Growling Bear Brewing – Woodbridge, VA September 4, 2015

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We just love when new breweries open. It’s like a beacon, calling us to bring out the cheese and take a road trip. To start our Labor Day Weekend off right, we decided to head to the eastern end of the county and visit a newly opened brewery called Growling Bear. The first thing you will definitely notice is the theme: bears everywhere! Pictures of bears line the walls, and all the beers have a bear themed name. And while most of us would ooo and aah over the cute pictures of the grizzly or the panda, the reality is bears are powerful creatures. And so are the brews at Growling Bear.

All of our cheeses for this pairing were bought at Wegman’s this time around. I usually try to get a variety of cheeses from a variety of stores to give others an opportunity to find nice pairings at a reasonable cost, but the cheese aisle here is just too fantastic. I went a bit crazy. Here’s the line-up: Collier’s Welsh Cheddar, Castello Aged Havarti, a Bucheron Goat Cheese imported from France, a Bourbon Washed Pie d’Angloys made for Wegmans’ in France, and last but not least, Dorset raw milk cheese from Consider Bardwell Farms in Vermont.

Growling Bear, at the time of our visit, had 11 brews on tap, with one more scheduled to be released on 9/11. As we always do, we requested a flight of all the available brews, then got down to the business at hand. Because of the number of brews available, we’ll only be reviewing the most unique or favorite pairings we had that evening.

Bear’s Got Wit was a very pleasant unfiltered Witbier. It was nice and smooth, with a bit of a citrus finish. The Welsh cheddar paired nicely with it, and seemed to open the beer right up so you could enjoy the wheat and orange notes without overpowering the beer. The goat cheese, however, brought the citrus right up to the front of the palate, and rounded out the beer nicely.

Blonde Bear’s Berry Ale was a surprising light berry ale. The fruit did not overpower the beer at all, which is what we tend to find in quite a few fruit flavored ales. We were quite surprised when we tried the aged Havarti and our mouths were full of very pleasant berry flavors, without compromising the overall flavor of the beer. We also tried the goat, and found it gave the beer a smoother finish, but didn’t mute the delicate berry flavor.

Our absolute favorite pairing of the evening was with Growling Bear’s German Dunkelweizen, Bavarian Bear. This dark wheat beer had a nice malty backbone, finished light, and was very drinkable. First we paired this with the Dorset cheese. The taste of caramel came forward fantastically, giving a bit of sweetness on the finish. Once again, the Welsh cheddar surprised us and brought out a slight toffee or molasses flavor that I think would be missed if you didn’t eat this cheese with this beer. But the best cheese pairing seemed to bring all of those components together and take this brew to a new level. The Pie D’Angloys was the clear pairing winner with this beer. We wish we could tell you why specifically, but it was beyond words. The cheese itself has a bit of an earthy taste and “aromatic” nose, so it was quite surprising how well the beer and cheese played together.

It’s always difficult to try to get a great pairing with a peanut butter beer. But the Nutter Butter Bear American Porter was an exception. We found two cheeses that are definitely this beer’s friend: the Dorset and the aged Havarti. If you want to pull the coffee and chocolate notes forward, have the Dorset cheese. It really amped up the coffee, with a bit of dark chocolate on the finish. Love peanut butter? Pair this with the aged Havarti. The Havarti really pulls the roasted peanut flavor to the forefront, and the finish is very smooth.

By now you know of the Wench’s love/hate relationship with IPAs. So I’m always happy to find a well done Double IPA at a local brewery. The Rampaging Bear’s name is the perfect description of this DIPA. At a whopping 110 IBU, those who are not accustomed to this level of bitter should probably stand back. However, there seemed to be enough malt to balance it nicely for me. If you are a fan of the citrus, then pair this with the goat cheese. For us, we got a very strong pink grapefruit finish. So strong in fact, I actually wondered if someone had switched my beer with juice. The Welsh cheddar conversely muted the citrus notes, sweetened the beer on the finish and muted some of the lingering bitterness.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Panda Bear CVB Stout. Super dark, this sweet stout had all the notes I love in a stout: chocolate, vanilla and bourbon (hence, the CVB!). If you want a good dose of the vanilla flavor, pair this with the Havarti. While the vanilla is definitely brought forward, it isn’t overpowering and you end up with a bit of the bourbon sweetness on the finish to round out the experience. If you’re a fan of bourbon, the Welsh cheddar is the way to go. The cheddar really amped up the bourbon notes. I’m definitely going to have to go back with triple crème Brie and see what happens.

