September 12, 2011

∴ Lost Rhino's RhinO'fest

I stopped off at Lost Rhino Brewing, Northern Virginia’s newest craft brewer, for a growler fill or two last week. Newly on tap was their first Octoberfest, fresh from the lagering tank. These guys run a well-rounded brewery for such a young operation, offering a standing selection of pilsner, pale ale and IPA, but don’t be fooled: they’ve been around the Old Dominion a while.

My primary goal was RhinO’fest. This ‘fest brew is crafted in the German Märzen style, with robust maltiness balanced with only enough European hops to temper the sweetness of boiled, cracked barley. And barely temper it, they did.

The most remarkable feature of this beer is the downright sweet aftertaste. It’s a stark difference from big-brewer pilsners or craft-brewed American pale ales. There’s plenty of flavor, but no harshness to this beer. A solid floor of malty sweetness fills the mouth like a loaf of bread. Perhaps a hair too much sweetness.

I’d enjoy this beer with something mildly spicy, but not as wild as Buffalo wings. Maybe jalapeño nachos?

RhinO’fest qualifies as a session beer for me, i.e. I could drink a few. Yep, I liked it. And given the date, it won’t be around for long. Traditional Märzen beers are around long enough to satiate the Octoberfest crowd, but once the tents are struck in Munich its days are numbered. What imperial goodness can we expect of Lost Rhino’s winter brew?

(Calling a beer a “session beer” is akin to the old Miller Brewing tag line, “the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” It’s a drinking beer, not a sampling beer.)

(I had a chance to sample a few beers at the one and only Miller Brewing brewery several, well, many years ago in Milwaukee. The tasting room was a Bavarian hoffbrau bar dressed in cut woodwork and shining tap handles. The beer was Miller’s best, freshly brewed across the road, and somehow the decor and the company made the beer taste better. That was a long time ago, but I recall the view of the kettles and the taste of the beer like it was last week.)

I filled another growler with Rhino Chaser’s Pacific Pils and enjoyed it with the first night of this season’s NFL football. Pacific Pils is perhaps Rhino’s flagship beer, and carries on the American tradition of hop-forward brewing. The brewmaster brought me up short, though. I thought I was sampling Cascade and Willamette hops with their recognizable citrus flavor, but no, this pilsner is flavored with authentic Halertau and Saaz hops. They’re grown here in the US yet the type is imported from Europe, the homeland of all pilsners. So this beer is a clear, crisp and truly American rendition of a traditional pilsner, lagered long and cold. Any beer fan will recognize the fine execution of this classic brew.

Kickoff Weekend was an enjoyable one at our home, where we watched the Pack dominate the Saints, the Ravens utterly crush the Steelers, the Redskins perform surprisingly well and the Jets outlast the Cows, all while enjoying some well-crafted beer and “football food” snacks.

It was almost enough to make me look forward to Fall. Almost.