Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hiking with #theCompassCBF: Keys Gap and Loudoun County Wine Country

For those who are interested in a moderate hike in Loudoun County's wine country, then take Route 9 - Charles Town Pike to the West Virginia border and hike the Keys Gap section of the Appalachian Trail. You won't find spectacular views but be comforted that afterward there will be a tasty beer, wine, or cider within arm's reach. 

We started our post-hike tour heading west into Charles Town, WV where Abolitionist Ale Works awaited. The brewery has fared well enough during the outbreak to produce a lineup of 20+ interesting beers - with many brewed for the Christmas season.  These include the  Keg Nog (Bourbon Barrel Aged) Imperial Cream AleWild Wit Christmas American Wild AleLiquid Bread Pudding American Wild AleDirty Santa Beard (Cognac Barrel Aged) Stout - Imperial / Double, and the Abo Xmas Brandy Barrel-Aged Strong Ale. We brought one of each of these home as well as the Dirty Sidecar (Cognac Barrel Aged) Stout - Imperial / Double, the Apple Brandy Barrel West by Quad, the Blackberry Sage Gin Barrel Aged American Wild Ale, and the Abolitionist Ale (1 Year Barrel-Aged) Farmhouse Ale. I opened this farmhouse ale last night and the Brett provides delicious funkiness mixed with tart sour cherries and a little red wine. Expect plenty of updates on social media as we drink through these beers.

Traveling back into the Virginia, Notaviva Craft Fermentations and Bozzo Family Vineyards are the two closest east of the border. Over the years Notaviva Vineyards has expanded beyond wine -- adding beer and cider to their portfolio. I had targeted Notaviva for their "Vierzig" Blaufrankisch ($21) an estate-grown blend of 75% Blaufrankisch and 25% Cabernet Franc. This has been a winning blend in the Finger Lakes and should hold true in Virginia. I also felt I needed a lighter and more traditional craft beer after the Abolitionist visit and chose a 4-pack of their "Fröehlich" Kölsch. I opened a can on my return home and it's very well made with a slightly bready character and enough hops to liven the finish. 

Bozzo Family opened just two years ago and produces all its wines from estate fruit sans their two Petit Manseng where the grapes are sourced from a neighboring vineyard.   I left with a bottle of their Alma ($25), a wine named after their mother, and which is a dry 2018 Viognier.  I also chose one of their dueling Petit Mansengs, a rising commodity in the Virginia wine industry, and in particular the dry style. That was the Lisa & Thad SO ($25 and named after their daughter and son-in-law) and a dry 2017 Petit Manseng which was aged in steel and French oak for 18 months - the ("SO"). The other Petit Manseng is the 2018 Patricia which was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel for about 5 months. 

Truthfully, I hadn't planned on visiting Walsh Family Wine although Nate Walsh is a prominent winemaker and provided an entertaining and educational tasting series while at Sunset Hills Vineyard. However, in a divine fashion, the Route 9 detour around Hillsboro led me straight to the winery.  Nate interacts with a wide range of grape varieties in there were Petit Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and a collection of red Bordeaux styled wines.  I chose a bottle of their 2018 Walsh Family Wine Viognier ($30) because -- it's a Virginia Viognier. 

While heading to Keys Gap and before Hillsboro I had noticed a new brewery which turned out to be the 3-month-old Harvest Gap Brewery.  There were dozens and dozens of thirsty patrons huddled in small groups throughout the spacious grounds sipping and eating from the inhouse kitchen. For my first real drink of the day, I selected a sampler and found a quiet outdoor table nearer the road.  I went with the Mad Black Cow, Nitro Milk Stout, Heavy "D" Sour AleHappy Pils Pilsner, and the recommended 52 Dakota West Coast DIPA. That was a very drinkable double IPA, with the mango and vanilla providing a bit of a milkshake feel without the lactose. The other three were also solid beers - ready to make Harvest Gap a destination in itself.

