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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Flavor Springs Forth: Six Richmond Beers That Promise Winter Is Over

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 1:55 PM

Let’s face it. We’ve all had it with the cold, icy roads and being trapped indoors. But we’re seeing the tide turn at local breweries with stout-heavy lineups giving way to lighter, fresher offerings. Some big beers are still around, but they’re infused with things that make us think of tropical places and fresh beginnings. Style sought out a few must-drinks to get you warm-bellied and out of a winter funk.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

WRIR XI by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, 5.3 percent alcohol
As unique as the community radio station it celebrates, WRIR XI is a Belgian-style pale ale that boasts malty overtones and a lighter finish, courtesy of some Azacca dry hops. Citrus and pine are the prominent aromas that’ll crank your senses to 11. One of Hardywood’s self-proclaimed Experimental Beer series, this one is available on draft at the brewery or in bomber bottles to go. Perfect for late nights around the turntable discussing the Faith and Void split release.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Canal Street Coffee Stout by 7 Hills Brewing Co., 6.7 percent alcohol
Wake up and smell your beer. This coffee-forward creation packs a mean punch of local beans. Fifteen pounds of gloriously roasted arabica goodness (two-thirds Blanchard’s Blend and a third Honduran beans to be exact) give this beer a toasty, roasty caramel flavor. Its medium body and creamy mouth feel make it an easy drinker, but beware … it’ll sneak up on you. The brewery reports that it’ll be cranking out at least one new beer a month, so keep an eye on these newbies.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

African Head Charge by Final Gravity Brewing Co., 12 percent alcohol
Named after the psych-dub band, it’s no surprise that this complex beer is mind-altering. First, there’s the prominent toasted coconut aroma up front that lets drinkers know they’re getting into something real good. Seriously, it’s kind of like walking into a bakery. Then there’s the first sip that introduces an onslaught of flavors including dark chocolate and fresh-out-of-the oven coconut pie. With its velvety mouth feel, this is an imperial stout that can only be described as decadent and damn near perfect. Brewer Tony Ammendolia is some kind of otherworldly beer wizard.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Earl Grey Brown Ale by Ardent Craft Ales, 5.5 percent alcohol
Leave it to Ardent to come up with a brew unlike any you’ve tried in recent years. A collaboration with Champion Brewery and Potter’s Cider, this northern English brown ale is a light-bodied, caramel-colored concoction that nicely balances toasty malts with subtle fruit notes. At times, a nutty aroma can be detected. As its name suggests, there’s also a bold, earthy tea flavor that makes this one a standout. Good manners and small teacups not required.

SCOTT ELLMQUIST
  • Scott Ellmquist

Havoc Gold IPA by Strangeways Brewing, 6.5 percent alcohol
Holy hops up in your face. Brewer Mike Hiller nails a perfect IPA with a Mandarina Bavaria, Amarillo, Sorachi Ace juggernaut. It’s so fresh, it’s like eating a salad, folks. Part of the Legalize It series, you’ll be feeling mighty fine after a glass or two. While reportedly the brew was inspired by the all-out death and destruction kind of havoc and not the beloved Virginia Commonwealth University Rams, there’s no denying this would go well with dunks and March Madness.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

American IPA (Batch No. 3) by Garden Grove Brewing, 6.5 percent alcohol
A surprisingly chill IPA is sure to delight folks who don’t favor palate wreckers. The British malts give this beer a toasty backbone, verging on biscuity in the best of ways, while El Dorado hops contribute Juicy Fruit aromas. Hints of pineapple and apricot emerge if you swirl it around in your mouth before savoring the semidry finish. For a real treat, enjoy this while checking out the brewery’s open bluegrass jam on Tuesday nights.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Old Dominion Mobile Canning is One of the Secrets Behind Richmond’s Craft Beer Boom

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 10:30 AM

Richmond is a canned beer kind of town.

For proof, look no further than Outside Magazine’s designation of the city as best river town in America. As any outdoor enthusiast — kayaker, fisherman, boater, cyclist or hiker — knows, bottled beer is ill-suited to life on or along the river and trail.

In recent years, canned beer has surged in popularity. It’s cheaper to produce, and because cans weigh less, the brewery’s carbon footprint is smaller during shipping. Light is the enemy of the organic compounds in beer, so beer in an opaque container tastes better longer.

But for a startup brewery, adding a canning line is expensive. Initial entry can cost a brewery $250,000 or more before the first cans are filled. Enter Old Dominion Mobile Canning.

With mobile canning, there’s no capital outlay for equipment, no dedicated floor space, no operational training, no maintenance and no large truckloads of cans.

Old Dominion rolls up and hooks directly to the finishing tanks where beer is fed into its canning line. Cans are then loaded into the machinery, sanitized, purged with carbon dioxide, filled, seamed, rinsed and packaged, at a rate of 30 to 40 per minute.

“We’re usually on site anywhere from six to 12 hours,” owner Mike Horn says. “We can process up to eight barrels of craft beer per hour under the right conditions.”

