Friday, April 29, 2011

Week #17 - Nancy Maddaloni

Looking for beer in New Jersey has gotten a whole lot cooler in the last few months. All channels of social media got a shot in the arm when Hunterdon Brewing Company, distributor of many fine beer brands, moved Nancy Maddaloni from their sales force to their communication blitzkrieg of the interwebs. In just a few turns of the calendar pages Nancy has made finding beer and beer events in the Garden State interesting and easy all in one shot. With a rapid fire twitter account (@hunterdonbrew) and probably the best beer wholesaler website that I've ever seen, Nancy and Hunterdon are pushing forward in this digital age and using social media to increase consumer knowledge, increase visibility for their numerous suppliers, and increase sales. It's very awesome, and so is here's Nancy.

In the last half of 2010 you stepped away from a role in Sales and into the world of Social Media & Communications, what has your new position enabled you to accomplish
that you couldn't before?

You mean, aside from wearing my slippers to work? Mostly I enjoy spreading the word to our retailers and NJ consumers about all the great things happening in the world of craft beer. Everyday there are more and more news articles about our brands and tons of awards are being won everyday, so there is plenty to keep me writing, blurbing, blogging and tweeting. It has also been really nice communicating with the great people that work at our breweries and getting to know them on more of a personal basis.

Do you miss driving in circles around North Jersey sometimes?

Only when it's a torrential rainstorm and I know Hoboken is flooded. No, just kidding. Although that did give me an excuse to wear my cool orange boots!
I don't miss driving in circles, parking illegally and searching under the seat cushions for quarters, but I do miss some of the super nice people at my accounts.

How vital is social media in the world of Craft Beer these days?

Beer geeks love to talk... (most of the times they won't shut up!) and they love to listen. The social media is a terrific way for craft breweries to reach millions of people without even leaving their front door. Through facebook, twitter and blogs, retailers and consumers are becoming more interested in and more educated about the world of craft beer. Beer geeks are forming communities both online and in their local areas. Taking a few minutes here and there to send out bits of info about a beer, or even about what is going on in the brewery is really exciting to people who sit at desk jobs all day. It is pretty cool to see the amount of buzz that is circling the craft beer scene now and I think the social media has a lot to do with that.

Without a doubt Hunterdon Distributors has the best beer portfolio in the state of New Jersey. How has Hunterdon helped to grow craft beer's popularity?

We have a team of passionate beer geeks who are committed to transforming non-believers into craft beer drinkers. Sometimes it takes years to get product into one particular shop or it's a lot of perseverance....but that one bottle placement can open up 10 more doors by word of mouth. Repeat that a few hundred times and I think that is why NJ is a great place to drink craft beer today.

Meet our awesome staff here:

What kind of changes have you seen in the market during your time with Hunterdon?

It's pretty crazy the amount of changes. When I first started I only had a handful of accounts in Hoboken and Jersey City. People would laugh in my face when I asked them to try craft beer. Now I think we have close to 100 accounts just in those two towns and the amount of people calling us every week to open up an account is pretty impressive. It's like everyone just woke up. The best is when people who scoffed at canned beer call up and say they would like to order some. I love that.

What is one misconception you think the beer consuming public has about the way that the beer business works?

When I tell people what I do they think I just sit around and drink beer all day. Oh and they think I get a lot of free schwag.

What one beer do you always want to have a case of in your house?

Joel, I am pretty indecisive. One beer is not doable. How about I tell you a couple beers I would have on hand for each season or each mood?

Its a rainy, blustery fall day outside: Smuttynose Robust Porter

I'm feeling bitter: Great Divide Fresh Hop

It's a beautiful summer day: Allagash White

I just got back from a trip on my time machine: Avery Ale to the Chief!

What's the deal with cheesesteaks in North Jersey? I've had one at Piccolo's and one at Biggie's and they are much different than cheesesteaks in Philly. They're all delicious, don't get me wrong....

