On April 26th, I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest in Culpeper, VA. There were over 28 breweries showing and over 67 beers being sampled. I had to purchase a few extra tasting tickets to understand the full scope of beer in attendance. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make and had to ask a friend for a lift home. The festival appeared to be twice as big as last year and there were significantly more people in attendance. Those that had the chance to visit the festival were in for a treat. Most of the more popular craft brews were showcased and a couple upstarts. The three breweries that stood out to me were Sunken City Brewing Company, Apocalypse Ale Works, and Three Brothers Brewing.
Jerome Parnell, creator of the Dam Lager, founded Sunken City Brewing Company in May 2013. Jerome originally created the Dam Lager while working out of Roanake brewery in 2010 before deciding to set out on his own. I sipped on this low-hopped American style amber lager while I spoke to Seth Johnson, one of his assistant brewers. Seth was quite passionate about beer and has been homebrewing for about 4 years now. It was refreshing to taste a lager at a craft beer festival, which are mostly dominated by ales because of profit differences. The Dam Lager was malty with an herbal aroma and clean finish. It was the perfect beer for a clear spring day.
Apocalypse Ale Works made their second showing to the Gnarly Hops Fest in style. Apocalypse has been in business a little longer than Sunken City Brewing and is showing well with classic styles, but with flair. These two breweries are showing each other stiff competition and the drive to make great beer is apparent. Having tried the Hoppocalypse, I gave a go at the Glorious Dead. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised with a mouth full of maltiness and a smooth and mellow finish. The folks at Apocalypse are not just showing a brand image, they are brewing it.
When I first sampled Three Brothers Brewing last year, I was greeted with warmness and hospitality. This year, I was similarly greeted with the same hospitality and still have yet to take a trip to their brewery and try the Tri Brathair. The ‘Three Brothers’ Scottish style ale was not on tap, but I got to try the Senantoa. At 6.5% ABV and 63 IBU, this ale has strong notes of chocolate with a nice spicy finish. Jackie Pardee, the Brand Ambassador, informed me that Three Brothers would soon be embarking on a Barrel-aged Program. I will have to compare my Scottish Ale that is currently aging in my basement with one of their barrel-aged brews.
What appeared to be the biggest hit of the festival was definitely not a local brew. Don’t worry… it wasn’t Budweiser. Although ABInBev made a showing, I really didn’t see anyone line up to waste his or her sampling tickets there. The longest line was not for traditional beer, but rather ginger beer. Crabbies, a United Kingdom based company, had both a classic ginger beer and a spiced orange ginger beer on tap. Both were refreshing and had a unique play on the palate. Perhaps Crabbies has introduced a new phenomenon to the States.
Some time ago, I discovered that a brewery would be opening in Culpeper. Beer Hound Brewery started as a nano-brewery in Barboursville VA, by Kenny Thacker, who had until recently operated a homebrewing store. Kenny has decided to expand his brewing operations to Culpeper near the train station. I was hoping Beer Hound would have a tent at the festival, but was disheartened to not see them there. I kept my eye out for Kenny and asked around for him because I wanted to introduce myself. Kenny was probably working hard to get things in order for his new operation. I will look forward to seeing Beer Hound as a highlight of Gnarly Hops 2015.