to cover the rent for both spaces.

I’ve visited a number of breweries, and while the variety of beer on offer may be widely divergent, the same basic setup is common among most wholesale production operations.  Bluejacket doesn’t fit that mold at all, standing as a true brewer’s playground that was designed from birth to allow for diversity and quality over quantity, resulting in 20 rotating tap lines of fermented goodness.  While they intend to grow to be a production brewery and not just a “brewpub”, it’s obvious with the sizing of their fermenters that the barrels per year is not a target they care very much about leveraging a return on investment.

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Just some of the serving and fermentation tanks

Greg mentioned that they intend to ramp up production and distribute locally to their own restaurants as well as “people who treat the beer right”.  Dirty lines, compressed air delivery, improper serving temperatures?  You need not apply.  Truth is that Bluejacket will likely be able to be picky with who gets their beer, and it’s also very likely they’ll be able to charge whatever they want for it without impacting demand very much in this market.

Situated on three floors throughout the building, the entire operation is plumbed for ease of movement by gravity where possible (full plans are somehow available online here).  A first floor mill feeds the hot-side 15-bbl direct-fired brewhouse from Premiere Stainless on the third floor.  The brewhouse is fitted with a grist case, separate mash and lauter tuns with grant and blendable hot and cold liquor tanks.  The brewhouse feeds directly to the second floor below, hosting a bank of single-batch fermenters and a couple of double-batch sized tanks to service their most popular recipes.  A dedicated sour hose waits to pump lacto infected beers in and out of the horizontal open-fermenter as needed.  A lab equipped with expected items, like a microscope for yeast cell counting and a variety of hydrometers is rounded out by a medical-class autoclave, incubator, dissolved oxygen meters and a full laminar flow hood.  If you’re not catching on yet, this is beer nerd utopia.

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Complicated distribution system on the far wall

Fermentation flows down to the first floor where the brite tanks and keg washing/filling station allow for easy carbonation and packaging.  Kegs simply roll right from filling into an advanced serving cooler providing proper cold storage temperatures for stock kegs, as well as three distinct serving temps all set higher than the ambient storage temperature and delivered via a novel heat exchanging system.

20140317-152230.jpgThe icing on the cake is the dedicated sour room, filled with deliberately infected barrels of a variety of heritages and a full 15 barrel stainless steel koelschip with open air venting and unsealed Virginia white cedar situated directly above the cooling wort to encourage local microbial growth.  I think this will probably prove to be the true distinguishing feature of Bluejacket in the years to come, as people can only chase the hop race for so long before a new flavor profile becomes popular.  While hops will still probably remain king, I think there’s a lot of room in the craft palate for sour and brett to join the party.  (Well, maybe not brett, but one can hope.)

20140317-152214.jpgA tiny detail, but one of interest to most homebrewers that argue about the finer points of brewing and fermenting vessels, while the ends of all of Bluejackets transfer pipes are standard stainless tri-clamps, lots of the in-betweens are made of regular old copper pipe.  It’s a quaint reminder that humans brewed for centuries before stainless was ever commercially available.

After completing our lengthy tour, we were lead down to The Arsenal where we could trade our drink ticket for the sampler of our choice.  As the tour was fully off schedule, we took a quick poll of the tour members and decided to extend our stay to grab a quick bite to eat.  Our group broke off and ordered pork rinds, pretzels, frankenbutter bleu cheese fries and crab deviled eggs to munch on.  As with most NRG restaurants, the food is mostly novel, mostly good and mostly overpriced – but that has become the standard around DC in recent years.

For beer, I sampled their Arsonist Smoked Oud Brun ale, a collaboration with De Struise Brouwers.  The beer was very tasty with noted tart and smoke tones, but would be a challenging beer for some in a full glass.  For my second, I ordered a full glass of their Forbidden Planet, a mildly sweet, unfiltered Galaxy dry-hopped kolsch..  Finally one of our party graciously allowed me to sample the Black Eye, a described “robust porter” that was very smooth at 7.4% ABV.

