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Drink local

A critical look at Charlottesville's selection of local beer

Charlottesville is a man among boys when it comes to the local beer scene. The number of options alone is something most localities would envy, and the quality of the beer puts this city over the top.

To put it in perspective, there are four Charlottesville-area brewing companies that distribute to grocery stores in the Washington, D.C. area. In Charlottesville, there is only one D.C. area brewery — Port City — that distributes.

Given that most of us have only begun experimenting with the wide range of beer options available, below is a comprehensive review of the most popular local beers. The beer selection at stores and bars can be overwhelming, so I aim to reduce some of the pressure when you do decide to buy fresh and buy local.

If you can, I recommend trying these at the breweries themselves. All are within an hour’s drive, and two of them — Three Notch’d and Champion — are easy to get to via the U-Loop and the Free Trolley, respectively.

If you do want to make the drive to some of the others, I recommend Blue Mountain and Devil’s Backbone due to the fantastic dining experience you can get along with tastings and tours.

These beers are all produced on a relatively small scale, but that by no means suggests they are inaccessible to students. Of the 13 beers we tasted, all but two were available in Harris Teeter, and the two that weren’t have been stocked there sometime in the last couple months. You can get many of these at Cohn’s, 7-Day Jr. and 7-Eleven.

To make this review possible, I went to Beer Run to mix a pair of six packs of what I considered to be the best sample possible of local beers, based on what I see most frequently at bars and grocery stores. A total of six breweries and one cidery are represented. I got my friends — Eric (E) and Thomas (T) — together Saturday afternoon to test out a wide variety of local options. Accompanying each review is our individual ratings of the beer, the name of the brewery, the alcohol by volume of the beer and the beer’s IBU — a bitterness scale.

Kolsch 151, Blue Mountain Brewery

ABV: 5.0%IBU: 18

M: My first thought is that it’s not as heavy as I expected it to be. It’s good and it’s drinkable, though it doesn’t have much added flavor or spices.

E: I’m a fan of lighter beers, and I really like this. I’d drink this again.

T: I like this a lot. I’ve been to Blue Mountain for tastings, and you get small portions of 10 beers, and the Kolsch has always been one of, if not my favorite from there.

E: I like how they’re not doing too much with it. To quote the bottle, “Our homage is to the idiosyncratic cold-age ale from Koln.”

10-Point Scale: Eric - 7, Thomas - 8.5, Matt - 6

Hydraulion Red, Three Notch’d Brewing Company

ABV: 5.3%IBU: 22

M: You have your darkest beers, like stouts and porters, then a step lighter than that is a brown ale, and another step lighter than that is a red ale, which is what we have here.

T: I like it a lot. I can find really dark beers to occasionally be overpowering, especially if you’re not used to it. But this really goes down well.

E: It’s not overpowering, it’s not bitter, and it even has a little bit of sweetness to it.

T: For people trying to get into dark beers, this is a really good way to get your taste buds acclimated.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 8, Thomas - 7, Matt - 7.5

Missile IPA, Champion Brewing Company

ABV: 7%IBU: 65

M: So if you’ve never had an IPA before, the bitterness can sometimes come as a shock.

T: Definitely. You’ll probably not like your first IPA.

E: I’m not usually a fan of IPAs, but I like this one.

M: See, I am usually a fan of IPAs, I can’t say this is one of my favorites. The IPAs that work really well have some added spices and flavors, but this is very plain and standard.

T: For a 7 percent IPA, this has a pretty good taste. But I will say you’re right in that it doesn’t have the spices and flavors typical in many IPAs.

M: It could definitely be a lot more bitter for what it is. To some people that’s a good thing, and to other’s it’s a bad thing.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 6.5, Thomas - 7, Matt - 6.5

Vienna Lager, Devils Backbone Brewing Company

ABV: 4.9%IBU: 18

M: Devils Backbone is definitely the heavyweight of local breweries. It’s widely acclaimed and has won some big awards at highly respected national beer festivals. I want to say the Vienna Lager is their flagship beer, and I'm going just go ahead and say this is the best lager I’ve had.

T: The beer most people associate with lagers is Yuengling. I like this a whole lot more than Yuengling, but I’ve never been a huge lager fan.

E: I like it. It tastes like a pretty regular beer I’d drink with a steak.

M: I think this is a very accessible beer. People who don’t drink too much beer often get turned off by bitterness or something that’s too dark or heavy. This isn’t either of those things.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 7, Thomas - 7, Matt - 7.9

Grateful Pale Ale, Starr Hill Brewery

ABV: 4.7%IBU: 26

M: Starr Hill is the other major brewery in the area. This is their pale ale, which I’ve increasingly seen in bars and stores in the area.

T: The IPA we had earlier was supposed to be a lot more bitter, but this one gives off a stronger taste of bitterness.

M: This honestly tastes like a watered-down version of good pale ales I’ve had. Starr Hill didn’t do a good job with this.

E: Put me on the record saying I recommend not buying this beer.