I'm no expert but Piccolo's cheesesteaks are super duper yummy. They actually use real steak and a real piece of cheese and have these delicious cherry peppers that are making me salivate just thinking of them. They should have a throw-down with Pat and Geno. I would like a cheesesteak now please. Read more!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Week #16 - Jon Brandt

Jon Brandt makes nights and weekends better. He demystifies gift giving and puts the right liquids on your dinner table when you're just not sure what belongs there. He can tell you what you might like better than you yourself might know. That's right beer and wine shoppers in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Jon Brandt is at Rick's Wine and Gourmet waiting for you. A Michigan boy from the get go, Jon's travels and trades brought him to the DC area where he know stands amid an intense selection of the finest beer and wine available to Virginians. His insight is only matched by his helpfulness, but that does not take opinion out of the game at all. Jon's blog, Notes From The Beermudgeon, is a look at beer critically, sometimes through the eyes of the expert but other times through the all important eyes of the Retailer (See: Open Letter to DFH). Selection isn't the only reason I send people to Rick's Wine and Gourmet, I send them there because I know they'll love Jon the second the start talking to him.

One thing I often see at off-premise shops is the staff's knowledge of some of their customers buying habits. With Rick's having such a thorough inventory of both wine and beer, do you see much cross over with people buying up both or are customers predominantly only buying one or the other?

I would say that our customers are predominantly either beer drinkers/buyers or wine drinkers/buyers. The nice thing is, however, that there are occasions when people on one side of the aisle need to cross over to the other side -- and we are there to help, given our knowledge of both and of our regular customers' tastes. There are, of course, many customers who happily indulge in products throughout the store.

In addition to beer, your knowledge of and background in wine is rather sophisticated. What tools from the CSW training program have informed your palate and your approach to thinking about beer?

The CSW program is geared more toward knowledge of wine than toward taste and description of wine. I'd say that the thing about wine that most influences my palate is the 50+ wines that I get to sample every week from our sales reps and winery reps. Those tastings then influence my thinking about how things taste and also expands my vocabulary to describe what I am tasting. (Parenthetically, I wish more beer people would sample their wares with us in the manner that the wine people do. It's really helpful.)

If, hypothetically, one had a reason to attempt swaying wine drinkers over to craft beer, what would be good steps to take? What should be avoided?

I am often amazed that the same people who have very refined wine palates have very pedestrian (i.e. Bud, Miller, Coors) tastes in beer. The best thing to do is to simply get those wine drinkers to taste interesting craft beers and let them decide for themselves. That's why we have our weekly tastings at Rick's. People will sample 5-6 wines, then have the opportunity to try 5-6 beers as well. Often, the wine people are surprised to find they like some beers that they would have never tried otherwise. What to be avoided? Well, something I struggle with is to not be condescending about people's choices ("White zinfandel? Surely you jest! Fat Tire? That swill?!) while still offering alternatives that might help them along the path of palate development.

Since coming on as the beer manager at Rick's, how have you seen the beer section of the store change? Have beer customers changed?

Since joining the Rick's staff as beer manager in October 2008, the sheer number of brands available to us has expanded significantly, but our shelf space has not. I am constantly trying to find ways to shoehorn in a few more brands, but often that has to come at the expense of less-popular brands. One key example is the Dominion Brewing Co. (a.k.a. Old Dominion); five to seven years ago, it was probably our best-selling brand, with lots of brand loyalty among our customers. However, when Dominion was bought out by a consortium that included Anheuser-Busch, then was moved from Ashburn, Va., to Dover, Del., and fiddled with many of Old Dominion's recipes, demand for the brand waned significantly -- to the point that I no longer carry any of their beers and they are rarely requested. Our main customer base is quite savvy to the comings and goings of the beer world and are constantly evolving.

What are some struggles that a beer buyer goes through? What's the tough part of the job?

