I’m 1/3 of the way through MCM training, but I need to talk about beer.

Running stuff first:

As the title says, today marks the start of Week 7 of my MCM training. This is an 18-week plan, so the first 6 weeks are over (thank you, Captain Obvious…), and now’s when the real fun begins. I forget that the first 6 weeks of such plans are the easy weeks, wherein one flirts with a 30-mile-week but spends most of one’s running time hovering in the low-to-mid-20’s for weekly mileage. The next six weeks begin with this week’s 36-mile week, then continue with next week’s 37-mile week, then one drops to 26, then goes back up to 41 (!), then 44, then back down to 36. And I haven’t even gotten to my 20-mile long runs yet!

But, this is the good stuff. This is the meat of the training, where the best work gets done, and the best foundation is built for that Sunday in October. This is where, as they say, shit gets real.

Okay, so now on to beer. (yay!)

Summer school ended last week, so Saint and I planned a trip far out of town and as much off the grid as we could manage. As it turned out, there was wifi and cell phone reception, but we generally opted not to use it unless getting lost was imminent, and I forgot how great it is to drop all the white noise and just be with your surroundings and company for a couple of days. We went to the far northern corner of Virginia, near where it meets West Virginia and Maryland. Yesterday was spent exploring Harper’s Ferry, which I’ve never been to (or at least don’t remember, if I went when I was very young), and we had a great time hiking around and learning about the area’s history. And, um, eating ice cream. On a return trip, we’d like to devote more time to a longer hike, because some of the scenery on the West Virginia side of the Shenandoah River looked quite lovely and alluring indeed. (Not to mention the impossibly sweeping sky over horse country when it’s flooded with summer-afternoon-cloud-lit sunlight. GAH. Gorgeous!)

Saturday, however, was spent sampling as much beer and wine as we could get our hands on. We only made it to two wineries, which means that we should probably devote an entire day to wine if we decide to pursue that endeavor on a return trip, but based on the mind-boggling number of craft breweries that have exploded into the area recently, it’s going to be difficult not to return to the places we did visit as well as visit the ones we neglected. For example, we never made it to the Mad Horse Brewpub, where I see friends checking into all the time on Facebook, and of which I have generally heard good things. Or Magnolia’s at the Mill, of which we actually were within spitting distance, but were in search of coffee rather than beer at that particular moment.

The three places we did manage to visit were, in order of visitation, Adroit Theory Brewing Company, the Macdowell Brew Kitchen – home of Mud Hound Brewing – and Crooked Run Brewing. (All of these are easily Google-able and findable both on Facebook and Twitter, so I won’t waste space with links and such.) What happened at the first somewhat knocked us on our rear ends a little, such that when we visited places 2 and 3 where there was only one brewer’s-own beer available to drink, we weren’t entirely disappointed.

I’ll work backwards, starting with Crooked Run, who unfortunately only had their Hopsail (a Belgian single) on tap when we arrived. They’d sold out of their American and English pale ales, and did not yet have their raspberry dark Saison, which I would have loved to try. Happily, the Hopsail was a very nicely done single, and it made us wish that more breweries made singles; as much as Saint and I both love dubbels and tripels, a well-made single can be very refreshing. That’s what this was: refreshing in its simplicity and good execution.

Prior to Crooked Run, we’d visited the Macdowell Brew Kitchen across the street, which is where one can sample the beers of Mud Hound Brewing Company. Alas, only one was on tap when we arrived, and it was their American Pale Wheat Ale, Pocket Full of Sunshine. Saint sampled it, not I, because I was not in the mood for something grapefruity, so I can’t say what I thought of it. He wasn’t a big fan, but I suspect that was due to the grapefruityness. I’d love to return when the Kitchen has more of Mud Hound’s beers available, because some of them sound delicious: a double IPA, a tripel, an oatmeal stout, to name a few. In any event, I had a Three Brothers Admiral Double IPA, which was delicious, and also local – to Harrisonburg, anyway – if not exactly local-local.

Before our coffee run, we headed to Purcellville to meet Greg, the brewer at Adroit Theory Brewing. Since ATBC isn’t yet officially open, I had to do some emailing to figure out how exactly to arrange a tasting; I saw notes and photos of their beers and the folks who had consumed them on their Facebook page, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how those beers and people had come together in the first place. I was given Greg’s email, and we arranged to meet at noon on Saturday, when he would be at the brewery tinkering with some things.