We were joined at our table by Laura from Best Thing on the Menu, who I was introduced to as one of the guys from “DC Beer” (which I am not).  I clarified that I run a tiny homebrew blog and twitter (the one you’re on now) and we proceeded to grill her on DC eats and her background over beers and food.

After finishing and paying, it was on to the next stop in our journey.

DC Brau

20140317-152237.jpgThe route from Bluejacket to DC Brau took us through sections of the city I’ve probably never touched before, a circuitous journey through economically depressed and industrial sections of DC that just don’t get many visits from tourists.  Here we begin to see the disparity between what is essentially a vanity brewpub backed by millions and millions of dollars of established DC area money and the realities of a scrappy regional wholesale production brewery.

This is not a stones throw away from Nationals Park in a gentrified and polished strip of development, DC Brau sits behind a run-down strip mall, surrounded by razor wire and decay.  Save the giant shiny new grain silo, there are almost no indication that a brewery exists here, but step inside and you see the prototypical production brewery layout.  Set in a large and somewhat dingy warehouse stand rows of fermenters, a mid-sized micro brewhouse and a canning line ready to crank out pallets and pallets of The Corruption and other local brews.

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We got MERCH!

Step past the imposing gentleman checking ID’s at the door and you’re handed four drink tickets and find yourself in a room full of an odd assortment of merchandise.  Everything from custom belts to a variety of hats and bike racing shirts emblazoned with the DC Brau logo awaits your purchase.  We were late to catch a tour which didn’t bother me much, when you’ve seen one package brewery – generally you’ve seen them all.

Stepping through the merchandise room, we were met by the delicious aromas of Granville Moore’s fries and mussels radiating from the corner of the brewery.  A small tap line hosted the beers of the day, unfortunately all standard offerings available most everywhere in the area.  I can’t resist fries, so we grabbed two orders and started chowing down whilst sampling beers.

I mentioned the peculiarities of DC beer laws earlier.  Under DC law, production breweries are not legally permitted to serve more than 12 ounces of beer to the public.  This means most places will simply cap you at four 3 ounce samples for simplicity and pints are not an option at all under current law.  Without loading up on beers at Bluejacket, you’re probably not going to finish this tour by getting tanked (which is a good thing in my opinion).  Another oddity is the fact that DC views growlers legally as “open containers” so they seal every growler around the neck immediately after filling with shrink-wrap plastic.  It’s illegal to consume from them on-site and if you get pulled over with a broken seal when the growler is in your car, you’re probably going to jail.

dcbrau1I sampled the drafts on tap, and while I did notice a improvement in The Corruption over the last time I tried it, nothing specifically excited me.  On the Wings of Armageddon, perhaps their best received beer, was available only in cans to carry out.  “The Tradition” a new beer brewed in partnership with the DC United was decent and the “Model Citizen” was a pleasant surprise, but nothing else struck my fancy.

Herein lies one of the major problems of creating a wholesale package brewery, there is just no real incentive to push limits and innovate.  In fact, it’s easy to argue that there are large market forces that demand you make the most palatable, most widely acceptable beer you possibly can.  This isn’t a fault, it’s just a fact of the industry.  Not everyone can be like a Dogfish, with the gravitas to brew a beer with exotic ingredients or esoteric flavor profiles and rest on the comfort of knowing the public will gladly buy it all up regardless of how good it might taste (or not in some cases).  This fact can lead to some very “safe” beers, good beers in many examples, but ultimately very safe beers.  To be fair, I would express identical criticism of Port City just over the river as well as many other regional breweries.  I might be wrong, but it’s my opinion that if a person doesn’t care much about buying local or doesn’t identify with the “DC Brau” branding, there is just no specific reason to pick up a sixpack of their beer over any other brewery in the market.

