by Borderstan.com June 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm 2 Comments

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"Beer"

Weissbier/Hefeweizen ready for Summer. (Rob Fink)

Like the authentic Pilsner before it, Weissbier, or Hefeweizen (the more ubiquitous term, at least in America) practically begs to be consumed during the summer months.  It’s wheat-laced tang and light yet rich fermentation profile has been satiating the thirst of people for centuries.

Broadly speaking, weissbiers are categorized as wheat beers.  Specifically, traditional weissbiers are made with at least 50% malted wheat, but often contain higher percentages.  Such high percentages of wheat often leaves weissbiers cloudy (provided they’re unfiltered) but also makes them thirst-quenching, providing a delicate balance between tangy, full bread-like flavors and the brisk, snappy, almost biscuit-like quality of pils malt, which typically makes up the remainder of the grist. However, the captivating magic of weissbier lies in the particular type of yeast strain utilized for fermentation.  Depending on fermentation temperature, a traditional Bavarian weissbier yeast will produce a complex array of flavors ranging from banana and bubblegum (isoamyl acetate), to clove (4-vinyl guaiacol), and hints of smoke (4-vinyl syringol).  Along with many Belgian beers, the fermentation profile is the signature and dominant flavor of weissbier.

Weissbiers and Food

Weissbier is light and brisk enough to accompany a wide array of dishes, but most importantly, it is insanely refreshing when it’s hot outside.  Broadly speaking, weissbiers amplify the delicate flavors of lighter and less intense dishes.  If you’re having a Cobb salad this summer, look no further than weissbier; its subtle interplay of smoke and brine will grasp the bacon effortlessly. Doughy wheat flavors will meld into the avocado while the beer finishes with a carbonic zing of acidity, deftly handling the salad greens while physically scrubbing the palate.  I just ate dinner, but am now getting hungry.  Alternatively, you could do as the Bavarians do and have a mid-morning snack known as brotzeit (this is better in a group), which typically involves weissbier (of course), pretzels, hefty amounts of delicious stone-ground mustard, and weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian veal and pork sausage.

The Best Weissbier in the World   

Bavaria is most often characterized as lager territory and rightfully so, except that it also produces weissbier, one of the most beguiling of all ale styles.  Although Schneider & Sohn’s weissbier is a close second, Weihenstephaner’s example remains unmatched.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier – Ayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, 5.4% ABV, Freising, Germany

An opaque light golden body supports a frothy white mountain of foam releasing aromatics redolent of clove and sticky banana along with a pleasant whiff of wheat tang.  The fermentation profile on this beer is endlessly complex; each sip is distinguished from the next while the beer retains its definition.  I could drink this beer all day, night or anytime in between; a true desert-island beer for me.

Thankfully, Weihenstephaner hefeweissbier is abundant at your better Borderstan beer outlets.  Given it’s rarely on draft, you’ll have the best chance of scoring this Bavarian gem searching for the handsome 550ml bottle it comes in.  Borderstan mainstays Whole Foods on P St NW and De Vinos Wine Shop on 18th St NW are sure bets, and Weihenstephaner hefeweissbier is always available at the venerable Churchkey on 14th St NW.  Prosit!

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by Borderstan.com May 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm 1 Comment

"Beer"

Homebrewing. (Rob Fink)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

In order to fully comprehend (or at least attempt to) a given style of beer, it’s sometimes beneficial to conceive of it from the inside out. In other words, it’s sometimes best to brew it yourself in order to come to terms with style parameters. In years past, I’ve brewed a fair number of “imperialized” styles, styles which are meant to amplify, accentuate and otherwise strengthen beers of relatively modest strength. When my good friend Brian Stanton approached me to collaborate on a beer in honor of his son’s first birthday, the idea for a Wee Heavy was born.

"Beer"

This is what happens when you almost don’t pay enough attention to the boil. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

However, the birth of the style itself has a more complicated history. What eventually become known as wee heavy (or alternate phrasings such as scotch ale or strong scotch ale) in the United States engendered quite the convoluted history before traversing the Atlantic.

Beginning in the 19th Century, the strength of Scottish ales where referred to by the shilling system. Numerical differences anywhere from 60 to 160 shillings indicated alcoholic strength while anything over 100 shillings could be characterized as wee heavy, with potential alcohol by volumes reaching the double digits. However, “heavy” could also refer to a beer of much more modest strength akin to an English bitter, which would typically not surpass beyond 4%.

As it’s conceived of in the American craft landscape, wee heavy is a strong, malt behemoth, and what Brian and I fervently sought to replicate. We wanted to encapsulate the lush caramel, rich toffee, burnt sugar and hint of chocolate the wee heavy provides in spades. After a two-hour boil wherein two gallons of first runnings were condensed then added it back to the main boil, the beer was chilled, yeast was pitched, and the rest was history, at least for a short while.

It ended up with an original gravity of 1.125 (this is a huge beer regardless of historical period), and nearly a month later, is currently hovering around 13%. Interestingly, my inspiration in terms of recipe formulation is a beer of more modest strength but incalculable grace.

