New brewery wants to tap into under-served market

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Although Reason head brewer Mark Fulton loves making and drinking IPAs, he wanted to tap into an underserved segment of the local beer market by offering beers with an ABV lower than 5 percent. Photo by Tom McGovern. Although Reason head brewer Mark Fulton loves making and drinking IPAs, he wanted to tap into an underserved segment of the local beer market by offering beers with an ABV lower than 5 percent. Photo by Tom McGovern.

Charlottesville’s newest brewery will open without an IPA. That is not a typo. Mark Fulton, head brewer at Reason Brewery, has four beers planned for the July opening, and none of them will be a standard-issue bitter palate bomb or even have an ABV of more than 5 percent.

Reason’s reason for avoiding IPAs is to stake out an identity sharply different from the other local breweries in a field that is starting to feel a bit crowded.

“These other breweries are already doing an excellent job of making IPAs and double IPAs,” Fulton says. “I like making them, I like drinking them, but it felt like an opportunity to identify an under-served segment of the craft beer market.”

Reason’s reason for avoiding IPAs is to stake out an identity sharply different from the other local breweries in a field that is starting to feel a bit crowded.

Fulton grew up in Charlottesville but moved to establish himself as a successful brewer at other people’s breweries. He left the top job at Maine Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, to come home and partner with high school friends J. Patrick Adair and Jeff Raileanu, and open a brewery and taproom.

His flagship beer will be a blonde ale that clocks in at only 4 percent ABV. It is mild with a hint of floral aroma from a touch of cascades hops, and it has a smooth finish from the restrained use of oats and wheat with Hallertauer hops. It is clean and sparse with no room for error on the brewer’s part. The slightest problem with temperature or contamination would wreck this thing, which speaks to Fulton’s skill.

Can a super-calm beer with an ABV lower than Keith Richards’ sweat succeed as a flagship beer? Charlottesville drinks Champion Brewery’s Shower Beer (4.5 percent ABV) at a rate only slightly slower than water, so Fulton might be on to something. All of Reason’s beer, at least initially, will fit into this mold: low ABV, little bitterness, totally chill.

Fulton poured me a small glass of his new pale ale. The amazing thing about it is that it is an actual pale ale. Following the IPA arms race of the past decade, a standard IPA now tastes like a double IPA did in 2000, and a pale ale tastes like an IPA of yore. Double IPAs of today were previously known as Pine-Sol. Almost nothing tastes like a pale ale anymore, except for Reason’s mild, pleasantly cloudy (I like cloudy beer because the vitamin B in that yeast means that it’s practically medicinal) beer that seems to have time-traveled from the 1990s.

Reason’s other beers have not been made yet, so they were not available for me to taste, but a planned saison will also be a retro brew.

That Belgian and French farmhouse style has been boosted and redefined by major producers such as Brasserie Dupont, which has popularized it in the U.S. as a high ABV ale of around 7-9 percent. They put it in wine bottles and make it feel like the real Champagne of beers. But historically, saison was brewed for field hands to drink during the harvest. It used to be fairly low in alcohol content and was often made using whatever fermentables were around, including oats, wheat and barley.

And that’s Fulton’s intended approach to a saison. It will be under 5 percent and likely a stark contrast to the polished saisons coming out of Brasserie Saison on the Downtown Mall right now. Reason also plans to offer cold-brew coffee served on nitro, like Guinness stout.

One potential roadblock to trying these new beers: finding the place. Reason is located in a large industrial building hidden behind the Guadalajara restaurant on 29 North (official address is 1180 Seminole Trl., Suite 290).

There isn’t another brewery close to Reason’s out-of-the-way location. Even so, is there really enough business left to support yet another local Charlottesville brewery?

“I look at it and say absolutely,” Fulton says. “I was brewing in Portland, Maine, which is a bit bigger than Charlottesville but not by much, and we had 20 breweries. A good test is go into any restaurant in Charlottesville that focuses on local food and craft beer…look down the line of taps. How many are not Charlottesville breweries; how many of those could be?”

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