 3 Stars Brewing

After rousing up our party, we piloted through other indistinct portions of DC to arrive at 3 Stars Brewing Company.  In a slightly more industrial area than DC Brau, 3 Stars is the upstart, improbable brewery: assembled from very modest second hand brewing equipment, laid out in a former auto body shop with perhaps the world’s most modest homebrew store attached to the side.  What 3 Stars lacks in polish and presentation, they certainly make up for in “attitude”, thankfully the beer is solid.

The brewery tour at 3 Stars comes with a warning, if you aren’t fond of expletives, don’t take it.  If they were walking caricatures, Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey would be a pair of giant beards spilling “fucks” like loose change, but boiled down to their core roles: Mike is the brewer, Dave is the hustle.

Mike on the left, Dave on the right

Mike McGarvey (the brewer) on the left, Dave Coleman (the hustle) on the right

The tour they give is less centered on brewing and more on the scrappy backstory of dogged persistence that fought to bring the brewery to life.  Visiting bars to sample homebrew and get feedback, gathering letters of intent in hopes of luring investment, putting homes and cars on the line to make a dream into reality.  It is inspirational and authentic for sure, but the “F-you we don’t need you” attitude sprinkled here and there might be grating to some.  I’m not going to suggest they’re a pair of misunderstood teddy bears, but it might be easy to miss the obvious passion lying under the thick layer of rebellious indignation that influences their approach to the market.

The brewery and brand was built with shoe leather, sweat and many personal risks, resulting in a perfect story to bookend the three stops on the tour.  If there were an exact opposite to Bluejacket, it is 3 Stars.  Bluejacket’s brand new multi-thousand dollar brewhouse contrasted against 3 Stars cobbled-together used equipment.  Bluejacket’s bourgeois neighborhood contrasted against this out of the way industrial park.  The polish, presentation and wealth that permeates the Arsenal compared to the thrift, the grime and the gruff that is 3 Stars.

Lucky for all of us, in addition to having a good story to tell, they make good beer.  Damn tasty beer indeed, tested over many iterations in a homebrew basement just like the rest of us enthusiasts out there.  Everything I sampled on draft was something I would gladly order at a bar and could easily earn the right to be a regular pint if it were available around me (it isn’t yet, so check the chart below on where to find it).  20140317-152308.jpg

Conclusion

After filling two growlers at 3 Stars with Two to the Dome (double IPA) and the Phoenix (Rye Saison), we boarded the bus for a relaxing and leisurely ride home under driver Dave’s skillful care.  Home by late afternoon, you can easily still get errands done, or continue the theme and crack open a growler in the safety of your own home.

Reston Limo has a great operation and has built good a good report with each brewery on the tour, but it’s the small details like bottled water on board and a cooler with ice in the back for growlers and six packs picked up along the way that really make it worth your time.  Everyone on the bus obviously had a lot of fun and we were taken places fully inaccessible by Metro safely and securely, so I fully recommend the DC Beer Bus as probably the best way to experience the DC brewery scene.  (Don’t forget, be a solid bro and tip your driver.)

Why bother with driving and parking when you can pay someone a modest fee to do everything for you?  To me, it’s a no-brainer and I’m keeping their Loudoun tour in mind for a future date.

Thanks to all of the breweries for hosting us and a special thanks to Therese for getting me on the tour.

Also, check out The Fashionable Foodie’s take on the tour here.

AND – check out Laura’s post on Thrillist!

Reston Limo’s Beer Bus tours

With so many emerging breweries and bars, there are a lot of ways to take in the beer scene in and around DC, so when I heard about the Beer Bus tours from Reston Limousine, it seemed like a total no-brainer.

Let’s be honest here, driving from place to place while trying to sample as much beer as you can just isn’t a good idea.  The old standard about how you can have two beers every two hours and be safely under the legal limit was conceived when most beers were in the 4-5% ABV range.  With 6-9% ABV beers now becoming standard, it’s probably safe to say that those metrics need to be revisited.  The ABV creep is something we probably need to start looking at as a community, and I dare say that there are now tons of people out there that regularly drive on the road having no idea how close they are to crossing over that dangerous 0.08% blood alcohol level.  Also, let’s not forget, in a lot of states you can still be charged or stopped from driving at any point above 0.05% at the discretion of the arresting officer.

