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Beer: Virginia scores big at World Cup

The beverage of choice at the reception for the World Beer Cup. (Jason E. Kaplan)

While the Post’s Beer Madness was heading toward its climactic round, another, more serious judging — kind of a Beer Madness on steroids — was unfolding in Chicago during the Craft Brewers Conference earlier this month.

The World Beer Cup is such an arduous undertaking that the Colorado-based Brewers Association holds it only every other year. The 2010 contest attracted 3,330 entries, making it the world’s largest commercial beer tasting, according to the BA press release. An international panel of 179 judges awarded gold, silver and bronze medals in 90 stylistic categories.

A total of 44 countries shipped beer to the event, from the United States (by far the most entries with 2,371) to Fiji, Lithuania, Mongolia, Namibia and Uzbekistan.

Local beers did quite well. Of 54 entries from Virginia, eight won medals: the highest percentage (15 percent) of any state. Five of those entries came from Nelson County, rendering central Virginia, temporarily at least, the epicenter of the craft beer universe.

Jason Oliver, head brewer for the Devils Backbone brewpub in Roseland, not only garnered four medals but got himself named Champion Brewmaster, Small Brewpub. Danzig, a brew he perfected while working at the Gordon Biersch in downtown DC, won the gold in the Baltic-Style Porter category. Jason’s Morning Bear took a bronze in the Coffee-Flavored Beer slot. Neither of those two is currently available, but two other bronze-winning efforts are on tap right now at the Roseland brewpub: Schwartz Bier (German-Style Schwarzbier category) and Kollaborator (Traditional German-Style Bock). Jason cautions, however, that the current batch of Kollaborator is a special whiskey-barrel aged version and not the beer he sent to Chicago back in March.

Meanwhile, at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Taylor Smack grabbed a silver (American-style Wheat Beer) for his Rockfish Wheat, a spring seasonal now available in central Virginia in kegs and six-packs.

Both Devils Backbone and Blue Mountain are part of a recently organized Virginia Beer Trail. See this story from 2009 for additional ideas for a road trip to this area.

Closer to DC, the Sweetwater Tavern chain, with locations in Centreville, Merrifield and Sterling, won the silver in the Traditional German-style Bock for its Sidewinder Bock. The strong (7 percent alcohol by volume) German lager is normally a winter seasonal, explains head brewer Nick Funnell, and can’t be rushed into production (it requires 10 weeks’ lagering time). But he held out the possibility of a “Christmas in July” to revive the beer.

Even closer to home, the Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington waltzed off with two gold medals, for its Dude, where’s My Vespa? (Coffee-Flavored Beer) and Harvest Moon Rye (Rye Beer). The medals are a swan song for outgoing brewer Chris Rafferty, who is transferring to the Rock Bottom in Chicago, His successor, Dave Warwick, will whip up future batches of those beers. The rye beer is a fall seasonal but another tankful of the coffee beer is expected soon.

The area’s other Rock Bottom, in Bethesda, also took home a gold, for its Highland Courage (Scottish-style Ale). This is brewer Geoff Lively’s midwinter seasonal and won’t likely return until next February. Sorry!

Elsewhere in Maryland, the Brewer’s Alley brewpub in Frederick won a silver in the English-style India Pale Ale category for its IPA. That beer is a year-around over the bar, and is also bottled under license at Clipper City Brewing Co. in Baltimore. You can even quaff this “floral and herbaceous” IPA at Frederick Keys’ ball games at Harry Grove Stadium, according to brewer Maggie Lenz. 

Also in Frederick, the Flying Dog Brewery was awarded a silver medal in the Aged Beer category for a 2007 vintage of its Gonzo Imperial Porter. The brewery maintains a cellar of its high-octane “Canis Major” beers for special tastings, says QA sensory manager Gwen Conley, but doesn’t market the older versions commercially. She suggests that connoisseurs stock up on the 2009 and 2010 releases of Gonzo and do their own cellaring. Over time, “the alcohol goes down, and it changes from a  big, roasty coffee kind of beer to a more chocolatey, more toffee-like beer,” she notes.

Ironically, Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing has been touting his higher-alcohol beers as of late but received World Beer Cup recognition for three of his milder, session-type brews: Heavy Seas Gold Ale (gold, Golden or Blonde Ale niche); Heavy Seas Pale Ale (bronze, Classic English-style Pale Ale) and Heavy Seas Marzen (bronze, Vienna-Style Lager).

Hugh wasn’t complaining. “The lighter beers are hard to do,” he explained. “You can’t hide any mistakes. It says a lot about your technical prowess.”

In stark contrast to Beer Madness, where we’ve gotten flack for pairing unlike beers (i.e., Chimay Red and Reissdorf Kolsch), the World Beer Cup takes matters to the opposite extreme, perhaps over-analyzing the beer spectrum with its 90 categories. Curiously, Clipper City’s Marzen won as a Vienna-style lager, even though there is a separate slot for German-Style Marzen beers. 

Style guidelines peg the Vienna as marginally less alcoholic and full-bodied than the Marzen, but both are clean, malty amber-colored lagers. “It’s the same damn beer!” says Sisson, laughing. “I think we’re splitting hairs on this one.”

-- Greg Kitsock

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By The Food Section  |  April 19, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Beer, Greg Kitsock  
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Brewer’s Alley English-style India Pale Ale is also bottled under license at Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick not Clipper City.

Posted by: sensorygoddess | April 21, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

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