Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
The crew at Virginia Eagle Distributors packed a bunch of us beer buyers onto buses this past Monday and very kindly drove us out to visit a couple of the Virginia craft breweries they represent. The point of our trip was to visit Devils Backbone in Lexington, which I’d never visited but had been wanting to for some time.
Devils Backbone is experiencing amazing growth right now, and has been handling its success smartly. 2014 will see many new packaged beers from Devils Backbone, many of which have been available on draft at the brewery and around the area for some time, and include many Great American Beer Festival medal winners.
Pear Lager will soon join Vienna Lager, Schwartz Bier, and Eight Point IPA as the fourth year-round Devils Backbone six-pack, and I couldn’t be happier to see it. At 4.4 percent ABV, Pear Lager is easy to throw back with intense pear flavor that never feels like a sugar bomb.
Gold Leaf Lager is finally being packaged in 2014; the three-time GABF medalist (bronze in 2013, gold in 2009 and 2010) will become Devils Backbone’s year-round canned six-pack offering. I found Gold Leaf crisp, satisfying, and worthy of the accolades it has been receiving over the past few years. Along with Gold Leaf, Devils Backbone with roll out seasonal canned six-packs; the first of these we’ll be seeing is Reilly’s Irish Red, which features a roastier malt character than most beers of its style, while remaining at a easy-drinking if not sessionable 5.5 percent ABV.
The crew at Devils Backbone put out the full welcome mat for everybody; a three-piece Bluegrass band played on as folks milled about, sampling beer and meeting up. The food was excellent, too, in particular the ample amount of pulled pork available for everyone. Those looking for a moment away from it all at the Outpost should grab some food and a beer and head outside to the Bier Garden; the porch offers a chance at a quiet moment along with a particularly nice view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Devils Backbone has been garnering a lot of attention the past few years; 2014 is the year they start to leverage that in a big way, to the benefit of all of us beer lovers out there.
On our way to Devils Backbone, the group I was with made a stop in Harrisonburg to visit the gang at Three Brothers Brewing. Three Brothers only opened in December of 2012, with six-packs of their Hoptimization IPA and The Great Outdoors Pale Ale arriving in our part of the Commonwealth this past summer, but they’ve already built a loyal and growing fanbase at Arrowine. Working out of a small space that was formerly a Coca-Cola bottling facility, the Shifflett brothers (yes, there are three of them; yes, they’re brothers; yes, they all kinda look alike) are making some of the best beer in Virginia, with a consistency of quality that I can’t remember ever seeing in such a young brewery.
I was happy to finally try their Elementary Porter, whose malts imparts great dark fruit and roasty flavors, but it was some of their barrel-aged and experimental beers that blew me away. Resolute Imperial Stout was amazing as it was a couple months ago when we got a short run of its first batch; no 13 percent ABV bourbon barrel aged Stout should be so balanced, lacking the unpleasant astringent heat so many carry — but I’m happy this one is.
A quick tour of Three Brothers revealed both slow, smart growth and lots of ambitious moves almost unheard of for a brewery barely out of its first year. The automated bottling line you see in the picture gallery below is a recent (and welcome) addition, and new tanks scheduled to arrive in late spring/early summer will increase production of their most widely-distributed beers.