Nothing will be a bigger bummer than having two beers and getting arrested for a DUI, it can and does happen.

If the NTSB gets it’s way and the national standards are lowered from 0.08% to 0.05%, drinking one single beer could literally put you over the limit depending on the ABV, time and your body weight.

Here’s an alternative and easy way to still have your fun: get on a bus with a bunch of like-minded folks and get carted around from brewery to brewery SAFELY without having to worry about how much you’re drinking.  You can drink as much as you like (within common decency folks), try as many things as you can and let someone worry about your safety on the road.  Not only does it just make logical sense, at a price of about $39 per passenger – it’s just a DAMN good deal to boot.

Reston Limo is currently offering three distinct tours, each covering three regional breweries.  The Loudoun County tour hits Lost Rhino, Adroit Theory or Old Ox depending on the tour and Beltway Brewing Company.  The NoVA tour visits Mad Fox, Port City and Forge Brew Works.  Finally, the DC beer bus runs from Blue Jacket, to DC Brau and finishes off at 3 Stars Brewing Company.

We’ve visited Mad Fox and Port City many times, so the most interesting tour right off the bat was the DC beer bus.  I booked four seats for today – Saturday the 15th, inviting Scott and his wife from Hopping Scotts as well as my wife Gretchen.  Time to stretch out that beer gut, dust off the camera and go explore some DC breweries.

Follow us along on twitter to see how our day goes and I’ll write a follow up post with all the details.

Turkey Day Belgian Beer Tasting

Since the keggerator is woefully empty, I decided to do something fun and do a commercial beer tasting with Thanksgiving this year.  We are expecting somewhere on the order of 14 people at my mother’s house just around the way this year, but only three beer drinkers among them.  I popped over to our local Total Wine and decided to put together a small beer flight to pair with the usual thanksgiving courses.

To make things more fun, I decided to restrict myself to all Belgian beers.  With such a wide variety of styles and flavors,I hope this flight will take us on a journey from bite to bite and complement each step along the way.

First Course – Steenbrugge Wit-Blanche

In our family, tradition has us typically hovering over the snack tables, munching as the bird finishes.  Cheese is usually a featured item, generally with a creamy brie, a stinky bleu and a sharp cheddar at the very least.  Surrounding the cheese plate, we usually have chips and dip, hummus, veggies and cheese curls (yeah, we’re not fancy).  I figured a light Wit would be a perfect starter, and selected the Wit-Blanche brewed under the Steenbrugge label of the Palm brewery group.

Draft magazine describes it as:

A fine white head dissipates after pouring this hazy yellow wit. White pepper and sharp wheat scents spice up an understated, delicate orange-peel aroma. Soft on the tongue with effervescent carbonation that neatly dries out the mouth, this beer touches down with subtle malts before a wheat twang strums the sides of the tongue. White pepper springs up in the middle, while orange peel swells in the back. Incredibly clean in the finish, this beer is simply how a wit should drink.

 

Second Course – Poperings Hommel Ale

“Second Course” is kind of a misnomer, since we’re really only having three courses: appetizers, dinner and dessert.  I wanted to feature five selections, so this one shoehorns between appetizer and dinner courses as an extended first course.

Poperings Hommel from the Van Eecke brewery is described by Gobalbeer.com as the true Belgian hop ale, noting that Belgian-style IPAs are generally brewed for export and marketed towards the US.  Poperings Hommel is actually the flagship beer of the Van Eecke brewery and is made with local hops (called “hommel” in the local dialect) of the Brewer’s Gold and Hallertau varietals.

Transitioning from the delicate witbier, we head into what might be the only true Belgian IPA and get to awake the palete with bitter hop flavors and aromatics in advance of the heavier dinner course.

