Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hugh Sisson brings 471 year old beer to northern Virginia.

Heavy Seas Brewing Company
Friday evening, Bilbo Baggins Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, is hosting a tasting of 8 beers from Heavy Seas Brewing of Baltimore, Maryland.

Brewery owner Hugh Sisson will travel the 45 miles south from his brewery, across the Potomac River, to provide commentary. He is providing a beer that has been four hundred and seventy one years in the making.

In the year 1540 A.D., in an area that later came to be known as Wye, Maryland, an acorn fell to the ground. That acorn would grow to become the Wye Oak, a white oak tree measured at almost 32 feet wide, 96 feet tall, and 119 feet at its crown.

The Wye Oak

In 2002, a violent thunderstorm would finally fell the Wye Oak. The state of Maryland collected the wood, and awarded it to a number of woodworkers to produce commemorative pieces of art. Maryland craftsman John Gasparine was granted permission to create the commemorative Star-Spangled Banger, the mallet used to tap the first cask of beer for the opening ceremonies of the inaugural Baltimore Beer Week, held in 2009 aboard the wooden warship U.S.S. Constitution, in Baltimore, Maryland's Inner Harbor.

Star-Spangled Banger (2)

Fast forward to four weeks ago.

The Heavy Seas Brewing Company was granted permission to brew beer with a few precious fragments from the Wye Oak. Stephen Marsh —the brewery's cellarmaster— carved fragments into domino-sized blocks and toasted them.

He racked (brewery jargon for transferred through a hose) 10.8 gallons of the brewery's India Pale AleLoose Cannon— into three firkins —10.8 gallon casks— adding the wood chips, whole leaf hops, and a measure of high krausen Loose Cannon —that is, another batch of the beer whose yeast had just begun to vigorously ferment.

The hops added to the cask have local provenance. Citrusy varietals of Cascade, Palisade, Chinook, and Magnum whole leaf hops were grown at Still Point Farm and Blaze's Folly Farm, both located in Frederick, Maryland, as well as at Marsh's own home garden.

Heavy Seas' Cellarman Marsh

Several days of warm storage at the brewery allowed the freshly fermenting beer within the cask to produce gentle carbonation. 'Warm' is a relative term. Winter temperatures have been somewhat cold recently, so Marsh lifted the casks high on scaffolding to catch the warmer temperatures lofted there from the boiling brewkettle.

Marsh produced only three such firkins: two for special Maryland beer events, and the final triplet for this beer tasting. In addition, Michael Armellino —chef and owner of Bilbo Baggins— found room in his cellar to save some other beers from the brewery. So, after the introductory glass of Bilbo Baggins Lager, he'll also serve:
  • a rare winter Triple, Yule Tide, aged since 2009, 10% abv.
  • Below Decks Barleywine (10% abv), vintage 2009.
  • Red Sky At Night Saison (7.5% abv), vintage 2010.
  • Winter Storm Category 5 Ale (Imperial ESB style) 7.5% ab., released this winter, in 2010.
  • Holy Sheet Uber Abbey Ale (9% abv), released about this time, but in 2010.
The menu for the evening consists of Bilbo Baggins's flat bread pizzas and poutine (handcut french fries topped with New York white Cheddar cheese curds, Italian sausage, and homemade gravy), served throughout the tasting, rather than formally paired with a beer. The final course, however, will be specific: chocolate-ganache truffles, coated in cocoa and coffee, served with bottles of Heavy Seas Siren Noire Imperial Chocolate Stout, released in January 2011.

Bilbo Baggins (03)

Hugh Sisson is not only the owner of Heavy Seas, he is a 'craft' beer pioneer of the DC/MD/VA area. Before opening the Heavy Seas production brewery in 1995, he founded the area's first-ever brewpub —Sisson's— in Baltimore, in 1989.

Hugh Sisson talks

His eight Heavy Seas beers at the tasting tomorrow should offer a fascinating melange of flavors, procedures, and character: several cellared beers, and one fresh and still fermenting beer, locally hopped and prepared with 471 years of oaked maturity.

From an acorn came a mighty oak —and now comes a tasty beer.


  • Photos from the dinner: here.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virgina— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment here ...