"Beer"

This is what happens when you definitely don’t pay enough attention to the boil.(Brian Hussein Stanton)

Dressed in deep mahogany with a rocky off-white head, Traquir House Ale is undoubtedly my favorite wee heavy and actually Scottish to boot. Densely sweet toffee and caramelized sugar catapults out of the glass while the body remains relatively dry, making the beer not only drinkable but very food appropriate. Even at 7.2%, this beer was practically born for venison stew or a rack of lamb. Regardless of what you serve it with, it is a delicious malt bomb in the best sense of the phrase. Thankfully, this beer is also readily available in the Borderstan area — stores such as Whole Foods on P St and De Vinos on 18th Street NW typically carry it while it never leaves the 500-plus bottle list at Churchkey on 14th Street NW.

Given the rapidly approaching five-month DC heat wave, Traquir House Ale is the perfect match for mint accented crème brûlée or a vivacious fruit tart. I only hope that my wee heavy has mellowed out by then in order to enjoy sweater weather this fall (full report forthcoming!).

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by Borderstan.com May 8, 2013 at 10:30 am 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"Brewing"

Rob Fink, Cap City brewer Matt Ryan, Director of Brewing Operations Kristi Mathews Griner, Washington Post beer patriarch Greg Kitsock. (Matt Hagan)

In my concerted effort to capture the vitality of our local breweries (a few of which are discussed here, here, and here), I would be altogether remiss if I were not to mention the first brewpub ever in the District, Capitol City Brewing Company. With current locations downtown and in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington, Cap City (as it’s affectionately known) is the bona fide progenitor of craft beer in the District.

Last night I had the wonderful pleasure of attending their media dinner, engendered in part by the presence of a new Director of Brewing Operations, Kristi Mathews Griner. While not claiming a systematic overhaul, Griner is revamping their four core selections while helping to introduce a constantly rotating cast of limited releases, focusing on seasonality and more assertive flavor profiles.

Although I seem to naturally gravitate towards more bombastic, alcoholic and intensely flavored beers, the three best were all under 6% ABV. In no particular order, they are as follows:

Capitol Kolsch – 5% ABV

Kolsch as a style is indigenous to the German city of Cologne. Given its fermented cooler than most ales, Capitol Kolsch exhibits lager-like smoothness atop a bed of bready German malts with just enough hop bitterness to provide adequate balance. Often we you hear someone use the term “quaffable,” it’s most often in reference to a group of lighter-bodied beers which facilitate the consumption of multiple pints in a single setting (which may or may not lead to other mischievous deeds). Capitol Kolsch is a good example of that.

Hefeweizen – 5.2% ABV

Although the specific term is largely an Americanization, Hefeweizen, like Kolsch began its life in Germany, specifically in the southern region of Bavaria. Cap City’s hefeweizen is loaded with a substantial amount of malted wheat which lends a soft yet tangy sourdough undertone while a special Bavarian yeast strain produces a complex combination of esters and phenols (phenol 4-vinyl guaiacol has the tendency to be the most prominent one, for all of you organic chemistry aficionados) creating an array of yeast-driven flavors, most notably banana and clove. Oddly enough, I also got a subtle whiff of vanilla which harmonized quite well with the bread pudding (in other words, try this pairing for yourself and don’t ever let anyone tell you hefeweizens are only for breakfast).

Spring IPA – 4.9% ABV

The latest fashion in craft beer is arguably lower ABV, more “sessionable” IPAs with substantial hop character. Cap City’s Spring IPA is not simply a standard IPA lurking behind the veil of lower alcohol; the tropical hop character (thanks mostly to the Citra hop) leaps out of the glass while remaining well integrated with the remainder of the beer. As a self-proclaimed unapologetic hophead, I do say this is my favorite of the bunch, but it’s not because I simply have a penchant for hops – the beer was just well made.

If the other seasonal selections on hand were any indication (double rye IPA, for example), be on the lookout for an increasing number of hop-forward beers at either of their locations (Downtown – 1100 New York Avenue NW; Shirlington – 4001 Campbell Avenue). Big ups to the fine crew at Cap City for hosting a wonderful event – I have a feeling you’ll be hearing from them a bit more in the near future.

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by Borderstan.com April 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"Saison"

Saison Dupont. (Rob Fink)

If one were to observe the ubiquity of saison within the American craft beer landscape, he or she would observe a style whose characteristics are anchored in tradition while defying style categorization.

Originating in the French-speaking southern region of Belgium known as Wallonia, specifically the Hainaut province, Saisons on the whole offer a wide spectrum of flavor possibilities while still remaining identifiably Belgian and identifiably saison.

Literally meaning “season” in French, saisons were traditionally brewed anywhere from late autumn until early spring, and there were several practical reasons for doing so.

Before the advent of refrigeration, you could maintain fermentation temperatures more easily during the late fall and early winter when temperatures were more moderate. Additionally, it gave farmers an opportunity to continue working between harvests and allowed enough time for beer to be brewed to last the entire year.

Although variation is widespread, modern interpretations of the saison style (whether in America, Belgium or elsewhere) have a tendency to showcase extraordinary dryness, ample hop character (by European standards, so not IPA levels) and a Belgian fermentation character redolent of musty earth, phenolic spice and ester-driven fruitiness, resulting in a distinct conglomeration of appetizing flavor.

