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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