Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sunday in Charlottesville: Starr Hill Brewery

Seasonally, I work at the Blackfriar’s Playhouse, run by the American Shakespeare Center, in Staunton, VA.  When I first started working there, their bar featured Starr Hill's Amber Ale.  I fell in love with it the first time I tried it and have been a huge fan of Starr Hill since.  Luckily, with living in Staunton, several local bars rotate Starr Hill’s beers on tap and so I’ve gotten to try most of them.  But, until Sunday, even though the factory was only 30-some miles away, I’d never been and gone on the tour. 

Amazingly, the tour and tastings are free, which should give you a sense of the good character of Starr Hill whose motto is giving “The Gift of Great Beer.”  Also, to give you a sense of the company, they allow their employees to have a beer from the tasting room at any point in their shift.  David, who led the tour, challenged us to find any other company that does that. 

The background of the company is that Mark Thompson, a graduate from James Madison University’s Biology department, left Virginia for the Pacific Northwest.  There, he got into microbrewery culture and came back to Charlottesville to start Starr Hill

Even if you have been on other brewery tours, I’d recommend taking the Starr Hill tour.  David did a great job leading us around, explaining the operations, and answering questions about the beers.  Plus, he let us try and smell the barley and malt.  Then, for the braver, you could try the dried hops.  I did.  I wouldn’t do it again.  It is kind of like green tea leaves soaked in IPA and then dunked in overwhelming bitterness.  An hour later, when I thought back on it, I could still taste it. 
David was also nice enough to share a great tidbit with Ellie and I about The Love, their German Hefeweizen.  He had us pinch our noses, take a sip, swish it around our mouths, and then unplug our noses.  He then asked if we smelt bananas or cloves.  I got cloves and Ellie got bananas.  David explained that although neither or those two tastes are in the beer itself, the yeast causes those two aromas.  Try it.  It is really a cool moment. 

Of course, Ellie and I also did the tasting.  Unfortunately, they had just kicked Boxcar, their Pumpkin Beer, but we still go to try these  . . . 
The Amber is still my favorite, but the Feste has a great sipping quality.  Although I appreciated the use of an old colonial recipe, the Monticello reminded me a little too much of buttered popcorn.  I also recommend the Dark Stout and would like to try it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it.  

So, if you live within two hours of Crozet/Charlottesville, then make sure visiting Starr Hill  is on your list of things to do.  I would have been one sad foodie had I moved away from Virginia without evere having gone.  

**stay tuned next week for a recipe for Pumpkin Porter Scones featuring Starr Hill's Boxcar**

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