The Lost Rhino Brewing Company has done the unprecedented. For the first time in the history of Virginia, or at least in modern brewing history, they have created an all-Virginia beer. Their “All Virginia Beer” is the first in their “Genius Loci” series, which is a series of beers that feature at least one Virginia-grown ingredient and/or local yeast.
Last June, DCBeer told readers about Lost Rhino’s attempts to create a beer from 100% Virginia-grown ingredients. A year later, they have done just that.
On June 11, Lost Rhino brewed the beer with Virginia-grown barley and wheat. The floor-malted barley came from the Copper Fox® Distillery in Sperryville. The wheat came from the same farm where the distillery gets its barley, Bay’s Best Feed, in Heathsville.
Hops from the Sage Hill Hop Farm of Leesburg added bitterness to the beer. Filtered Virginia water is always used in all of Lost Rhino’s beers. And finally the yeast is a strain of wild yeast isolated and grown in Ashburn, Virginia.
The beer is still fermenting, but a recent sample revealed a beautiful burnt sienna color. It appears orange with copper highlights (somewhere between Märzen and Bier de Mars on the color spectrum). The nose has esters and is mildly fruity. A faint whiff of earthen hops also comes forward. Its taste is similar to biere de garde. The hops are balanced, making it hard to say that the beer is “malt forward,” though the malt is there with a subdued caramel note. The yeast, somewhere between American and Belgian in its profile, really adds depth of flavor. The beer straddles the Belgian Pale/Amber and Bière De Garde styles. Beers that came to mind after sampling included Fantôme BBB Dark White, Schlafly Bière De Garde, and Southampton Biere De Mars.
The malt, Virginia-grown barley, came from The Copper Fox® Distillery, which has been malting its own barley since late 2005. The unmalted wheat came straight from the farm. The grain has its own back-story originating on the farm of Virginia barley and wheat grower Billy Dawson, owner of Bay’s Best Feed. Dawson also grows corn and rye, and all of his crops come from Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Sourcing for Copper Fox® Distillery prior to launching production, Founder and Master Distiller Rick Wasmund was looking for a Virginia barley source. Wasmund worked with Dawson to source grain for his first whiskey, Wasmund's™ Single Malt Whisky, which remains the only single malt produced in the commonwealth. The Copper Fox™ Rye also uses Virginia malts and a very healthy dose of smoked malt to great effect.
The majority of barley that has been malted in Sperryville has been 6-row, as it is used in their production of fine whiskies. The barley is floor-malted, handcrafted, and kiln-dried. The barley malt used for Copper Fox whiskies is smoked with select applewood and cherrywood. For a soon-to-be-launched single malt gin, Copper Fox began malting unsmoked 2-row barley in 2012, and since early 2013 has offered both smoked and unsmoked malts to select craft brewers.
The majority of malt used in American brewing is 2-row barley. The majority of base malt in beer brewing the world over is not smoked (this type of specialty malt is typically reserved for rauchbiers, old ales, porters, stouts, and the like). Craft brewers are breaking new ground with Copper Fox applewood and cherrywood smoked malt. The 2-row variety Copper Fox malts is “Endeavor,” the 6 row is named “Thoroughbred.”
Cut to today and Copper Fox Virginia barley malts have been used to create several beers in different breweries in DC, Virginia, and across the country. The closest to craft a complex creation was Chocolate City with their Silver Fox lager, “an 8% ABV High Gravity Lager- Slightly spicy from Munich malt, a bit of smoke and earth in the finish.” The Fort Collins Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, used Copper Fox smoked malt in their Collusion Smoked Amber brewed for 2013’s American Craft Beer Week. Copper Fox specialty smoked Virginia malts will play key roles in Fort Collins’ “Out of the Ashes” series.
The hops used in the all Virginia beer came from the Sage Hill Hop Farm in Leesburg. These have also been years in the making. The majority of hops used in the beer are the Cascade variety. The Columbus and Chinook varieties were used in the beer as well. Sage Hill hasbeen providing Lost Rhino primarily with the Cascade variety.
The yeast that was used for the all Virginia beer has been used before in Lost Rhino’s “Wild Farmwell Wheat.” Though this time the yeast has created a remarkably different flavor. The yeast-derived flavors place the final product much closer to Belgian ale than the somewhat neutral flavors associated with the wheat beer that was released last summer. As if the malt and hops weren’t enough, changes in fermentation temperature have enabled Lost Rhino to create an entirely new product.
Thanks to the efforts of local scientist, Jasper Akerboom, the yeast was isolated in Ashburn. He first isolated it over two years ago. The most recent beer Lost Rhino has fermented with the “wild” Virginia yeast brings forth the best flavor compounds yet. The almost-finished product places the beer closer to Belgian- and French-style ales on the style spectrum.
According to Lost Rhino’s brewmaster Favio Garcia, “we plan to release first of the Genius Loci series at the Virginia Craft Beer Fest at Devil's Backbone on August 24 and in the brewery tasting room on Wednesday, September 4.”
Raise a toast to local beer. Local now meaning ingredients, more than just being brewed in close proximity.