Even though Growling Bear had only been open 10 days at the time of our visit, we were very impressed with how solid each brew was, and we are very excited to see what’s coming next. Our favorite part is they plan to try to have 4 dark beers as their flagships on tap at all times. Not only that, but there will be 4 rotating seasonals and 4 rotating experimental brews, rounding out the 12 taps. Everyone was very friendly, and we even got a chance to talk to the brewer. He knows his stuff and is definitely going to do very well. Be sure to visit their website at their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter too! So pack up a lunch or some cheese and head over to Growling Bear Brewing. You will not be disappointed.

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Old Bust Head – Vint Hill, VA – July 26, 2015

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It’s been a long time since I’ve written about my cheesy beer adventures. I discovered it’s rather difficult to do cheese and beer pairings when it’s 90+ degrees outside, because all I really want is a burger or fish tacos. Since the close of summer is rapidly approaching, I felt the need…the need for cheese. And of course great beer to go with it.

We headed out to Old Bust Head in Vint Hill, Virginia. The area is actually an old Army base that had been shut down and has now been converted to a combination of residential and some retail space, to include this lovely brewery. Today they had 14 brews on tap! Igor and I tried cheese with every brew, but I’m going to focus on our favorite pairings of the day.

The Chukker, a classic Czech Pilsner, was our first pairing that surprised us. We paired this nice light brew with Beecher’s Cheddar, aged 26 months and super sharp. The cheese brought out some sweetness to the beer we truly did not expect. Because this brew clocks in at only 4.4% ABV, it’s a great session beer you can drink easily.

Another lovely beer was their Sumerduck Saison. A very delicate saison, it went well with the cheddar. The cheese brought out some floral notes. Next we paired it with an herbed goat cheese from the Vermont Creamery. The goat cheese brought out some sweetness and worked very nicely with the herbs. It didnt’ overpower the flavor profile of the saison, which was nice.

As far as English Pale Ales go, the Busthead is a really nice one. Slightly bitter, slightly roasty this beer was fabulous with the super sharp cheddar. It tamed the bitterness and added a bit of sweetness and creaminess to the mouthfeel.

Vixen, an Irish Red with a nice malty profile, was next up. The color on this beer is just beautiful. We paired this with a triple crème Brie from Wegman’s. The cheese rounded out the maltiness quite nicely, and left you with a hint of caramel on the finish.

With my newfound love of IPAs, I couldn’t wait to try the Graffiti. What a nice IPA! The goat cheese brings out the brightness of the beer. We also tried a very mild blue cheese from Oregon. Having heard blue cheeses were really good with IPAs, I had to give it a try. I discovered the blue cheese complimented the bitterness in the beer, but you don’t lose any of the flavor. While in theory I think blues would work with IPAs, as with any craft beer and cheese pairing, I think it completely depends on the brewery and the hops profile of the beer.

Next we sampled the Apricot IPA. This beer is very fruit forward and you can definitely get the apricot on the nose and palate. Interestingly, pairing this with the sharp cheddar negated the apricot flavor, but then the beer developed an almost orange cream profile on the palate. This pairing by far was the most intriguing and surprising.

As you know, I’m a huge stout fan. OBH’s Gold Cup Stout is one of my absolute local favorites. So, of course, I had to pair this with my favorite cheese, the triple crème Brie. The coffee notes in the beer paired so nicely with the creaminess of the cheese. It was so good I could have just spent the rest of the afternoon drinking this stout and eating the cheese.

Last but not least was the Vanilla Porter. A limited release brew, the nose on this one is definitely pure vanilla. There’s a bit of sweetness to it, and I would have to say this would be a great dessert beer. Pair this with the triple crème Brie or a huge slice of plain ole cheesecake.

We loved visiting Old Bust Head today. And as luck would have it, they are planning their first Bleu and Brew Festival! They will have several local breweries on site, and will have cheeses to pair. The event is scheduled for September 19, 2015 and tickets are on sale now (http://www.oldbusthead.com/bleu-brew-fest-obh) and I highly recommend going. Follow them on Facebook here to get updates.  Even if you can’t go to the festival, definitely visit Old Bust Head.  You won’t be disappointed.

Ocelot Brewing, Stering, VA – April 19, 2015

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We love when a new brewery opens.  It goes straight to the top of our list of places to visit. Ocelot officially opened up on April 11 and has been picking up steam ever since. Don’t let the fact there are only 3 brews on tap deter you.  With a huge space, a beautiful bar top made from reclaimed wood and very friendly staff, they are worth the drive.

