It wasn’t our original plan, but the 7 of us ended up renting a 7-seat minivan for our NoVa (that’s Northern Virginia, for you New Englanders) beer tour. And it wasn’t my original plan, but I sat in the middle of the 3-seat back row the entire trip. What did we have in common? Attending some sort of graduate school, and beer. Anyone who has survived grad school will advise focusing on the beer. To avoid my own education-induced version of PTSD, (yet again) I will do just that.
First, the suburbanites abandoned the safe confines of Silver Spring (home of the FDA) to lure those in DC (home of the Michael Jackson house) from their urban utopia. The minivan now complete, I sat sandwiched between two PhDs on my way to the Lost Rhino in Ashburn, VA. It was a mellow, temperate Saturday morning in Virginia, and we kids in the back required little regulation from “mom and dad” (actually, newlyweds) up front.
After my own heart, the brewers at Lost Rhino believe in “inspiring excursions” and “taking the path less traveled” (“it’s a tasty one”). Creations including Holy Brew Brown, Helles and Back, and Final Glide Hefeweizen suggest just what sort of life experiences motivate these brewers. The tour guide certainly took the path less traveled, tracing the history of beer all the way back to Mesopotamia, delving deep into the science of gravity, and (cue spacey-sounding music) expounding on the many possible, and not at all possible, origins of the name Lost Rhino.
Our scientists’ brains full, but our glasses empty, the minivan contingent grew restless. My Pretty in Pink – a brisk pomegranate saison, with notes of hibiscus, spice, and a slight sour funk, created by four women from four breweries in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month – had disappeared around Mesopotamia, so I eagerly plotted my tasting strategy while the tour guide explained the final steps of bottling.
At long last, we retired to the tasting room, for lunch and for the implementation of my carefully planned tasting strategy. The food menu complementing this casual, family-friendly space features fresh ingredients from local vendors, from artisanal cheeses to potato chips to sausages, providing endless pairing opportunities with the brewery’s beverages. Ever focusing on the beer, my tasting strategy began where most finish (on the dark, heavy end) with the Woody Stout, offering an aroma of spicy chocolate and coffee, balancing the caramel and vanilla flavors created by aging in Bourbon oak barrels. Hints of molasses and brown sugar added complexity. It was not the biggest, fullest stout I’ve ever tasted, but would likely be a good introduction to the style for lighter beer drinkers.
Next, I watched as smooth, hazy It’s Not My Falt Altbier flowed from the tap to my glass. The nose hit with sweet, roasted malt, and caramel notes, and it tasted of chocolate, with a light, spicy finish. It was around the time I ordered my next beer, Holy Brew Honey Blonde, that my tasting strategy succumbed to the temptations of group tasting: sharing. My Blonde was light with hints of honey wheat; the Faceplant IPA, an unfiltered amber ale dominated by Cascade and Centennial hop flavors, offered a floral nose but resisted the classic bitter IPA finish despite multiple hop additions during the brewing process; the New River Pale Ale featured a balance of sweet and bitter flavors, with two types of malts and 4 types of hops, hitting the tongue with pine, citrus and fruit flavors.
A group favorite was the Holy Brew Brown, a sweet brown ale brewed with Pilsner and Caramel malts and Candi Sugar, a traditional Belgian brewing ingredient used to increase alcohol content without adding extra body to the beer. This Brown was malty with a touch of spice, and quite effervescent and crisp for a dark beer. Dried-fruity notes gave way to a slightly alcohol finish.
Now fortified and quite familiar with the Lost Rhino tasting menu, we crammed back into our minivan chariot. The animal behaviorist PhD having escaped to the middle row, I now sat between two social scientists. Mysteriously, the atmosphere of the minivan shifted as its occupants became more boisterous. “Mom and dad” began to yell at us from the front seats (“stop kicking each other!”), but nonetheless got dragged into our heated argument over the merits of the survival of pandas as a species, given their lackadaisical attitudes toward sex (and general ineptness at it). Throughout the lively discussion, mom faithfully kept the minivan pointed toward Falls Church, VA, home of Mad Fox Brewing Company… (to be continued)