Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hardywood Park “Farmhouse Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Hardywood Park “Farmhouse Pumpkin” Pumpkin Ale is 8.5% ABV.

I poured some of a 750 ml  bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: A careful pour gave a finger of bright off-white foam, which slowly dissipated to leave some froth on the surface of the beer. This is slightly hazy with a bright burnt orange color. It looks to have moderate carbonation.

Smell: To start there is nice roasted pumpkin along with some bready yeast and funky notes. Smells like a roasted pumpkin farmhouse ale. I get some earthy white pepper, bright citrus, brown sugar, and some warm spicing. The spicing isn’t so easy to individuate by its component, due to the strong yeast and other flavors. I get some cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, I think. Really great aroma. My favorite things: roasty pumpkin and saison qualities.

Taste: The first sip was just so flavorful: roasted pumpkin, and great complexity from the yeast, citrus, spice, and sugar. This just overtakes with powerful flavors. The roasted pumpkin is noticeable throughout, as the bready yeast is. This isn’t as funky as I was expecting from the aroma. I guess the sugar rounds things out a bit. This just has great earthy flavors, with spices of (I think) allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This also has a white peppery bitterness with the spicing, adding a great match to the citrus and funky yeast. This finishes with a little more white-pepper-like bitterness and yeast along with a citrus tang. Some mild yeast and peppery bitterness in the aftertaste. What a great example of a non-traditional pumpkin ale with great roasted pumpkin flavor.

Feel: This is medium bodied plus, with moderate carbonation. It has an earthy feel, with the yeast, citrus, and spices adding texture, while the roasted pumpkin and sweetness round it out. The pepper notes do grab hold and attract some attention.

Drinkability: This is a full-flavored beer with a substantive yeast presence. So it is not a paradigm drinkable pumpkin ale. Even so, the sugar and the roasted pumpkin smooth things out some. Because of the bold and contrasting flavors in this, it isn’t one to really barrel through.

Overall: I like this beer quite a bit. I love saisons and other farmhouse ales. Having one with a roasty pumpkin presence is quite nice. I’ve had this beer in the past, and look forward to having it each year since it came out in 2011. This year I like it even more than I remember. The sugar was well-balanced, the citrus notes were bright, and the yeasty elements substantive but not overwhelming. And all that paired well with the roasted pumpkin and the spicing. Given all that is going on in this beer, it could get busy quick. But it doesn’t. It is an artfully crafted beer, another very good offering from Virginia. Check in tomorrow when I review Hardwood’s “Rum Pumpkin”, their farmhouse pumpkin aged in rum barrels!

Overall Rating: ***3/4

DSC03649About Hardywood Park and their “Farmhouse Pumpkin”: Co-founders, Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh opened Hardywood Park in Richmond, Virginia in October of 2011. As the story on their website goes, McKay and Murtaugh had been lifelong friends, and were inspired in 2001 during a trip to Australia to make some of the best craft beer in the world. Since then both have done a lot en route to achieving this goal, much of which can be read about on their website. They have also done a lot for the beer culture in Virginia, being instrumental in getting Senate Bill 604 to pass. That bill allowed on-site consumption of beer at breweries in Virginia, a privilege already enjoyed by wineries in the state. Moreover, the folks at Hardywood seem to pride themselves on being involved with the local community, by locally sourcing their ingredients, hosting community events, and participating at a number of farmers markets. If you come near Richmond, Virginia, Hardywood Park is located near the historic Fan neighborhood, just north of Broad street, in a massive 12,000 square foot warehouse. During release days for their beer, you can expect a big crowd.

Hardywood makes their Wallonian-style farmhouse ale with a saison yeast and barley, rye, and wheat for their grain. They add roasted Virginia-grown sugar pumpkins, brown sugar, and spices fresh or bought at local businesses. For spicing they use allspice, Ceylon cinnamon, fresh organic ginger root, Grenada nutmeg,  and Madagascar cloves.

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Strangeways “Gourd of Thunder” Imperial Pumpkin Porter (2013)

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Strangeways “Gourd of Thunder” Imperial Pumpkin Porter is 9.2% ABV.

