Thursday, February 15, 2007

The return of Chesbay

Washington D.C.'s RFD beer bar hosted a 'strong' beer tasting last evening and will do so again tonight. Different local breweries and their brewers and their strong beers.

Strong beers were long considered to be those above 5% alcohol by volume. But more recently, with the explosion of extreme beer styles in the 'craft' beer world, beers over 7% or even 9% - and even into the 20% abv range - are now those called "strong".

I missed last evening's event, when maybe the star of the show was Allen Young and his re-brew of Chesbay Dark Horse. The Chesapeake Bay Brewing Company (aka Chesbay) dates back to 1984 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, when it was the very first microbrewery in the entire Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland area. Allen Young was on board, as an assistant brewer. Chesbay operated until 1988, which is when the area's second microbrewery, the British Brewing Company (later renamed Oxford), would open, in Maryland.

Here's an excerpt of an article written by Gregg Wiggins about Chesbay, taken from the current issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News (Vol. 9, #1, p. 31).

Blow the dust off 20-year-old record books and you’ll see that Chesbay Double Bock won the gold medal for bocks/dopplebocks in 1987 at the first Great American Beer Festival to award gold, silver and bronze medals for excellence in various beer styles. Some older – um, more experienced – members of Virginia’s craft beer community still speak fondly of the pioneering Virginia Beach brewery, even though it had been nearly twenty years since the last Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co. beers were brewed.

Until recently.

Because former Chesbay brewer Allen Young is back in Virginia Beach, consulting with his former Chesbay colleagues, renaming and reviving that old recipe at that city’s Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant.

Urgesteiner Dunkel will be available for a short time from late February as a “gap beer” between Gordon Biersch’s Winter Bock and spring Maibock. “Urgesteiner,” translates Young, “is German
for ‘Native’.” As in, Virginia Native Dark, another name the beer went by. “1986 to 1989 was when we produced that for Chesbay,” says Young, who turned to former Chesbay brewer Wolfgang Roth and other Chesbay veterans for help recreating the beer.

“It’s not quite (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s) Sam Calagione digging up 7,000 year old Babylonian tablets,” Young laughs, “but it’s close.” The malts and hops replicate those used at Chesbay as closely as possible, Young says, emphasizing, “Hell, I’m even using the same water!” “It was a very peculiar beer,” says Young now, “It’s 35 bitterness units, which is unheard of in Germany but we were, in those days, trying to be different.”

The new version will be served unfiltered, a rarity in the Chesbay days. “We did a filtered version of it which was pretty popular,” remembers Young, “but the unfiltered kellerbier version was solely at Union Street Public House” in Alexandria.

Tonight, I will be at R.F.D. with Clipper City Brewing owner Hugh Sisson; we're bringing a cask-conditioned firkin of Below Decks Barleywine-style ale.

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