Shane: Dinner is a legend, with a reputation for being one of the best beers not just in New England, but in the world. Every Dinner release is an absolute spectacle. There's nothing quite like it. People line up along the highway, sometimes overnight, and often in the dead of winter, just to have a shot at grabbing a case of the beer. I love beer, but the thought of sitting on the side of the road and freezing my ass off for six hours makes me want to cry. Short of making a trade, I had just about given up on ever getting my hands on Dinner when the Maine Beer Company unveiled a new, ticket-based method of allotment. I was lucky enough to score a ticket, and, instead of waiting all night to grab a few beers, was able to walk in and out with a case of Dinner and few fresh bottles of Lunch. Since the odds are against me ever winning the ticket lottery again, I figured I'd better take the opportunity to share a couple of bottles with my dear friends.
York: Another beer on the list of unanimously top rated brews! Shane was kind enough to keep me and Pete in mind for a piece of his Dinner score, and I'm pumped to try it out. Even better than that, Shane included Lunch from Maine Beer Company as well, which is plenty highly rated in its own right. This is also right up my alley of trying related brews next to each other, much like our Russian River sour sampling. Love the story about Lunch's name, and everyone loves feeling like they’re part of something exclusive, so this set of beers is full of high expectations and tons of excitement.
Pete: I cannot give Shane enough thanks for snagging us some of this. And I have to say thank you to Maine Beer Company for being smart about their release policy on this one. To give you some perspective about how things were: a few months ago, Shane went to a Tree House release of King JJJuliusss, which is an ultra rare riff on the beer King Julius, which is an imperial version of the wildly popular beer Julius (following?). I jumped on Untappd after Shane mentioned this and almost every check in for King JJJuliusss was at the Maine Beer Company because people had already started to wait outside for the Dinner release that was scheduled to occur...the next day. To give you some perspective, Tree House can hours are from 5-8 pm on Fridays, and Dinner was being released the next day. So people were actually camping outside to just to get this beer.
That starts to blur the line of dedication and obsession to insanity. Listen: I love beer, but if you need to worry about where you are going to pee because you plan on sleeping outside all night...you would be excused if you said that was insane. The ticket lottery is just the way to go. It prevents people from camping and helps people feel more included. I have been in lines where regular people have walked away because they hear it is 4+ hours to get the beer. Everyone should get the chance to try special things like this, not just the people willing to brave the elements to camp outside. Beer is for everyone, and I am sure Maine Beer Company wants to share this beer with as many people as possible. End lecture.
Shane's Thoughts: I've had Lunch many times before, but I was happy to have the opportunity to see how it directly compares to Dinner. In truth, although they are similarly named, these are two completely different beers. Lunch has a beautiful, melon-y roundness to it that I absolutely love. The flavor is relatively mellow, and it finishes with the slight hint of earthiness that I’ve come to expect from most Maine Beer Company beers. Lunch might be the most balanced beer that the brewery makes--it has a nice mix of citrus and pine, not falling too far on either side of the line. While I think Dinner is the better of the two beers (or at least the one that falls much more clearly in my preference range), in a way Lunch stands out a little bit more. Dinner is a classic New England juice bomb, bursting with fruit flavor and bright citrus haze. Lunch is more understated, mixing in the sort of melon and pine flavor balance that requires an incredibly deft hand to brew. Comparing the two was a really nice treat.
York's Thoughts: I tried Lunch and Dinner at the same time--couldn't resist the urge to compare them side-by-side and try to pick out the differences. Lunch pours a touch darker than Dinner, but has the same-ish amount of haze to it. I get predominantly the citrus profile seconded by the pine, and I don't really get much in the way of the tropical end of the spectrum. The piney hops dominate the finish and there are citrus flavors throughout for sure, but it's most definitely earth-forward compared to most beers from the region (and in relation to Dinner). If I had to sum up the comparison of Lunch and Dinner, it would be that they remind me of their opposite namesakes. Lunch drinks heavy to me, with deeper and richer flavors that I'd love to have with a hearty meal. Dinner is more of the big, bright brew that I want a pint of at the end of the workday.