I was served a 10 oz goblet with a golden rim at the brewery’s tap room.

Appearance: This was served with just an eight of an inch of thin light tan head. The beer has a dark murky brown color, with a little light coming through. It looks to have mild carbonation.

Smell: This has very clear vegetal pumpkin, and warm spicing of clove, cinnamon, and  (I think) nutmeg. I get some dark roasty malt notes, some brown sugar, and some molasses. Overall the aroma isn’t very strong, and is mostly constituted by vegetal pumpkin with the dark malt and spicing.

Taste: Great vegetal and bright pumpkin in this, without a whole lot of sourness that often comes along. This has some sour tones, but is otherwise balanced well with the dark somewhat roasty malt and the earthy blend of spices. This has definite clove, and I think some cinnamon and nutmeg. There is also some vanilla to it, with flavors of strong brown sugar and some molasses. All of the flavors are good and work well together. They aren’t scattered like a lot of dark pumpkin ales can be. This woodsy pumpkin porter is spot on with the spices, and is a lot more subtle and complex than its name gives it credit for. The finish has some enjoyable warm spicing, and some of the darker sweetness. Some woody spice and dark malt are present in the aftertaste.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with low to moderate carbonation. It is lighter in body than I was expecting given the ABV, and given how strong the flavors are. It has a soft and smooth malty sweetness with the woody spicing and dark sugar adding some texture. Some slight sour tones from the vegetal pumpkin are also present. Nice feel.

Drinkability: For something this bold and high in ABV, this is pretty darn drinkable. There are some of the woody notes and dark spices hanging around in the aftertaste. A good thing is that they don’t drag, and come off as pleasant. So pretty decent marks here.

Overall: This is the best pumpkin porter I’ve had. I like it even more than Epic/DC Brau’s Imperial Pumpkin Porter, which I’ve looked forward to having every year. I love the woodsy spice flavor and the feel. The pumpkin is bright and not overcrowded. It also has good balance. It is lighter in body than I was expecting, or maybe than I’d ideally want in a bold porter. But it is very good. Virginia continues to offer good new and artfully crafted beer. If you are near enough to Richmond and haven’t been to Strangeways, do it. Their “Wallonian Dawn” honey saison and their “Woodbooger” Belgian-style brown ale are both good beers to drink.

Overall Rating: ***3/4

DSC03611About Strangeways and their “Gourd of Thunder”: Strangeways Brewing opened in Richmond, Virginia in late May of 2013. I spoke with Cheyenne Burnham, operations and events coordinator, when I visited. She was helpful and told me a little about the brewery and their beer. Founder and entrepreneur, Neil Burton had been working on starting a brewery for a few years. He spent a good deal of time supporting and helping House Bill 359 to pass, which allows an alternating proprietorship for breweries, something Neil been barred from doing previously. Neil later met professional brewer, Mike Hiller, who is now the master brewer of Strangeways. If you visit Strangeways, you’ll find their particular aesthetic vibrant and unique, though I wouldn’t say strange. Strangeways beer is distributed by Brown and is available all over Richmond, Virginia on tap, and now in a few bottles. They say that they will work on distributing as far out as they can go. So I expect more by way of bottles to come.

“Gourd of Thunder” is made with fresh roasted locally bought pumpkins, and a spice bill of clove, ginger, cinnamon, and bourbon vanilla beans. It was released for the first time on October 17th, and has made a very positive impact in Richmond. Having only made 2o barrels of it, I imagine it won’t last long.

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Three Brothers “Five Pound Fall Ale” Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Three Brothers “Five Pound Fall Ale” Pumpkin Ale is 5.3% ABV.

I poured some of a 22 oz  bottle into a Belgian ale glass.

Appearance: A slow then firm pour allowed over two fingers of thick and frothy off-white head. This hung on for quite some time, leaving fairly thick lacing when it dissipated some. The color is a very clear and beautiful darker reddish orange. It looks to have heavy carbonation.

Smell: Starting out I get a lot of spice that is earthy and warm: cinnamon, clove, and allspice being what I think are the most prominent. The spice profile has a woody and seed-like character. There are some subtly sour tones of something like vegetal squash, as well as some mild dark sugar. Finally, there is some breadiness adding to the otherwise smooth malt. This smells smooth, almost creamy, and warm, but with a heavy dose of spice.