The final, and previously planned stop, was to Corcoran Wine & Cider where Lori Corcoran had signaled new ciders were on the horizon.  Over a bottle of a recently bottled PoPo Peach, we discussed family, cider, Loudoun wine as Blu met new friends.  Lori also let me taste the now bottled and released Corcoran Hard Cider, a fresh, tart, and effervescent cider where the apple flavors are prominent. The PoPo is easy drinking with the stone fruit providing a little depth.  With a handful of ciders, I also came took home a bottle of her 2012 Waterford ($40) - a white port-styled wine made from 100% Viognier and aged seven years in whiskey barrels. How unique. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Picaroon Single Barrel Rum from Blackwater Distilling™

Heading to or from the Delmarva beaches leads to the Bay Bridge, Kent Island, and a chance to taste and tour Maryland's oldest post-prohibition distillery: Blackwater Distilling™. They were founded in 2008 and gained traction with their Sloop Betty Handcrafted Wheat Vodka - a vodka labeled "Produced and Bottled by Blackwater Distilling” since they don't actually distill the vodka or the cane sugar (Cachaça) used in this unique blend. 

On the other hand, their Picaroon Maryland Rum is labeled with "Distilled and Bottled by Blackwater Distilling" since the rum is distilled entirely onsite using raw cane sugar based on the French Caribbean tradition. And the cane juice is fermented using a yeast strain that was isolated during a natural sugar cane fermentation in the island of Martinique and at temperatures present on that island.  

Blackwater traditionally releases three versions of this Picaroon Maryland Rum, a White, Gold, and Dark. Interestingly, the Gold is colored using caramel made in-house (the distillery is a stickler for quality).  The Dark is a barrel-aged Picaroon Rum, which has been stored in new, 53-gallon, charred, American oak barrels. During bottling the rum is mellowed by blending in some of the un-aged Picaroon White Rum. 

More recently, the distillery has released a new member to the family -- the Picaroon Single Barrel Rum. As its name implies, all bottles in the series come from a single barrel and each batch is one-of-a-kind, labeled with handwritten barrel and bottle numbers.  I purchased a bottle and am baffled with each sip. Don't misunderstand. It's very good, but the complexity reminds me more of a soft whiskey with a hint of cane sugar sweetness.  The 50% abv is tempered somewhat by cinnamon and other baking spices and overall, a very intriguing rum.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Landing Craft Beer in Lewes Delaware

For a couple years now a neighbor has been bringing home and sharing delicious sour beer from his weekend visits to Lewes, Delaware. Eventually, I found time to see where these beers call home during a weekend at the beach.  In 2018, Big Oyster Brewery was named the Brewers Association's Second Fastest Growing Brewery and their beer is available throughout the Delmarva peninsula and as far north as Allenton and west to D.C. I arrived at the Big Red Barn after the lunch crowd and had a quiet seating to revisit sours such as the Black Lips Blackberry Sour Ale and the Donut Kill My Vibe - Blueberry Lemon kettle sour. Both delicious beers. So was the "Gobsmakced" Hazelnut Porter which is a dry English porter with just subtle hazelnut intermixed with the expected porter flavors. However, my favorite beer was the simplest. The German styled Public Pilsner is a light yet flavorful bready pils where a growler goes well with bing watching college football on a Saturday afternoon.

Crooked Hammock Brewery is located less than a mile down the road which makes a beer tour very convenient.  They have also expanded into Middletown, Delaware and North Myrtle Beach providing easy access to Route 301 commuters and Coastal Carolina visitors. In Lewes, expect a large restaurant, possible live music (finally), and plenty of beer.  I went through a double flight of four and recommend the Lift Ticket Golden Stout for something very interesting (pleasantly less sweet than expected) and the Pass the Sauce Apple Cranberry Cobbler Sour.  Thanksgiving in a beer.  The "5" Hazy DIPA is solid and only 8% abv whereas the everyday beer - particularly during a gold outing - is the Four Tires, Two Friends, and a Radio American Lager.  Grab a six-pack of this beer. 

If you want to add a distillery and winery to your trip, Beach Time Distilling and Nassau Valley Vineyards are nearby, just check their hours before you visit. theCompass Craft Beverage Finder has directions and their contact information. Cheers.