Pete's Thoughts: I really like this beer, and I think it was cool of Shane to give us each a chance to compare them. This beer always reminds me of lemon peel. The color is a nice hazy straw yellow with the characteristic New England-style soapy foam. You take a whiff and you get so much citrus and fruit character and a lovely backdrop of pine and earthy quality. The beer is light and inviting. It's really intensely citrusy, and it has a good balance of fruit to pine character. This keeps your palate from getting too fatigued. Lunch is always a good beer to pick up if you see it, I think it goes great with seafood. One of my old reliable beers when I go to the bars around here (yes, DC gets a surprising amount of Maine beer).
York: A masterfully brewed New England IPA with everything one would look for in the style. Hazy, rich, and hoppy. 8/10
Pete: I have always liked this beer, it is a surprisingly different flavor profile to Dinner. 7/10
Shane: Incredibly balanced beer bursting with flavor. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: When a beer comes with as much hype as Dinner, there's always the fear in the back of your mind that you're in for a letdown. After all, can a beer really be good enough to justify an overnight wait in line? While I can't answer that particular question, I can say with total certainty that Dinner lives up to the hype. It's an almost perfect beer, with an incredibly deftly handled combination of hops that present you with just the right amount of fruit flavor and none of the stick that plagues some New England juice bombs. The nose on this beer is absolutely incredible: from the moment you pour it into the glass, you feel as though you have been transported to a tropical orchard. A blast of mango/tangerine hits your palate the moment you take a sip, and something as simple as having a flavor that lives up to its amazing aroma really has an impact here. I'm still not sure I'd be waiting overnight to taste this beer, but I'm incredibly glad I had the opportunity to get my hands on it.
York's Thoughts: I am always extremely tough on most of the IPAs coming out of New England. As you've seen me complain about time after time, I love the flavor forwardness but just can't get past how sticky those hazy bombs can be. I like my beer big, but I like the taste to finish when the beer finishes. Dinner is the very epitome of the best of both worlds. Massively flavorful with an incredible hop profile range, going from fruit to citrusy to earthy all in each sip. It pours hazy, but not quite as opaque as some others from the area. That haze is completely undetectable in anything but the visual as it finishes nice and crisp with no real stick. Huge hype fully delivered on here, one of the best I've had.
Pete's Thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this beer because of the stories I have heard. To me, I see it as the law of diminishing returns. The longer you suffer for something, the worse it is most likely going to be. I thought the only reason that people said nice things about this beer was because they waiting so long for it. I considered it some shallow attempt to make sitting outside all night worth it. Not the case. This beer is really that good. It's bright and tropical fruit-forward, it has some lovely Mosaic dankness on the palate, and it finishes with more fruit character. The beer is a nice hazy orange, and it bursts out of the glass with great aromas of fresh cut fruit. I hope they keep this beer release to the lottery system so that everyone has a chance to try this. This beer lives up to all the expectations I had of it.
York: One of, if not the best IPA I've had from the East. Absolutely nothing bad to say about it. 10/10
Pete: Just when you think you know what a world class IPA is supposed to be, someone rewrites the script. 10/10
Shane: I was prepared to be let down after all the hype, but Dinner lives up to it and more. 10/10
Brewery Name: The Answer Brewpub
Type of Brewery: I mean, it’s in the name.
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Facebook: The Answer Brewpub
Background: Beer is always the answer. This is the same story I have been telling you all for some time. Guy runs awesome beer bar, says “hey, I’m good at pairing beer, I should make it!” Always a concept that breeds skepticism for cynical people like me. Well, this is the most impressive brewery I have been to since our trip to Vermont. Honestly, I am still so in awe of how much I enjoyed this place that I regret not drinking more of their beers while I was there. An Bui, the Answer’s Founder and Chief Beer Officer, is on my bucket list of people to meet in this world, not just in beer. He took a Vietnamese restaurant named Mekong and just turned it into the BEST BEER BAR IN THE COUNTRY. Yes, arguably the best beer bar in the country isn’t in DC, NYC, Burlington, Portland, San Francisco...it’s in good old Richmond, Virginia. Anyone who can elevate serving beer and food to this level deserves some sort of award from the President.