First up was the Lemon Yellow Sun.  This nicely done Imperial Wheat Ale is nicely hopped and super smooth to drink.  We paired it with fresh goat cheese I had mixed honey and fresh thyme, smeared on a Triscuit.  The cheese mixture really brought the brightness of the lemon and some sweetness on the finish.  Next, we tried some of Cabot’s Alpine Cheddar.  This cheese highlighted the wheat in the beer, while bringing forward some of the herbal qualities of the hops.

Next was the Tangerine Trees IPA.  Very citrusy, with a nice dry finish, I can definitely see myself drinking a lot of this after a hard day of yard work.  The cheddar worked wonderfully with this brew.  The tangerine/orange notes really stood out and the cheese created a creaminess that was unexpected.  I almost felt like I had a hopped up orange creamsicle in my mouth.

Last but not least was My Only Friend.  This Russian Imperial Stout really exceeded my expectations.  The taste was fantastic, and they served this stout at the proper temperature!  I’m a huge stout lover, and it was awesome not to have to wait for my beer to warm up before enjoying it.  First cheese pairing was a triple crème Brie.  Fantastic pairing!  The coffee and chocolate notes are ramped up and it was like a mocha latte with a shot of booziness.  I also had some Smoked Gouda (real gouda…not processed cheese product!), so tried some with the stout.  If you are not a lover of coffee flavor in your beer, this is the pairing for you.  The smoked gouda almost completely  eliminated the coffee flavors, while accentuating the cocoa notes.  It was quite a surprising pairing.

Igor and I are looking forward to going back to Ocelot soon.  We were able to chat with Adrien, one of the founders/owners during our visit and he was awesome.  On our scouting mission the weekend before, we talked at length with Sebastian, also one of the founders/owners and got a quick tour of the brewery which was great.  Melissa, who was working behind the bar, was fun to chat with and very helpful.  We really had a great time.  Please take the time to head out there for a visit.  We promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

March Madness: Time To Purge!

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You know how sometimes life gets in the way of a good thing?  That happened to me!  It seems like forever since I’ve written about my beer and cheese adventures.  After some thought, we decided a purge of the beer and cheese lingering in our refrigerator was in order.  We’ve really missed sharing our thoughts with all of you and are eager to get back on track.

First beer up is a very lovely Oatmeal Stout from Swover Creek Farm Brewery in Edinburg, Virginia.  If you get a chance to visit, please do!  Right now they are brewing and serving right out of their house, but are in the process of building a tasting room.  We paired this with several cheeses, but the best pairing by far was with an aged Gouda.  We’d love to tell you who made the cheese, but the label has been lost 🙂  The cheese brought forward the coffee and roasted notes very nicely.

Rogue Brewing has just released for Spring 2015 a Wit brewed with pumpkin and wheat called Pumpkin Savior.  I never thought we’d be drinking a pumpkin beer in the spring, but it’s actually very nice!  Definitely is not like the spice laden brews you find in the fall.  There is a hint of spices on the finish, but it’s not overwhelming. And if you’re a hater of sweet pumpkin beers, this is the one for you. The Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese cancels out the pumpkin and spice flavors, leaving you with a really great Wit beer flavor on the finish. It also pulls forward some of the rye flavor in the background. We then tried the beer with some Bellavitano Gold by Sartori. We picked up some citrus notes which were quite pleasant.

Next up was a Belgian Farmhouse Ale by Southern Tier called Grand Arbor. This one has been bottle conditioned and brewed with maple syrup. Oddly, you really don’t taste the maple at all. The bottle notes suggested an earthy cheese, so we grabbed some UnieKaas Truffled Gouda. If you are a fan of bitter beers, then pair this cheese with this beer. It really accentuates the bitter notes in the beer. Just for fun, we then paired the beer with Saint Angel from Guilloteau. Saint Angel is a really nice French triple crème cheese. This had the opposite effect on the beer. The cheese managed to bring out the sweet underlying banana notes usually found in Belgian beers, but then the maple appears on the finish!

Last beer of the evening was the Tenebris Barleywine aged in bourbon barrels from Adroit Theory in Purcellville, Virginia.  This brew has a real kick to it, but a pleasant sweetness you expect to find in a barrel aged beer.  The first cheese pairing was a Camembert from Ile de France.  It really complimented the beer without changing the flavors at all.  Truly a very nice pairing.  Even better, the St. Angel turns this wonderful brew into a dessert beer.  It pulls all of the latent bourbon sweetness right to the front of your palette.  By far this was the best pairing of the evening.

We are happy to be able to get back to our normal beer and cheese tasting routine!  We promise it won’t be so long in between posts next time.  And if it is, raid your fridge!  You might be surprised and the pairings you can come up with spur of the moment.