Taste: This has nice smooth and deep flavors. The spice is warm and still woody, with some clove and allspice coming through (I think). There is some great roasty pumpkin, and some bready malt with a rich darker character. The flavors are also woody, like from toasted pumpkin seeds. This has some slight astringency, especially towards the end. Finally, there is a restrained sweetness of something like molasses. This finishes with the warm spice and some slight astringency grabbing hold at the end, leaving a little slightly sweet and soft bitterness in the aftertaste. Good flavors.

Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate plus carbonation. It is  smooth and soft with a creamy texture. The woody spices bring great warmth, as does the roasted pumpkin. This doesn’t drag or overwhelm in any way. Really great feel.

Drinkability: This is good here. It is low to middle of the road for ABV, smooth, and doesn’t drag on the palate. The woody flavors do come on strong, but don’t make this cumbersome or busy.

Overall: This is a successful pumpkin ale. It has woody spicing, great strong roasted pumpkin, and restrained sweetness. The feel is on the creamy side, which is nice. There is a lot of good flavor for something this low in ABV. I especially enjoy what comes off as pumpkin seeds. I certainly recommend this offering from Three Brothers. It reminds me of Anderson Valley’s “Fall Hornin'”, which also brings a creamy texture to a warm spiced pumpkin ale. I think Three Brothers is better, due to its more roasty pumpkin as well as its deeper and more pronounced flavors overall. Try this if you get the opportunity. I grabbed some bottles when I visited their tap room a few weeks ago. I think it was somewhat limited in production.

Overall Rating: ***1/2

DSC03644About Three Brothers and their offering: Three Brothers Brewing opened in Harrisonburg, Virginia in December of 2012. They are owned by three brothers, from oldest to youngest: Adam, Jason, and Tyler. Having grown up in that community, they say that their goal is to work to brew good and unique craft beer by collaborating with and supporting their community. This is exactly what they did for their “Five Pound Fall Ale”, which I was told was only the third beer to be bottled by Three Brothers, as well as their first in 22 oz bottles. Three Brothers had previously released and distributed their “The Great Outdoors” pale ale and their “Hoptimization” IPA on tap and in 6-packs.

Three Brothers brewed “Five Pound Fall Ale” on September 14th, 2013. Many people from the community brought 5 pounds of their own roasted pumpkin that they either grew or sourced themselves. This was Three Brothers’ first beer to be community sourced. And it is a good one. They approached 400 pounds of pumpkins for a 465 gallon batch, which comes out to over 4/5ths of a pound of pumpkin per gallon of beer! The brothers use their family pumpkin pie spices in the beer, similar to how Geoff Logan from AleWerks constructed his recipe with his brother. First released just to the pumpkin contributors as well as to their “passport members”, “Five Pound Fall Ale” was then available to the rest of the public on October 10th. It seems like they have sold a lot of it, if not sold out entirely. (I’m not sure, so check if you are interested in trying it.) The three brothers are also coming off of a bronze medal win at the Great American Beer Festival for their Rum Barrel Aged Belgian Dubbel. Three cheers for Virginia beer.

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Blue Mountain Barrel House “Spooky” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Blue Mountain Barrel House “Spooky” Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale is 8.2% ABV.

I poured some of a 750 ml  bottle into a porter glass.

Appearance: My steady then hearty pour tossed up two fingers of bright and off-white frothy head, which slowly but never totally dissipated to leave thick lacing. This has a bright burnt orange color with some red to it, and looks to have heavy carbonation.

Smell: Strong bourbon up front is joined later by some vegetal and sweet pumpkin, some vanilla, and some warm earthiness, perhaps from some spicing. I am not getting anything real spice heavy, though.  The more I smell this, the more the earthiness seems to come from the bourbon. This has real clean bourbon to it, which dominates a lot of the aroma, and suggests a bit of booziness. Nice bold aroma.

