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  • Cider Houses Rule

    Cider has been an American tradition since the birth of our nation. Our country’s indigenous apple trees, mostly crab apples, were ideal for making it. Colonists also brought Old World varieties to plant on their arrival.

    It was considered much safer than water to drink and was even consumed by children. Orchardist and horticulturalist Tom Burford has said he believes Americans drank as much cider per capita in the 18th century as they do soft drinks today.

    So, where did its popularity go?

    During Prohibition, orchardists switched their marketing strategy from cider being what the doctor ordered to the famous saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and started growing apples for eating. The repeal of Prohibition allowed orchards to again focus on cider, but the return of its popularity has been a long process.

    Cider, like craft beer, is enjoying revival. But here are a few things you need to know.

    Not all cider is super sweet: Cider is made from a blend of juices from different apple varieties. The categories of apples include sweet, sharp, bittersweet, and bittersharp. If you like tart flavors, look for Basque ciders from Spain. They are still and can be described as briney and sour. Another great style description to look for is Farmhouse, these ciders can be wild fermented and tend to be dryer and offer a bit of funk.

    Ciders come in a wide variety of carbonation levels: Some ciders are still, with no carbonation (think wine). Others are as bubbly as champagne. Champagne ciders are exquisite. They typically come from France and are a wonderful substitute to champagne. They are a bit sweet, but balanced. The most famous still ciders come from Spain, but there are also some wonderful cask ciders that are bottled still from England.

    Some of the best ciders on the market right now are made right here in Virginia: In 2012, Virginia became the first state to have an official Cider Week proclaimed by the governor. Cider Week Virginia is Nov. 11-20, 2016 and The Birch will be celebrating by hosting an 11 Hours of Virginia Cider on Friday, Nov. 18, featuring at least five Virginia cideries. The reviews this issue are also all ciders made in Virginia.

    Read the reviews:

    First Fruit
    Foggy Ridge Cider | ABV: 7%

    Charred Ordinary
    Blue Bee Cider | ABV: 8.3%

    Hop Cider
    Potter’s Craft Cider | ABV: 8.5%

    Gold Rush
    Albermarle CiderWorks | ABV: 9.1%

  • Don't Sour on Sours Yet

    by Malia Paasch

    This week I’m hosting my fifth annual 43 Hours of Sours at The Birch, a craft beer bar in Norfolk’s Chelsea neighborhood. And while sours continue to grow in popularity, I still field a fair amount of questions about them.

    So here is a little tutorial. The term “sour” applies to beers that taste acidic, vinegary, funky, or tart. There are a variety of techniques to make one, but the foundation is based on the yeast or bacteria used. Bacteria metabolize sugar in the wort and produce lactic acid. Brewers will use a combination of bacteria to obtain the desired acidity, and in most cases end up blending different batches together.

    The second aspect to making a sour involves the manner in which bacteria are added to the beer, and how it is aged. Historically, German brewers would throw malt to get a lacto sour going because the husks are loaded with lactobacicullus.

    The kettle sour method and barrel aging are other methods of the process. Sours can take on the flavors from the liquids that were previously in the barrels. Plus the barrels also hold microflora and microorganisms, which will also affect taste.

    Making sours is not easy and in some cases takes years. But they can be worth every second of the wait. I’m convinced there is a sour for everyone, but the search may take time.

    First, identify you flavor profile. If you are more of a wine drinker, there is a good chance you will prefer wine barrel-aged sours. But if you like Sweet Tarts or Sour Patch Kids, you might want to steer toward a Berliner Weiss or a dry-hopped sour IPA.

    Here are some classic sour styles and their tasting notes for you to use as a guide:

    •Flemish Reds: smooth, slightly sweet, sometimes fruity
    • Goses: salty, tart, light
    • Gueuze: bitter greens, vinaigrette
    • Berliner Weiss: refreshing, lemony, crisp
    • Wild Ales: dry, funky, can be fruity or tart
    • Basque Ciders: tart, vinegary, olive

    At our 43 Hours of Sour festival, we create tasting notes for every beer on draft and customers can opt to get a 4.5 oz taster pour instead of committing to a whole glass. Some other great places to find sours in the area are Esoteric, The Lynnhaven Pub, Dog Street Pub, and The Bier Garden, or Total Wine, Grape and Gourmet, Bottlebox, and Exception(Ale) for take home.

