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Calvin James Pynn
Virginia is a state of all trades. As a center for Appalachian culture, as well as the original roots of America, many art forms have a prolific association with the land spanning the Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain regions. Among those crafts is one unlikely association that mankind has always cherished—beer.
There are over 74 craft breweries in Virginia, 15 of which belong to the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. While variety is plentiful and each brewery offers a unique take to the beloved beverage, the only constant is quality. Critical palates from abroad have praised various ales from Virginia, such as the Dark Starr Stout from Charlottesville’s Starr Hill Brewery.
On Saturday, April 14, brewers and beer lovers alike came together for a day of merriment at the second annual New River Brewfest. The event was held at the Nesselrod Bed and Breakfast in Fairlawn, just across the New River from RU’s campus.
Six craft breweries from all over Virginia set up tents and taps for festival goers to sample their products. Starr Hill, as well as Richmond’s Legend, Ashburn’s Lost Rhino, and Roseland’s Devil’s Backbone Brewing Companies traveled to share their ale with the New River Valley. The River Company and Bull and Bones represented the local beer scene with their own popular selections.
Mike Pensinger, the River Company’s brewmaster, has been making beer for 17 years. Pensinger started out as a home brewer in 1995, and moved on to professional brewing in 2002. At the Brewfest, Penzinger stood with as they gave out three of their creations: the Peachicot Blonde Ale, Timber Brown Ale, and the Farmhouse Hefeweizen.
As an independent brewer, Penzinger has been pleased to see a rise in craft breweries in Virginia.
“We’re transitioning back to locally produced smaller companies,” said Pensinger. “If you can get something locally, why worry about the bigger stuff?”
Overall, he sees it as a reemergence of older traditions.
“We lost a lot of craft beer during prohibition, and we’re getting that back now,” Pensinger said.
Allen Hagen, of Starr Hill, provided a wealth of advice for festival goers as they sampled the widely known ale from Charlottesville. Although that’s where the brewery was first founded, Starr Hill now operates out of a larger facility nearby in Crozet. For the New River Brewfest, Starr Hill shared their Northern Lights India Pale Ale, their most popular brew, as well as the Vienna Lager, and the award winning Dark Starr Stout.
“It’s very much an art form,” Hagen said of his craft. “We’re all putting Virginia on the map in terms of craft beer and beyond!”
Nesselrod’s first attempt at the Brewfest was rained out shortly after it started last year. This year, the festival went on uninterrupted under a clear sky.
While the idea of a “Brewfest” is generally associated with an exclusively adult crowd, people of all ages made it out to Nesselrod this past Saturday. In addition to the craft brew samples, festival goers were also provided food by Bull and Bones, and enjoyed music from the bands Spoon Fight and The Worx, as well as a scenic view of the New River.
Joe Crandle, a Radford local, considered the Brewfest to be a successful effort and an overall good time. As a connoisseur of craft beer, he was impressed with the selection offered.
“My favorite beer today has absolutely been the Ice Breaker,” Crandle said.
Ice Breaker is Lost Rhino’s Imperial India Pale Ale, known for its bitter, hoppy taste, and a high alcohol content of 9.2 percent.
The New River Brewfest is just one of many celebrations for craft brewing in Virginia, but as a growing statewide trade, more people are experiencing the art.
“Virginia is for lovers, but for lovers of all things, especially for beer,” Hagen said. “It’s the perfect atmosphere to have this craft brewing environment, and just a good location for people come and develop their craft.”