Taste: I get bold and round flavors of roasty pumpkin, bourbon, and a complex and strong sweetness, like from vanilla, dark honey, and molasses. This is really bright also having some strong floral elements, as from some artfully added hops. This is not just a real malt-heavy pumpkin pie style pumpkin ale. It has a lot of complexity to it, and incredibly well-balanced flavors. There is a mild alcohol bite to it, but nothing major, especially for something that has this much flavor. This finishes with some of the floral sweetness staying strong. This continues into the aftertaste, which has just a bit of a bourbon bite as well. Really nice flavors. A lot less bourbon than the aroma suggested.

Feel: This is medium to heavy bodied, with moderate (plus some) carbonation. This is quite round and has a lot of warmth to it. It also has a lot of sweetness that does keep it fairly thick. The bourbon comes through and adds a little booziness, though nothing that detracts so much. This is a heavy, sweet, but has enough floral notes and bourbon to balance it out. Great round and interesting feel.

Drinkability: This is pretty good on this score, despite the little booziness. The flavors are strong, which make it hard to drink very fast. But they have a roundness and are pretty smooth. Before trying this beer tonight for the first time, I had heard that it was on the boozy side. Maybe the 2 months of sitting in my fridge helped, or maybe what I heard wasn’t so spot on, since this really isn’t terribly boozy. Decent marks here.

Overall: I would certainly buy another bottle of this, even at that 11-12ish dollars for a 750. I love how bold the flavors are. It has great balance, roasty pumpkin, and nice bourbon. There is that slight alcohol bite, though this is otherwise good with respect to being boozy. The floral notes are also nice. For my tastes, I’d rather have a little more roasty pumpkin and a little less of the floral and honey sweetness. In any case, this is quite good. Another great offering from Virginia. In fact, it is the best bourbon offering I’ve had so far this season. Soon I’ll have Heavy Seas’ “Great’er Pumpkin”, and Shipyard’s bourbon aged “Smashed Pumpkin”.

Overall Rating: ****

image (16)About Blue Mountain Barrel House and “Spooky”: Blue Mountain Barrel House was founded by the Smack family in 2011 in Arrington, Virginia. It opened as a “sister brewery” to the original Blue Mountain Brewery, which is located in Afton, Virginia. Blue Mountain Barrel House bottle referments all of their beers, which are mostly available in 750ml bottles. This technique allows for a richer texture and more substantial head retention, and also offers certain flavor advantages. About half of the beers done by their facility are aged in American white oak bourbon barrels, by the hand of Taylor Smack, brewmaster. Taylor previously worked at Goose Island, quite notable for their bourbon barrel aged beers, with their quite notable and sought after “Bourbon County” line.

Blue Mountain Barrel House makes “Spooky” by adding cocoa nibs to their imperial ale with pumpkin flavor. They then age it in bourbon barrels for a few months. This bit beer hits 22 IBU’s and 8.2% alcohol, and is worth spending an evening with.

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Champion “Spice Must Flow” Pumpkin Spice Ale (2013)

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Champion “Spice Must Flow” Pumpkin Spice Ale is 6% ABV.

I was served a 16 oz pint glass on tap at the brewery.

Appearance: This was served with a half finger of thin and bubbly off-white head, which dissipated quickly. The color is a moderately cloudy iced tea/amber with an orange hue. This looks to have mild carbonation.

Smell: This has some malty vegetal pumpkin with a strong but soft spice presence. It reminds me of the smell of Cottonwood’s Pumpkin Ale. But Champion’s is perhaps more inviting. This has good spicing of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, as well as a some enjoyable brown sugar. Great warm aroma.

Taste: The taste is lovely with roasted pumpkin, smooth malt, and warm spice. This has strong flavors and is certainly on the malty side of things, with notable vanilla and warm spicing of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (I think). It also has some other spice components that I just overheard are from chai. I probably wouldn’t have gotten that from the taste alone, though I can definitely pick it up now. The spicing really is nice and smooth with this one. This finishes with some warm spicing and roasted pumpkin giving way to a little citrus and some vegetal tones. The warm spice is present in the aftertaste, but doesn’t drag. Nice flavors overall.

Feel: This offering is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. It has great warmth and roast, and is overall pretty creamy. The spices don’t drag or get too muddy, despite being strongly dosed. Great feel.