One of the toughest parts of the job of a beer buyer is when a brewery creates what I would call "false" demand through advertising, promotions, TV shows, etc., then does not provide us with enough product to meet the demand they have created. (Examples: Sam Adams Utopias, Dogfish Head Bitches Brew.) Customers are understandably frustrated when they are told a beer they have read about or seen on TV isn't available -- it creates a lot of extra, unnecessary work for the store to have to explain why those beers aren't available. Another problem are the beer geek hoarders -- the people who want to get multiple cases of semi-rare brews like Bell's Hop Slam, Founders KBS, Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA or Stone's latest anniversary beer. What people don't understand is that we do not have an unlimited supply of these beers and we have a large customer base looking for them. If I wanted to make it easy on myself, I'd just sell the five cases of Hop Slam to the first five people who ask for it, make my money and move on. But I usually have 50+ customers on a waiting list for Hop Slam each year and I try to dole it out equitably. I think that most (but certainly not all) our customers appreciate that.

What makes it enjoyable?

First, I enjoy educating our customers about beer -- it's origins and history, its variety, ways to pair it with food, etc. Second, It's fun to track down a particular beer that someone has been looking for for years and actually find it for them. I also enjoy doing private tastings for people and doing events like our Beer Cruise on the Potomac.

What's one thing that you wish consumers understood more clearly about beer retailers?

As indicated above, people should understand that retailers can only sell the beers (and wines) that are available to them. Just because you can get Pliny the Elder in Philadelphia doesn't mean that I am stupid or inept for not having it at our store; Russian River simply doesn't distribute their products to Virginia and there's nothing I can do to help that. Similarly, some distributors that carry a particular brand may not carry all their beers, which is frustrating to our customers and us as well. Believe me, we want to sell you all the beers you are looking for -- we just can't get them all. I do wish customers would appreciate the large and diverse number of beers they can get rather than complain about the few they can't get.

If you were quarantined inside of Rick's for an unknown amount of time, what is the one item in inventory that would disappear most quickly?

Depending on the time of year, it would probably be Bell's Two Hearted Ale or Bell's Oberon (sorry, Joel). But, I'm sure I'd tire even of those -- I just enjoy trying lots of new things at least once and also returning to my old standbys (like New Holland Mad Hatter!) to see how they are doing. Read more!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week #15 - Gina Talley

I couldn't be more excited about this week's interview. For those of you reading this that do not know Gina Talley I'm jealous about what is going to happen to you when you check out her blog.

Gina Talley and I first crossed paths during that first year at Teresa's Next Door when the place seemed to be on its own orbit. In many, many ways it still is it's own suburban planet, but there was something in the air surrounding that place before people grew accustomed to the amazing things that happen there. People were freaking out about it. It was a mystical time and a mystical place. Gina's knowledge of beer and food shined at Teresa's, which is a testament to their staff trainings and her constant personal quest to learn every detail about all things food and drink. Combine this with her being a self-admitted service industry geek and it's not hard to figure out why we became fast friends. Gina's blog, Femme Fermental is an honest look at food and drink wherever she goes. Her rap list of employers includes Teresa's Next Door, Maia, & Tria and she's got great stories to tell. So, here it is then. Gina Talley, in her own words...

Bring us up to speed on how Gina Talley became the Femme Fermental. At what point did things start clicking in your mind about food and beer and wine and restaurants?

Not surprisingly, this whole thing involves working at a few restaurants, and meeting a few people. While I was mildly into food during college, I never really knew what it meant to be “into” food. I lived in Philly during college and accidentally went to some great restaurants. In 2003, for my 19th birthday, I went to Django; I had no idea what it was, what the concept was, or that I was eating Bryan Sikora’s food.

I started at Teresa’s Café in Wayne and got into food. Then, with the idea of Teresa’s Next Door floating around, I started to get into beer. I bought an intro book on Belgian beer and went to Monk’s for the first time. I was really dorky back then; I took notes in the book. I still do that now, but never when I’m actually sitting in the restaurant. Essentially, the beer side of me developed just before Teresa’s Next Door opened.

The wine side came later. I remained a beer snob for a few years. Wine seemed esoteric and unattainable. When I worked at the infamous Maia, I met Melissa Monosoff. I credit Melissa, now a Master Sommelier, with demystifying wine for me. The layouts of her menus made sense, I learned basic styles, and retained enough to get by for the time. Then I enrolled in the WSET program and started working at Tria.
I decided to go for the blog once I had a good name for it. I was tired of just being a critic in my head. And a few people were tired of listening to me complain about Philly restaurants.