Best Beer for the Dinner Table

In other words, saisons are arguably the best beer you can have at the dinner table. In terms of food, saisons can handle just about anything. From the most nondescript salad preparation to more involved Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Thai food, saison reigns supreme.

The wide-ranging plethora of spice flavors, not to mention the silkiness of a coconut milk based curry, provide a beguiling number of flavor hooks for saisons to rest on. The next time you order Thai carry-out, opt for a saison instead of wine (in particular, stay clear of red wine); you’ll be glad you did.

As the summer months invariably approach, two saisons (one omniscient and one local) come to mind, either of which would amplify any warm weather gathering (preferably outdoors!) you may be having.

"Saison"

Stateside Saison. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

Saison Dupont – Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium, 6.5% ABV: Saison Dupont is the indisputable standard-bearer of the style. Upon first whiff, your nose is infiltrated with a barrage of herbaceous grass, musky earth, stone fruit and the slightest hint of peppery spiciness. If I were to take five beers away with me to a desert island, this would be one of them. Incredibly food-friendly and ultimately quaffable, Saison Dupont re-establishes the flavor/food paradigm for beer.

Stateside Saison – Stillwater Artisanal Ales, location “unknown,” 6.8% ABV: As a “gypsy” brewer who travels around the world to brew beer with other like-minded brewers yet retains his own brand and is based in Baltimore, Brian Strumke fully embraces the cultural manifestation of defiance. Despite being steeped in the Belgian tradition, Strumke takes a distinctly American perspective in terms of his beer. His beers often exhibit the flavorfully intense bravado associated with American craft beer. Stateside Saison bursts at the seams with notes of peppery spice but with an accompaniment of American hop character, allowing flowery citric notes to permeate the Belgian fermentation character. To be sure, Stateside Saison is a veritable stunner that just screams for a lime-heavy sea bass ceviche.

Thankfully, both of these beers are plentiful in the Borderstan area. Most liquor stores with a decent beer selection will carry Saison Dupont, and Borderstan mainstays such as the P Street Whole Foods and Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor will undoubtedly satiate your thirst for Saison, including a variety of Stillwater beers. If you choose to enjoy an evening on your balcony or porch in the near future, consider one of the above mentioned saisons — you certainly won’t regret it.

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by Borderstan.com April 10, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"Beer"

Smith Commons did a great job hosting a Craft Beer Universe event. (Luis Gomez Photos)

I hope some of you were able to attend at least one beer event during the week of Craft Brewers Conference. Hopefully a few of you got to more than one and, no, I will not disclose the frequency with which I attended these events (insert clever euphemistic phrase to disguise that I can’t drink as much as used to do, etc.).

If I learned anything throughout it all, it was that craft beer and its people lived up to what I conceive of as its reputation: A willingness to betray style classification, a strict focus on artisanship and an overwhelming sense of community and collectivity — all of which were on display Wednesday, March 27, at the venerable Smith Commons on H Street NE.

Upon entry, I whisked myself up a staircase along the left wall to the upstairs bar. After a quick turn right, I’m greeted by a large gorgeous window which occupies the entire second floor façade, allowing wonderful views for several blocks down H Street.

Having heard much fanfare about Smith Commons (I can now say it’s warranted), I was rather excited as it was my first time there. Past the bar to the left was a comfortable patio area fully stocked with a bartender and portable kegerator — if my mind wasn’t at ease before, it certainly was then.

Around 6:15 pm, things weren’t too crowded despite the “gravity” of the event itself. In the house were 3 Stars, Bells Brewing Company, Founders Brewing Company, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Company and Oskar Blues Brewery — just to name a few, easily giving way to inordinate amounts of craft beer depravity. From my unequivocally eidetic memory (yeah, right), these two were the best beers of the night:

  • Great Lakes Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout, 9.5% – I battled heroically against conventional wisdom by selecting this as my first beer of the night. The regular iteration of Blackout Stout is not nearly as laden with roast as other imperial stouts which allowed its particular flavor profile to meld seamlessly with the vanilla, caramel and oaky toast of the bourbon barrel treatment. Generally speaking, Great Lakes beers showcase an intensity of flavor while maintaining harmony and balance, and this beer was certainly no exception.
  • Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale with Coffee, 8.7% – Although I may or may not have written about this beer previously, Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale continues to beguile and to stretch its versatility. Pleasing aromatic waves of fresh coffee leap from the glass, subduing much of the hop aroma which would otherwise be present. This beer has ample dark roasted character to establish the proper foundation for the inclusion of coffee and it didn’t miss a beat, much like its bitter chocolate and orange brethren discussed here.

Big ups to Smith Commons for putting on such a wonderful event and big ups to the Craft Brewers Conference for coming to our fair city this year;  I can only hope we made you proud! Cheers!

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by Borderstan.com March 27, 2013 at 11:00 am 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"beer"

Extreme Beer Fest 2013. (Rob Fink)

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the 10th Annual Extreme Beer Fest this past weekend in Boston. To be sure, Extreme Beer Fest exemplifies why craft beer in America (and the rest of the world, for that matter) is often beguiling and so endlessly fascinating.