Old Dominion can accommodate small production volumes, too, offering nonpackaging and hand-packaging breweries access to a broader market and increased revenue. The breweries design the art for printed, shrink-sleeved or self-adhesive cans, depending on their preference and budget.

The company, begun in April 2013, has already filled more than 5 million cans for clients in Virginia and North Carolina, including Devils Backbone Brewing Co., Flying Mouse Brewery, Brothers Craft Brewing, Seven Arrows Brewing Co., Wild Wolf Brewing Co., Blue Mountain Brewery, Three Notch’d Brewing Co., Champion Brewing Co., Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery and, yes, even Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Square footage was a limiting factor for Hardywood in its current facility. But Old Dominion enabled the brewery to send canned beer out into the market without having to dedicate space to its own canning line.

“Their equipment comes in and out of our brew house like a really awesome phantom that leaves pallets of freshly canned beer in its trail,” says Hardywood’s marketing manager, Matt Shofner.

Although some beer snobs still look down their noses at cans, Horn is quick to challenge them with a host of rebuttals. For one, aluminum cans are better for the environment than glass bottles because they’re made out of more than 90 percent recycled content.

A water-based polymer seals the can and ensures no contact between beer and aluminum, preventing any metallic contamination. And a can is impenetrable to light and oxygen, preserving quality.

And back to that river lifestyle — cans are extremely portable, making them perfect for outdoor activities, especially in places where glass bottles are forbidden such as swimming pools and outdoor events.

“Consumers like the functionality and convenience of canned beer, so we see our canned products getting great placements in grocery stores and outdoor venues,” Shofner says. “Our fans are big on travel and outdoor activities, and they like being able to take our beer with them wherever they go.”

Two varieties of Hardywood beer even benefit the great outdoors: The Great Return is brewed in support of the James River Association, while Capital Trail Pale Ale supports the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation.

Perhaps just as significant given Richmond’s notoriously muggy summers, cans cool down faster than any other beverage container, resulting in better taste.

Just ask Horn, who says: “Think of a can as a minikeg for your craft beer.”

Monday, March 7, 2016

Here's How Virginia Researchers Are Helping Hops Farmers Meet Brewery Demand

Posted By on Mon, Mar 7, 2016 at 2:40 PM

Virginia is quickly becoming known for its craft beer industry, and now researchers want the state’s farmers to have the monopoly on beer’s key flavoring ingredient.

Researchers at Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and North Carolina State University want to teach farmers in the southern Atlantic region how to ensure that hop plants thrive in its hot and humid climate.

Virginia researchers are also on the hunt for hops that haven’t been sown in Virginia soil, which would allow farmers to offer new, untried flavors to brewers.

VSU is leading the push for Central Virginia, with guidance from the North Carolina hops research program, established in 2010. There’s plenty of demand for Virginia hops, says Laban Rutto, an agricultural research professor at Virginia State.

“As you know, there are a lot of people who want to eat local,” he says. “They want to be able to trace the journey of food from the farm to the plate, or in this case, from the farm to the glass.”

Since 2014, Rutto has experimented with many hop varieties. For now, he aims to try his luck with 26 types, but the poles in his 1.2-acre hop yard are bare for the winter. When the weather gets warmer, he hopes to find a variety that thrives, which will first be nurtured in the university’s greenhouses.

Rutto has hit more than a few snags. So far, some hop varieties have succumbed to mold or didn’t successfully mature in the ground. But as a scientist, he’s learned from trial and error and says that vigilant weather monitoring and irrigation are key.

In fact, there is a particular hop that’s been successful in the state, but it’s saturated the market. Cascade, a fairly bitter hop, can grow well in humid conditions. Rutto says that the bitterest hops — those high in acids — mostly survive in the south Atlantic. For reference, think of the pine taste of an India pale ale.

Rutto and other researchers are looking for hops that have more essential oils than acids, which lend a smoother flavor. It’s the taste that can be found in lighter lagers, but it comes from hops that are less resilient in Virginia’s climate.

He’s betting on the Southern Brewer variety, which grows in South Africa, as the next big thing for Virginia growers. Once he grows a thriving crop, a sample will be sent to Virginia Tech labs to be tested for moisture levels, acidity and essential oil profiles. Tech researchers are doing their own growing, but because of the university’s location, Rutto says, they’re likely to come up with a variety that would do better in a more mountainous, dry region.

Post-lab comes the most telling part of the testing phase. Rutto will send a sample of the winning variety to a local brewer to see what flavor it lends to a trial batch of beer.

Michael Grant, co-owner of Garden Grove Brewery in Carytown, says that he’s willing to take part in the test brew. The former agricultural researcher at Virginia State was one of the first to grow organic wine grapes in Virginia.

Grant says that the market is ripe for something new that’s individual to Virginia.

“Crops taste unique depending on where they are grown in the world. … Dr. Rutto has the chance to grow some hops that no one has had before that taste wonderful,” Grant says. “He might just come up with something amazing.”

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