Just after Mrs Velkyal and I tied the proverbial knot last year, one of our good friends left Prague. Originally from Texas, he and his girlfriend decided to head back to the US. Jay is now studying in Philadelphia, and so before school starts in earnest for him tomorrow, he came to spend the weekend in Charlottesville.
The first time we met was in Pivovar U Bulovky back in Prague, where we enjoyed lashings of good beer, and that night a live concert. Obviously on Saturday Mrs Velkyal brought Jay out to Starr Hill Brewery while I was working in the tasting room, where he got to enjoy the special barleywine that was on tap - a monster 10.7%ABV brew which had lots of earthy hop notes to cut through the sweetness of the malt, as well as the regular range of Starr Hill beers, which he agreed were certainly very nice.
The night before, we had popped into the South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville and partook in the sampling flight of their beers, the highlights for me were the J.P. Cask Conditioned Pale Ale and the Hop Harvest Ale, which uses fresh hops from this year's harvest. Much of that night is something of a blur, but one fuelled by good beer and excellent company - the beer highlight for me was Samuel Smith's IPA, which we had in the Court Square Tavern, just off Charlottesville's Downtown Mall and a front runner for being my favourite pub in town.
Pretty much on a whim, we decided to spend our Sunday visiting the other couple of breweries close to the city, Devil's Backbone and Blue Mountain Brewery, both of which are in the same neck of the wooded mountains as Starr Hill and form integral parts of the Brew Ridge Trail. First up was Devil's Backbone, and all you can say when you see the building itself is "wow!", styled after a Swiss mountain chalet and built from mostly reclaimed materials, it is one impressive brewpub. This time Jay and I ordered a flight of samplers between us, but due to the barmaid mixing up which beers were which, my tasting notes got well scrambled and I gave up. The highlight though was their Eight Point IPA, a typical American interpretation of the style, and a very good one at that. Interestingly they have a beer called a Saazer Golden Ale, which is apparently made accroding to the pilsner method but then top-fermented. I was certainly intrigued but ultimately disappointed, with an IBU of 18 (I think) it didn't even come close to the 40 IBUs of Saaz hoppy goodness that Pilsner Urquell has, up the hops though and I think they could be on to a winner!
Back then into the car, with designated driver and all round fab soul, Mrs Velkyal in the hotseat, off to Blue Mountain Brewery it was. Again the obligatory flight of samples, although the lager was temporarily off so we would have to wait for that. An excellent Kolsch, a weizen excellent as both hefe and kristall (better with of course in my world), followed by an IPA which was a delight, then a Double IPA which was smooth beyond your wildest beery dreams, topped off with a nice imperial porter served on nitro - much to my bemusement, although excellent it was, I would love to try it on cask or CO2. Finally the lager was once more available and of course in the interests of science it needed tasting, I was not expecting much though.
In various posts lately I have lamented the inability of many American brewers to produce a good lager, sure Starr Hill's Jomo Lager is very nice, as is Samuel Adams Boston Lager, but most of the lagers I have tried have otherwise been bland, insipid or just plain bad. Blue Mountain Lager though bucks the trend, not just completely, but completely and utterly, as well as with style - this is a good, good lager. Full of flavour, a nice hoppy bite to fight with the malty body. Simply an excellent lager, and the beer I stuck to for the rest of our time in the brewery.
I have more friends coming to Charlottesville this coming weekend, I think more Blue Mountain Lager will be consumed with gusto!