Beer vs. Food

Vermont Distillery Gin Components

Gin components at Vermont Distillery Spirits

Today, we went to two distilleries, had lunch at two brewpubs, and experienced beer at three breweries.  We also did an hour hike at Quechee Gorge to try and balance the booze calories to some extent.  The liquor was incredible, the food was amazing, and the beer was surprisingly disappointing.

Both Vermont Distillery Spirits and Silo Distillery offered free tastings, which is classy.  At Vermont, the server was very friendly and helpful, and the gin was incredible.  It was difficult to decide if it was actually gin, since the typical juniper character was muted, but it was nonetheless a complex, spiced clear liquor containing junipers.  Their bourbon is made off-site, but they blend it with maple syrup to achieve a wonderful balanced sweetness to the alcohol bite of the bourbon.  We walked away with plenty of their liquor, and they threw in a couple shot glasses, just because they’re awesome.  At Silo, a high-maintenance loud group detracted from the experience, and their liquors were fine but not remarkable.  Their elderberry vodka was a bit rough but fruity, so we bought some.

The food at Long Trail Brewery and Whetstone Station was incredible.  It reminded me that brewpubs are, fundamentally, restaurants, and these both hit their food out of the park.  Long Trail’s hummus wrap was flavourful and filling, and Whetstone’s caprese sandwich was so good I plan to replicate it as soon as we get home.

Long TrailSadly, the beer at Long Trail, Whetstone, and McNeill’s Brewery was lacking.  To be fair, at Long Trail we sat outside, so the beer was skunked.  There were no dark, malty beers available, so we had a hard time finding one to enjoy.  Whetstone had three high gravity beers which all had a significant flaw.  The saison was hoppily bitter, the wheat was also high in hops, and the imperial stout had a distinct burnt bitter character.  McNeill’s had a large selection, with nothing to style or even flavor to recommend it.

Overall, we had a nice day in spite of the beer, not because of it.  And we enjoy travelling together; even our off days are awesome.

 

 

Whetstone Brewery

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IPAs: Which Coast?

India Pale Ale is a style which supposedly originated from beers being shipped from England to IndiaHop Valley Flight Board requiring high amounts of hops, which served as a preservative.  This produces a beer which has a decent malt backbone but is dominated by distinct hop bitterness.  The hop aroma and flavour are usually not as forward as they are in an American Pale Ale.  As craft beer has become popular, drinkers have migrated from the Budweisers, Coors, and Bud Lights of American drinking, which are on the hop side of the spectrum, so most drinker’s palates are accustomed to hops.  When they begin drinking craft beer, IPAs are one of the styles which tastes the most like “beer” to their palate.

IPA Game

A game we play: find the IPA!

IPAs also benefit from a trendy quality within the craft beer community.  Many breweries live and die by their hop-balanced beers (Stone, New Belgium, Dogfish Head).  Some breweries are dedicated almost entirely to hop-balanced beers (Terrapin).  Craft beer drinkers love their IPAs.  Over the years, brewers have tried to stuff more and more hops into their beer to appeal to the hop-loving populace.  Practically, though, humans can only discern a certain level of bitterness (estimated in International Bitterness Units, or IBUs; most people can’t taste over 100 IBUs as distinct flavours).  That hasn’t stopped the breweries from adding more hops!

Brewers on the west coast of the US (California, Oregon, Washington) started throwing more and more hops into their IPAs to appeal to the bitterness-loving drinkers.  This ultimately resulted in a style which is slightly distinct from the historic IPA.  The craft beer community called this a West Coast IPA.  People have since used the term East Coast IPA to distinguish it from the West Coast.  West Coast IPAs, supposedly, have a more pine-like or grassy character, characteristic of the hops grown in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  To us, that’s outdated.

We spent three weeks on the west coast, going from brewpub to brewery, and encountered dozens of IPAs.  Contrary to our expectation, the beers were well balanced, with incredible malt complexity Colorful Beerwhich made them palatable even to our hop-aversive palates.  Maybe the IPAs on the West Coast were once super-hoppy.  But they have evolved, and grown up, and are now more interesting and complex, at least in the brewpubs and small breweries along our alcohol touring route.  So, while we don’t think we can cause the entire craft beer community to adopt different terminology for uber-hoppy IPAs, if you go to the West Coast expecting a West Coast IPA, just remember we warned you that you might be disappointed!

Serendipity

Buggerall

On our way to Buggerall, Nowhere.

 

We were driving to Buggerall, Nowhere, to visit Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company.  Fully half of their beers were IPAs, but their malt offering were well done, including a delightful shwartzbier and a Belgian strong.  According to Google Maps, it was one of the few brewpubs on our route.  The plan for the day was to drive 7 hours from Radford, VA to Gettysburg, PA, and stay next door to a promising brewpub.  En route to Devil’s Backbone, we spotted Wintergreen Winery and stopped in, picking up a brochure about Route 151.  Unknown to us, this valley had three breweries, a cidery, a distillery, and a half dozen wineries!  We wouldn’t make it to Gettysburg this day.

 

The first stop, after discovering Route 151’s alcohol bona fides, was Bold Rock Hard Cider.  Our   experiences with cideries is limited, just because there are so few of them (someone: fix this deficiency!).  Bold Rock was gritty and genuine, with a free tasting and a range of great ciders from sweet to very dry.  We were happy to walk away with a 6 pack of the Virginia Draft and a bottle of Crimson Ridge Vat No.1 and give Bold Rock a definite stamp of approval.BoldRockCider

 

Wild Wolf Brewery occupies an old, renovated school house, with wonderful water features and an expansive outdoor area.  With an 11-beer tasting flight, we were hopeful, but ultimately disappointed.  They reminded us of Terrapin in Athens- too many hops, not enough craft.  Blue Mountain Brewery was our last stop on Route 151, featuring an impressive 10 beer tasting flight.  Again, we were disappointed- the English Mild and the Barleywine both looked like Pilsners and tasted nothing like their stated styles.

 

Route 151 featured a promising array of alcohol tourism destinations, but ultimately did not fulfill that promise.  We suspect that the high-maintenance skier population has skewed the breweries, forcing them to produce Coor Light-like beers in lieu of edgy craft beers.  Still, the drive was wonderful and the experience was well worth it.  Tomorrow, on to Pennsylvania!

Wild Wolf Flight

Flight at Wild Wolf