Drinkability: This is about as good for drinkability as a very spice-heavy beer can be. If the spicing were less heavy, this could be even better. I like the spicing, though. So pretty good here.

Overall: I enjoyed this one. Good roasted pumpkin and chai flavors, an enjoyable feel that is on the creamy side, and some strong spicing that is not too sharp and doesn’t drag. The vanilla is also nice. For my tastes, I’d like a little more roasted pumpkin and a bit less heavy spice. Although I have to say that the chai was just great. This is a good beer, and would be especially worth pursuing if you really like spiced rum or cider. For their size, Champion offers a surprisingly large number of different tasty beers that they rotate through their brewery. You can always expect something solid, and something off the beaten path.

Overall Rating: ***1/4

image (35)About Champion and “Spice Must Flow”: Champion Brewing is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, a stones throw away from the downtown mall. I wrote a little about them in yesterday’s post, where I reviewed their “Kicking and Screaming” pumpkin IPA.

Champion makes their “Spice Must Flow” pumpkin spice ale with roasted local pumpkins, Vietnamese cinnamon, chai, and some lactose which boosts the body and feel. This warm and smooth beer is 25 IBU’s and 6% ABV. I popped in  to try some of this beer after hearing a few hours before that it was about to be offered. That was also when I learned that it existed, which was fun for me. When I arrived, Champion was starting a marathon of all three Friday the 13th movies, which I thought was a great compliment to the beer. My partner did not agree, as she is not a fan of the horror genre. If you haven’t been by Champion, and are near the area, its definitely a great place to drink good and interesting beer in Charlottesville.

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Champion “Kicking and Screaming” Pumpkin IPA (2013)

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Champion “Kicking and Screaming” Pumpkin IPA is 8% ABV.

I was served a 16 oz  pint glass on tap at the brewery.

Appearance: The beer had a finger of off-white head, which dissipated quickly leaving some foamy lacing along the sides of the glass. The color is an orange/amber with a bit of haze. This looks to have minimal carbonation.

Smell: There is some roasty and vegetal pumpkin up front, along with a hearty hop presence. There are nice floral hops in this, as well as some spicing, from which I get some cinnamon. Smells like a hoppy and roasty pumpkin beer. Pretty nice aroma.

Taste: To start there is pumpkin with both roasty and vegetal dimensions and some sweetness of brown sugar and honey. This has some cinnamon that adds a solid but not overwhelming spice kick. The floral hops add some structure. I also get some vanilla as well. This finishes with some more bitterness from the hops, and a touch of citrus. The aftertaste has some hops hanging on and some citrus.

Feel: This is medium bodied, plus some. It has some bitterness on the palate and an assertive hop profile. The flavors are pretty strong, but nothing dragging or too heavy-handed. This makes for a good feel with nice structure and texture.

Drinkability: This isn’t so smooth, which isn’t a complaint. It has a serious hops presence. Even so, the roasted pumpkin and sweetness round that out some. Moreover, the alcohol doesn’t make itself known. So decent on this score.

Overall: I do like this one. I have to be honest. I was not sure I would be satisfied with a pumpkin IPA. My favorites are the roasty full-flavored pumpkin beers, and a bunch of hops seemed like something that would detract from the malt and smooth roasted pumpkin. But this is good. It also has great roasted pumpkin to stand up to the hops. Moreover, it is effective in part because the spicing isn’t overdone. This allowed the roasted pumpkin to stand up to the hops, rather than using a ton of spice that could easily muddy the beer. What speak are the roasty pumpkin and the floral hops. I would definitely get this beer again, though it is not my favorite style of pumpkin ale. I’d definitely recommend it if you like both pumpkin beers and IPA’s.  This is the first pumpkin IPA I’ve had, and is certainly a success.

Overall Rating: ***

DSC03591About Champion and their pumpkin IPA: Champion Brewing opened in Charlottesville, Virginia in November of 2012. They are located in the heart of Charlottesvillle, just a couple of blocks from the historic downtown mall. Hunter Smith, head brewer, leads the brewery in making a number of different and interesting styles on their 3-barrel system. Among their flagships are two interesting beers: their “Face Eater” Gose, and their Tart Berliner Weisse. Champion continually changes their tap list, offering a large number of small-batch beers and barrel-aged beers.