I should have known we were in for an unusual 90 or so minutes when Saint and I got out of the car and were told “I need to check on a keg, come with me and I can pour you some of what’s in there”. We followed him back to the temporary storage room, and quickly learned that “what’s in there” was a barleywine that had spent a couple of weeks in a bourbon barrel. [Turns out it’s their Tenebris from Ghost 014, if you follow them on Untappd.] I don’t usually care for barleywine, and I’m no longer the fan of bourbon that I used to be, but good LORD, this was like being hit in the face with a sweet beery bourbon wallop that hollered “HEY! You! Pay attention to me, for I AM DELICIOUS.” And it was. At 11% ABV, this is not a brew to be taken lightly, and I was a little nervous that this was only the first sample of the day: ATBC’s philosophy is that no beer under 7% ABV shall be made by them, and I can emphatically appreciate that philosophy, but it makes one wish that one had invested in a slightly more safe method of transportation elsewhere than the car one has driven to the place of beer.

Thankfully, Greg was very much willing to share with us the plans for the space as it transforms from an industrial space into a social, beer-drinking space, and some of the history behind what we were tasting and his methods for devising brews. Because I a) confess that I can’t recall most of what was said thanks to all of those damned delicious beers and b) it would really do an injustice to Greg to take the words out of his mouth, I won’t even attempt to convey what we learned, but instead I will suggest heartily and strongly that you visit Greg yourself. Until this place opens, word of mouth is what they have to rely on, and I feel like if I tell 5 people, and they each tell 5 people, and so on, etc., this brewery will thrive once it’s officially open.

Why would I care about a brewery more than a few hours away, you ask? For two reasons: 1) they are one of the most DIY breweries I’ve ever encountered; 2) we walked away with seven (7) bottles of beer, for which Greg would not take payment. I’m no businessperson, but you can’t make money by giving away your product. Concerning 1), each bottle is hand-corked, hand-cage-wired, and hand-labeled, which right now is done by either Greg himself as he’s packing up a goody bag or two for you, or by volunteers who come in and help out. ATBC does have its own graphic designer for the (*ahem* awesome) labels, but everything else is in-house. That is, on its face, absurd.

Concerning 2), well, that speaks for itself. I’m not being paid or in any way comped to write this, unless you count beer as payment, in which case I declare this to be the best business model ever. 🙂 In addition to the beer, Saint and I took a bunch of stickers to put up in our respective towns, and I have every intention of telling anyone who will listen about ATBC, because not only are they making really effing good beer, but they’re also making really effing good unique beerTheir first was an Imperial Stout, which – okay, I’m already primed to love them for that right there, not to mention their quickly-apparent preference for very hoppy beers – is an unusual choice for a debut beer. Since then, they’ve brewed a milk stout without water, a smoked porter aged on serrano peppers, imperial brown ales, a saison brewed with wormwood that you can try with sugar cubes, a wheat wine, and more – and, the barleywine that we tried is also going to be aged in brandy and gin barrels in the future.  Saint and I sampled all of those, and they were unusual and absolutely delicious. The pepper-smoked porter sticks with you for a long time after you’ve finished it, but in the best of ways. The wheat wine is a devilish little thing of a drink that completely betrays its 9% ABV status; it would be easy to open this on a warm summer or fall day and drink it entirely too quickly before you realized what you’d done. The brown ales – each brewed by a different person, but using the same basic recipe – were rather unlike any brown ale I’ve ever had, and the imperial double red ale was not as grapefruity as I’d anticipated and thus delectable. We left with a bottle of each of the three brown ales, and one each of the imperial double red, the wheat wine, the wormwood saison, and the bourbon-aged barleywine. Saint took one of the brown ales to share with his dad, and I took the rest with me to, um “save for us to drink together”.

Anyway, so, after we took up a good chunk of Greg’s time, we scooted out into the rainy afternoon and made our way to a coffee shop, because it was close to 1:30 in the afternoon and we were both feeling a bit, erm, sleepy for some reason. Having consumed caffeine, we made it on with the rest of our day, and as good as the other beers were that we sampled, they didn’t quite match up to the experience we had with ATBC. Plus, we have other places we need to visit, which really just means a return is inevitable – when, with any luck, ATBC will be capital o- Open and we can try whatever deliciousness they’ve conjured since August.

So, that’s my beer report for this weekend. It’s not a stretch to imagine that I also enjoy this part of the marathon-training schedule because it makes me feel less guilty about drinking all of this beer, though I know I can’t have weekends like this all the time. It does, however, make me thankful that I live in an area so rich in delicious beverages. I confess I’m a little worried about the microbrewing industry reaching a saturation point, but until then, I’m going to keep on sampling and visiting as much as I can. *urrrp* You’re welcome. 🙂

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