What were some of your early discoveries on the beer side of things? Beers or places or people?

Once I decided to get into beer, a few places were indispensable to me. First, Monk’s Café. I went there as much as I possibly could. I also went to Tria Café, late at night. I was still newly into beer, and I found some solid stylistic examples there.

Then I found a beer store on Beer Advocate: State Line Liquor, in Elkton, MD. I started venturing down there to buy single bottles. Pennsylvania is a hard place to learn about different beers in a very cost effective manner.

Specifically, the first beer I remember being blown away by was Monk’s Café Sour. I was SO into this beer that I actually bought a case of it. Now, I don’t drink it. But, it was my introduction to sour beers. I call it a gateway sour because, while it tastes far too sweet for me now, it will blow your mind if you’ve never tasted a sour beer. I quickly got into serious sours: lambics and gueuzes.

I love on the blog where you say that you're a, "Semi-retired restaurant employee by obsession," I find it totally relatable. What is it about restaurants that makes some people just fall in love with the work? What is it about the service industry that you find so irresistible?

When I went back to school a year and a half ago, I figured I better change my blog description. Semi-retired made sense. I’m not willing to give up the industry entirely; this past summer I went back to working at Tria. I love working at restaurants.

I think there are a few things that make people fall in love with the industry; the people, the pace, and the lifestyle. While many of these qualities aren’t likely to seem like a good thing, to people in the industry it just makes sense. Working in a fast-paced work environment creates (at its best) a sense of camaraderie amongst employees. The pace can also be particularly addicting. In a busy restaurant, hours will fly by and you won’t even notice. The other benefits include an instant group of potential friends: a group of people usually in the same place in life, who also happen to enjoy drinking. This last part can be both the best and the worst part about the business. Everything about it can go so right, or it can go so wrong.
Oh, and the money’s pretty good too.

What's one lesson that you will take away from your years in the business?

Give the guest what they want. The cost of fixing a problem right away is less than the cost of losing a guest. It’s the little things that can be the difference between going back to a restaurant, and telling five friends never to go there. This includes being attuned to the details. I love it when I go to a restaurant and they’ve thought of some service detail that I’ve never seen before.

You did a little bit of everything at Tria. How does working in someplace so tuned into the details and the tiny bits of our favorite fermentables inform your palate and sensibilities for all things wine, beer, and food?

Tria is all about developing amazing systems. Everything is systematized. This includes the way that you learn about beer, wine and cheese. I started working at Tria thinking that I knew so much about beer. But, really, I had no idea how to categorize everything. I didn’t know how to put what I knew into useful language to help guests figure out what they want to drink. Now, when I think about a new beer, wine, or cheese I’ve tried, I put it into a category in my head.

Alright, down to brass tacks. I've been at the table with you for two of the benchmark meals of my life: Talula's during the Sikora years and Suckling Pig at Amada. If you could take one of the two places and plop it down in Amherst, which one are you taking up the coast? Do you go with the always changing sensory jamboree of Talula's or the always consistently awesome Amada?

This question is really, really tough. Talula’s would fit very well in Amherst. The Pioneer Valley is the number one produce-producing region in New England. Talula’s would have a ton of great farmers to work with for their menus. On the other hand, Amherst needs a “fancy” restaurant, badly. But, personally, I’d take Talula’s during the Sikora years. Those meals were so memorable.

Also, you were at THE dinner...Garces & Garrett. What from that night remains present in your mind?

The third course: Pato Verde. Duck confit, beer rice, and fava beans paired with Brooklyn Local 2. I can still taste this dish. The duck was perfect, the beer rice was perfect, and the beer paired so well. This dinner was the first time I had Local 2, and it has proved to be one of my favorite beers. I paired beers for a dinner party this past summer and used Brooklyn Local 1 and Local 2. While Garrett can be quite a handful, his beers really do pair well with food.