Craft beer really began with a stern motivation to loosen the hegemonic control of bland industrialized lager with beers premised on flavor; beers which were complex, sharp revitalizations of by-gone styles made with conviction and personality.

With that being said, craft beer has admirably evolved over the years into a phenomenon concerned with seeking every possible alternative, whether it’s a brewing technique or ingredient, which will amplify, broaden or otherwise complicate the flavor profile of a given beer.

I would argue there are potential drawbacks to this idea, because not every experiment works.

However, when things click, it can be downright transformative. Organized by BeerAdvocate, Extreme Beer Fest seeks to gather those beers which challenge preconceived notions and possibilities for flavor.

Because the festival always brings in breweries which are not available in the DC metro area, I’ve found it a challenge deciding which particular beers are worth of mention, so I will discuss three beers from breweries who maintain plentiful selections in our area.

Firestone Walker Brewing Company

In terms of barrel-aging programs, I think Firestone Walker does it best, and their beers this year further convinced me of that. Rufus blew me away. An Imperial Red Ale infused with Brettanomyces (a type of wild yeast) and aged for five years in an Old Fitzgerald bourbon barrel, Rufus brings wild yeast funk which folds bright cherry into a wall of vanilla, coconut and charred oak.

As much as I think about food and beer pairings, I wouldn’t really know what to do with this one. In the end, I enjoyed this one all by itself in a moment of well-deserved loneliness. Thankfully, we see some of the other Firestone Walker barrel-aged gems in our area. Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor in Dupont Circle often has a stash of one of their anniversary beers, Sucaba, or Parabola, all of which are well worthy of exploration.

Stone Brewing Company 

Stone wears its playful arrogance on its collective sleeve, and deservedly so.  I had the chance to try a special version of their Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale with bitter chocolate and orange peel.  Substantial hop bitterness segued into orange-infused dark chocolate truffle while being pleasingly dry.  This was one of those transformative moments; a mind-boggling combination which proved to be a hit.  Stone has a longstanding history in the D.C. area, and you can get much of their portfolio at your better Borderstan beer stores.  Please be on the look out for their Imperial Russian Stout this summer.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales 

As one of the sponsors of Extreme Beer Fest, Dogfish Head takes it upon themselves to up the ante each and every year, but they’d really only be falling back on their well-deserved reputation. Out of many innovations, their Randall (a filter mechanism between the tap and faucet which can be filled with hops, spices, herbs, etc.) pushed Burton Baton (an oak-aged blend of Old Ale and Imperial IPA) through a bed of cedar surfboard shavings. It’s easy to call this crazy, but it worked and miraculously so.

Uber fresh cedar notes added a lush mouthfeel, seamlessly intertwining with the beer’s oak presence while not at all diminishing the persistence of the hop profile. Now a year round release, Burton Baton (at least the non-cedar version!) can be found at your better Borderstan beer stores.

Cheers!

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by Borderstan.com March 14, 2013 at 9:00 am 0

"beer"

Local aficionados enjoy beer at DC Reynolds on Sunday. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

Craft beer shares a cultural affinity with the slow food movement in that it celebrates beer as artisanal, and most importantly, local. Craft beer in general would not be where it is today without that.

Ultimately, that sentiment goes beyond the cultural realm; craft beer really started in the kitchens and backyards of homebrewers such as Jim Koch of Sam Adams and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada. Regardless of the size of those breweries now, their current tie to the homebrewing world remains inextricable, and is in my opinion part of the reasoning behind their wild success.

Third Annual Homebrew Competiton

"Beer"

Rob Fink takes Best of Show Runner-up for his Belgian IPA. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Yours truly had the opportunity to participate in the third annual homebrew competition at the sponsored by the Neighborhood Farm Initiative, a wonderful, local organization that provides urban gardening education throughout the DC area.

This year, the event was held at the Petworth watering hole DC Reynolds, and I was fortunate enough to snag Best of Show Runner-up for my Belgian IPA. However, the best part of my day was actually talking to fellow homebrewers and others who were genuinely interested in good beer at the most local of levels.

It’s a source of happiness to be surrounded by such wonderful and interesting people because homebrewers are representative of everyone — with doctors, lawyers, retirees, bartenders (and the occasional grad school student) among them. Big ups to my fellow homebrewing comrades and those who just display a genuine interest in good beer, and most importantly, cheers!

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by Borderstan.com March 13, 2013 at 10:00 am 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"beer"

CBC at the Washington Convention Center. (Luis Gomez Photos)

The Craft Brewers Conference (dubbed “CBC” for short) is an annual gathering of breweries, brewpubs, restaurant managers/beer directors/cicerones, as well as those who manufacture brew kettles, draft systems and kegs, amongst other things. Thankfully, CBC is being held in our fair city this year at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center March 26-29.

Although it’s specifically for brewing industry professionals, that doesn’t mean that us regular folks are prohibited from indulging in the vast array of events happening during that week.

Given there are so many events in and throughout the city, some of my must-go-to-or-else-you-should-relinquish-your-human-sanctity type of events are not in Borderstan proper.  In no particular order, here are my top three choices for CBC 2013.