But I was still skeptical about the whole brewing thing. The location wanted to do big IPAs like the Hill Farmsteads of the world. High place to aim for, but everything I have heard about this place was that the beer was just awesome. The location also has over 50 beers on tap besides their house beers and apparently there isn’t much on the draft list that overlaps with Mekong, which is located conveniently in the next building over. So much good beer so closeby. Why would you ever leave?
Growlers: Yes, for some of the beers. Also crowlers, but very, very limited. They can their beers very, VERY rarely, and they are always really popular.
The Beers: Oh, where to begin...
You can just buy a flight of tasters of their beers and not want to try anything else. These were all amazing, and I didn’t even get to try everything because it was so filling with this many stouts.
Vibe: The phrase "perfect bar" is a subjective one. Some people want classy, some people want divey. I want a divey, approachable bar with great food and great beer. This place has everything I could ever want in a bar. If I lived in Richmond, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. The place has got a good setup to play live music, they have a ton of games and space, and unless it is slammed, it definitely seems like a place that always has a place for you (depending on what you are looking to do). When you are in the right place, you just know it. The music is right, the lighting is good, and you look at the menu and can’t decide because it has everything you want. This is that kind of place. If you don’t want their beers, you have 50 others to choose from. The staff was great, and everyone just has a positive vibe. I don’t know when I will get back here, but I can’t wait.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $
Food: It’s all Vietnamese sandwiches and appetizers. It’s filling, spicy, amazing bar food. Perfect with beer. You might think it’s not going to work, but spicy food and the beers they have on just go so well together. Everything is also very affordable. Nothing on the menu was more than $10, and all the tasters were really well priced. You could sit at a table there for hours and just drink and eat all day without breaking the bank.
Final Thoughts: The most impressive brewery I have been to in a while. Great beer, hype is more than lived up to. It’s wonderful seeing businesses like this because you just can’t help but root for them and hope they decide to expand to your area.
Brewery Name: Lost Rhino Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Ashburn, VA
Facebook: Lost Rhino Brewing Co.
Background: Lost Rhino breaks the mold of corporate-style city breweries in the best of ways. Their namesake is a reference to the theme of “chasing the big one” in surfing. They channel this attitude to create a really chill, very approachable brewery both in venue and beer portfolio. I’d come across a few of their beers in cans and on tap throughout the city, but we definitely wanted to make it to the brewery and check out some of their Genius Loci (experimental) series beers and, of course, all the new releases.
Growlers: Absolutely! Tons of people came through with growlers while we were visiting. Some pretty cool ones for sale as well.
The Beers: The Face Plant IPA and the Rhino Chaser Pils are both beers we had all enjoyed prior to visit. Both are part of their main distribution set and always a good grab from the shelf. Here are a couple of the others we got to have at the taproom:
Vibe: The vibe fits Lost Rhino's theme perfectly. We were met by incredibly friendly staff members who got really excited when we responded "all of them" to the question of which beers we wanted to try. They walked us through their suggested order for tasting and gave us the backstory on a few of the new releases and less distributed brews.
The tasting room is in a suburb of DC in an industrial park, but Lost Rhino is probably the best version of a brewery in this type of space that I've come across. While the outside is hard to distinguish from a daycare or dentist's office, they’ve really done amazing work with the interior space. A large seating area with picnic tables and high tops, plus the rounded bar to order from. The food counter is separate from the beer, which helps keep everything moving. They have live music twice a week and seemed to have about dozen events going on in the near future.
All of the cans, bottles, swag and even the draught board fit the surfer vibe, with tons of color, impressive art, and, of course, rhinos with surfboards. We walked away with some stickers, some beers, and a great start to our day.
Dogs: No dogs here, sorry pups.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$. Very average for a city/suburb brewery. Pints are mostly around $8 but dip as low as $6, and they offer both tasters and half pours. Food is all fairly priced as well.