Get ready for it.......lightning round:

Most versatile style of beer for pairing and why?

Cliché as it is, it’s true: saison. It has everything you need: spice, fruitiness, carbonation, and balance. It’s a go-to beer.

Hardest style of wine to pair and why?

A white or red with terrible American oak. It’s just gross.

What's one thing food fad or trend that needs to just die already?

This might be blasphemy, and I sound like a terrible snob, but someone has to say it: restaurant week. Restaurant week has devolved into a terrible experience for all. The restaurants that participate loathe it, the restaurants that don’t participate loathe it, and the people who enjoy good food at good restaurants on a regular basis loathe it. Restaurant week menus aren’t exciting; they are clear attempts to save on food-costs and to cater to the unadventurous palate. And now, restaurant week has been extended to restaurant month. It was a great idea to begin with, and in “these tough economic times” it still seems like a great idea. But, it has transformed into a pretty mediocre experience for everyone involved. Maybe it doesn’t have to go, but it certainly has to change.

What's one dish or style of food that you're dying to try, but still haven't had the chance?

This is pretty lame of me, but I haven’t made it to Bibou. I really want to try the Pied de Porc: braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras.

Beef or Pork?

Beef in its purist form, pork in all its incarnations. Read more!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Week #14 - Dan Becker

We're going Coast to Coast this week for an interview with the co-creator of one of the beer world's best news and information websites. The Full Pint ( is a national beer news site that posts great brewer interviews, news, and style descriptions and examples. Full Pint is practically a news ticker with it's finger on the pulse of the beer industry. Stories break on Full Pint and stories are explored in depth with an industry minded tone.

Dan hails from Pitman, NJ and is a long time Phillies and Eagles fan. Ladies and gents, I present: Dan Becker...

How did The Full Pint come about? What made you and Jon decide to go for it?

Jon and I are college buddies. We've been doing IT as a trade, and wanted to put our love of beer together with our online media skills and make that our full time job. 3 years ago, we were one of the first Wordpress based beer websites out there, we were cheered on by the craft brewing community, so we decided to keep pushing forward.

One thing that I really like about the site is that you have such rich local coverage to the area that you're based in, but have enlisted the help of writers, "in the field" in other beer regions. How long into running the site did you guys decide to branch out and grab regional contributors?

It's very hard keeping a balance of national craft beer news coverage when you have San Diego in your back yard. They have over a dozen world class craft breweries, innovating and shaping many of the brewing and beer marketing trends in the rest of the country. A smart man named Sage Osterfeld of Port Brewing told us early in the project to cover other regions. He said San Diegan craft beer enthusiasts have a pretty good grip on the scene, but there are many new emerging craft beer havens that need to be heard and covered. We have had a handful of great contributors in areas outside of California soon after we started, with the main goal of diversifying our perspective on craft beer. While we don't actively advertise the fact, we always welcome a new perspective in the form of a regional contributor.

What's the ultimate vision for the site? Where do you want to take The Full Pint in the future and what will it take to get there?

We know that traditional media in its current form (newspapers, magazines) are falling behind new media (online publications and netcasts). We want to be the first place people go to for current info in the craft beer world, whether they are in the industry or an enthusiast. We think with the shift to online and digital content, we have a chance to be the household name for craft beer publications. With our progress and the huge progress craft beer is making, we think this is obtainable.

What's your favorite thing about West Coast beer?

For me, the way IPAs are brewed is my favorite thing about West Coast beer. Some will argue they are over hopped, and not exhibiting balance. I find them to be amazing, delicious, addictive and refreshing. As for West Coast beer in general, the region makes some of the best big beers and sours around.

How about LA specifically? How does it rate as a beer town? Most of my readers are on the East Coast, so what should we know about LA if we're coming to town?

