Brilliant Stream was impressed by the beer at Hunahpu’s Day 2017 from breweries accessible to West Virginia beer fans on weekend road trips. We take a look at some of those participating breweries in and around Appalachian hill country, from Pennsylvania through the northern third of Georgia.
Bullfrog Brewery, Williamsport, PA
All the beers that Bullfrog Brewery brought to the festival were barrel-aged sours and lambic-style beer. We found Incredible stuff like Krieks and Framboise — and a merlot/syrah grape-enhanced gueuze. These beers all take a lot of time to produce.
“It’s about a three-year process ’til we’re ready to serve them,” said Bullfrog Brewery owner Steve Koch.
Le Roar Grrrz Cocoa Kriek
Barrel Aged American Sour/Lambic
A 100% wild-fermented, Belgian-inspired, lambic/gueuze style ale, spending approximately two years, in neutral French oak. The beer is then racked onto an abundance of Pennsylvania sour cherries for 5 more months, then finished with an addition of cacao nibs for an additional month. Belgian candy sugar is added to encourage natural carbonation/keg conditioning.
Using cocoa nibs is a very bold and non-traditional addition for a Kriek.
“I was a little hesitant myself when they first proposed the idea, but I like the outcome,” Koch said. So did we.
Southern Brewing Company, Athens, GA
The Southern Brewing Company only brought two beers to Hunahpu’s Day — Maui Double IPA and Southeastern Berliner — but both were exceptionally good. This is hands-down one of the most innovative breweries in America. Much of their energy is focused on isolating, testing and brewing beers with native, wild yeasts. Brewery co-owner Brian Roth says the brewery is working with the University of Georgia trying to get them to start a beer-focused fermentation science program.
Their Maui Double IPA is a tribute to Dr. Rudi, the man who saved the New Zealand hop industry back in the 1970s. The beer uses Dr. Rudi hops and Sticklebract hops, both New Zealand heritage varieties.
The Southern Brewing Company
Kettle-soured on CO2 for three days at 118 degrees F and then fermented with their proprietary Wild Azalea yeast, a native, non-saccharomyces yeast that was originally captured on the brewery property and cultivated by the brewery. It produces a really nice tart acidity with a lot of stone fruit, plus mango and tangerine. This beer has a very appealing unique quality setting it apart from other Berliner-styles.
Wild Heaven Beer, Decatur, GA
Wild Heaven Beer’s business model is to “offer something new to the beer landscape—not simply our version of what everyone else is doing.” In that endeavor, they have succeeded. Tasting their specialty beers is an exercise in palate delightment.
For Hunahpu’s Day they show based some delightful examples of their art. Things like Gravitational Wave, a Russian imperial stout with pecan-wood smoked coconut and raspberries; and Joni, a sour ale with tart cherries, aged in red Bordeaux wine barrels for two years.
“I love beers that are culinary,” said Eric Johnson, owner and brewmaster at Wild Heaven Beer. “I love beers that pair well with food.”
“The sour beers, when they’re made well, they take a long time. We make a lot of clean beers, and those are the ones that pretty much pay the bills. We’re proud of those beers, but the barrels allow us the ability to play around.”
The beer drinking world should be glad Johnson like to play around. The results of his playing are exceptional. Wild Heaven currently has over 150 barrels of sour beers at the brewery.
Height of Civilization
Wild Heaven Beer
English-style Barley Wine Ale with fruit added
12% ABV | 50 IBU
They brew their regular Civilization Barley Wine recipe but add dried Prussian lemons, hibiscus, tart cherries and craberries, then finish it with cocoa nibs to produce this culinary delight. They take it a step further and age some of it in anejo tequila barrels for a year. Selected barrels are then blended before bottling. The result may just be the Height of Civilization. Great complexity that satisfies.
Voodoo Brewery, Meadville, PA
“We felt it appropriate to bring some of our more sought after products,” said Matteo Rachocki, CEO of Voodoo Brewery.
And that they did.
