Top of the Hops Beer Fest

Of particular note today: Paul Simon’s 9/11 tribute.

Yesterday afternoon, we walked over to the “nTelos Wireless”* Pavilion on the Downtown Mall for the Top of the Hops Festival! This is the second year ToTH has come to Charlottesville, and we were so excited. Even though we had VIP tickets [which came with food], we went all out and made pretzel necklaces, anyway.

I realized my string was too short...

Shoelace is definitely the way to go.

Our VIP tickets allowed us to enter an hour early and gave us access to a lunch catered by Boylan Heights and special tastings that the GA tickets didn’t come with. At the gate, they handed out checklist/programs, pencils, [more!] pretzels, and these little tasting mugs:

For "2 ounce" pours that turned into 4 ounce pours.

Early and Empty!

VIP tastings.

We took advantage of the empty hour by getting a head start on the six rows of breweries on the floor of the Pavilion. I can’t say I tasted everything, but I did my best to try as many as possible! I had to make very clear to the volunteers that I did not want a full 2-ounce serving each time, because with over 150 beers, it would have been a disaster. I felt bad because a lot of beer got dumped into the beer-equivalent of wine spittoons [aka giant plastic buckets on the ground].

It got insanely crowded by about 4PM, so we headed up to the VIP area on the stage for dinner.

So many beer fanatics.

To my dismay, they weren’t serving any vegetarian food. SERIOUSLY. This was frustrating because the only reason we bought VIP was for the food [and it was $30 extra dollars!]; I needed the food to keep the beer in check; and Boylan is apparently known for their veggie burger, so I was excited. Come on, guys! I snacked on some chips, sliced tomatoes from the burger bar, and thankfully Shaun shared his pretzel necklace with me [good thing we made them], but unfortunately we left feeling like the extra cost of the VIP ticket was a huge waste of money. Sad.

The Bests:

The festival definitely re-affirmed that my favorite beers are Belgian and Belgian-style beers, stouts and porters. In fact, I actually learned from one of the brewery representatives that Belgians, as a population, generally don’t have a palate for hops, which is why their beers are often more smooth/less hoppy/right up my alley. Some beers that I had never had but really enjoyed:

Epic Brewing Company [Salt Lake City, UT] –  “Brainless” Belgian-Style Golden Ale – light, malt-y, with a little kick of Belgian hops.

Uncommon Brewers [Santa Cruz, CA] – “Golden State Ale” (Belgian Ale) and “Siamese Twin” (Abbey Dubbel). The Siamese Twin is seasoned with coriander, much like the New Belgium Trippel I wrote about before and really enjoy. The Ale was seasoned with toasted poppy seeds. Bonus points for serving in cool cans!

Cans are the new bottles.

New Holland Brewing Company [Holland, MI] – “Dragon’s Milk” (Ale) – oak-aged for 90 days and sort of has a bourbon aftertaste. Right up my alley.

Tallgrass Brewing Company [Manhattan, KS] – “Buffalo Sweat Stout” (Milk Stout) – Once you get over the name, it’s delicious. Brewed with cream and a little bit of sugar, so it’s definitely not a session beer, but a delicious dessert.

Evolution Craft Brewing Company [Delmar, DE] – “Lucky 7 Porter” (American Porter) – straightforward, dark, coffee/dried fruit flavored porter.

Wild Wolf Brewing Company [Nellysford, VA] – “Wild Willie’s Smoked Scottish Ale”  – the yeast is locally grown right outside of C’Ville and, well, smoked. Delicious. Will definitely be making a trip out here sometime!

The Blah:

Clown Shoes Beer (Ipswich, MA) – They brought along an ale and an IPA, and their stand was packed, so we thought we’d take a taste. Both were watered down and quite sour.

The River Company (Radford, VA) – “Peachicot Blonde Ale” – This “fruit beer” missed the mark to me and tasted more like stale champagne.

High Five:

To learning more about New Belgium Brewery, which I previously wrote about. A former Colorado brewer who moved to Maryland and volunteered at the Victory Brewing table (Philly!) informed us that he is less than thrilled about N.B. coming to the East. Apparently, in Colorado, New Belgium is called “gaper beer,” because tourists go to the top of the mountains, stare off (“gape”), climb back down, and then order Fat Tires at the bars. It’s an easy way to give yourself away as foreign in Colorado. Who knew.

To the father/son duo from Alexandria, VA who volunteered at the Williamsburg Aleworks table and are taking a 10-day trip to Belgium this fall to tour ten different Belgian breweries! Jealous?

Sad Faces:

To the Duck Rabbit (Farmville, NC) volunteer who left us with a sour taste in our mouths. He poured me a beer and informed me that this is the gender-neutral beer, and since I was a woman, I might actually like it. He poured Shaun the “man’s” stout. Turns out, we transcended gender boundaries and liked exactly the opposite of what he said.

The Goods:

Although I didn’t get food, we did get a ton of stuff.

Coasters and stickers and Fat Tire chap-stick, oh my?

Bringing our total pint glass count up to: 3.

So glad we went! I would definitely go again if I had a 4L year, but I’d make sure not to waste money on the VIP ticket. So that checks two things off the B.L. in one day, and afterwards, we picked up our friend Colin and our crazy puppy and headed to check off another, because I was hungry.

Belmont Pizza:

Belmont Pizza & Pub opened up at the end of last spring in the C’Ville Market shopping center in, you guessed it, Belmont. It had gotten some hype and pretty good reviews, so we decided to check it out. We ordered the hummus for the table, and each got a sandwich [the boys: cheese steaks, me: portobello sandwich]. Now, it’s probably unfair of me to bash the sandwich when all I have to compare it to are the fantastic portobello grinders at Memphis Taproom (Phila, PA) and Little Grill (Harrisonburg, VA), but I was quite disappointed with the $11 soggy, greasy mess that took over 45 minutes to make. I think we were all in agreement that the extremely slow service and very expensive prices were not worth it, especially with Beer Run right across the street – where you definitely get more bang for your buck and more creative, delicious food. I bet its a great place to watch games though, because of their nice bar, long tables indoors, and dart board!

At least we tried something new.

* Yup, C’Ville went corporate.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Beverages, C-Ville, Food


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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