Los Angeles has started to realize the craft beer revolution is amongst us. While we are still in the developmental phases of craft brewing, we have an abundance of beer bars, serving some of the best Southern California has to offer. Los Angeles is one of the biggest, most spread out areas of people in the nation. That has been a hinderance as far as molding a new craft community like say a Philadelphia or Chicago. I would like to predict in the next five years, we will have a half-dozen new, quality craft breweries. As I've mentioned before, we have plenty of folks thirsty for fresh craft beer, we just need the brewers to make it feasible to make it.

What can you tell us about LA Beer Week? Was 2009's Beer Week vastly different than 2010's?

LA Beer Week 2009 and 2010 were almost night and day. Because we are such a young craft beer city, we had to take a plunge into the deep end to see what would interest the locals. With 2010, we had way more events, and many of the events appealed to our well established foodie culture. There is a huge crossover market with craft beer and foodies that is just waiting to be exploited. Think wine pairing but far less douchey. Everyone involved in LA Beer Week 2010 was very passionate about raising craft beer awareness in LA, and it felt good to be a part of that team.

In these interviews I've been spinning the 'Desert Island Beer Question' many different ways. So for you I want to ask: You've got a kegorator at home and can put one bottomless keg on tap. Always fresh, always at its peak and never runs dry. What's the one keg you're sinking your coupler into?

Russian River's Pliny The Elder. I think after a few weeks, I'd be tolerant to the 8% abv. Read more!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Week #13 - David Turley

Heading up the coast from North Carolina, where most of these interviewees are from so far, I'm pulling the car over in Virginia and hanging out with a great blogger from Fredericksburg, VA. David Turley's 'Musings Over A Pint' is a great blog to keep informed about what's happening with the state of beer in Virginia, but it is also considerably more than that. David is one of the rare bloggers that allows all of his thoughts, curiosities, and beliefs to hold equal space on his site, rather than shelving them to be beer and beer only. David covers a wide range of topics so you never know what you're going to get when you go to the blog, which keeps things fresh and quite interesting. There aren't an abundance of folks blogging about specific beers and events from the region spanning from DC to Richmond, so Musings is one of the few places you can read about the great beer coming out of that area.

Raise a pint and let it be your muse. Ladies and gents...David Turley.

I've made this note for a few different blogger interviews now and not really done much with it, so here goes: Why blog? What was the reason you started a beer blog?

I had not planned on starting a beer blog specifically. Initially I was just going to chat about my thoughts on many subjects, hence the "musings" in the blog name. However, I was focusing a lot of my activities at the time around craft beer, so that's the direction it which it took off, covering craft beer, especially around Virginia. I've recently made an effort to expand the posts to include other interests and topics that might come up as I am "musing over a pint with friends." Rest assured, it will be still be mostly about craft beer.

How much do you think beer culture has changed in your area since you started blogging?

The craft beer culture in Virginia, and the Fredericksburg region, in particular, has exploded in the past few years. When I started writing "Musings Over a Pint" the only local brewery was Blue & Gray. There were a couple of pubs here that had some of the more widely distributed beers (Bells, Sierra Nevada) as well as Virginia beers such as Blue & Gray, Legend, Old Dominion, but it really was a craft beer desert.

Since that time Battlefield Brewing started brewing at a local pub, named of all things, The Pub. Blue & Gray Brewing opened Lee's Retreat Brewpub at their brewery. We even got a few decent "beer bars." Capital Ale House opened in Fredericksburg bringing a wide selection of craft beers, both draft and bottles. The Fredericksburg Pub (not to be confused with the aforementioned The Pub) is another new local establishment that has a decent selection of beers.

At the retail level, Total Wine, Wegman's, and two locally owned shops, kybecca and Virginia Wine Experience, all help to make a wide variety of beers available here without the need to travel to Richmond or Northern Virginia.
Virginia breweries such as Blue Mountain, Devils Backbone, Starr Hill, and Mad Fox have been bringing the spotlight to Virginia with increasing frequency in recent years. Smaller breweries such as Wolf Hills, Wild Wolf, Shooting Creek, are frequently in the news. What's great is that beers from even these small regional brewers are showing up at restaurants throughout the state. It's an exciting time to be a craft beer fan in Virginia.

