It’s a long post guys, but bear with me!
As you can probably tell from reading our blog, both Carney and I love our local breweries. We love being able to visit the places where our beers are brewed and talk to the men and women who help bring these delicious concoctions to us. However, from now until forevermore one brewer will stand head and shoulders above the rest. One group of incredible people with a community-minded spirit and incredible beers who make it their mission to educate as well as quench the thirst of their customers. One brewery where the excitement to share in conversation and discuss beer trumps just about everything else.
That place is Rivertown Brewing Company.
Luckily for us Ohioans, the state just passed a law (or rescinded a bad one) that allows breweries to operate a taproom without offering a full menu alongside. Rivertown was one of the breweries to jump at the chance, and opened their taproom in the spring of 2012 to cheers from droves of fans eager to get beers on tap from the source. Having never been to a taproom or brewery, Carney and I decided to make our first visit a local one.
Finding the brewery was a bit of a challenge – they are definitely off the beaten path, to put it mildly. I spent a good half an hour driving around looking for the correct back roads to get to their location, and just as we neared the place itself, we were stopped by a slow moving train.
Then, the train stopped.
On. The. Tracks.
I almost went stir crazy waiting for it to move again.
Finally, after a good 10 minutes, it slowly inched its way off the road crossing.
Then, another train came from the other direction.
I may have yelled a lot.
I wished I had brought my hammer.
Finally, we were able to get past this Sisyphean hurdle and arrived at the brewery. A short time later, Carney and his wife G arrived, and we set ourselves to perusing the selections.
Having had a good many of the selections offered here, I opted for a sampler of the four that I hadn’t had – Unit 6 wheat ale, Blueberry Lager, the Dunkel, and the Jenneke, which is their Belgian Blonde and isn’t even released yet!
The brewery is housed in a drive up warehouse and takes up two of the units – one for brewing/fermenting, and the other for bottling and the taproom. It made for a very intimate, friendly atmosphere. Both the brewmaster and several other brewers were on hand working to transfer the last contents of one of their fermenters to the bright tank, and each of them took the time to personally come up to the table and welcome us to the brewery. SO COOL!
After the samplers and a few other pints, I noticed that Rivertown offers a filled take-home pint glass imprinted with their logo and a tour of the brewery with one of the brewers for only five bucks! Needless to say, we bought four.
The tour began in the same laid back manner as everything else – Randy, one of the brewers, hollered, “Tour’s starting, grab a pint and come with me!” We followed him into the brewing unit and gathered around to hear him discuss the finer points of being awesome.
Randy took us through all the steps of the beer making process, explaining that they use local water and local ingredients whenever possible. There were eight of us on the tour, but Randy took the time to answer all of our questions, even from guys like me who thought beer came from a magical spring welling up from the ground to be found and “tapped” by enterprising individuals…
We continued to the bottling line, and all four of us were a little shocked at just how small it was for a company that distributes to four states!
Now, up to this point you might be saying “Mike, that’s cool and everything, but I don’t see why it makes Rivertown so great?”
For those of you that subscribe to or read Beer Advocate, you might have heard about Rivertown recently. They sent the Brothers Alström their Lambic beer to review, and shocked the beer world a bit by getting a 94/100! That awesome score came as no surprise to us, the Rivertown connoisseurs who have tried almost every beer they’ve ever produced. We were hoping to be able to get our hands on a few bottles of the lambic, and man, we lucked out!
Needless to say, we were very disappointed that we couldn’t actually try this awesome beer right away. Carney had never had a lambic before, and the only lambics I’d ever had were from Lindemann’s. I mentioned that to Randy, and he explained to me that while Lindemann’s is a good beer, it’s not really a traditional lambic because they add flavored fruit syrup to their beer after fermentation, giving it an overly sweet and fruity flavor. I nodded along, pretending like I had actually tried a “real” lambic before and knew the difference. Thankfully, Julianna spoke up and asked what a true lambic tastes like if it doesn’t have syrup added. Randy explained how it’s like the difference between a sweet wine and a good dry one, that it has the fruit flavor but not really the sweetness.
Satisfied with that answer and finished with the tour, we sat down again at our table to finish our beers for the night when Randy came over to our table and dropped a bomb on us:
Before each of us sat two sample cups, one with their three year aged award winning lambic, and the other with a one year aged unfiltered lambic. He rubbed his hands together with a huge, giddy, schoolboy grin on his face and invited us to try and discuss the delicious concoctions he’s been working on.
Friends, I wish I could share the taste of this beer with you. We tried the one year first, and the taste was just mouthwatering. Tartness combined with fruity flavors of apple and citrus mixed with yeasty and malty notes dancing round the back of my tongue, finished off with just a hint of oakiness. It was like drinking a succulent red wine that had somehow become carbonated.
But then… then, we tried the three year.
The only way I can describe the difference, the literally jaw-dropping effect of this beer is thus: imagine your whole life, the only way you’d ever heard your favorite song is on AM radio. You love this song, listen to it over and over again, know it by heart. It plays in your head daily and nightly, it’s what you hum in the shower in the morning and as you drift off to sleep at night. Then one day, you’re given an incredible opportunity – you can listen to your song – your song – by yourself in a movie theater. And what’s more, it’s going to be remastered in super-ultra Dolby 7.1 THC audiophile glory.
And you sit. And you listen to that song. And the depth of the notes, the way it both envelops and permeates you is beyond anything you’ve experienced. It’s the same song, but the massive, epic clarity of it pushes it beyond into something more, something greater.
You may think I’m overstating the majesty of this beer, but I’m not. Even now, in my memory, it stands as something altogether different than just “beer.” It’s something else, something beyond, something truly exceptional.
Then Randy says, “Now I’mreally going to blow your minds!”
I am not making this up.
He grabbed a wine thief and climbed up into the casks in which they are aging other batches of beer, popped open one of them, and brought us each a sample cup…
Seriously. There were bits of blackberry still floating around in the cup. It smelled heavenly. It tasted of fresh, ripe blackberries incorporated into the aforementioned wall of flavor. It’s not even going to be released for another year. And the four of us, the last ones sitting around in the taproom on a stormy Friday night, got the chance to taste it.
I don’t even…
Just try them. Find a friend that lives in Ohio or Kentucky or Indiana or Tennessee and ask them to get you any beer by these guys. The beer is world-class. The brewers are beyond friendly, accommodating, and excited about beer and community. When all that is thrown together into one big, happy fermentor, something seriously magical happens.