Capital Ale House

Feeling a Little Boxed In

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Contrary to urban legends, boxed in is neither a hotel nor a mortuary. It is, however, how things have been in the beer ‘n’ burger world the past few months. At least, that’s my excuse for not posting a new entry since March, and I’m sticking to it.

Ever have that "boxed-in" feeling? I know what you mean.
Ever have that “boxed-in” feeling? I know what you mean.

Still, I was surrounded by boxes last weekend, so perhaps that’s the reason for the boxed-in feeling. Fortunately the movers came on Monday and took away all the boxes, and the couch, and chairs, and beds, and tables … you get the picture.

Yes, I’m hooking up the team to the covered wagon and moving the headquarters from one mountain range to another. Leaving the Appalachians and moving into the Rockies. Goodbye Virginia, hello Montana.

But this time I promise my travels will not interfere with my duties as the official taster of the conglomerate. In fact, here’s a taste of what I’ll be posting in the coming months:

  • Day-by-day journal entires of the stops along our route from Harrisonburg to Bozeman, and the beers and burgers found within. Tonight — Lexington, Kentucky is about to be in the spotlight. We’ll see if it lives up to its college town rep.
  • Reflections of my favorite beer and burger experiences during the two years that my IPA swilling friend and I resided in Virginia. There were plenty. I promise to trim down the list to a baker’s dozen. But you can bet the IPA Challenge at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, the Shocker burger at Jack Brown’s, and the first time I had the Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter from what is now known as Brothers Craft Brewing will be on the list.
  • In-depth analysis of the beer scene in our new home. I’ll tackle Bozeman first, where there are four craft breweries already in place and a rumored two more on the way. Then I’ll take on the entire state of Montana using the Montana Brewery Passport. Some people call it “Beer Country.” I’ll attempt to verify that claim.
  • The addition of a beer primer page that could act as a starting point should a craft beer novice stumble upon the blog, or a go-to page for the craft beer drinker looking to expand their range.
  • An outside expert has been hired to field thousands of questions that are submitted daily to the website. This will be accomplished by adding a new page that will answer all the questions we get about beer (approximately 28.5 percent of total questions), the burger questions (19.3 percent), and the remaining 52.2 percent that are about mostly movies, music, and sex.
  • The most important post, perhaps, and certainly the most ambitious will be my take on the recent lawsuits about trademark infringement being brought against craft breweries. I’m expecting this one to go viral. So be ready.

So there’s your taste of what’s to come. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get on the road. My IPA chugging traveling companion is staring at me, and I can’t tell if she’s ready to go or wants a beer. Probably both.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Taste the beer, not the barrel

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My IPA-swilling friend used to joke that her morning java was really a mug of cream and sugar with just a touch of coffee added to it.

I can relate. When I eat my annual piece of pumpkin pie next week, it will really be a mound of whipped cream on a plate with a little pie somewhere in the middle.

The barrel-aged beers on the tasting list. It's pretty easy to tell what I thought of each one.
The barrel-aged beers on the tasting list. It’s pretty easy to tell what I thought of each one.

But I draw the line when it comes to barrel-aged beer. I don’t want my taste buds assaulted by the bourbon or rum or wine or tequila or whatever was originally in the barrel that the beer was aged in. Unlike the coffee or the pie which are secondary to the accompaniments, when I drink a barrel-aged beer, I want to taste beer, not the barrel.

That’s the principle I stood on as I sampled six barrel-aged beers last week at one of my favorite places to enjoy great craft beer – Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, VA. For the rest of the story, I now turn to a playback of the event, with yours truly on play-by-play, and fellow barstool compatriot Griffin on color commentary. Take it away fellas:

Potter’s Oak Barrel Reserve Cider (bourbon)

   Me: I’m usually not a fan of ciders, but this one is almost drinkable.

   Griffin: Well, the bourbon really helps balance the cider’s bitterness.

   Me: Uh, right. (I take a second swig before pushing it to the left “discard” pile.)

Lickinghole Creek La Calavera Catrina Tripel  (tequila)

   Me: It kinda tastes like soap.

   Griffin: Well, about 25% of people experience a clove-taste in their mouths for certain flavor combinations. That’s probably what you’re experiencing.

   Me: Uh … OK? (I push it to the left.)

Three Notch’d Imperial Oats McGoats Stout (bourbon)

   Me: Now this one is good. The bourbon doesn’t overpower the beer. That’s the way it should be.

   Griffin: You don’t have to like it just because I work for them.

   Me: Really? Cool. (I push it to the right into the “keeper” collection.)

Epic Brainless on Raspberries (wine)

   Me: This doesn’t taste like beer.

   Griffin: It more like a wine cooler. But it’s part of their “Epic Brainless” Belgian-style series of wine-inspired fruit beers that they’re experimenting with. They have a peaches, and a cherries.

   Me: Um … yeah. (It goes left.)

2013 1st Batch Three Brothers Rum Dubbel (rum)

   Me: Wow. Uh. Wow.