Third Course – Saison DuPont

Unlike many beer styles out there, Saison has one true example, a single commercial lineage that is the sole definition of the style dating back to it’s birth in 1844.  Often overlooked due to it’s status as a premiere Belgian beer, the saison from Brasserie DuPont consistently ranks as one of the top 25 beers in the world, and rightfully so.

Served along side a large pile of turkey, stuffing, gravy and potatoes, this beer is the perfect complement for those mild and mid-toned flavors.

Draft Magazine describes it as:

Farmhouse ales generally aren’t very common, but if there are any at your corner store, this is the one you are likely to find. This beer is the most well-known saison in the United States, and for good reason: It has the classic cloudy appearance of an unfiltered farmhouse ale and the citrusy notes saison lovers have come to expect. The aroma is lemony and backed up by the malt. Peppery notes come through in the taste that pair wwll with the citrus and malt tones. This beer has to be one of the most refreshing brews you can buy; plus it’s very drinkable, making it a great substitute for standard lawnmower beers.

 

Fourth Course – Van Honsebrouck Baccus

Sour ales are certainly not for everyone, but I picked up this Flemish Oud Bruin ale from Von Honsebrouck in a 12.7 ounce bottle thinking it might be an interesting pairing against a slice of pumpkin or chocolate pecan pie.

Split over three drinkers, we will have the equivalent of a shot of espresso along side our dessert.  For those that are unaccustomed to a sour beer, this amount with either be tolerable or will leave the drinker wanting more.

A more mild example of the Flemish style aged in used wine barrels, I expect this to stand up well against the rich backdrop of a chocolate or pumpkin pie, while accenting and counter-punching with light tart against the sweetness of dessert.

Fifth Course – Kasteel Winter

After the food is consumed, the leftovers put away and the kitchen cleaned, the board games come out.  While some people prefer a cup of coffee alongside a hearty game of apples to apples or telestrations, sometimes you want a big beer to finish the night.

This Belgian strong ale from Kasteel clocks in at 11% ABV with a rich brown color and overtones of both coffee and caramel.  Mild bitterness, warm flavors and spicy overtones make this a great beer to enjoy before retiring into the frigid night.

Also, if one were so inclined to raid the dessert station a second time, this beer would also complement the rich and sweet flavors of most fall desserts quite well.

 

So that’s what we’re drinking today, giving thanks for the amazing selection of both domestic and foreign beers available to us.  Whether it’s the rare Italian esoteric beers, the upstart Japanese microbrews or the nano starting up right around the corner from you, with the amazing variety of product available there is truly no better time to be a beer drinker than right now.

What are you drinking today?

Quick volume report

I’m getting really bad about keeping good stats of what we’re brewing and when.  I’ve intended to write several posts when I’ve gotten distracted by things like “actually living life”. 

So, as I sit here and stare at a garbage disposal on my kitchen floor and wonder where my pipe wrench might possibly be, I figured this might be a good time to write a very quick update.

We’ve now kicked our third corny of the year.  The Allagretch Allagash clone was completely destroyed by my wife, meaning I probably need to brew a double batch next time so we have two cornies on hand.  Release the Blacken took a while to kick since it’s such a big tasting beer, but that finally blew out this week.  Finally, our second batch of Grouchen (that I didn’t even get to blog yet) kicked early this week.

That means we’ve blown through 15 gallons of beer this year out of our federal maximum allowance of 200 gallons.  (Technically we haven’t bottled anything this year outside of individual competition entries, so this should be easy to continue tracking).

We’ve got 5 gallons of an experimental blueberry ale in a corny carbing up and another 5 gallons of a Mosaic SMaSH ready to go into a keg soon.  I’d like to start brewing up some summer and wheat beers, try to make some kind of sessionable ale for a change, and brew a few more collaborations with local folks. 

We’re also talking about trying to put on a real Octoberfest party this year, in which case I might aim to have as much as 6 full cornys ready to go.  I’m not a huge fan of German beers in general, so this will probably end up being more of an Octoberfest in spirit rather then in actual “Octoberfest” beers.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  I still need to write up a post about Adroit Theory, but for now I better go find that pipe wrench.