On the crisp fall Saturday afternoon of the weekend’s sixth annual Northern Virginia Brewfest , I watched a kamikaze hornet dive into a pitcher of Oktoberfest lager at the Vintage 50 bar. Kristi Mathews Griner, brewmaster for the Leesburg brewpub, tried to fish the inebriated insect out of the billows of foam, but soon gave up and dumped the beer on the grass.
Who could blame it? The hornet probably figured that drowning in a beer was a more pleasant fate than meeting its end in a bug zapper.
Mathews Griner had too much on her plate to spend time mourning the lost beer. On Wednesday, she and three other women brewers will unveil a collaborative effort dubbed Pretty in Pink: Awareness Ferments Hope at a special tapping at ChurchKey . Proceeds from sales of the beer, a pale pink saison, will go toward breast cancer research.
Assisting Mathews Griner were Rachael Cardwell, brewer at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond; Becky Jordan, executive chef at Lost Rhino Brewing (www.lostrhino.com) in Ashburn; and Megan Parisi, head brewer of the yet-to-open Bluejacket brewery in the District.
The four did test batches on a 20-gallon pilot brewery at Hardywood, originally experimenting with prickly pear (which colors the beer a vivid magenta hue); they rejected that cactus fruit because of the expense. Once they hit on a recipe they liked — with pomegranate and hibiscus — the women brewed a commercial batch at Lost Rhino.
Hardywood co-founder and head brewer Patrick Murtaugh sampled the prototype and pronounced it “on the dry side, with some nice clean flavors and a little bit of fruitiness.”
Elsewhere at the festival, William Spence of St. George Brewing in Hampton, Va., extracted an interesting one-off brew from a cooler behind his booth. Remmus (“summer” spelled backward, a take on the brewery’s summer ale) might be described as a chili beer without chilies. The St. George brew crew added a tiny amount of pure, crystallized capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their sting. It’s so potent, said Spence, that gloves and a mask are required just to handle it.
The capsaicin was dissolved in hop oil before being added to the beer, an action that greatly increased the bitterness quotient of the summer ale used as a base. Remmus has plenty of that musky, lightly fruity flavor typical of English hops, with a moderate (but not painful) throat burn that manifests itself after a few swallows. Its alcohol content is a reasonable 5.5 percent by volume, but Spence says “this is not a beer I could drink a six-pack of.” Look for a few kegs to show up in Northern Virginia in late October.
Remmus is atypical for St. George, a brewery that specializes in classic styles. (It has a peaty Scotch ale and an exceptionally smooth Russian imperial stout set for release in the near future.) But the occasional oddball brew is necessary, Spence says: It’s what beer geeks scour the taps for.
Kitsock’s Beer column appears twice a month in Food.