Earlier in September, I had the opportunity (with the Beer Bride) to attend the Top of the Hops beer festival in Charlottesville. If you’ve never had a chance to go to one of the big beer tasting festivals, I really do recommend it; with some advance planning, it’s an opportunity to really broaden your beer experience. Memo to first-timers: nobody can taste 150 beers. Well, maybe you can, but you won’t be tasting much after the first 50 or so.

The Top of the Hops folks do a solid professional job putting these together all over the country (www.topofthehops.com), and their experience shows. The Charlottesville festival had 50 breweries from all over the country in the Charlottesville Pavilion (see photo), including some of our Virginia favorites like Devil’s Backbone, Starr Hill, and Blue Mountain. Better yet, for a few dollars more, you could buy a VIP ticket, not only getting access to a separate VIP section with more food and beers, but entry into the main festival itself an hour early. Various interesting casks were opened throughout the afternoon, both in the VIP section, and in the main groundlings zone (I kid, I kid).

I’m really an IPA guy; the Beer Bride loves her porters and stouts. However, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the beers that really caught my attention at TOTH were on the darker side. Particular kudos to the guys at Highland (www.highlandbrewing.com, Asheville, NC) for an otherworldly oatmeal stout, Duck-Rabbit (www.duckrabbitbrewery.com, Farmville, NC), with one of the best milk stouts around, and Weeping Radish (www.weepingradish.com, Grandy, NC) with a great black lager. Obviously, North Carolina is producing some all-star beers; might be time for a road trip – but I know you can find Duck-Rabbit and Highland in NoVa.

Another beer that really caught our attention came from Founders Brewery (www.foundersbrewing.com, Grand Rapids, MI); their KBS Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels. Unbelievably rich. 11% ABV, so this should be consumed EARLY in the festival, rather than later.

Special applause and a fist pump, however, for the guys from Blue Mountain (http://bluemountainbrewery.com, Afton, VA), who in mid-afternoon opened a cask of (deep breath) Chocolate Belgian Porter aged with cherries.


Fall-down delicious. I think I went through the line (and there WERE lines for this beer) three times.

If the Top of the Hops folks are having one of these near you, do it. It’s well worth the cost.