Food: Perfect amount of food here. They do a bunch of appetizer-type dishes, plus salads, sandwiches, wraps, etc. All food that helps keep you planted to drink beer, but can still be done quickly and well. It also looked like they do a bunch of specials throughout the week (notably Friday Pie Day, which I’m very sad to have missed).
Final Thoughts: Lost Rhino really exceeded my expectations. Incredible use of space, including all of the art and local lore around the tasting room. Top notch staff, great beer, and a really fun atmosphere is just about all you can ask for.
Brewery Name: Atlas Brew Works
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Washington, DC
Facebook: Atlas Brew Works
Background: One of the early comers to the DC beer game, Atlas has long been a power player in beers that are simple, smooth, and extremely drinkable. Their California Common, Rye Ale, and IPA can be found at scores of local bars and restaurants, and cans can be picked up at most stores. When I was still living in DC, the Rowdy Rye was a staple in my fridge since it offered a really neat profile that I haven't found elsewhere. While visiting, it became clear to me that Atlas is doing TONS more than just those base beers now, and have some really impressive brews in rotation. Saisons, stouts, barrel aged beers, collaborations, and dry hop iterations are just a few of the many flavorful routes you can take in the tasting room!
Growlers: Yes! Growlers for sale and for filling.
The Beers: This write-up is filled with talk about the staples that Atlas provides, so here’s some info on their lesser-known specialties:
Vibe: Absolutely perfect brewery vibe. Similar to my writeup of 3 Stars, Atlas has figured out how to make you feel like you're in a craft brewery without overwhelming you with the smells and noise that can sometimes be a turnoff.
The massive bar is right in the center, with seating areas including couches, tables, picnic benches, and stools on either side. Board and table games are aplenty, and a few arcade-style games can be found in the corners (Shane is a big fan of Buck Hunter, so he is always quick to point it out) [EDITOR'S NOTE: I got the #2 high score on my very first attempt at Atlas, no big deal but kind of a big deal]. Behind the bar and off to one side is a view through massive garage doors into the brewery. You can see the tank section and a bit of the lab, which is always a neat insight to the magic happening in the brewery.
The space is bigger than I would have guessed from the outside, and has a really great buzz when there are a good amount of people inside. We went during the middle of the winter, so the outdoor area wasn't of much use, but there are tons of additional tables and areas outside to hang when the weather is nice. Our visit was on a Friday afternoon, and, as happy hour set in, the space filled up really well. Atlas' layout provides the ability easily walk up to the bar for new beers regardless of where you’re camped out. A few of our earlier brewery visits during this trip required standing a couple rows deep in line to get a beer at the bar (or being at the bar and constantly bumped and surrounded by thirsty patrons), so we noticed how much nicer it was when set up properly.
The staff were great and took time between pours to tell us about a few of the collaborations and experimental beers that were on tap. They also engaged with us about our tour of all of the breweries DC had to offer, and gave us some industry info on what might be to come in the area. We all really enjoyed how relaxed the Atlas staff and atmosphere was without being stagnant. Overall great vibe that would quickly make me a regular if I were still in the District.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$. About standard for a city brewery. Maybe a touch high with full pours between $6 and $9 and tasters for $3 or $4 across the board.
Food: No kitchen, but Atlas partners with some local vendors to have food like jerky, sandwiches, and other munchies available in the tasting room.
Final Thoughts: I was already excited to get to Atlas when I didn't think they brewed much beyond their lagers and rye beers. The amount of solid beers they had to offer at the taproom blew my expectations out of the water. This is one of the few industrial-style breweries in the District, and they really nailed the setup. I wish it were a touch more accessible from the Metro, but it's in a fun part of the city near Union Market and a few of the other breweries we visited, so that certainly makes up for it.
As I mentioned above, Atlas was always a staple for me when I lived in DC. A six-pack of the Rowdy makes for a perfect party favor or beer to come home to after work. After trying all of the the saisons, beers with a barrel aging component, and the unique style interpretations (like the Hoppy Wheat), Atlas has become one of my highest rated breweries in the District.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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