  • The ABC’s of Ordering Beer

    By Malia Paasch for HR Growler
    Photo by Chrystal Culbert

    Asking for a beer seems a simple enough process, but what happens if you just don’t know what you like? This happens more often than you might think. Craft beer’s growing popularity has led to more people trying it; not all of them are even remotely aware of what they want. The key is understanding flavors and being aware of the ones you like. I’ve heard some crazy descriptions: types of candy, exotic seasonings, nail polish remover, vinegar, and even dirt. But don’t be shy. Anything can help give the bartender a starting point to your palate. Here are a few of the most common scenarios my staff and I encounter when we’re trying to find someone their perfect beer.

    Scenario 1: You tell the bartender you like (or dislike) hoppy beers.
    Most beers have hops, but that doesn’t mean all beers taste like an India Pale Ale. There are 124 named hop varieties and each has its own special flavor. There are hop varieties that aren’t even bitter.


    If you like hops, tell the bartender what other IPAs you like. This provides a clue as to what kind of hops you already enjoy. Common hop descriptors in IPA include pine, spruce, grapefruit, and citrus.


    Otherwise, explain why you don’t like hoppy beers. Is it because the hops are bitter or is it the aftertaste? It could be that you enjoy fruity hops and not the piney ones.


    Scenario 2:  You ask the bartender for something light.
    Do you mean light in color? Light in alcohol, or body? Does that mean tart or are you looking for a wheat beer? A diehard IPA fan might consider a 7 percent IPA to be light, while others are looking for a more traditional interpretation and want a pilsner. Again, the simplest way is to give an example of a beer you like, even if it isn’t a craft beer.


    Scenario 3: You don’t really like beer.
    It’s not often you’ll find yourself in a position where a bar doesn’t have alternatives to beer, but in some cases it does happen. Tell the bartender what alcoholic drinks you like. If you like margaritas, you might like something crisp, slightly tart, and a bit fruity. A red wine drinker might enjoy a mild sour beer. White wine lovers usually like a witbier or Belgian tripel.
    Of course the best way to learn more about beer is to drink some. But don’t be shy about chatting up a knowledgeable bartender. You never know what you might discover.

  • God Approved Liquid Bread

    By Malia Paasch for HR Growler

    Lent for Christians is a time of repentance, reflection and self-denial. But what if I told you there is a beer you still can enjoy, and that hundreds of years ago it was a means for survival? 

    I’m talking about doppelbocks.


    Bock biers, which predate doppelbocks, are German dark lagers. They’re bottom fermented and have an average ABV of about 6 percent.


    The first bock is attributed to the Einbecker Brewery around 1348. The name is said to have originated because of the way Bavarians pronounced the word Einbeck. It sounded more like “Ein bock” which translated literally means a billy goat.


    Doppelbocks got their name from their higher alcohol content. In 1627 Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria invited some Paulaner monks to move to his country. The Paulaners, a branch of Benedictine monks from Italy, relocated to Munich and began brewing for the public.


    By 1774 they had crafted their own original beer recipe that was named SanctPaterbier, which later became Salvator, the Latin word for Savior. Father Barnabas was the original brewer and is the creator of what we now know as doppelbock.


    This beer became the benchmark for the style, and many breweries tried to emulate it, even calling it by the same name. This spurred a lawsuit forcing the other breweries to rebrand, resulting in many of these beers carrying names than end with the suffix -ator. (Notice the following reviewed beer names.)
    During Lent, the Paulaner monks restricted themselves to a liquid diet and that is how doppelbocks were given the name “liquid bread.” In addition to water, the monks would drink the beer to sustain themselves: The beer contains nutrients including selenium, vitamin B, phosphorus, folate, niacin, protein, fiber and silicon.


