Saturday, July 12, 2014

Southern Exposure

I'd never abandon my family in a hotel while on vacation. That is unless there just happens to be a brewery less than 5 minutes down I-95. In that case I might make an exception*.

Bartender extraordinaire,
Meredith, and a pint of Chin Music.
We stop for an overnight in Ashland, Virginia every summer en route to South Carolina. We've done this for at least six years. How I had never come across Center of the Universe Brewing Company--or COTU as it's affectionately known--is beyond me.

My beerdar must need updating.

Founded by the brothers Ray, Chris and Phil--a former MLB big leaguer, and a NASA engineer--COTU brews a solid selection of both ales and lagers, of which Meredith, the full-time high school science teacher/part-time bartender steered me through at their tasting room. First up was Chin Music**, an amber lager and official beer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (A San Francisco Giant's Double-A affiliate in the Virginia capital city); and COTU's pale ale offering--RayRay. Both were tasty. Chin Music fall somewhere between Yeungling and Fat Tire, with a wallop of caramel malt and a just a hint of hoppy bite to balance the sweetness. RayRay was quite a bit lighter with all the Cascadian goodness one comes to expect from a classic American pale ale. The brothers offer five or six more standards this time of year--a Kölsch, an Alt, a Belgian summer brew, and Pocahoptus--a straight-up IPA, of which I grabbed a bomber to go.

Having spent the last seven summers south of the Mason-Dixon, it has become clear to me that while good beer is booming in the South, it's still a pretty young concept . If the West Coast and Northeast are in  mid-life, beer-wise, then the south is still a teenager--and that's a good thing. COTU does do the occasional one off, special interest brew, like Homefront, an IPA aged on (get this) unvarnished maple Louisville Sluggers--yes, baseball bats--in which proceeds from sales help to benefit military families, but COTU's bread and butter is a line-up of dependable brews that--as I mentioned earlier--is  a "solid selection" of beer, and I think that's indicative of the south in general.

Southern beer drinkers are only now being given the option of something other than Coors Light. Although breweries like North Carolina's The Duck-Rabbit and COTU are springing up all over Dixie, they are taking it easy, making accessible beer, that's more about the beer itself than some wackadoo ingredient or promotion.

You know I can get behind that.

* Relax, I took the kids swimming when I got back to the hotel.

**For those un baseball-inclined, "Chin Music" is a euphemism for a high, inside fastball.

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