Introducing the FALL LINE FEST Ale

The FALL LINE FEST Ale is approachable enough for the average drinker, yet complex enough for the discerning beer nerd looking for the next new thing–just like the fest it was created for.

Looking at the huge and varying list of art galleries, music, and food criss-crossing every type of style imaginable that comprises the inaugural FALL LINE FEST, it makes sense the inaugural FALL LINE FEST beer be a blend of wildly different styles from one of Richmond’s top breweries. I was able to drop by Hardywood Park and talk to head brewer, Brian Nelson, just before the beer was blended and have a teaser of what will be released at the start of the fest on Friday.

The facts

  • The FALL LINE FEST Ale is a blend of 50% Saison Rustica and 50% barrel aged Hoplar
  • ABV: 6.6%
  • Batch size: 14bbl (~30 kegs)
  • Dry hopped with Strisselpalt hop pellets for four days

I’m going to be honest, when I first heard about the beer I was a little skeptical. If I’m really honest, I was more than a little skeptical. The hoppy deliciousness that is a great IPA like Hoplar, is based on highly volatile flavor compounds that, by definition, don’t do well with aging. So intentionally aging an IPA in a whiskey barrel seems like one would be purposefully causing the imminent destruction of carefully layered hop upon hop. Then you throw a beer like the herbal, spicy Saison Rustica in with it, and who knows what you’ll get.

In this case, you get something light and drinkable that stands all on its own–reminiscent of both styles, but drastically different at the same time. So based on what I just said above, how is this even possible?

First, the Hoplar is only aged in the barrels for two weeks and those barrels were previously run–meaning they were previously used to age another beer, so a lot of the whiskey barrel character has already been taken out. On top of that, barrel aging often takes months, sometimes years, so two weeks really doesn’t give the hop aromatics time to dissipate. It really just cuts the bitterness a little and helps to prepare it for the saison and new dry hop addition.

The hop that’s used to dry hop the beer, Strisselspalt, is not something that in my relatively-new homebrewing experience (only a couple of years versus Brian’s 16) I’ve used. So I took to my books, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, Designing Great Beers, and How to Brew to do a bit more research. It’s a French variety with generally low bitterness (for you nerds, these specific pellets were only 5.6%) and more mellow citrus and earthy tones than the American varieties most of us have become accustomed to. With the earthiness it makes sense that it’s traditionally used in the French and Belgian ale traditions like bière de garde and saison. When I tasted the FALL INE FEST Ale at blending, these hops hadn’t been added. However, Brian happened to have a few pellets on hand, so I crushed a couple up and put them right to my taster. Raw pellets tend to be grittier and more bitter than after they’ve been in the beer a little while, but the low alpha acid in these just added a slight sharpness, and the earthiness was right at home with the saison characteristics. Which it should be, since it’s the same hop that’s used in Hardywood’s Saison Rustica.

Overall, I expect that as the flavors blend and the dry hopping characteristics develop, that the FALL LINE FEST Ale will be approachable enough for the average drinker, yet complex enough for the discerning beer nerd looking for the next new thing–just like the fest it was created for.

FALL LINE FEST Ale will be available in limited quantities (only ~30 kegs will be made) and sold only this weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Art site and venues participating in the FALL LINE FEST.

Tickets for the fest are available online.

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Jeremiah Eldridge

Jeremiah has a deep love for his wife, sons, and most things Reinheitsgebot-compliant.

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