After several recent beer posts concerning a diverse array of imported and domestic craft beers, it was nice to leave the bottles in the fridge (or the cellar) and try some brews straight from the tap. No I didn’t get to make it down to Morgantown’s newest beer haven, the Mountain State Brewpub…however, I did get to try a plethora of craft brews from various West Virginia breweries at the 3rd annual Star City Volunteer Fire Department Brewfest.
First off, let me say that this is easily the best value brewfest in a long list of beer festivals I have had the pleasure of attending (and the displeasure of recuperating from). The reason being that most brewfests offer 3 to 4 hour tasting periods with a hefty $25-plus price tag…and some don’t even offer unlimited tastings. However, the enlightened crew at the Star City VFD saw the power in opening up the tastings to two different days with a noon to 10 PM gauntlet on Saturday and you get a nice, pint-sized glass with a ticket purchase (unlike dwarfed mugs that other festivals hand out).
Needless to say, I arrived shortly after 3 PM on Saturday and stayed until the volunteers were forced to herd the remaining revelers into the complimentary shuttles. Even though I came to the event knowing that I had tried nearly every beer (of the 70-plus offered) at least one time or another in my beer-ventures, there were certainly a few that had I yet to enjoy. However, unlike last year where the lines were pretty tame for most beers, the place was packed. Which in a way was kind of refreshing to a West Virginia native who has hoped the Mountain State’s artisan culture would embrace craft brewing for quite some time. Even with 4-5 person lines at just about every beer (except the Anheuser-Busch’s and Yuengling’s of the world) I was still able to try every brew on hand and get some quotes and notes along the way. So kick back and relax, crack a fresh beer, and reminisce about (or curse yourself for missing) the Star City VFD Brewfest.
Best Brewery: Typically whenever I go to brewfests, there is one brewery that really stands out in my mind (and taste buds) as the king of beers for that particular festival. Last year I had the Mountaineer Brewing Company as the champion, with their unique Winter Ale and their new Vandalia Ale (which was surprisingly the only beer from the company at this year’s brewfest), however this year’s festival posted a bit more of a challenge for me. Of course you could make an argument to crown the nationally recognized craft breweries like Great Lakes, Rogue, or Flying Dog…but it is a little hard to hand out a “Best Brewery” tag when you only showcase one or two beers. Thus, my nod goes to Morgantown Brewing Company. Although I have experienced MBC’s diverse palatte of brews before, their beers were head and shoulders above the rest of the West Virginia breweries with a few of their offerings (the Zack Morgan’s IPA, F.H.Pierpont’s Robust Porter, and the 80 Shilling Scotch Ale) comparing favorably against the aforementioned “top dogs” of the craft brewing world. One beer that wasn’t on hand was the “West Virginia Golden Ale,” or MBC’s wheat beer (which is actually more of German Hefeweizen with its heavy yeast influence) but luckily MBC brewmaster Brian Anderson cleared up my questions of the Golden’s Ales disappearance. “We’ve got it in the fermenter right now,” Anderson said “can’t wait to get it out and see what we’ve got.” Me either Brian, me either.
Best Beer: This one is a little tough, as the offerings were so diverse in style that it’s hard to nail down one brew and claim it’s “the best.” So to cut down on some confusion and give some other beers some air time, I am going to rank the best beer for a handful of common craft beer styles.
Pale Ale: Easy one here, Widmer’s “Drifter Pale Ale” offers a crisp hop bite over a satisfying backdrop of caramel malts. It’s not too heavy by any means but has enough substance to make you want another glass…err tasting. Great Lake’s Burning River came in a very close second.
India Pale Ale: I’m a big, big fan of the Zack Morgan’s IPA from Morgantown Brewing Company, but its fruity hints “paled” in comparison (no pun intended) to the West Virginia hop bomb that was Bridge Brew Works seasonal “India Pale Ale.” The dark orange body provided a delicious malt and bitter hop flavor that is usually only found from some of the best breweries in the business (more on Bridge Brew Works later).
Stout/ Dark Ales: While dark ales can incorporate a wide variety of beers, I decided to couple the two styles together for sheer convenience. I really enjoyed Great Lakes’ Doppelrock Doppelbock beer with its tinges of fresh chocolate poking through a medium body of caramel and toffee. Though not as silky or malty as the best Doppelbocks, the Doppelrock is an exceptional beer. BUT, Rogue’s “Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager” stole the show in my opinion. The beer’s superb mix of homegrown malts and hops create an organic quality, but the brew puffs its chest out just as much as the most flavorful of beers. I have had the Dirtoir Black several times before, but there was something about trying the draft version of the brew that just added an extra quality and freshness to the multitude of ingredients. If you tried the beer at the festival (or want to pick up a bottle from Morgantown’s various beer outlets) you may not have known it is the world’s #1 “Schwarzbier.”
Lagers: I personally thought Morgantown Brewing Company’s “Two Weeks Lager” was the notable lager at the event. Though I would be the first to admit that lagers are farther down on my list of favorite styles than a lot of other beers, this particular brew offers a certain uniqueness that sets it apart from the likes of Yuengling, Dominion Lager, or Bridge Brew Works “Long Point Lager.”
Up-And-Coming Brewery: Bridge Brew Works, the Fayetteville, West Virginia-based brewery, is a new player on the scene of craft brewing. The brewery began producing handcrafted ales in the late 2000s and have seen their influence and impact on West Virginia craft brewing increase steadily with each passing year. I offered some kind words regarding their seasonal “India Pale Ale” beer to co-founder Nathan Herrold and he jumped at the opportunity to talk about his brewery. “It’s just me and this guy (pointing to co-founder Ken Linch) making this stuff and we love it,” Herrold said. When told to keep up with the creativity in crafting the beers, Herrold responded “Yes sir, we are constantly thinking up and trying new beers and styles.” Luckily Bridge Brew Works is beginning to bottle some of their popular beers and their seasonal ales, including the aforementioned IPA, and a Belgium Dubbel and Tripel. This is definitely a brewery on the rise and don’t be surprised to find more of their beers in West Virginia restaurants and bottle shops soon!
All in all the 3rd annual Star City VFD Brewfest was a huge success for the beer-happy guests. Official numbers haven’t been released in terms of attendance and money raised, but the smiles on the volunteers’ faces and the matching joy the beer drinkers shared made for a very entertaining and enjoyable experience on the outskirts of the University City. If you get a chance to attend the event next year, please do, as it will give you a new perspective on different beer styles or craft beer in general. Cheers!