Tuesday, March 26, 5 pm

Where and What: Smoke and BarrelFirestone Walker and Ballast Point featuring Beer Cocktails with BeerAdvocate.

For this event, Firestone Walker is bringing a formidable lineup of barrel-aged rarities (one of which I’ve written about here) such as Parabola (barrel-aged imperial stout), Sucaba (barrel aged barleywine), and Velvet Merkin on nitro (barrel-aged oatmeal stout).  If you’re more hop-inclined, Ballast Point will be slinging their inimitable Sculpin, both on draft and on cask.  This is an event not to be missed.

Thursday, March 28, 4 pm

Where and What: Churchkey: The California Craft Beer Extravaganza.

Quite naturally, Churchkey has some of the best events for all of CBC week and Thursday’s will be particularly burdensome on the palate (in a good way, of course).  Although the specific beer list has yet to be released, I already know I’m going to be here.

The list of breweries currently includes The Lost Abbey, Stone Brewing Company, Green Flash Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and 21st Amendment — that list alone should be sufficient to convince you to make an appearance.

Friday, March 29, 1 pm

Where and What: Meridian Pint: Drink Local! Sponsored by BeerAdvocate.

Although CBC is really about bringing craft brewers from across the country together in one place, I would be remiss to not mention what’s looking to be the best event surrounding local beer. Twenty local breweries from Maryland, the District and Virginia will occupy all tap lines in addition to 20 different gravity-fed casks.

Although the beer list has yet to be released, look for not only Meridian Pint collaborations with some of the breweries, but also for standalone offerings from the likes of DC Brau Brewing Company, Flying Dog Brewery and Port City Brewing, just to name a few.

I want to stress that this is just a minute smidgen of the entire week; comrades in arms and fellow beer lovers at DC Beer have done a wonderful job of cataloguing the wide spectrum CBC events — please check out their webpage here. Cheers!

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by Borderstan.com February 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"Bruery"

The Bruery. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

As members of the DC-area beer community, we should revel in our local breweries and local beers as we rightfully ascend to “great beer town” status.

However, that sentiment should not discourage your exploration of world-class breweries and world-class beers already available in our area. I recently had the privilege of visiting a southern California brewery with prominent stature here in the District — The Bruery in Placentia, Orange County.

Nearly hidden, nestled in the back corner of a non-descript commercial park lies the Bruery, absorbing all of Orange County’s beautiful rays of sun and captivating our beer imagination along the way. My visit this past weekend coincided with their annual initiation party for members of their Reserve Society, a special membership which allocates you a number of rare, limited-release beers outside of their normal distribution network.

Some Favorite Finds

It felt like a beautifully crisp, warm autumn day back in the District, but I was quickly told that 65 degrees is a “cold snap” in southern California, even in February. As I acclimated to this so-called cold-snap, below are some warming, high-octane beauties which enabled me to deal with such wonderful weather.

  • Grey Monday — 18.6% ABV, 2012 Vintage. What can I say, this beer is an invariably huge, complex stunner of an Imperial Stout. Aged in bourbon barrels for over a year along with a careful dose of Oregon grown hazelnuts, Grey Monday stultifies conventional understandings and perceptions of flavor. Lusciously intense notes of leather, dark caramel, charred oak and candied hazelnuts coalesce to form one of the most complex beer experiences of my life. If you have a friend in the Reserve Society, I suggest you somehow convince them to open this gem in your presence. Perhaps celebrate a “new” job, whatever you have to do.
  • Oude Tart — 7.5% ABV. Refreshingly dry and, of course, tart, Oude Tart is a modern interpretation of the classic Flemish Red Ale. 18 months in red wine barrels allows softened oak to brace against growing levels of acidity, making the beer reminiscent of one of my all-time favorites, Rodenbach Grand Cru. For the initiation event, Oude Tart was served with an addition of boysenberries in the cask, brightening the beer’s underlying fruit flavors while accentuating its acidity; a beautiful beer for a pleasant February afternoon in southern California.
  • Washington O.C. — 10.5% ABV. This time around the Bruery teamed up with our own Bluejacket (slated to officially open this summer at 303 Tingey St SE, near Nationals Park) to brew a burly Belgian-style Quadrupel. The addition of plums amplifies the already present character of fig, raisin and cherry while the beer is dry enough to disallow cloying fruitiness. This beer is a usual suspect on the draft of lines of Churchkey, and one not be missed.

Although several of the above beers are not readily available throughout Borderstan, our better beer stores such as Whole Foods on P St NW routinely have Bruery beers such as Saison De Lente, Mischief and Trade Winds Tripel, any of which would be a pleasing addition to your fridge for this weekend.

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by Borderstan.com February 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"port city"

Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria. (Kate Fink)

Over the last several years, the DC area has seen a vast proliferation in local craft beers. We have seen the likes of DC Brau, 3 Stars and Chocolate City, amongst others. However, the first craft production and packaging brewery in the area was not any of the aforementioned breweries, but in fact Port City Brewing Company.

Adopting its name from the vibrant and storied history of Alexandria as a colonial port, Port City served to revitalize craft beer for the entire metropolitan region, making  artisanal, honest local beer not merely a possibility, but a reality.

