For a single evening during American Craft Beer Week, the private party room at Ragtime in the Courthouse area became an impromptu speakeasy as MillerCoors premiered its Batch 19, a pre-Prohibition lager, in the state of Virginia.
Arlington joins only seven other U.S. cities (including Washington, D.C.) in enjoying a beer that evokes an era when breweries went belly up (only to reopen surreptitiously) and bootleggers and revenuers played a cat-and-mouse game with one another.
Batch 19 has an intriguing hook — a “lost recipe” found in a circa 1916 brewery logbook that was rescued from a flooded basement. That little disaster had a silver lining: the salvaged logbook inspired master brewer Keith Villa of Coors’ specialty beer division to recreate this full-bodied golden lager with a spicy hop bite.
Villa, when contacted by phone, had just returned from a two-week trip to Belgium where he was researching a new beer. Best known for his Blue Moon Belgian White, Villa is a bear for authenticity. Recently, he came across a French seed bank that included Chevalier barley – the variety that was “the proverbial stalwart pre-Prohibition.”
“We bought the seed and planted it so that in 2012 we plan to brew Batch 19 with a barley actually closer to the archival variety,” he added.
Hops include the herbal Hersbrucker and Strisselspalt, a little-used variety that delivers notes of blackcurrant.
At 5.5 percent alcohol-by-volume, Batch 19 is only slightly stronger than a typical American beer. “People are going through a period similar to what the brewers were going through in Europe hundreds of years ago in filling a demand for high-gravity beers, but I think we’ll see many brewers migrating to balance and great drinking character again, as is the case with Batch 19,” predicts Villa, a 26-year veteran of Coors’ iconic Golden, Colo. brewery.
MillerCoors selected Ragtime, the New Orleans-inspired Arlington neighborhood hangout at 1345 N. Courthouse Rd. for the Virginia rollout of Batch19 because its backroom feels right historically – it’s the type of sequestered cubbyhole where they might require you to give a password or a secret knock to make sure you’re not a Prohibition agent.
"We were looking at places that tie back to the pre-Prohibition era," says Mara Duhig, Arlington’s on-premise sales manager for Tenth & Blake, the MillerCoors subsidiary that makes Batch 19. "It's a very special beer with a unique history, and we are trying to highlight that by rolling out Batch 19 in the perfect locations."
Ragtime, part of the Vintage Restaurants group that also includes nearby, has one of the rare covered patios in Arlington. You’ll find the space decorated with Louisiana nostalgia and antique jazz instruments. (But it’s also quite modern with 15 HD TV sets.) You can hear live acoustic music Wednesday through Saturday nights beginning at 9:30 p.m.
Ragtime has 12 taps, including Dale's Pale Ale and Magic Hat #9, plus 17 bottled beers, among them Anchor Steam, Stella and Red Stripe. Happy hour at Ragtime features a $3 “Micro of the Month” from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Hoegaarden, the original Belgian witbier, is being featured in May.
They offer some real recession busters, including their Tuesday raw bar special. “From 4 p.m. to close, for $3.45 you can treat yourself to your choice of a dozen sautéed mussels served bistro-style in a white wine, garlic and butter sauce; a half-dozen freshly shucked Blue Point oysters; a half-dozen Top Neck clams; or a quarter pound of chilled peel-and-eat shrimp. Or for $6.99, you can indulge in two large snow crab clusters,” said general manager Eric Keim. “Sunday gets swinging with a jazz brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Mondays you can feast on a New York strip steak and side salad with any beer on tap for $15,” he added.
Ragtime and CarPool (at 4000 Fairfax Drive) are the only two locations in Arlington currently pouring Batch 19, said Casey Walter, on-premise account manager for Premium Distributors of Virginia. Although the D.C. market has bottles, the beer is only available in draft here.
Coors, however, is patient and persistent in rolling out new brands, and in coming months we might see a lot more of this easy-drinking but good-tasting gateway kind of lager.
Sunday - May 22, 2011
Don’t forget the nearly a dozen craft and specialty breweries that will participate in this weekend’s spectacular community event “A Taste of Arlington” that benefits several local charities from noon to 5 p.m. this Sunday on Wilson Blvd. in front of the Ballston Commons Mall.
Tuesday - May 24, 2011
Fire Works, Arlington - Ommegang Beer Dinner
Chef Frank Mayo will craft a menu tailored for several exciting offerings from Brewery Ommegang. $75 includes 6 beers, 5 courses, and gratuity. 7 p.m. Reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org. 703-527-8700.
Mad Fox, Falls Church - Baseball Theme Beer Dinner
They're taking the best cuisine from America's famed ballparks and putting a Mad Fox twist on them. Each of the five courses will be paired with one of their house-brewed beers. 6:30 p.m. Reservations at 703-942-6840.
Rustico, Ballston - Clown Shoes Beer Official Launch Party
Rustico is welcoming a relative newcomer to this area, Clown Shoes Beer from Massachusetts. Founder Gregg Berman will regale you with tales of how this unlikely craft brewing adventure unfolded while you enjoy all five Clown Shoes brews on tap, including a cask of their boldly balanced amber ale Eagle Claw Fist. 6 -10 p.m. Call 571-384-1820.