Food and drink writing can be prone to hyperbole, as some have observed. Over-the-top praise permeates the genre. And, while the mission of this site is to celebrate the wonderful food and drink of Charlottesville, I try to resist the temptation of hyperbole. After all, if everything is “excellent,” nothing is. People learn not to trust the boy who cried amazing.
But, some instances warrant genuine excitement. And, this is one of them. The former head brewer of Maine Beer Company is opening a brewery in Charlottesville. For the beer geeks out there, I’ll say it again. The former head brewer of Maine Beer Company is opening a brewery in Charlottesville.
For those unfamiliar with Maine, it is one of the most acclaimed breweries in the country. On beeradvocate.com, the trusted ratings site for beer geeks, almost all of the brewery’s releases score “outstanding” or above, and many are rated “world-class” including the legendary double IPA Dinner, which scores a perfect 100, an extremely rare achievement.
Former Maine head brewer Mark Fulton grew up in Charlottesville and attended UVa before leaving to pursue a career in brewing. Last year he returned home to Charlottesville to begin work on his own brewery with childhood friends Patrick Adair and Jeff Raileanu. All three grew up here and share a passion for beer and Charlottesville. Their brewery, Reason Beer, opens this summer.
What Makes Reason Different
With the explosion in area breweries, you might wonder if we really need another. What could possibly make this one different? The answers are twofold: (1) the brewer and; (2) the style of beer.
Never has a Charlottesville area brewery opened with a brewer who had already earned such acclaim. In addition to the 100-point Dinner, Fulton also helped to develop highly esteemed beers like Another One and Weez.
I met Fulton last summer, and in the many beers and conversations we’ve shared since, three strengths stand out: passion, palate, and perfectionism. The first is not unique. Almost any serious brewer loves her craft. But, the latter two set him apart from many of his peers. Fulton’s palate is as perceptive as any I’ve encountered. Even in beers that I have enjoyed for years, Fulton introduced me to subtle flavors I had never noticed.
As for perfectionism, while developing recipes for Reason’s beers, Fulton has generously shared test batches, delivering growlers to me at Beer Run. Some weeks he has shown up empty-handed, explaining that a minor flaw made the latest batch unworthy of sharing. Given his palate, I have little doubt that the so-called flaws would have been unnoticed by most of us.
Fulton’s palate and perfectionism conspire to make him an extremely tough critic of beers, particularly his own. And, that pays off. The samples he shared were outstanding – flawless, even – with the soft texture and clean mouth feel for which his Maine beers were known.
And, this is the second thing distinguishing Reason: style of beer. Beyond the aggressive, over-the-top flavors common to many craft breweries, Reason’s focus also includes a style that will appeal to those who have moved past the hophead phase of whoever-adds-the-most-hops-wins. With the growth of the American craft been industry over the last few decades, the palates of many beer drinkers have followed a similar path. When they first discover craft beers, they prefer big, obvious flavors. Heavily hopped IPAs and imperial stouts are king. Over time, though, they begin to yearn for more nuance, subtlety, and complex flavors that excessive hops or malts can mask. This is not unlike the progression of the palates of wine lovers – beginning with strong, easy to recognize flavors of New World wines before shifting to appreciation of more nuanced Old World styles.
While Reason will certainly make some of the strongly-flavored beers common to the craft industry (like the hop monster Dinner), the brewery will also focus on a more underrepresented style: soft, nuanced, lower alcohol beers that showcase how complex flavors of beer can be.
A great virtue of this style is drinkability. As delicious as Dinner is – and it is – it’s not ideal for guzzling all afternoon while manning the grill. Even if the high alcohol content (8.2%) does not do you in, the heavy flavors may become repetitive. Many of Reason’s beers, by contrast, will be “sessionable,” the term beer drinkers use for beers you can drink repeatedly in one session. This is not to confuse Reason’s beers with the Session IPAs that have become popular in recent years. Sessions IPAs are often IPAs by design, altered to reduce alcohol. Reason’s flagship beers, by contrast, have flavor profiles where lower alcohol is incident to the initial design. The result is the best of both worlds: drinkable, but also loaded with complex flavors to sustain your interest.
Fulton is such a perfectionist that initially the brewery will offer just two beers: a Blonde Ale and Pale Ale. Before Fulton exposed me to it, Blonde was a fairly new style to me, but each time I tried the samples Fulton offered, I appreciated it more and more. The Beer Judge Certification Program defines the style as: “Easy-drinking, approachable, malt-oriented American craft beer, often with interesting fruit, hop, or character malt notes. Well-balanced and clean . . . refreshing without aggressive flavors.” Reason’s website describes its own Blonde best: pairing “the spice and depth of Old World hops with fresh, citrusy notes from the New World, rounded out with subtle maltiness and bright acidity.” While the “hop flavor and aroma are unmistakable,” it remains “silky smooth and with a clean, crisp finish.” Pale Ale, meanwhile, is right in my wheelhouse, one of my favorite styles, and Reason’s is one of the best I’ve had. Soft, clean, and loaded with flavor. Reminiscent of the great beers of Maine Beer Company, and perhaps even better.
Reason will be located at 1180 Seminole Trail, Suite 290, beside Costco, with a tasting room on site, and sales and distribution throughout Charlottesville and beyond. If all goes well, look for a June opening. Meanwhile, follow along on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to their mailing list on their website. For a more in-depth look at Reason, below is a Q& A with co-founders Mark Fulton, Patrick Adair and Jeff Raileanu:
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