Little did they expect, though, that their ManBearPig Imperial Stout would produce the longest lines at Hunahpu’s Day. While the crowd’s response to their beer was a bit of a surprise to the Voodoo Brewery crew, it sure fired them up.
“We’re stoked to be here,” said Rachocki.
Matteo’s brother Curtis is the head brewer, and in addition to Man Bear Pig, he brought their excellent Black Magick Russian Imperial Stout that is aged in rye whiskey barrels. The guys say they are inspired by all the activity in the hot Pittsburgh craft beer market.
“It’s an exciting market,” Matteo said of the Pittsburgh beer scene. “There’s a lot of good liquid coming out of that region, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”
Barrel Room Collection IV
Head brewer Curt came up with this crazy idea over 5 years ago and now, 3 years in the making, is finally ready for your enjoyment. He first started by seeking out the finest local honey and maple syrup and aged it in freshly emptied bourbon barrels for over a year. Then he brewed the biggest beer they’ve ever made, a robust imperial stout with house apple wood and hickory smoked Munich malt, and aged it in the barrels that previously held bourbon, maple syrup and honey. The result is a truly complex work of liquid art designed to be savored.
Blackberry Farm Brewery, Walland, TN
Only beginning to distribute their beer outside East Tennessee in 2015, Blackberry Farm saisons have gained great accolades in a short time. Blackberry Farm beer is now available in 36 states.
“We’re extremely purist,” said Roy Milner, chief fermentation officer at Blackberry Farm. “We go Old World.”
He describes their base saison as “a Pilsner beer made with a saison yeast; it’s a very simple beer.”
They don’t add spices or adjuncts to their saisons to give them flavor. Using a third or fourth generation saison yeast gives their beer a super complex personality. It has spiciness, lemon, citrus and a dynamic earthy character. They prefer only traditional Belgian brewing techniques.
“We let the yeast do what it wants,” Milner says. “We don’t push it in any direction.”
He also notes that they don’t drink their beer fresh very often, but prefer it with some bottle age. “We think its best around six months,” he says, “when it starts to show its true personality.”
The brewery also produces an interesting series featuring local ingredients and wild yeasts collected from the farm.
Fenceline Farmhouse Ale
Blackberry Farm Brewery
A light golden Farmhouse Ale brewed with floor-malted pilsner and wheat malts, along with a generous hopping of Huell Melon. Has a luscious, creamy mouthfeel and complex taste. Strawberry & melon hints in aroma and flavor. Hoppy saisons are all the rage these days, and this one is a good one.
Ocelot Brewing, Dulles, VA
This young Northern Virginia brewery is starting to get lots of notice in the beer world. Their Sunnyside Dweller, an unfiltered, dry-hopped pilsner (kellerbier) with Magnum and Spalter Select hops, walked away with a gold medal at last year’s prestigous Great American Beer Festival. In the two years they have been open for business, it’s the one beer that has been brewed more than anything else — even though, technically speaking, the brewery does not make flagship beers.
“We’re on batch number seven with (Sunnyside Sweller) because people want to have it all the time,” says head brewer Mike McCarthy. “We’re small, so we don’t have mass production.”
But don’t let this excellent, but simple, Pilsner style fool you. Ocelot is about brewing beers with big flavors. At Hunahpu’s Day they featured two excellent dry-hopped IPAs. Thought Control was an all-Motueka hopped IPA; and Juvenile Success was an Azaca and Mosaic hopped IPA in honor of the brewery’s second year.
Their collaboration with Devil’s Backbone, Cross Eyed Stranger IPA, is featured in the Virginia Brewers Adventure Pack that will be released this spring.
“We like big beers, and cannot lie.” they say.
Barrel Aged Painless
Ocelot Brewing Company
Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout
Barrel-aged Painless Russian Imperial Stout is aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for eight months. This release in bottles had Virginia beer geeks salivating this winter. Beautiful big complex malty flavors meld with barrel flavors and booze.
Haw River Farmhouse Ales, Saxapaw, NC
Haw River is a small, family-owned, farmhouse brewery using local agriculture in their Belgian-inspired beers with funky, local twists. The brewery is located in Saxapaw, a town of about 500 people in central North Carolina
“We’re a very small brewery,” said sales manager Steve Wiggins. “We’re very fortunate though to have a lot of local farms and agriculture around us, so we can source local ingredients.
