Want to split a bottle…of beer?

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Sharing. It’s the first lesson we learn as kids and we’re usually pretty good at it by the time we’re of drinking age. Wine has always been a beverage intended to share—to do otherwise would seem terribly selfish, not to mention intoxicating. Suggest sharing a beer with someone, though, and you’re likely to get ridiculed. The typical 12-ounce bottle of beer makes for a tidy single serving (even if you end up having six of those single servings), but more and more breweries are bottling their beers in wine-sized bottles meant for sharing.

BYO Big Bottle: Beer Run owner Josh Hunt stocks more than 100 varieties of 22-ounce large format beers, including brew from local fave Starr Hill.

It comes as no surprise that Belgium, land of hand-crafted beers with cult-like followers, pioneered large format bottles ranging from 22 ounces to 3 liters that serve anywhere from two to 15 people. Being so close to the world’s most famous wine-producing regions, the Belgians took a lot of notes from the cellar. Many Belgian beers are blended, barrel-aged, and then “bottle-conditioned,” a process resembling sparkling wine’s méthode champenoise (see Winespeak 101), in which a second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Bottle-conditioned beer isn’t disgorged as champagne is, so the finished product is cloudy, complex and filled with live yeasts that continue to evolve. With 8 to 11 percent alcohol, cork and cage closures and fancy labels instructing on proper decanting and glassware, these big beers have more in common with wine than they do with Bud Light.

Breweries will often bottle their limited editions or rare releases in large formats, sometimes even hand-numbering each bottle in the batch. Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton bottles two of its limited batch beers in large formats. The Mandolin, available March through July, is a single malt pale ale with citrus, floral flavors ideal for springtime.

Beer Run owner Josh Hunt stocks more than 100 varieties of 22-ounce and 750-milliliter beers. And, even though the big bottle is Belgian in origin, a slew of his selection comes from domestic breweries like Brooklyn Brewery and Ommegang Brewery in New York, The Bruery in Southern California, Dogfish Head and Stillwater Artisanal Ales in Maryland, and Allagash Brewing Company in Maine. He also carries local brews like Starr Hill’s Cryptical (an American Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels), Double Platinum (an Imperial Indian Pale Ale), and the Monticello Reserve Ale made to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s own 18th century brewskies. Hunt sees the new domestic trend toward large format bottles as “a cool way for the American craft brewers to be true to the Belgian style.” In fact, every Saturday night at Beer Run is Belgian Beer SNOB (Sharing Notes On Beer) Night, where thirsty patrons can get any of the 750-milliliter Belgian or Belgian-style beers free of the usual $3 capping charge.

One large bottle of beer holds four 6-ounce pours and costs anywhere from $9 to $24. As Hunt says,“They’re affordable enough to allow a table to crack open a bunch of different ones.” Let’s review: You get the size, the alcohol, the complexity, and the caché of a fine wine, but the price and taste of a cold beer. Isn’t sharing fun?

Grape stats

Did you know that grapes are one of the top 20 highest grossing agricultural commodities in Virginia? Most impressive given that agriculture is our state’s largest industry, providing more than 350,000 jobs and contributing more than $55 billion annually to our economy. With close to 200 wineries and more than 2,500 grape-bearing acres producing about $10 million in cash receipts, Virginia’s wine industry is ripe and ready to drink.

Winespeak 101

Méthode champenoise (n.): The traditional method of making champagne, which, among many other steps, requires that the carbon dioxide-producing secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, giving the wine complexity and character from close contact with yeast cells.
 

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