Only a few turns off of I-395, 3950 Wheeler Avenue is the Alexandria home to Port City Brewing Company. As someone of direct Bavarian descent, the blue and white emblazoned tasting room was a welcome first sight.

My Three Favorites

Considering this was my first return visit since Port City opened, I opted for the flight of all six beers currently on tap. The following three were my favorites of the bunch.

  • Revival Stout — 5.5 percent ABV, 38 IBUs — This English/Irish inspired stout utilizes War Shore Oyster Company oysters throughout the brewing process (shell and all) to contribute a whiff of briny salt water to an already complex beer. Oats help to add a mouth-feel of round silkiness while ample hop bitterness balances against residual sweetness. If you’re fortunate enough to snag a growler while it lasts, take it out of the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes, pour yourself a pint, enjoy with raw oysters on the half shell, then quickly repeat.
  • Essential Pale Ale — 5.5 percent ABV, 35 IBUs — Essential Pale Ale is a crisp drinker of a Pale Ale that displays its elegance in its restraint, meaning it’s not an IPA masquerading as a Pale Ale. Columbus, Chinook and Amarillo hops create a pleasant interplay of dank herbal spice and sweet citrus with enough hop character to entice even those like myself with an unapologetic penchant for hop flavor.
  • TWO — 9 percent ABV, 50 IBUs — To commemorate their second anniversary, the brewers at Port City concocted a mammoth imperialized version of their already delicious Porter, but swapped much of the regular base malt for German beech wood smoked malt, allowing flavors of smoky and savory caramelized ham to accompany dry bittersweet chocolate. This was easily my favorite of the day. Despite its American bravado, a nice German meal of bone-in roasted pork loin and Bavarian potato dumplings would be a great accompaniment for TWO.

Thankfully, Port City is widely available throughout the District, including Borderstan mainstays such as Whole Foods on P Street and Hank’s Oyster Bar on Q Street NW. If you’re at the 9:30 Club for a show, you can grab a Port City beer there, too. Having just celebrated its second anniversary earlier this month and armed for firm plans for expansion, Port City thankfully shows no signs of stemming the tide of craft beer in the DC area.

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by Borderstan.com January 30, 2013 at 10:00 am 1 Comment

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Chocolate City Beer. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

Just several blocks south and east of Catholic University, Chocolate City Beer is a small yet prominent fixture in the District’s burgeoning craft beer scene which I had the pleasure of visiting this past Saturday. It would be possible to mistake 2801 8th Street NE for a handsome brick building if it wasn’t for the breweries’ insignia draped over its north wall.

Traveling down a short wooden staircase and across a gravel driveway puts you at the entrance of the brewery. The immediacy of the space is quite literal; somehow a boil kettle, bright tank and multiple conical fermenters are nestled into what amounts to no more than an oversized garage. Remarkably enough, the atmosphere remains cozy.

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Chocolate City Beer. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

Despite their relative size, the beers coming out of Chocolate City Beer are making unique contributions to our local beer scene. The two specific beers available for sampling, an amber ale and a dark Vienna lager, are not styles brewed by any other local brewery (at least currently or regularly). Most importantly, this is how they fared against the palate of yours truly.

Cornerstone Copper Ale – 5% ABV – Toasty caramel from hefty additions of Munich malt underpin a mild European hop presence, and with good effect. Effervescent carbonation and a medium body drive home the semi-sweet finish. In terms of food pairing, its versatility lies in its relatively mild flavor profile. Its malt sweetness would counteract your hot wings on Super bowl Sunday quite nicely. If you’re a fan of the ubiquitous American “amber” or “red,” I suggest seeking out this alternative.

Cerveza Nacional De La Capital – 6.5% ABV – American craft beer would not be American craft beer without the blurring of style classifications which this beer does in spades. Equal parts Vienna lager, Dunkel and Schwarzbier, it produces an intriguing interplay of biscuity caramel and roasted chocolate without astringency or cloying sweetness. This was easily my favorite beer of the day. If bacon, beef brisket or smoked meat of almost any kind is in your near future, a growler of this will undoubtedly elevate the experience.

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Chocolate City Beer. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

Chocolate City Beer is not relegated to only two beers, however. Within the next several weeks, a few others will also make appearances.  Continuing the German-inspired trend will be the The Mothership Connection, a heavyweight 8.9% ABV Weizenbock, chock full of estery banana and phenolic clove atop a deeply complex German malt profile, set to be released as early as next week. Nearly one year ago, an Imperial Stout was brewed that has since aged in Copper Fox Whisky barrels for 9 months – look for it in 22-ounce bottles during their Saturday (12:30 to 4:30 p.m.) growler hours as early as next week.

Unfortunately, Chocolate City Beer is more or less a draft-only brewery (for now at least) but that does not stop them from occupying the tap handles of regular Borderstan beer spots such as Pizzeria Paradiso on P St NW, Churchkey on 14th Street or the Big Hunt on Connecticut Avenue. Cheers!