    It became a custom that the first mug full of doppelbock for the Lent season would go to the Duke of Bavaria. He would be offered a toast, and while the Duke sipped on his strong brew, Father Barnabas would be allowed to speak his mind. This tradition is re-enacted today when the first keg of Salvator is tapped to mark the middle of Lent.


    So, there’s no need to give up beer for Lent. Actually, you may need the vitamins. Cheers to liquid bread.

  • What's a Gypsy Brewer?


    by Malia Paasch for HR Growler

    Mikkeller, Evil Twin Brewing Company and Stillwater Artisanal Ales: What do these brewers have in common?

    They don’t actually own a brewery.

    These three are among the few who have found a way to make beer without a brick-and-mortar footprint. Known as “gypsy brewers,” they are some of the most innovative producers in the world.

    Mikkeller of Denmark was the first gypsy I ran across. The brewer’s two founders, Mikkel Borg Bjergso and Kristian Klarup Keller, started in college. They continued their “kitchen experiments” for two years, often sharing their homebrews with friends at their beer club.

    During a blind taste test against commercially brewed beers, Mikkeller came out on top. The two men decided to try producing on a larger scale at a local microbrewery. Mikkel’s twin brother, Jeppe, had a bottle shop in Copenhagen and started selling the beer. Now the brand exports to 40 countries and has a dozen Mikkeller Bars all over the world.

    Speaking of those bars: Originally Jeppe and Mikkel had a pact that each would stay in their own worlds, retail and production. But when Mikkel opened his first bar and retail shop down the street from Jeppe’s bottle shop, the brother decided it was his turn to start brewing.

    He created Evil Twin Brewing Company in 2010. Evil Twin is not quite the size of Mikkeller, but his beers are nearly as well known. He exports to 12 countries and has a bar in Brooklyn named Torst.

    Brian Strumke, known to the beer world as Stillwater, is one of our own stateside gypsy brewers. A native of Baltimore, Strumke was a DJ and techno producer who started home brewing around the same time of Jeppe and Mikkel.

    The story goes that Strumke was asked to bring some of his brews to Max’s, a bar in Baltimore. From that, Stillwater Artisanal Ales was born.

    These three produce their beers in large quantities by contracting recipes to breweries with free fermenter space.

    Mikkeller mostly uses De Proef in Belgium. Evil Twin moved most of his production stateside to Westbrook Brewing in South Carolina and Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut. Stillwater uses Pub Dog Brewing in Maryland and travels the world crafting collaboration beers.

    The gypsy brewers are at the forefront of the beer market. Evil Twin moving production stateside has enabled him to sell his beers at a lower price. Stillwater has been collaborating with fledgling breweries in South America. Mikkeller’s latest announcement is that he is opening his first brewery in San Diego with Alesmith, using their brewing facility.

    Is it every gypsy brewer’s dream to have a brewery? This move may signal a change in the gypsy brewing market; only time will tell.

  • Take Your Taste Buds Down Under

    by Malia Paasch for HR Growler

    One of the most exciting things about the craft beer revival is that it stretches beyond our country’s borders.

    America is not the only place facing choices between mass-produced macro beers and the smaller, usually more tasty, craft selections. When you think of Australian beer, what comes to mind? Fosters? Well, that’s now owned by SABMiller. How about Italy? Peroni is also owned by SABMiller. Heck, even Moratti is owned by Heineken.

    So what does one do if they want good beer down under? How about checking out Nomad Brewing Company, a collaboration between Australian craft beer importer ExperienceIt and Birra del Borgo, Italy’s premiere craft brewer.
    ExperienceIt is owned by Kerrie and Johnny Latta, who moved from Australia to Italy in search of a new adventure. The couple started their importing company, initially focusing on Italian wines.


