A recent weekend saw us road-tripping to the Charlottesville, Virginia area with our friends Dave and Laura. We not only stopped at Barboursville Vineyards, but we also visited the Starr Hill Brewery.
Weekends-only tours and tastings are free. You can’t beat that, right? The tour goes over the basics of brewing beer and then ends at their bar for a tasting.
First step to getting tasty beer is crushing grain into grist that allows the maximum extraction of the fermentable sugars from the grain when hot water is added to create the mash. The grain is rolled between metal rollers that are set a specific distance apart so that the crushing is done without turning the grain into flour.
The grain is shoveled into a large kettle (also known as the mash tun) and hot water is added. When the mash is done, as much of the starch has been converted to sugars and fermentable substances, the liquid in the mash tun is drained through the husks and spent grain in the bottom of the mash tun. This liquid is called the wort.
The spent grain is often used to feed livestock, including cattle. One local rancher gifted the brewery with a slaughtered steer that had been fed the grain that created beer.
The wort is piped into the brew kettle where it is boiled with hops and any other ingredients…like pumpkin that goes on to create one of Laura’s favorites.
After all the essential oils and flavors have been extracted the wort is chilled and piped into fermenting tanks. Yeast is added to the cool wort (and they work hard to keep the environment sterile so only yeast is added) and fermentation takes place. Fermentation is when the yeast eats the sugar in the wort and produces ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Once almost all the fermentable sugar has been consumed by the yeast, the brew is filtered and piped into finishing tanks. They are designed to withstand the pressure created by the carbon dioxide produced by yeast that makes beer effervescent.
Finally, the brew is bottled, canned, or kegged to be enjoyed by us.
Our tasting included a round of five sample beers:
Festie – Amber Lager with a high malt taste.
Lucy – Spiced Golden Ale is their summer brew. With the addition of lime and coriander it has a unique flavor.
Double Platinum – Double IPA pulls no punches with two types of hops. If you don’t like hops, you won’t like this beer.
Boxcar – Pumpkin Porter is their fall seasonal brew, and Laura’s fav.
Smoke Out – German Smoke Beer is just what it sounds like…think roasted malt and smoky bacon and you can imagine what it tastes like. Dave and Laura took some home and used it to cook some sausages for a deliciously smoky flavored dinner with no fire needed.
Starr Hill beers are becoming increasingly available, but aren’t far from the East Coast. Next time you visit the mid-Atlantic area, I recommend you give them a try.