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by Borderstan.com January 16, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

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Mad Fox Brewing Company. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

Obligatory for this time of year, people with resolutions abound.  For craft beer-minded folk, it might be exploring authentic and delightfully crisp German lagers or a venturing out to try a refreshingly acidic gueuze from Belgium.  For you beer-minded folk in Borderstan, may I suggest adding an item to your list of resolutions – getting out of the District and heading to Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church.

Located prominently on 444 Broad Street in Falls Church, Mad Fox Brewing Company is a Great American Beer Festival (GABF) winning brewpub that boasts a collection of anywhere from 8 to 10 beers on draft and half a dozen or so beers served via the traditional English beer engine.  One step through the door and you’re greeted with glossy, beaming beer tanks flanked on either side with rich tones of mahogany and brass; a warming atmosphere, to be sure.  Unfortunately, the service in the dining area is wildly inconsistent and too spotty to be relied upon.  However, don’t let that deter you from making the trek – Mad Fox’s beer portfolio is well worth the effort.

If you can swing it, grab a seat at the bar and enjoy the following standouts: (as a brewpub, these beers are subject to a shorter window of availability)

Orange Whip IPA – 7.2% ABV – Arguably the darling of the entire Mad Fox portfolio and with remarkable ease, I can say this is my favorite from them.  Orange Whip IPA bludgeons the senses with bright orange, ripe honeydew melon and earthy pine, all emanating from a judicious yet deft use of 100% Citra hops.  In other words, if you see this beer on the draft list, please order a pint immediately.

Wee Heavy – 9% ABV – A style nearly indistinguishable from English Barleywine, Mad Fox’s Wee Heavy contains layers upon layers of toffee and deep caramel with the slightest kiss of dark fruit.  At 9% ABV, it’s a warming beer meant for the fireside.  If you’re lucky, you may run into an iteration of this beer aged in Loudoun County’s own Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whiskey barrels; it is an undeniable treat.

Big Chimney Porter – 6% ABV – Robust and deceptively hefty, Big Chimney Porter carries with it the entire range of traditional Porter flavors.  Bittersweet chocolate rests comfortably against notes of biscuit and sweet caramel, resulting in a pleasingly dry finish.  If this beer is on when you visit, please order the truffled mac & cheese pizza to accompany it – the beer’s flavors effortlessly latch onto the bacon and the slightly charred crust, with just enough carbonation to cut through the creaminess of the mac & cheese.

For those Borderstan residents too scared to venture into Virginia (it’s really not that bad!), Mad Fox occasionally sends their beers to Borderstan beer spots such as Churchkey and The Big Hunt, so be on the lookout if you’re out and about in the neighborhood.  Cheers.

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by Borderstan.com January 2, 2013 at 10:00 am 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

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2012 Beer Year in Review. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Year-end lists often blanket us with what supposedly ranks supreme in a particular category, and beer is certainly no different. I grow weary of such lists given their susceptibility to seek out greatness in the face of mediocrity in order to fulfill some sense of obligation to call something great.  Either way, I have tried to cobble together my two most memorable beers and my two not so memorable beers of 2012.

Two Most Memorable Beers of 2012

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA – 8.3% ABV, 80 IBUs – Arguably my favorite brewery of 2012, Firestone Walker once again proved to the world they can do no wrong.  Aromatically, Wookey Jack is a honeydew melon tropical fruit bowl mixture of Citra and Amarillo hops.  Rest those flavors on a bed of dry bittersweet cocoa and my penchant for complex hop flavor grows all the more insatiable.  This beer is simply one of the most profound hop-forward beers to arrive on the scene in 2012.

New Belgium/Alpine Super IPA – 9% ABV, 99 IBUs – Super IPA is one reason amongst many as to why craft breweries should continue to collaborate.  Located about 30 miles east from downtown San Diego, Alpine Brewing Company hoppily shines in all its desert beauty while crafting some of the best IPAs in the country; combining forces with the regional juggernaut New Belgium was about the best thing to happen to us East Coast folks.  In 2012, Super IPA maximized the hop flavor threshold with wave after wave of herbaceous pine and tropical citrus with a pleasingly dry, long finish.

Not So Memorable Beers

The 2 not so memorable beers of 2012:

Stone 16th Anniversary IPA – 10% ABV, 85 IBUs – The preceding three anniversary beers from Stone have been endearing hop-bombs, and unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 16th iteration.  While brewed with an array of delectable hop varieties, the judicious use of lemon verbena overtook the possibility of enjoying this beer; it was simply overpowering to my taste buds and didn’t allow me to enjoy other fine aspects of the beer; a rare-miss for a brewery which usually excels at brewing hoppy beers.

Founders Bolt Cutter 15th Anniversary Barley Wine – 15% ABV, IBUs N/A – Conventional wisdom rightfully suggests that when Founders puts a beer in a barrel, it turns to liquid gold.  Bolt Cutter simply doesn’t excel like all other barrel-aged Founders offerings.  Although only partially barrel-aged, it still doesn’t round out or soften the harsh angular alcohol presence like one expects.  Founders aged this beer for four months prior to its release which only seemed to accelerate staling, not develop complexity over time.  With indisputable gems such as Kentucky Breakfast Stout in their portfolio, Bolt Cutter left me shaking my head more than anything else.