Some examples of locally-sourced ingredients include chokeberries used in a Blonde Sour, blueberries used in sours, spice berries used in a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, and foraged honeysuckle from right around the corner from the brewery.
“We did a Blueberry Kudzu Blonde Sour, with foraged kudzu flowers from across the street,” Wiggins said. “Another time, we had a local butcher smoke some malt for us and then he gave us some bacon to finish the beer with.”
Haw River may be small but it is one of the bright stars of the farmhouse beer movement in the U.S.
Rusted Plow Farmhouse Saison
Haw River Farmhouse Ales
Brett Farmhouse Saison
Aged eight months in French oak foeders on a unique strain of Brettanomyces, this Rustic funky Farmhouse Ale offers up aromas of bright vanilla, citrus peel and tart lemon, with a dry snappy finish.
The Answer Brewery, Richmond, VA
“We only bring our best beer down, and every beer we brew is our best beer,” An Bui said with a wink and his signature chuckle. Bui is the founder and operator of The Answer Brewery in Richmond.
Bui says the Richmond beer scene is booming. His family had a lot to do with that when, in 1994, they established the Mekong restaurant, now often recognized as America’s best craft beer bar. He predicts Richmond will soon become the East Coast beer destination city.
The Answer Brewery is also making some noise of its own in the craft beer community with beers like Dead Thumb, an imperial stout aged with Madagascar vanilla beans and toasted coconut, which they brought to the Hunuahpu’s Day festival.
“This is the best festival in the U.S because of the beer quality and the weather,” Bui said of Hunahpu’s Day. Having breweries like The Answer in attendance is certainly a part of maintaining those high quality offerings.
Mind Games (Triple Dry Hopped)
The Answer Brewpub
Double India Pale Ale
A triple dry-hopped hazy DIPA with Mosaic, El Dorado & Galaxy hops. Mango, citrusy fruits, and a bit dank and juicy.
Birds Fly South Ale Project, Greenville, SC
This self-described progressively old school urban farmhouse brewery is opening eyes across the country as folks get a chance to try their creative ales. The brewery focuses on farmhouse saisons and sour beers.
It specializes in foeder-based open fermentation in a style inspired by St. Somewhere Brewing in Tarpon Springs, FL. Beers aged in foeders and barrels are then blended to make inspired, fun magical elixirs.
At Hunaphu’s Day they brought superb farmhouse ales, including Paper Airplanes, a Nelson-Sauvin-hopped pale wild ale blended from a Vin Santo foeder; and Rustic Sunday, a white wine barrel solera saison with rye and dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc.
Birds Fly South Ale Project
This sour, salty, rhubarb-infused gose was definitely a liquid revelation. Sour berry flavors with a bit of earthy funk.
Jackie O’s Brewery, Athens, OH
Readers of BrilliantStream.com know that Jackie O’s is one our perennial favorite breweries. They’ve been invited to attend Hunahpu’s Day for the past several years, and that makes us very happy.
Seth Morton, Jackie O’s head brewer, led the delegation taking Ohio goodness to Florida.
Their beers never disappoint, and they had one of the longer lines throughout the day. Two excellent beers were poured: Blackberry Berliner Weisse and Vanilla & Coffee Bourbon Barrel Dark Apparition Imperial Stout.
Vanilla & Coffee Bourbon Barrel Dark Apparition
Jackie O’s Brewery
Possibly the best of all the Dark Apparation variants, this one lights up your taste buds with dreamy complexity. You just want to sit back and sip. Plenty of earthy, caramel roasted coffee notes, a smooth bourbon background and balanced with a blend of seven malts. It stands out in a crowd.
Hunahpu’s Day 2017, which took place March 11 in Tampa, Florida, is one of the premier beer festivals in the country. It features select beers from an invited group of breweries, representing what the organizers believe is a sampling of the best that American brewers have to offer.