All words: Landon Randolph
All photos: Emily Cohen
Spring is one of those seasons that does not really begin until there’s an event to usher it in; something that makes you pause and think to yourself, “Frigging finally. Springtime.” Capitol City Brewing Company’s Springfest, held in Shirlington on Saturday fit the bill nicely. An outdoor festival dedicated to mid-Atlantic craft brewers, it was the perfect opportunity to go outside and get day drunk with a crowd of strangers, celebrating the season the way the good lord intended. (For more outdoor drinking opportunities, click here.) It didn’t matter that parts of the day were overcast—it wasn’t going to snow, and beer was everywhere.
There were 60 different companies with pavilions at this event—most of them regional breweries. I jumped in the first line I saw: the Mad Fox, a gastropub based out of Falls church. I tried their Orange Whip IPA, a light, fruity ale that provided an easy entrée to the day. It didn’t have the overpowering hoppiness of other beers in it’s class, giving a mere suggestion of them on the back end. In many ways, it’s a wonderful beer for people just beginning to dabble in the stronger flavors found in beer, though it lacked the niche complexity other brewers provided.
The next stop was Old Dominion Brewing Company, and their Millennium American Barleywine. Unlike my previous drink, this beer made absolutely no attempt at accessibility, and didn’t apologize for its rich intricacy. It started sweet, with strong flavors of caramel and honey, and ending with the fresh, grassy taste of hops. A bit more alcoholic than many of the other beers here, by the end of the glass, I was feeling pretty good.
I grabbed some Indian food, and sat on the curb to people watch. The crowd at this event was pure Northern Virginia—young urban professionals were thick on the ground, all of them enjoying the fact that they could leave their jackets at home. It was an explosion of sundresses, flip flops, t-shirts, and beer. Loud, tipsy conversation mixed with the pop music blanketing the event, and it had the atmosphere of a laid-back carnival.
I enjoyed Dominion’s Baltic Porter while eating. A wintery beer out of keeping with the season, it tasted of chocolate and toffee, with a mellow finish. It’s a beer that’s meant to be sipped, which, since I was trying to wash down some spicy curry, I did not do. It left me feeling like I needed a sommelier to help me with my pairing choices, or possibly a nap.
But naps would have to wait–there was beer to be drunk. There was a brewery here named LickingHole Creek. They were from Goochland, Virginia. They had a Belgian pale ale named Magic Beaver. On the strength of the names alone, I needed to try this beer immediately–a sense of moral responsibility impelled me to do so. The beer lived up to the name. The hops in this beer hit you in the mouth with an unapologetic strength, and then gave way to the lighter, fruity flavors normally associated with a Belgian beer.
Next door was Hardywood Park Brewery. I had their Singel, an unfiltered wheat beer with a bright, clean, floral start and ending with a full, yeasty flavor. I liked their Imperial IPA better–a thicker, richer beer with brown sugar and sour apple notes. Perhaps not a traditional choice considering the weather, but it was tasty enough that it didn’t really matter.
On my way out of the festival, I tried Sunken City’s Red Clay Amber IPA–another beer that bumrushed your mouth with flavors of hops and citrus, trailing into an elaborate malty tang. It was verdant, full of life,and a perfect cap to a day that felt like a homecoming party for warm weather.