Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brewery Tour #24 – Lost Nation Brewing

The quintessential Vermont pilgrimage just got sweeter. Although visiting the Green Mountain state for the “big 3” (The Alchemist, Lawson’s, and Hill Farmstead) is the heart of the Vermont beer haul, a humble new brewery is making that pilgrimage even more enticing. 

That brewery is Lost Nation. Founded by Jamie Griffith and Allen Van Anda, Lost Nation opened its discreet doors last summer in an unlikely industrial park in Morrisville VT. If Morrisville sounds familiar that’s because Rock Art also calls it home. In fact, Lost Nation inhabits Rock Art’s old facility that they recently moved out of. Conveniently, this spot is on the way from The Alchemist to Hill Farmstead.

It’s worth noting that the Vermont beer pilgrimage was already complimented by a quaint little stop in the town of Stowe – that’s the Von Trapp Lodge with its traditional Austrian and Germanic lagers and cozy café serving up quality lunch fare. See a review of the Von Trapp Lodge brewery.

What’s interesting is that Griffith and Van Anda were originally the brewers at Von Trapp. Van Anda was their founding brewer in 2009 and he brought on Griffith as his assistant a year later. In 2012, as the von Trapp family planned a dramatic expansion of the brewery funded with money from EB-5 immigrant visas, Van Anda took his leave. Griffith stayed on a little while longer. In stolen moments from family duties they began shaping the business plan for what would become Lost Nation.

The two men spent time methodically planning how they would extract maximum flavor from sessionable beers. They’re noted as saying, “I want to taste everything. I want to taste malt. I want to taste water; I want to know you’re using good water. I want to taste yeast.”

Their solution was to use an additional mash tun that enables them to put their wort boil through “temperature rests,” as Griffith calls them. This is known as step mashing. After the beer ferments, it’s pumped into cellaring tanks just as lager brewers would do. There it conditions for a few more weeks on yeast to allow flavors to mature.

We’d heard great things of Lost Nation and paid a visit while on a trip to secure cans of Heady Topper and growlers from Hill Farmstead.

Visiting wasn’t easy. Our GPS led us to a dead end road from which we could see the brewery but drive no longer. It seemed like temporary construction was to blame. We eventually found a way around through a neighborhood and walked in for lunch on a weekday. Presumably the construction is no longer there and access is better now, so don’t let that deter you.

We walked in and saw only a few people sitting at a table who we eventually learned to be one of the brewers chatting with sales people of some kind as there was paperwork on the table. So as the first real guests, we felt we had service all to ourselves. The sales folk seemed welcome enough as they had beer in their hands and eventually joined us at the bar, chatting jovially.

The restaurant is small, dim, dressed in dark wood, with only daylight illuminating the interior. On the right is a bar with approximately 10 seats; on the left are about 7 tables.

The food menu is very small, but the eats are thoughtful and made with care. They focus on local and fresh ingredients cooked in a rustic way. I had a grilled cheese made with local blue cheese, apple, and bacon along with a roasted red potato and garlic soup. My better half enjoyed a pork chop in apple cider glaze over spaghetti squash. We were beyond pleased with our food.

As for the beer, we like where these guys are coming from. If you’re familiar with the quality in the lower-alcohol offerings from the Von Trapp Lodge, then you have an idea of the ballpark in which Lost Nation sits. No beer they make exceeds 5.9% ABV. Roughly half of them sit below 5.0%.

The entire stable beers in Lost Nation’s arsenal were available at the time of our visit. That’s around 8 beers – some ales, some lagers – covering styles native to Germany, Belgium, and America. The bartender could not have been more friendly and happily let us sample each beer – sometimes without us even asking for one.

First up was their flagship beer in the gose style. It was divine. As one of Germany’s two beer styles contributed to the world of sour/tart beers, gose beers are seeing a slight resurgence in popularity among American brewers. But, it’s still largely an unknown style to many. Gose style beers are traditionally brewed with salt and coriander seeds, and should taste a bit tart. Lost Nation’s take on the style hits pretty close to bullseye. While some beer geeks may wish it was a bit more tart, or even sour, its balance of refreshing tartness, spice, and bright drinkability is addictive. We brought home a 64 oz. growler of it, killed it, and found ourselves turning the growler jug upside down hoping more would pour out.

Another version of the gose was available that was fermented on red and black currants. We only had a sample of this but it tasted delightful; a bit more tart than the original, but still not sweet.

I next tried their pilsner, which they claim sits squarely in the Franconian style. It was spot on. It’s hard to find well-made pilsners as the style has been bastardized by large production breweries and a good pilsner requires high attention to detail. When I voiced my fondness of their pilsner to the brewer, he was grateful and went on to say it was the beer he was most proud of. He proceeded to describe how he has to “baby” the brewing of that beer more than any other beer he makes. His efforts were noticeable and to see his face light up when talking about it reminded us why interacting with the brewers themselves can be such a rewarding experience and enhance your enjoyment of the beer. His passion for his work was genuinely palpable.

My better half had a full pour of their “Pitch black” ale, and it was a fantastic blend of smoke, light cocoa, earthiness, and a balanced hop presence. Similar in flavor to a classic porter, with the drinkability of a schwarzbier, it’s a winner.

Other beers we quickly sampled included a “rustic ale”, a saison, Belgian pale ale, and a märzen. As we only tasted these beers and didn’t drink a full glass, we don’t have thorough tasting notes to share. However, they all tasted solid and would seem to be very approachable for many people.

The bartender mentioned that in addition to beers of their own, they normally have a guest tap or two. They happened to be in between guest offerings during our visit but he mentioned they were soon expecting a barrel of the acclaimed De Dolle Oerbier. Various offerings from De Struise have also made appearances there.

What we enjoy most about Lost Nation is that their brewing goal lies against the grain of Vermont’s high profile brewers. Similar to the Von Trapp Lodge, Lost Nation is essentially a session-beer brewery sitting in the middle of world-famous double-IPA territory. They’re a valuable and unique addition to the already first-rate brewing state. The pub makes an ideal stop during your Vermont beer pilgrimage to the Big 3 as it breaks up the sampling of hop bombs with quality food and refined session beers that don’t leave you feeling groggy for the remainder of your trip.

We wish more brewpubs like Lost Nation existed. It’s unfortunate that some beer geeks will overlook this brewery on their pilgrimage due to a lack of imperialized beers and hop bombs. But in our eyes, this just means we get to take their seat at the bar.