Introducing Reason Beer
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:
1) What is your background in brewing?
Mark: Like many professional brewers, I started as a homebrewer. That was with Patrick about 12 years ago. The process fascinated me. A few years later, I decided to pursue a career in professional brewing. I earned a diploma from the American Brewers Guild, and got my first brewing job at Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham, Maine in July of 2010. Two years later, I was hired as the second full-time employee at Maine Beer Company in (then) Portland.
Patrick: At one point I taught Mark everything he knows. Now he won’t let me touch a thing!
Jeff: My background is in economics, so I handle the business side of things and leave the brewing to the pro. There was a time when I was an enthusiastic but pretty mediocre homebrewer. I can certainly appreciate good beers, but I don’t have the knack for making them. Fortunately I know a guy who’s pretty good at it.
2) What was your role at Maine Beer Company, and which of their beers did you create?
Mark: Within my first year of employment at Maine Beer Company, we built a custom facility in Freeport and doubled capacity. Following the move, I was promoted to Brewhouse Manager, putting me in a more administrative role. Over the next two years, we continued to grow, adding capacity and staff. In February 2015 I became Director of Brewery Operations. Over the course of the four years I worked there, I was involved with the development of numerous recipes, including Another One, Dinner, several tasting room exclusives, and countless developmental test batches. The beer I am most proud of is Weez, a hoppy black ale named after my calico cat.
3) What are your plans for Reason?
Mark: Our goal is to make creatively balanced craft beers that will appeal to all beer drinkers, and hopefully score some converts. Our recipes seek to blend classic European styles with more modern American flavor profiles. We will also focus on beers with lower alcohol content than the typical craft beer offerings.
Patrick: I like to think we’re making beer that’s perfect for a hot afternoon mowing the lawn, but just as well suited for a nice dinner out on the Downtown Mall.
Jeff: In addition to partnering with local bottleshops (so you can get our beers for the lawn-mowing sessions) and great restaurants in the area (for that nice dinner out), we’ll be opening a tasting room at our production facility. It’ll give folks an opportunity to explore our range of beers and learn a little bit more about what went into crafting them.
4) What beers will you make at Reason, and in what formats will they be offered?
Mark: We intend to bring a small core contingent of year-round beers to the market. Our flagship beer, Reason Blonde, is a 4% ABV Blonde Ale. It’s brewed with high quality European malts, a blend of European noble hops and new American varieties, and finished with a clean American ale yeast strain. We will also launch with Reason Pale, a 5% pale ale that blends European malts with a stronger dose of American hop character. Within the next year, we hope to introduce Reason Saison, an old-world grisette-style farmhouse ale, and Reason Black, a hoppy black ale. These beers will be available in 500 ml bottles and on draft.
Patrick: We’re aiming for this sweet spot; a careful balance between flavor and drinkability. The thing about hops is a lot of the of their magic is alcohol soluble, so there’s this tightrope you have to walk in order to maximize taste and aroma without overloading the booze. I think Mark nailed it.
Jeff: Exactly what Mark and Patrick said. These are delicious, well-balanced beers that I think fill a gap we’ve seen in the market. We’re really excited to share with them world.
5) What will the production capacity be? How does that compare to other breweries?
Mark: We will likely produce between 1000 and 2000 barrels of beer in our first year, with plans for gradual expansion over the next few years. This will likely lead to us producing more product than some of the more recent startups, but still much less than the more established production facilities in the area.
Patrick: We have no plans to get huge– we honestly want to be a regional brewery. If you’re anywhere in the Southeastern US, I want you to be able to get fresh Reason Beer. Maybe not in every grocery store or bar in town, but certainly at better bottle shops and restaurants.
Jeff: The idea here is to keep meticulous control over the quality of the beer, while recognizing there are efficiencies that come from brewing on a system of a certain size (yeah, yeah, I’m the economist in the group). Even as a startup, we’re making investments in production capacity with that in mind.
6) What are your personal favorite breweries and beers? What do you like about them?
Mark: I was a huge fan of Maine Beer Company before I started working there, so I feel no shame in sharing that Zoe is one of my very favorite beers. I love the intricate interplay between the chocolate malt flavor and the strong pine and orange peel of the hops. Zoe is a beer that brings a lot of flavor to the table.
Patrick: When I’m in Charlottesville, I drink Charlottesville beer. But there’s this tiny brewery inside a Mexican restaurant out here in LA putting the most amazing small batch releases. It’s called “Highland Park Brewery” and I happily drink anything they make. Whenever I get the time, I bike over there for fried pickles and a couple super funky, hoppy farmhouse ales. If you ever see a bottle of their stuff, do not pass it up.
Jeff: I’ll pick a couple favorites from outside of the area too (but you can find them in Cville!). First is Allagash, which to me is the gold standard for growth while maintaining quality. It’s always easy to find and it’s always great. And it’s not just their beers – take a look at their Instagram feed or the recipes they have on their website. Everything they do is excellent. Another is The Bruery out on the West Coast. They take over-the-top ideas and turn them out with such thought and refinement, that I pick up their bottles whenever I can find them.