    Soon they fell in love with craft beer and started importing to Australia as well. The company also imports American craft beers into the country, including selections from Deschutes Brewery, Stone Brewing and Sixpoint Brewery.
    Birra del Borgo was founded by Leonardo Di Vincenzo, a biochemist who became fascinated with home brewing. You may have heard of Birra del Borgo from its collaboration with Dogfish Head Brewing.


    Together those two companies made My Antonia, an imperial pilsner recipe created using Dogfish Head’s continual hopping technique. Del Borgo’s beers, imported by ExperienceIt, made their debut at Australia’s Good Beer Week in 2012. Di Vincenzo made the trip to Australia, and return several times after to judge beer festivals, and host beer events. He soon was enticed by the country’s burgeoning craft beer scene.


    The Lattas and Di Vincenzo decided to combine their passions for beer and love of travel into a new Australian brewery called Nomad. The name is fitting. The project’s head brewer is Brooks Caretta, another global wanderer. He began his career as an intern at Del Borgo in 2009, and was soon whisked off to New York City as head brewer of Birreria Eataly. He also helped open the Eataly in Rome.


    He says the beers the brewery specializes in are made for “people with passion and a desire to seek out new experiences.” For example, Nomad’s Long Trip Saison is brewed with some truly Aussie ingredients; wattle seed and Tasmanian black pepper. The brewery also adds coffee beans to the mash giving it a subtle coffee note. Another beer, Freshie Salt and Pepper, is brewed with real sea water harvested in Sydney. So even if you aren’t planning a trip down under this summer, take your taste buds on an adventure and enjoy a pint of the Aussie life.

  • Mead in South Africa

    by Malia Paasch for HR Growler

    Makana Meadery in South Africa was founded in 2000 to revive an ancient mead that dates back before the wooly mammoth went extinct. The meadery is now producing some truly incredible elixirs.

    Mead is created by mixing honey, water, and yeast and letting it ferment, but don’t let the simple recipe fool you. The drink’s flavor comes from the type of honey used.

    Location of hives is crucial. Bees are efficient insects and collect nectar from flowers closest to their hives and with the most nectar. Imagine all of the variables. What flowers are in bloom? Which are most abundant? This dependence on nature makes it nearly impossible to replicate the exact same mead every time.

    Makana embraces this idea. Its location in the African savanna sets the stage for meads that produce terroir-based flavors unique to the land. The savanna naturally offers honey bees a diverse collection of flowering plants, most of which are considered wild vegetation. Each mead shipped to the United States is aged in South African wine barrels, which offer even more exposure to the local microflora.

    The meadery was originally a research project with Rhodes University tasked with creating a new fermentation system to produce iQhilika (ee-qeh-lee-ka), a mead originally produced by the Xhosa people of South Africa and estimated to be 20,000 years old.

    This research project turned in to a full-scale operation. All of Makana’s honey is produced by its beekeeping program and patented fermentation technology.

    A few of its selections:

    Herbal Blossom Mead:  a semi-sweet mead made with hibiscus, rosehip, licorice, cinnamon and dried apples. This mead is aromatic when swirled in the glass and smells like a combination of all the spices in the cabinet. The true honey flavor comes out in the flavor, and the spices fade into the background.

    African Bird’s Eye Chili Mead: Created by aging the mead over the indigenous African Bird’s Eye chili, this mead is sweet at first and the heat builds slowly. The bottle states it perfectly, “an exotic drink for those daring moments.”

    Cape Fig Leaf Mead:  This one is a metheglin (that’s the fancy term for spiced mead). Makana found that fig-tree leaves had more flavor to offer than the actual fruit and started using the leaves to produce this wonderfully earthy mead. The flavors in this mead always remind me of the smells produced after a summer rain storm.

    Makana’s Garth Cambray suggests chilling mead before consuming to let the sentiment settle. He also recommends a red-wine glass as the ideal mead vessel. The open mouth allows the bouquet to open up. The variety of flavors that Makana Meadery offers makes this a versatile beverage. Mead can be enjoyed on its own, as an aperitif, paired with dinner or for dessert.