With breweries such as DC Brau and 3 Stars and establishments such as Churchkey already on the map, craft beer in Washington, D.C. is in a much different place than it was five years ago.  With other breweries such as Bluejacket and Right Proper slated to open in 2013, the coming year will likely prove to be an enduring one for beer in our nation’s capital.

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by Borderstan.com December 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm 1,202 0

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Stouts for your Holidays. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

As we know from a few weeks back, beers especially designed for the winter season are often warming with the occasional inclusion of spices. However, those kinds of beers are not the only ones meant for fireside consumption.

During its formative years, the American craft beer scene often looked elsewhere for inspiration for creating new styles, and the now ubiquitous Imperial Stout is no different. Mythologies suggest that Russian Empress Catherine II (otherwise known as “Catherine the Great”) cultivated a strong affinity for Stout during trips to London, so much so that she demanded it be made available for herself and her imperial court, hence the “imperial” moniker. Largely a historical artifact in its mother country of England, Imperial Stout is now made in America more than any other country in the world.

Imperial Stouts exhibit an incomparably dense, full body which will frequently showcase a plethora of roasted coffee, chocolate and dark fruit, often in excess of 10 percent ABV. The presence of warming alcohol makes them prime candidates for sipping in front of the fire, which may or may not make you feel less guilty for wearing that ugly sweater this year. Below are three of my favorites:

  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout – 15 percent ABV (2012 vintage). Goose Island releases this blistering behemoth on an annual basis, and it is to not be missed. One hundred days inside in a bourbon barrel coaxes intoxicating aromas and flavors of sweet vanilla, coconut, deep caramel and charred oak out of the wood and into the beer. Born to accompany or just be dessert, this beer is exquisite every time I visit it.
  • Bells Expedition Stout – 10.5 percent ABV. Ah, yes, this is the beer that made me fall in love with Imperial Stouts. An underpinning of velvety smoothness gives rise to intense notes of dark chocolate and rum-soaked raisins with a hefty hop bitterness to help off-set its residual sweetness. I once had this beer with an orange-infused chocolate truffle, and even now I’m hard-pressed to imagine or remember a better pairing.
  • Firestone Walker Parabola – 13 percent ABV. Although not the progenitor of barrel-aged stouts, (that honor goes to Goose Island Bourbon County), Parabola is arguably my favorite of the bunch. Impressions from the barrel exhibit a lush softness, rounding the sharp edges of the underlying beer. Sweet oaky vanilla and caramel latch effortlessly upon expressions of coffee and roasted chocolate; a demanding beer for tempered, contemplative moments.

All three come and go from Borderstan beer centers such as the P St NW Whole Foods, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor or borderline Borderstan establishment De Vinos Wine Shop at 18th and Florida NW, so be on the look-out for these beauties. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll cozy up next to the fire with.

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by Borderstan.com December 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm 1,083 0

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St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

Brewing beers for the winter holidays is a time-honored tradition harkening back to the medieval period, when beers were made with a varying mixture of spices, herbs, and fruits generally referred to as gruit.

These beers were sometimes literally heated, much like a hot cider. A few centuries later, 19th century England gave rise to the barley-wine, often in excess of 10 percent ABV, allowing the substantial alcohol presence to warm you. Thankfully no one heats up their barley-wine as far as I know (I would hope they don’t anyway!).

To be sure, American craft brewers are increasingly rolling out seasonal offerings, and winter holiday beers are certainly no exception. Many of the same warming spices used centuries ago, such as ginger and nutmeg, still find their way into beers today. “Holiday” beers do not adhere to a particular style, but are generally malt-forward beers with modest hopping rates, the occasional inclusions of spices, and a warming alcohol presence.

A Few of My Favorites

  • St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10 percent ABV – Brewed in the classic “Quadrupel” style, this marries characteristic Belgian spice and with dark fruit flavors such as raisin and plum. While it’s substantial enough to quaff on its own, this beer with something like smoked duck breast pushes it into the “revelatory” category.
  • Rogue Mogul Madness Ale – Winter Warmer, 6.6 percent ABV – If were to enrobe a citrus hop blast in a subtle interplay of English toffee, milk chocolate and faint coffee, you might end up Rogue’s Mogul Madness. Orange-infused dark chocolate and this beer would be a great way to end a meal.
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale – Winter Warmer, 7.5 percent ABV – This beer pours a rich, brilliant copper; it’s a veritable stunner in the glass. Thankfully, it’s mighty tasty, too. Bready malts underlie the cautious use of fresh ginger, cinnamon and honey, rendering an aroma and flavor highly evocative of the holidays. Great Lakes list pairing ideas for each of their beers on their website; for their Christmas ale, it’s “toasts and cheers.” Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.

This coming Monday, Borderstan mainstay Churchkey will perhaps have the widest swath of holiday beers the District will see all year during its second annual “Holiday Ale Total Tap Takeover & Canned Food Drive.”  From 4 until 9 pm, you can stop by and sample a varied collection of holiday elixirs from all 50 draft lines. Most of all, any canned food item or cash donation you bring benefits Martha’s Table and gets you 10 percent off of your bill for the evening. I’ll see you there.

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