Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
If you’re a wine lover in our area, then you’re probably familiar with the work of Kysela Pere & Fils and its founder, Fran Kysela. Recently named Wine Importer of the Year (2013) by Wine Enthusiast, Kysela showcases an impressive portfolio of quality wines from the world over, distributing all across the United States and Canada — all from an unassuming warehouse in Winchester, Va.
The company’s name and reputation have grown since its founding 20 years ago, with The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker declaring that Fran Kysela “has emerged as one of the finest palates and selectors of top wine, whether it be an inexpensive Muscadet or a top of the line Burgundy.”
What you may not know is that Kysela’s palate isn’t exclusively reserved for wine. In Virginia, Kysela Pere & Fils handles distribution for Troegs Brewing Company and Perennial Artisan Ales among others, and is increasingly on the hunt for breweries to bring into our state.
I was recently summoned to Winchester for an afternoon sampling of Kysela’s beer portfolio with Fran Kysela, his Beer Director Ben Page, and Sales Representative Michael Kotrady. In my 10 years working in the wine/beer retail business, I’d met Kysela a handful of times but never had much opportunity to speak with him: the son of one of America’s premier wine collectors, he presents a kind of casual encyclopedic knowledge not uncommon to people “born to” a vocation or hobby. It’s not only easy to learn a great deal in conversation with Kysela; it’s easy to not notice you are doing so.
Over a great lunch — the highlight of which being a salad with some drop-dead gorgeous local produce — our group of four tasted, took notes, and discussed what we liked/didn’t like and why, the state of the industry, and the challenges of our various roles in the business. It was a pleasure to be invited for such an occasion, and encouraging to see a distributor willing to reach out to an independent shop guy like myself. Tasting note fans, get ready: here are some of the highlights of my afternoon at Kysela Pere & Fils, in no particular order.
Troegs Sunshine Pils: A confession: Sunshine Pils has never been my favorite seasonal beer, nor my favorite Troegs beer. That being said, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed Sunshine Pils as much as I did when I tried it at Kysela’s warehouse; not coincidentally, I also can’t say I’d ever tasted a fresher example of Sunshine Pils. Clean and bright, with just enough hop to stand out in a crowd, this year’s Sunshine Pils is a great ‘get-together with friends’ beer.
Troegs Troegenator Double Bock: No surprises here, as Troegenator has been a favorite beer of mine for years — I just felt it warranted mentioning here. I think what I enjoy about this beer so much is that like so many American versions of Old World styles, it pushes the envelope in terms of ABV (8.2 percent) and boldness of flavor yet it doesn’t seem cartoonish, or overdone. Troegenator is just right, and in the new tallboy 16-ounce cans it comes in, it’s even righter.
Troegs JavaHead Stout: It had been a while since I’d tried JavaHead, but I’m glad I got to again. A coffee-infused Oatmeal Stout, JavaHead carries a surprising amount of hoppiness (60 IBU — more that many Pale Ales/IPAs), giving the lush-feeling beer a backbone that keeps it from feeling cloying or overly ‘flavored’.
RJ Rockers Good Boy Stout: Another confession: I’ve never been much of an RJ Rockers fan, either. That doesn’t mean they don’t make good beers, though — Good Boy Stout was a new one on me, and a pleasant surprise. There’s nothing revolutionary going on here, just a solid 7 percent ABV American Stout that pours dark and tastes rich with chocolate and coffee notes, this time from its malt alone.
RJ Rockers Bell Ringer Ale: I’ve always considered Bell Ringer to be the best beer RJ Rockers produces, and this tasting did nothing to dissuade me from that stance. An 8.5 percent American Strong Ale, Bell Ringer has a great ratio of bitter pine/citrus hop flavors to caramel malt notes. I wouldn’t necessarily advise making a session of Bell Ringer, but if you were in a mood you probably could all-too easily.
Saucony Creek Hop Suplex: Saucony Creek is a Pennsylvania brewery that I’ve only become familiar with since last fall, and whose offerings I haven’t quite found an appreciation for — until this one. Hop Suplex is a bruiser of an Imperial IPA, clocking in at 10 percent ABV and 92 IBU. With six hop varietals used in its brewing and an intense dry-hop regiment, Hop Suplex offers a full spectrum of hop characteristics from punchy grapefruit flavors and resiny high-acid grip, to floral aromas and a lingering finish. A hell of a beer.
Selkirk Abbey Infidel: Belgian-themed beers made in Idaho? Why not? Infidel takes a big ol’ swing at making sense of the “Belgian-style IPA” label breweries have been trying to define for years now, and it does pretty well for itself. Where too many beers of this “style” end up as either too much, too little, or not enough of its components, Infidel gives you more than enough Belgian yeast character and assertive hop to work. I’d love to break this out with a good old-fashioned crab feast this summer.
Laughing Dog Rocket Dog Rye IPA: Shocker — I loved the rye malt beer. Rocket Dog’s 23 percent rye malt addition makes for a spicy, rustic bed upon which a thoughtful amount of Simcoe and Cascade hops lay down their earthy pine and fruit notes. The finish on this beer, with all that spicy rye and acidic hit from the hops, is a thing of beauty.
Laughing Dog Alpha Dog Imperial IPA: While we’re on the subject of things of beauty: if you can snag a bottle of Alpha Dog or better yet catch it on draft, just take a couple moments to appreciate the unbelievably floral, perfumed aromas of this beer. While 8 percent ABV seems downright modest for an Imperial IPA in 2014, Alpha Dog clocks in at an absurd 127 IBU. This is an all killer/no filler West Coast hophead’s delight that doesn’t care if you want “balance” or “drinkability” in your beer — whatever those words mean, right? This beer wants to punch your tongue in the face, and once you try it with its focus on grassy, minerally acidic feel and earthy hoppy notes, you’ll be perfectly OK with that.
Caldera Ashland Amber: I love me a nice Amber/Red Ale, and this Cascade-hopped gem is a nice one, indeed. Bitter on the front palate, with malt carrying the back and finish, Ashland Amber is a great beer to have a few of with friends. Would be a great “Hey, what’s that beer?” beer for summer cookout coolers.
Caldera IPA: Simcoe, Centennial, Amarillo — Caldera’s IPA checks all of the “American IPA” hop boxes, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work as well here as in any other brewery’s take. Two Row and Munich malts help give Caldera IPA a clean edge that sets it apart from others.
Perennial La Boheme: St. Louis’ Perennial Artisan Ales has made a big name for itself with beer geeks like me over the past couple of years, but that success hasn’t yet translated to a wider beer-drinking audience. I feel that’s in part due to the high retail prices their beers command; but I also suspect Perennial is comfortable working on the fringes of craft beerdom. La Boheme is very much in that vein. Labeled as a Belgian Wild Ale, La Boheme is akin to an Oud Bruin and is aged for two years in wine barrels with tart Michigan cherries added. The beer itself is an absolute song of a Sour Ale; simultaneously smooth, acidic, and tart-fruited in ways only the best beers of its style can be. The slightest hints of tannin and vinous heat from the wine barrel make La Boheme an even better food pairing than most Sour Ales, which I already consider some of the best beers to sit down to a meal with. The very limited nature of La Boheme means that unfortunately we won’t be seeing any on Arrowine’s shelf — this time. You can bet I’ll be lobbying for more should another batch be released in the future.
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