2008 was a huge blogging for you, Musings Over A Pint average close to a post a day for the year. Is there a 'pre-production' phase to your blogging where a post ends up being expansions of notes or blue prints you've written down or do you let an idea rumble around your head until it's time to sit down and post it to the blog?

Yea, 2008 was insane. I was intensely focused on craft beer and it showed on the blog and the traveling to support it. Of course, that took time away from my many other interests. I took a bit of a break in 2010 from regular blogging. It wasn't something that was planned, it just happened. In 2011, so far, I've been posting regularly, often multiple times a day. Even though I remain extremely busy with family and career commitments, I've found that sitting down a cranking out a blog post or two is a great way to unwind.

I rarely write blog posts in advance. I get an idea and run with it. On occasion I keep an idea in my head for a day or two until I have time to sit down and write. But there's no long editorial process. Blog posts are typically published the same day they are written. If I get an idea or come across something that I think might be interesting to someone else, I'll simply run with it. After all, we're just musing.

One aspect of Musings Over A Pint that I really like is how much Virginia beer news I can read on the site. There are a lot of great brewing outfits in VA that seem to get over shadowed by larger breweries in neighboring states. What do you love about your local brewers? Is there a feeling that you've got some of these breweries all to yourself?

I might have had it to myself, but I started blogging. :-) Seriously, I get lots of email from folks coming to Virginia and Fredericksburg who are looking for advice when visiting. The Fredericksburg region is a major tourist destination. It's a thrill to get those notes and I love sharing ideas and information. It's really funny though, I often feel that Virginia breweries are more well-known outside of Virginia than they are to the "locals." Blue & Gray Brewing has been around for nearly nine years and I still run into folks that live here who have never heard of them.

As far as being overshadowed by larger breweries in neighboring states, I really think that it's mostly a matter of distribution. We've seen the number of awards won in recent years by Virginia brewers; the quality is definitely there. But you have to search out some of these local beers. Even drinkers who go for good beer and eschew the factory beers are influenced by what they see on the local retail shelves. It's only us fanatics that subscribe to magazines and travel to beer fests! I hope in some small way "Musings Over a Pint" helps to spread the word. The posts get picked up by the local interest and tourism blogs and I think that's been beneficial in letting folks know what's going on in their back yard.

If we're travelling to Fredericksburg where should we be going to sit down to good food and good beer?

It's really where your tastes lie. Good food and fresh local beer? Lee's Retreat at Blue & Gray Brewery offers both, and has become my neighborhood pub of choice. The Pub is a worthwhile stop, and there's beer brewed onsite as well. Can't get a wide selection of beers in your hometown? Then it's Capital Ale House. There are few beer bars anywhere that match the selection there.

Heck, it's a small town, you can easily visit all of these places, and more!

Given your location almost smack dab between Washington, DC & Richmond, VA do you have a preference for either if you're travelling with beery intentions?

That's a tough question to answer. I rarely travel to either destination specifically for beer. It so happens that we have some good friends in Northern Virginia, so that's the direction we end up going when we get out and about. Northern Virginia has many great beer spots, but we really don't get up there much. The Dogfish Head Ale Houses and Mad Fox Brewing are stops that we've recently enjoyed.

Parting shot: Favorite Virginian beer & why?

Trying to get me in trouble are you? I typically don't answer the "favorite beer" question, there are just too many to choose from. My "favorites" usually revolve around those beers I've recently enjoyed. Blue & Gray Stonewall Stout is a local favorite I've enjoyed for years. It has a good balance of roasted malt with a hint of sweetness. Also, I never missed getting Blue & Gray's Oktoberfest the day it's released each fall.

Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA is another favorite. I'm a hop-head at heart and Starr Hill created an exceptional IPA that's "up front" enough to satisfy that craving, yet balanced enough to keep drinking. It used to be a seasonal release, but I'm glad they make this year-round now.

In fact, as I write this I'm drinking a Starr Hill Pale Ale and finding it quite satisfying. So, at this very moment, it's my favorite Virginia beer. :-) Read more!