Saturday, June 10, 2006


Benjamin Franklin said: "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

If that is so, today was a very happy day. Seven lucky people, myself included, embarked on the inaugural tour of Mid-Atlantic Brew Tours. (For more info, contact jimalvis at hotmail dot com.)

We started off in the parking lot of JC Penney's at Dulles Town Center, Reston Limo providing the very plush ride. Shortly after 10:45am, we arrived at Thoroughbreds in Leesburg. Thoroughbreds is a small microbrewery/restaurant, in business little more than a year. We were soon greeted by Kevin Kozak, master brewer and bar manager. Kevin started off the tour telling us about his previous night's brewing:

Since the restaurant cannot be open when the brewing is done, Kevin must arrive at 11pm and brew through the night, usually ending his "day" at 10:30am, where, exhausted, he sits down at the bar and has his first beer of the day, before going home to bed. Last night, though, when Kevin got to work, he was greeted by the business end of two police revolvers.

"Let us see your hands!" they demanded.

Kevin froze, and quietly explained to the cops that he was not a prowler, but worked at the restaurant. Apparently, the bluegrass music blaring from the speakers in the restaurant was a giveaway, and they believed him. Just another day at the brew-pub!

I don't know if it was because we started at Thoroughbreds, and my tastebuds weakened as the day wore on, but I felt the best beer we drank was at Thoroughbreds. The very first beer, the German-style lager was excellent--as good as any lager I'd ever had in Germany. Crisp, golden, and full of body, it was delicious! Kevin's going to be entering it in the lager division of the Great American Beer Festival later this month, and I hope he wins.

We got a good tour of the modest brewing facilities, with a great explanation of the malting and hopping processes. Larissa, the bartender, served us some great beers, and it was really cool to have Kevin, who made each one, explain the styles and ingredients.

Apparently, the bar still serves the more mundane American beers, due, unfortunately, to popular demand--Bud Light, Michelob Ultra--but the staff have become snobbish (in the good, proper way!) about these beers. Larissa explained that when large studly men come and sit at her tables and order Michelob Ultras, she often quips, "You ladies want fruit with that beer?"

Later, we ate an enormous lunch (bratwursts, sauerkraut, wings and onion rings), and then headed for Sweetwater Tavern. Kevin, who didn't have to work, came with us.

At Sweetwater, we met Dean Lake, the brewer at the Sterling establishment. Again, we had some excellent beers, with some real stand-outs. The favorite among most drinkers was the Boot Hill Brown Ale, a traditional English brown ale, to which the only description most could give was that it was "brown." My more sophisticated write-up noted, "caramel, chocolate malt, black malt, moderately hoppy." But I was just writing down everything Dean said about it verbatim. I'd make a good stenographer.

The real standout at Sweetwater was the Giddyup Stout. This one is brewed with real coffee. They cold-brew the coffee for 3-4 days. Cold brewing avoids the astringency one gets with hot-brewed coffee. The beer was so smooth--it tasted like a fine German coffee chocolate bar. The coffee flavor was totally compatible with the beer, whilst standing out from it at the same time. The aroma was Starbucks, the flavor something all to itself.

After another tour at Sweetwater, where we learned about fermentation and storage, we headed on to Old Dominion Brewery.

Old Dominion is by far the largest brewery in the region. They handle something like 40,000 kegs a month (compared to 500 kegs a month at Thoroughbreds). They didn't have anybody ready to give us the personal treatment, so Kevin, who works there from time to time, stepped in to give us the tour.

We saw a pretty huge bottling and shipping operation, enormous fermentation vats. (I'm quite sure the beer-o-philes don't call them vats, but I don't know what they do call them.) It was a huge operation, and they brew something like 30 different beers at one time--a staggering variety of beers.

Some of the ODB beers were excellent, and one was frankly pretty bad. The bad one, Brewer's Art, so I was informed, tasted "diacidal," a by-product taste of the yeast, a taste of beer gone bad. The beer tasted like movie theater popcorn--very buttery. Not good.

But the excellent beers, my personal favorites, were the Oak Barrel Stout (very oaky, chocolatey goodness) and the Millennium Ale Barley Wine. This latter one clocks in at 12% alcohol and goes down more like a fine wine than a cheap beer. At nearly $30 per sixpack, it better!

The Crystal was a filtered Hefeweisse which looked like a lager, but with your eyes closed, you'd swear it was a good Hefe: bananas, lemons, and a yeasty finish. Through it all, I diligently filled in my tasting chart, and it's clear that as the beer ran on, my judging abilities became impaired.

Luckily, I have a lovely wife who was willing to play chauffeur, and nobody had to drive home.

Thanks to Jim Alvis, the director of the tour and a good friend, for putting on an excellent, informative, and quite tasty tour!



MABT Beer Sampling NotesFor fun, take a look at my tasting notes, and you can see how the judging became less structured as the day progressed and the beer flowed.


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