We stopped at the Berkeley Springs Brewing Company on the same beautiful mid-September day whose evening we spent at Lot 12 Public House restaurant. BSBC (the brewing operation) and the companion Bathwater Brew Pub (the tasting room and restaurant) are designed around the casual beer drinker. We found this to be beer particularly well suited to helping drinkers discover and like things you didn't know you liked. At just a year old, we need some more time to see what this brewery is going to turn into, but there are pieces here that play well in its favor.
First, the brewery draws all of its beer-making untreated water from the town's mineral springs. This may seem unremarkable until you consider that we're talking about a town that hosts an annual international water tasting that has drawn entrants from about fifty countries. The 2016 edition included water from a host of U.S. states, Canada, New Zealand, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, France, and Norway. Yes, serious international water tasting is a thing, and yes these folks are making beer out of some of that water.
Second, the serious -- and I mean serious -- beer drinkers I know share in common a love of history, and this part of the country has some. Styled as the Country's First Spa, the town was a favorite of colonial and early American leaders. Tributes to George Washington are a dime a dozen across America, but you'll be hard pressed to find any other with a downtown mineral spring bearing the name "George Washington's Bathtub". Put another way, the Berkeley Springs Brewing Company has a lot historical material from which to spin yarns, legends, and historically interesting beer labels.
So that's where we leave it for now: A young brewery and pub, whose mini strip mall storefront and makeshift blue and white tablecloths don't yet meet the tavern standard we think is possible, but do play well with the genuine and hard working staff we found there, for they are bootstrapping a lineup of beer that has something going for it. We really hope they make something grand of the whole works.
And now, the tasting notes...
Cacapon is derived from the Native American term for medicine waters, and imprints its name on much of the local area: A river, a mountain, a state park and golf course, an unincorporated town. Be it no surprise that it's come to a beer near, well, all of those things. There's a weak nose of almond vanilla. Pieces of this reminded us of root beer and cream soda. Wheaty at the front, chalky at the end.
North Star Amber
Nose was milk chocolate and cocoa, molasses and caramel. There's some rustic maltiness here, with a bit of oatmeal. It's a little sharper up front than we expected.
My beer loving friend Mike was most impressed by this unique offering. Weak nose in this well balanced red with an ever-so-slight hint of biting-into-a-lemon sourness. The uninitiated might relate if we were to characterize it as a much smoother, far more polished, less mass market Killians. Of the four of us tasting, three rated this as the best.
The fourth vote went to the Marzen, where molasses is followed by darker sweetness in the second wave. Finishes smoothly. It's very drinkable, but a bit more full than some of the competition on the bar.
Lovers Leap IPA
Citrus (think grapefruit) nose is smooth and light until it hops up at the end. Those who don't like IPA need not apply.
Old Oak Stout
You find hints of bourbon if you dig into this one a little bit. It's a lighter stout overall, but there are pleasing notes of dark chocolate and coffee to go with that persistent sense that somehow the guy who thought of this one really enjoyed whisky.
Lord Fairfax Imperial English IPA
The Lord Fairfax of Cameron was big around here before the Revolution; we can only assume that the beer is named for the same 6th Lord Fairfax of Fairfax County, Virginia fame (there's actually an interesting story about the family line circa 1900 that we'll leave to you, a glass of wine, and Wikipedia to figure out). But I digress... This one has a much more intense front than the others. Ever so syrupy, with raisins, the Lord Fairfax is both sweet and harsh that the same time. This makes it challenging -- in a good way Mike assures us -- and definitely a menu item that experienced beer drinkers should gravitate to.