For their “Kicking and Screaming” IPA, which is new this year, they use local Nelson County pumpkins, some Vietnamese cinnamon, and some floral American hops. This big beer is 50 IBU’s and 8% alcohol. Champion was originally not going to do a pumpkin beer. But due to a lot of patrons asking for one, Hunter made it happen, even grilling the pumpkins at his house. I’ve just recently heard that Champion is offering yet another pumpkin beer this season: “Spice Must Flow”, a spiced pumpkin ale. It can be hard to keep up with the pumpkin beers that come out, even in one city.

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Devil’s Backbone “Ichabod Crandall” Pumpkin Ale (2013)

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Devil’s Backbone “Ichabod Crandall” Pumpkin Ale is 5.1% ABV.

I poured all of a 12 oz  bottle into a “craft beer glass”.

Appearance: A steady pour made a half-inch of off-white and thin foam, which was gone very quickly and left almost no trace. This has a very clear medium orange/amber color. The bubbles suggest moderate carbonation.

Smell: There is some definite spice strong with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The spicing brings a warmth. I get some slight vegetal squash with some starch and tame sour notes. This is on the malty side, with just  a little hops coming through for aroma. I don’t get much sweetness to this one, mostly just strong spice.

Taste: I get some peppery yeast and some spicing up front. The spicing is less intense than I thought it would be from the aroma. There’s some seed-like earthiness to the spices and some nutmeg, though the spice bill doesn’t advertise itself as “pumpkin pie” spicing. This has some squash to it that seems to have some roasty characteristics, perhaps coming from the toasty and biscuity malt. This has nice complexity for something so light, some mild malty sweetness, and not much by way of a hop profile. It finishes with the squash and sweetness dropping out quickly to leave a little pepper and biscuity malt. I get some dulled nondescript bitterness in the aftertaste. This has some similarities to an oktoberfest.

Feel: It is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. The feel has some texture from the strong spice and the toasty malt characteristics. It is on the dry side, and has some lingering yeast to it. Okay, but not great here.

Drinkability: This is decently drinkable. None of the flavors are outrageously strong, though the malt and spice do sort of overpower and hang on a bit. There is a dulled bitterness that keeps this from being really good for drinkability.

Overall: This is alright. I bought it, as it is local to me. I also like some of the beers Devil’s Backbone makes quite a bit. This one drinks a bit like an oktoberfest. It has some pumpkin, but doesn’t achieve any really deep or interesting flavors, nor does it accent its pumpkin flavor. I think some of the stronger dulled spicing detracts from the otherwise smooth flavors in this. I’d rather drink an oktoberfest than this, or a pumpkin beer with more emphasis on the pumpkin or roasted squash flavors. As for something that combines an oktoberfest and a pumpkin beer, Terrapin’s “Pumpkinfest” is a lot more successful. Also, in 2 days I’m reviewing another VA pumpkin offering: St. George’s, which is also a combination of an oktoberfest and a pumpkin beer, and is also called “Pumpkinfest”. All in all, this offering from Devil’s Backbone is decent, but nothing I’d seek out.

Overall Rating: **1/4

DSC03639About Devil’s Backbone and their offering: Devil’s Backbone opened in Roseland, Virginia in 2008. Their head bewer is Jason Oliver, who has lead the brewery to winning a number of prestigious awards in the beer world. Most recently they won the GABF Small Brewing Company/Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year in 2013, after having won their Small Brewpub/Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year in 2012. Last year Devil’s Backbone expanded with a 15,000 foot production facility outside of Lexington, Virginia. So they are growing.

I spoke a little with Heidi Crandall, marketing and media manager, who’s family is well-involved with Devil’s Backbone, as Steve Crandall is the founder. They make the “Ichabod Crandall” with pumpkin and spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. The malts include Crystal Wheat, Honey, Naked Oats, Pilsner, and some Special Aromatic. Finally, a little Chinook and Northern Brewer hops take this to 14 IBU’s.

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