Showing posts with label champion brewing company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label champion brewing company. Show all posts

Friday, September 27, 2013

Brewer of the Week

Charlottesville is booming. Breweries are popping up left, right, and centre it would seem. The first of the new breweries in the area to pop up after the introduction of law SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints in their tasting rooms, was Champion Brewing, close to the centre of town, and winner, after just a few weeks, of the Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year for Virginia. Today, we speak to their brewer and founder, Hunter Smith...

Name: Hunter Smith
Brewery: Champion Brewing Company

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I started as a homebrewer, like many commercial brewers. As my beers improved, my confidence grew, and I took courses from the local community college, taught by local brewers. As my knowledge increased, I felt confident I could handle the curriculum of the Siebel Institute. After a few years on the management side of the wine business, I jumped in here.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I think the most important characteristic of brewers is the level of expectation for themselves. Not necessarily to be a perfectionist but to be demanding of one’s adherence to sanitation, to quality, and to safety standards. It’s not always rocket science, but having adherence to protocol and a lack of laziness. And without a clear understanding of ingredients, the recipes won’t matter.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I did! Our IPA and brown ales aren’t far off of where I got started, particularly our Melee Session IPA. Same with our No Retreat Wheat. Everything’s been a little tweaked in the scale-up.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Truthfully, I don’t, but for a few reasons, primarily that with our 3-bbl system we aren’t married to a ton of inventory and I still have the ability to be constantly creative with recipes the same way I could at home, but with the efficiencies of a pro rig. Also as both owner and brewer, my time at home is scarce and for my kids.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

I think my favorite brewday belongs to our Olde Salt Oyster Stout, not only because it’s such a cool beer and fun process, but I also get to sneak in a few of the best oysters on the East Coast.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I haven’t as an employee, but I have enjoyed brewdays at both Devil’s Backbone and Hardywood Park, and we brewed a collaboration Rye IPA at Blue Mountain.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

I have probably drank the highest number of our Tart Berliner Weisse, via its drinkability and low alcohol, but I most like to slowly drink our ICBM Double IPA; I really love it.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

In my opinion, entirely. I think it’s important to play true to style, and modify if desired, but always keeping the original in mind. I like to wander outside of boundaries but it’s important to have a style compass. I feel the most strongly about this in regard to ingredients. I hate hearing that ‘new’ beers are other existing beers tweaked with malt coloring and canned puree and the like.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We have done collabs with Devil’s Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Breckenridge. I really admire all of their beers and brewers, truly. If I were to cherry pick another to do tomorrow, it would be Three Floyds. I love their beers and share their inspiration of heavy metal and hardcore.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Man, that’s a great question. There are so many great beers out there, there are plenty I wish I could take credit for. I’ll admit my most frustration with Jason’s Danzig Coffee Baltic Porter from Devil’s Backbone, because I want to do a coffee Baltic Porter, but it kinda feels like ‘seat’s taken.’ I’ve even got a Misfits tattoo, I feel like I got robbed! But Jason’s old enough to have seen them when they were still together, so he gets dibs, haha.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

I guess I probably drink more dark beers than anything else, whether they be milds, brown ales, stouts, porters or one of the various dark lagers, the only exception is Black IPA generally speaking. Of the many dark brews to have crossed my lips this year, the highlights are:
  • Virginia - Champion Brewing Pacecar Porter
  • Rest of US - Oliver Breweries Ape Must Never Kill Ape
  • Rest of World - Sinebrychoff Porter

Champion have been open for a grand total of about 9 and half weeks, indeed their official grand opening was last Friday night. Mrs V and I popped over on the first night of the soft opening and I loved the Pacecar Porter at first taste. Roasty, nutty, chocolatey and deliciously smooth. The Charlottesville area has a seriously encouraging new brewery to add to the existing clutch doing great stuff. Pacecar is, in my opinion, Champion's best brew and I look forward to drinking a lot more of it.

In May I went to DC to attend a conference for my previous employer, when a colleague and I got bumped from the meet and greet networking dinner as more potential clients decided to come than expected. With a sudden free night, my colleague and I jumped into a taxi and headed to the legendary ChurchKey, positioned ourselves at the bar and I ordered the 3.3% abv 'Belgian' Mild they had on tap, polished it off and ordered another, and so on for a good 6 hours. That beer was Oliver Breweries' Ape Must Never Kill Ape Belgian Mild, described as:
"English pale malt, dark crystal, chocolate, carafa 3, Belgian biscuit and caramel vienna. Bittered with Kent Goldings and Czech Saaz, finished with Fuggles and German Tettnanger then fermented with Belgian DeKonick yeast and cold conditioned with vanilla beans"
Or as I put it, bloody marvellous.

The bottle had sat in my cellar for three years before I finally decided to open it and try the first warm fermented Baltic Porter I had ever tried. As I said about it on Ratebeer:
Pours an inky black with a steady schmeer of light brown foam. The aroma is rich dark chocolate, with traces of spice and a very faint sherry note. Tastewise, rich malty sweetness and a riot of chocolate and coffee fight it out and yet find balance with a subtle but firm hop bite.

As ever I have to pick just one of the lascivious dark beauties, and the winner is the one I want to spend another night with...
  • Oliver Breweries' Ape Must Never Kill Ape
What more could you want from a beer than to spend an entire night drinking it, pulled through a beer engine, and then be able to function the next morning?

Picture credits: Ale Must Never Kill Ape label taken from Untappd, Sinebrychoff from this All About Beer article.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Encouraging Beginnings

Last Friday saw the soft opening of Charlottesville's latest brewery, Champion Brewing Company.

Champion is the brainchild of Hunter Smith, whose parents own and operate the Afton Mountain Vineyards, one of the few vineyards in that part of the area whose wines I consistently like.

Naturally, wanting to support Hunter, Mrs V and I made our way over there on Friday evening, after I was done with brewing my latest best bitter. When we arrived, we snagged ourselves a couple of seats at the bar and had a look at the beer list.

Champion had four beers on tap:
The moment I saw that Pace Car was a respectable 5%, I knew what I wanted. Pitch black, roasty, nutty and very moreish, it was just the ticket and I polished off a couple pretty quickly. Mrs V tried the Killer Kolsch and was suitably impressed.

Usually I have a rule of thumb that it takes a new brewery a few months to really hit their stride, and so I will go back to places where the beer was merely ok and try again. With Champion, if the beer improves in the next six months as Hunter really gets to grips with his operation then Charlottesville will have an excellent small brewery to enjoy.

As some point I will go over with a camera and notebook to do the geeky stuff, but Friday night definitely showed the immense promise that Champion has.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...