   Griffin: That’s their medal winner from the Great American Beer Fest.

   Me: I can understand how it won. That’s a yum rum.

   Griffin: Well, it’s one of the last few barrels they have because it’s from 2013.

   Me: Wait, so their serving us stale beer? (I push it to the right.)

Hardywood Bourbon Barrel DIPA (bourbon)

   Me: Hey, that’s not bad.

   Griffin: Hardywood has really been making some nice beers, particularly considering how young the brewery is.

   Me: I had their beer for brunch one day. (It goes right.)

Thankfully my dinner arrived at that moment to keep me from sounding even less intelligent than I already was. And that’s another knock I have against barrel-aged beers – the ABV is usually so high that I can only have one glass before I become a babbling idiot. After sampling these six, I was done.

Still, it was a great experience. And thanks to Griffin for jumping into the conversation. I’ll let him bring it home.

   Griffin: When I drink a beer, I want to taste beer.

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Chucking IPAs

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With apologies to all the woodchucks who regularly read, today’s question is:

How many IPAs does an IPA drinker drink

if an IPA drinker dare drink IPAs?

And the answer appears to be 24, because that how many IPAs were served up at the Virginia IPA Challenge last Saturday at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va.

It was originally going to be 28 IPAs, but apparently IPA drinkers can’t chuck that many. Besides, if my designated drinker is any evidence, 24 IPAs was enough to taste.

What a rating sheet looks like after tasting 24 IPAs.
What a rating sheet looks like after tasting 24 IPAs.

The way Cap Ale had the contest orchestrated was cool. Each IPA chucker who wanted to get in on the tasting paid $10 for a card that had numbers 1-24 in a column on the left side. Next to each number was a line for drinkers to write any comments they wanted to make about each different beer, and presumably to help them remember what they’d tasted as the day wore on. To the right of each line was a place to rate the beer from 1-5 stars. And finally, at the far right was a box to mark off so each drinker, and more importantly our heroic bartenders, could keep track of which IPAs each person had already tried.

Participants got to sample four beers every time they went to the bar, which meant six trips to the bar. Each small taste – and thankfully that’s all they were, small tastes – was poured in a small plastic cup with a number on the front. So no one knew which brewer had entered which beer. Even representatives from the breweries in attendance didn’t know which numbers were theirs.

As I mentioned, I had a designated drinker with me. That’s because, as many of you know, I prefer the more malty side of the beer spectrum. Or, as my IPA swilling friend told someone after trip number five to the bar, “he perfers ports and stouters.” Uh, that would be stouts and porters.

IPA drinking pros Alex and Mike show the amateurs how to do it.
IPA drinking pros Alex and Mike show the amateurs how to do it.

More and more people showed up as the day went along. The lines got long, but seemed to move at a reasonable clip – at least from my vantage point at a table in the back where I sipped on an Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery, and later a Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout. And when the lines got really long, people didn’t complain too much because by then they’d already made 3-4 trips to the bar. There’s nothing like downing two dozen IPAs to make people hoppy.

Oh, and after tasting 24 IPAs, each chucker placed their vote for best Virginia IPA and then got a full pint of their favorite. Not a bad dessert.

Once the first keg was kicked, the tasting stopped and the bartenders (did I mention they were heroic), tallied up the votes. The winners were announced Monday and are:

I can’t contributed to the discussion on differences and qualities of the IPAs since I was enjoying my ports and stouters, but my designated drinker wrote down that Isley’s beer was “coffee,” that Three Brothers’ was “creamy” and the Three Notch’d was “yum.” So there’s the expert’s opinion.

Regardless of your beer style preference, the Virginia IPA Challenge was a blast. Shout out to D.J. at Cap Ale House for picking the excellent beers, and his fellow bartenders upstairs for working hard to make the lines move fast and keeping everyone hoppy. And a special shout out to Denise who worked the downstairs bar by herself early in the day as the IPA crowd was starting to swell, and for keeping everybody happy.

Of course, now I’m expecting a Winter and Christmas Virginia beer challenge in December. How’s that sound, D.J.?

— Eric Van Steenburg

Calling All Hop-Heads to the IPA Challenge

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All you hoppy beer lovers out there — the ones I lovingly refer to as grass-drinkers — be aware that Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va., is hosting its third annual Virginia IPA Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 6 starting at noon. This event allows the everyday craft beer lover to weigh in with their opinion on Virginia IPAs.

The cost to participate is just $10, and your entry fee allows you to sample IPAs from 28 different craft breweries, or until the keg is kicked, and then get a final pint full of your favorite when you’re done. That should do ya’.

The competition ends when that first keg is empty, so be there early enough to get a taste of all the breweries in the event. Plus you can hob-knob with the brewers as they hover over their beers and try to earn your vote — kind of like a politician but with an IBU kick.

So for those of you who like your beer well-hopped and well-made, get over to Cap Ale House this Saturday for the IPA Challenge.

— Eric Van Steenburg