OCN’s “Dubious Beer Expert” continues his tour of craft breweries in Hampton Roads.
Steeped in local history and the traditions of Fort Monroe, The Oozlefinch Craft Brewery goes out of its way to honor the past. This includes having a chemist extract a wild yeast cell from the keyhole of a museum Civil War chest, in order to make their Innovative Agitator Belgian Blonde Ale. Russ Tinsley, Oozlefinch’s owner, joined me and my posse of beer enthusiasts at their tasting room table to explain.
We were just wiping the creamy suds of his hazy IPA Dude Blanket off our lips (a juicy, grapefruity, East Coast bitter). Russ had explained they tweaked the first Dude’s recipe to brew this rare, second batch. For a bitter beer, we found it really not so bitter at all, which, as Russ explained, is generally the deal with East Coast IPAs (vs. the typically more bitter ones from the West Coast).
Our second sample of the night I found very smooth, and taster Tony confirmed with an approving “no bite at all” comment. Creatively brewed using yeast cultivated from a single, 200-year-old wild yeast cell, Innovative Agitator Belgian Blonde Ale connected our taste buds to Civil War history. Oozlefinch’s Assistant Brewer/Chemist Rachel Edwards had procured the wild yeast from a Tiffany & Co. dining chest owned by Fort Monroe’s Gen. Benjamin “Beast” Butler, Russ explained. Rachel found the yeast cell on the chest’s lock during a swabbing spree at the nearby Casemate Museum.
“Wild yeast is everywhere,” Russ explained. “We were looking for an old yeast strain to connect our beer with our local area and history.”
They had even held a contest for people to swab things in Fort Monroe, to help them find a yeast strain to use.
He explained the Innovative Agitator name comes from Gen. Butler being “innovative” with his historic decision to declare runaway slaves as “contraband of war’” and thus making them free. The “agitator” part comes from the good general’s talent for pissing people off, which earned him the “Beast” nickname. It is the third beer of their “Beast Butler” series, all using the same wild yeast strain and tagline “Come and taste history.” I would have learned so much more history in school with classroom beer such as this. All my tasting posse rated it the best of our flight samples, with Paul and Tony declaring it “the most beer-like.”
Another (different) wild yeast brew, Evil Robot Blackberry Berliner Weisse, aged in grape brandy barrels, has a “barnyard funk” that Russ likes, as well as an oak flavor from the barrels it’s aged in.
“Most people don’t want to put a Berliner in a barrel, so we wanted to do it,” Russ grinned.
He noted the name comes from his temperamental canning machine. My tasters and I agreed that it tasted funky. I could definitely pick up the oaky note.
Russ has plans to market our next flight sample Just Too Likeable Lemongrass Miso Gose to restaurants and bottle stores across the country. Another experimental brew that’s citrusy, hazy, and earthy, tasters Sue and Helen found it "just likeable."
Sue said, “If you’re gonna go big, go big!” after sipping Eatin’ Cancakes Imperial Strength Banana Pancake Stout. The limited release is “maple forward,” as Russ likes to say. He points out that the banana flavor ripens as the beer warms up. More like iHop in a bottle, this is a flavor-packed dark brew with a punch.
“It’s almost like drinking a brandy,” Sue added.
Oozlefinch Craft Brewery entrance (Photo by GW Hudgins)
A utilitarian, military-style building, Oozlefinch gets its name from the story of a strange bird appearing to a captain leaving the Fort Monroe Officers Club in the early 1900s. Alcohol use was highly suspected. The brewery rests at a spacious waterfront location on the deactivated Fort Monroe Army base in Hampton, with an outdoor stage (live music most Saturday evenings -- best to check the website, though) and plenty of room for cornhole (tournaments every Wednesday at 7 p.m.) and other fair-weather activities (although they do bring the cornhole inside in bad weather). Food trucks provide the eats (again, check the website for info. Taster Paul and I really enjoyed the Curry Chicken from the Taste of Asia truck when I was there, paired with the Lemongrass Miso).
They’re located at 81 Patch Road, Fort Monroe, VA 23651.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday-Tuesday | 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday | 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Sat.
Learn more about Oozlefinch’s beers here.
Do you find the use of wild yeast cells for brewing beer historical or hysterical? Tell us in the comments!