Unlike thousands of my WVU student counterparts and countless other college coeds around the country, I did not have an uber-fun, over-the-top, and memorable spring break. I actually stayed in Morgantown for a few days to get caught up on some work and generally enjoy the University City without much hustle and bustle. However, as much as I tried to have the antithesis of a college spring break, I still found myself indulging in a few alcoholic beverages. And as you know by now, I’m not the vino or cocktail type, just a typical beer lover who has an absurd crush on craft brews.
Unfortunately, if you are a craft beer aficionado, living within the boundaries of the Mountain State can at times be comparable to life in prison without the eligibility of parole. Why you may ask? Because until 2009 the state was in cahoots with the Budweiser Clydesdales and barred any attempt by craft brewers to sell their product in the state. Luckily the gavel of common sense slammed down on the West Virginia Legislature’s collective head and lawmakers agreed to allow the sale of “intoxicating” beers, or beers that are above the 6% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) amount.
Since the summer of 2009, craft beer growth in the state has been slow due to absurd out-of-state brewer distribution fees and other legal obstacles. Thus, I found myself driving three hours down I-79 to my hometown of Hurricane, West Virginia and then another hour across the border into Ohio to track down some illusive imported brews and rare craft beer gems. My interstate journey led to an impressive collection of beers that covered a wide variety of styles…and I have the pictures and tasting notes to prove it! The following comments cover half of my spring break beer treasure with the rest of the brew reviews coming next week.
The first beer I cracked open after returning to the friendly confines of West Virginia was the German import “Weihenstephaner’s Dark Hefeweizen,” or “Dunkelweizen.” “Weizen” means “wheat” in German and this dark hefeweizen offers a twist on the classic German beer style. While normal hefeweizens typically offer a yeasty, sweet, and spicy flavor, this offering brings to mind chocolate covered bananas and hints of brown sugar. The beer is low on bitterness and alcohol (as hops aren’t prevalent) and high on malty goodness. If you are looking for something a little more accessible in Morgantown, keep an eye out for Michelob’s Dunkelweizen, as it is a decent (and cheap) American alternative.
Next up on the “beer rally” was New Holland’s bourbon-barrel stout, “Dragon’s Milk.” The Michigan brewery is well known for offering top-quality and flavorful beers and this brew doesn’t disappoint. Aged in oak barrels for over four months, Dragon’s Milk boasts a deep, roasted-malt and chocolate-heavy flavor that is beautifully silhouetted against a background of bourbon. The first time I had this beer was at a brewfest in Pittsburgh and it literally punched me in the mouth with its intense whiskey flavor. This time around Dragon’s Milk was a bit more tamed and actually allowed me to savor the different complexities of this exceptional beer. It’s not for the faint-of-heart (10% ABV), but if you come across this rare brew I strongly encourage you to pick up a bottle or two (as it ages beautifully in a cellar).
And last but definitely not least on the first round of “Beer Break” is the freshly released “Samuel Adam’s Wee Heavy Scotch Ale.” As part of Samuel Adam’s “Imperial Series,” the Wee Heavy is everything a traditional Scotch Ale should be…and then some. Scotch Ales often present a silky smooth body (sometimes even “chewy”) and consists of caramel, chocolate, and nut flavors (and after one sip you can feel the hair on your chest grow.) However, Samuel Adam’s kicked it up a notch (thanks Emeril) and added peat smoked malts to add a smoked flavor to the beer. If you have never had a smoked flavored brew, it can be a bit off-putting at first, but give it a shot and you will really appreciate the uniqueness of the smoked malts. Though I haven’t seen the beer on West Virginia shelves just yet, I would expect to see the Wee Heavy at Morgantown locations like Kroger’s and Slight Indulgence in the coming weeks.