T: When I go into a store, I know going in whether I want to buy cheap beer or craft beer, so while it may be better than Bud Light or Miller Light, this would never be something I would purchase.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 5, Thomas - 5.5, Matt - 3.5

Pumpkin Hunter, Devils Backbone Brewing Company

ABV: 5.1% IBU: 14

M: This is our only seasonal beer here, meaning you can’t buy it year round. But I love it and I wanted everyone to try it. I’m also just a huge fan of pumpkin beers, and this is my favorite one.

E: It does taste really good. Does it actually have pumpkin in it?

M: Label says brewed with pumpkin and spices.

T: I don’t like pumpkin beers, but this is probably the best one I’ve had. That being said, if you don’t like pumpkin, you still won’t like this beer. It does do a great job blending the beer, pumpkin and spice tastes together.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 7.5, Thomas - 6.5, Matt - 8.5

Virginia Apple (Hard Cider), Bold Rock

ABV: 4.7%IBU: N/A

M: Before even opening it, I’d like to point out that this bottle has a twist off cap, which is unique for what we’re tasting today.

T: This is good, but it’s very sweet.

M: People who don’t like the taste of alcohol would probably like this drink. There is no taste of alcohol.

T: Ording this is an equivalent to ordering a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. But there’s no doubt that this tastes really good.

M: On the spectrum of hard ciders, you have on one end ones that taste like white wine, and on the other end ones that taste like a dessert. This is far on the dessert end of that scale.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 9 , Thomas - 8 , Matt - 7

Eight Point IPA, Devils Backbone Brewing Company

ABV: 5.9%IBU: 60

T: This is very bitter. Though I actually ordered two of these at dinner last night, and I liked it.

M: This is much better than the Champion IPA, and better than any of the pale ales we’ve had so far.

E: All I can say is that at least it’s six percent. I’d never buy this or order this.

T: As far as taste goes for an IPA, this is really good.

M: I like bitter, but I would even say it’s a little too bitter for me.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 3, Thomas - 6.5, Matt - 7

Killer Kolsch, Champion Brewing Company

ABV: 5.0%IBU: 22

M: This is our second Kolsch, and I think we’ve all decided we have no idea what Kolsch actually means, but we’re going to drink it anyway.

T: It tastes really earthy to me. I don’t like this nearly as much as I liked the other Kolsch. This tastes terrible.

M: This has a really strange taste to me. It’s not good.

E: It almost tastes stale.

M: This tastes sour — that’s probably the best way to describe it. Do you think this batch went bad or something? Hopefully it doesn’t always taste like this.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 3, Thomas - 2.5, Matt - 3

Blonde Hunny Ale, Wild Wolf Brewing Company

ABV: 6.8%IBU: 21

T: I’m a fairly big fan of this.

M: It tastes good, and definitely does not taste like it’s 6.8 percent. This is borderline alcohol for people who don’t like alcohol. It’s very sweet — it’s actually made with honey.

T: But unlike Bold Rock, this has a distinct beer taste. I give it a lot of credit for this.

E: It’s almost too much sugar for me. It’s a beer for sure, but it’s too sweet.

M: Let’s talk about this can for a second. The label a cartoon woman with blonde hair and very large breasts.

T: My opinion of the marketing is that they put the name “Blonde Hunny” to attract women, but then they put the picture to attract guys. This can definitely be marketed toward both genders.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 5.5, Thomas - 8, Matt - 7.5

40 Mile IPA, Three Notch’d Brewing Company

ABV: 6.0%IBU: 50

M: It’s another IPA, so Eric clearly isn’t going to like it. But I really like this one. This is better than both of the IPAs we’ve had so far. It’s definitely not as bitter as an IPA could be.

E: Not for me. I’d pay $1 for a 12oz of this.

T: Haha really? I’d pay $4 for 12oz of this.

M: It’s got more flavor than the Champion IPA and it’s not as bitter as the Devils Backbone IPA.

T: I’d agree.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 3.5, Thomas - 7.25, Matt - 8

Full Nelson Pale Ale, Blue Mountain Brewery

ABV: 5.9%IBU: 60

E: I already know I won’t like this. [Takes sip] All right this isn’t that bad.

T: This is easily better than the Starr Hill Grateful. It’s a little more bitter, but it has so much more flavor.

E: Yeah I don’t mind this.

T: That means a lot coming from Eric. So if you like pale ales, you’ll love this one.

M: I agree. The biggest thing for me is that it isn’t as watered down as the Starr Hill one.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 6.5, Thomas - 7, Matt - 7

Northern Lights IPA, Starr Hill Brewery

ABV: 6.5%IBU: 52

E: It’s not that bitter actually.

M: This is a good IPA. It doesn’t taste too bitter, but at the same time doesn’t have too much flavor. There’s nothing to put it over the top, but I like it.

T: If you’re someone who thinks IPA are OK and are usually turned off by the bitterness and flavor, you’ll probably like this.

M: It’s a good starter IPA.

T: Completely agree.

M: I’d give this the same rating as the Devils Backbone IPA, but for the opposite reasons.

10-Point Scale: Eric - 7 [completely surprised us], Thomas - 7.25, Matt - 7