My Favorite Place to Take My Growler
By Timothy Long
The growler is an important tool in any craft beer drinker’s arsenal. When we visit our favorite breweries or brewpubs, it’s how we bring home tap beer that is not normally available for carry out. They always have beers that are on limited release and not available in a can or bottle. Well, at least the good brewers do. And these beers are usually among the finest ones available.
A growler is just a jug. However, the original growlers were not jugs. They were 2-quart pales that people brought to the breweries to transport their beer home. The name “growler” came from the noise the beer supposedly made as it sloshed around the pale and caused carbon dioxide to escape.
I love my growler. It’s wonderful. My wife got it for me for Christmas a few years back. She really knows the way to my heart. Most growlers are made of glass and purchased at the brewery. But not mine. It was made by Stanley. So, it’s basically a thermos. Not the red and black plaid one like I carried with my lunch in elementary school. No, this is a 64-ounce, army green beast that will keep its contents cold for 24 hours, even longer if you put it in the fridge. The top has a fantastic seal. Therefore, the beer remains fresh and carbonated, for several days if necessary. But I never let it sit that long. When I was a kid, I would have been a hero if I had walked into elementary school with this monster. Especially if it had been full of beer.
Everyone has a favorite place or two to take their growler. Oddly, mine is not a brewery or a brewpub. It’s a gourmet wine and beer store in Alexandria in the Belle Haven Shopping Centre called Unwined. I’ve known the proprietor, Vanessa Moore, for years. Her former wine buyer, Brett Chappell, is a close friend of mine. I’ve always enjoyed visiting Vanessa’s store. It’s continuously well stocked with great beers and wines. Wine is their actual wheelhouse. Wine buyer and store manager Jessica Outer keeps a great selection on hand. General Manager Sparlin Witt does a great job of making sure that service stays at a superb level. They also have a great store in the Bradlee Shopping Center. But they run a larger selection of craft beer at the Belle Haven store.
I recently discovered that Vanessa had hired another old friend of mine as the store’s beer buyer, Gary Pemberton. Gary’s actual title is Beer Boss, which I love. Gary is an Old Town OG, just like I am. His beer knowledge is way beyond mine. If the comparison were likened to golf, his handicap would be very low, close to that of a golf pro. Mine would be what it currently is, the equivalent of a respectable bowling score.
I meet Gary at the store’s craft beer bar when I arrive. Gary’s philosophy is to create a fun, creative beer list with an assortment of “fun and different brews” that are not readily available elsewhere. To quote Gary, “I like to hit all the food groups.” He shares my point of view that most restaurant draft beer lists do not have enough variety. He tries to keep the taps as local as possible. Six of the twelve taps during my visit are local beers.
His taps turn over once about every week and a half to two weeks. Therefore, the beers we tasted have probably since been changed out. He tries to not repeat beers but does admit that some circle back due to popularity. His vendors are very eclectic. They basically walk in and hand him a list and say, “Here’s what I have today.” This differs greatly from most places. Usually, vendors walk in and just ask you what your order is for today. Gary always finds new and exciting beers. Ones that you rarely to never see in restaurants or bars.
As we begin our tasting, Gary says to me, “These are not your grocery store beers.” Here are some of the beers we tried during my two visits:
- Marke – a German Pilsner from Tabol Brewing in Richmand, VA.
- Bald Irishman – a Red Irish Ale from Center of the Universe Brewing Company, Ashland, VA.
- Tripel – a Belgian Tripel from Une Annee Brewery in Niles, IL.
- Reigh in Helles – A Helles Lager from Precarious Beer Project, Williamsburg, VA.
- Last Supper – an English Porter from Magnanimous Brewing, Tampa, FL.
- Querido and Perdido – a Double Imperial Stout from Casita Brewing Company, Wilson, NC.
I could write my next two articles reviewing the beers from our tasting. Let’s suffice it to say that they were all fantastic. There is something on Gary’s list for everyone.
We finish our tasting and head over to the canned and bottled beer section. The beers are fun and diverse, just like the draft line up. A lot of thought obviously goes into each category.
We discuss current craft beer trends as Gary leads me through the section. Gary sees tastes trending toward lagers, pilsners, and helles. I have noticed this as well. He also sees West Coast and American IPAs trending up. He then starts talking about land beer being a new trend. Land beers are beers that use local ingredients from the local terroir. These ingredients are often grown and cultivated on the same farm. Terroir is a term usually reserved for the wine industry. I guess craft brewers wanted their own term, not the vintner’s term.
The other big trend Gary sees, non-alcoholic beers. “The growth is huge.” He says. I peruse the section and notice that these are not your typical mass-produced non-alcoholic beers. These are craft beers. Who would have thought? My opinion of non-alcoholic beer has always been that it’s for people who just want to smell like they’re drunk. I guess times have changed.
If you’re looking for cheese, and I often am, Unwined has a great cheese selection run by their Cheesemonger Lisa Herold. They also have a fantastic restaurant and bar attached to the store. Revel is a cozy warm place to enjoy great wine, craft beer, and food. Gary’s craft beer list in Revel differs from the store, making it a separate experience.
As we end our time together, Gary leaves me with a parting thought. “I don’t know if I emphasized this enough, but I really believe this is a Golden Age of Craft Beer. Consistent quality and variety leave only your sense of adventure to be your guide.” You made that point abundantly clear my friend. I’ll be back soon, with my growler in hand.
Tim’s Whiskey and Cigar Recommendation
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon
A true favorite of mine. They make this bourbon by taking their regular Woodford Reserve Bourbon and transferring it to a second newly charred oak barrel and letting it age for about another year. The new barrel immediately begins to inject a new level of wood flavor. It adds a whole new complexity to the bourbon. You get oak on the first smell, along with marshmallows and buttered popcorn. On the palate you get the traditional oak and vanilla flavors with cherry. The cherry flavor really stands out. The finish is sweet and flavorful with lots of oak present. This bourbon is 90.4 Proof and runs at about $45 a bottle. Not bad for a good bourbon.
CAO Amazon Basin Anejo Le Toro
This exquisite cigar has the highly flavorful Ecuadorian Sumatra tobacco as a wrapper. No wonder it’s so good. You’ll get orange peel, apples, and some pepper on the first taste. As you continue to smoke it, citrus, apples, fig, coffee, and brown sugar come through. A black pepper flavor lingers throughout the smoke. This cigar finishes with a stronger coffee flavor along with figs and brown sugar. At around $15 a cigar, it’s not the cheapest. But trust me, it’s worth it.
This cigar, and many other fine cigars, are available at John Crouch Tobacconist at 215 King St. in Old Town Alexandria.
About the Author: Timothy Long is an educator, writer, consultant, and experienced restaurant operator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram and Twitter: @wvutimmy. Blog: What is that fly doing in my soup? http://whatflyinmysoup.com