Thursday, January 25, 2018

☸️ Twinpanzee Brewing Co., Sterling

Four beer samplers in a rowWe continued our adventure in beer tourism this past weekend with a visit to Twinpanzee Brewing. Owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Maha Majdoub and Antonio Maradiaga, this small craft brewer had nine beers on tap, and a tenth blended of two of them, which we didn’t sample.

My Untappd beer ratings from Twinpanzee may be found here.

There are breweries where the beer remains middling, and there are breweries where the beer improves over time. Then there are the breweries where the brewmaster, through home-brewing practice or years in the trade, hits it out of the park right away. Twinpanzee, open just five months, is of the latter variety.

What does that mean about the beer? Antonio’s work, while showcasing his own take on a style, simultaneously exhibits both the straight-up flavor of that particular style (a hefeweizen, say) while also putting the flavor of his signature tweak (grapefruit in this one) on display, in perfect balance. Flavors mingle and blend, giving you much to think about and enjoy.

At the risk of overstating, I’ve been to many craft breweries. The ability to produce more than, say, four beers at this level is rare. Of the nine beers I sampled at Twinpanzee, six received a solid four-star or better rating, one getting five blew-my-socks-off stars, and I broke my whole numbers-only rating rule with 3.5 stars for a seventh.

All of this is to say that Twinpanzee showed me an array of beer that you should go sample, soon. Next weekend. I was that excited about their beer.

The facility is a modest unit in a light industrial park north of Dulles airport, among a cluster of craft brewers scattered about the area. A bold dash of red paint on the front wall brightens the space, which is well lit and home to a hard-topped, L-shaped bar. The taps face the door, attached to the front of the cold room. Bathrooms are to the right. Seating is metal and wood bar stools and low four-top tables, and a shelf runs along the walls for those who prefer to stand. Televisions are mounted up high, showing sports programming. The brewhouse is located behind the cold room, walled off with plywood. I wasn’t able to view the tanks or beer-making apparatus.

We settled in and ordered two flights of everything.

First up was a straight-up kolsch, a particularly fine ale style that I think of as a sort of champagne of beers. Delicate of flavor, high in effervescence, this style makes an ideal hot weather drink. While my comment at the time was generally positive, but desirous of a wee more flavor, on reflection I think this one was just right. Its 5.7% ABV was invisible; think of it as drinking a lovely Prosecco. Kelly would have enjoyed a pint of this.

I’ve had good kolsch elsewhere. It’s not on many brew menus, and for good reason. This goes to a notion I have about craft brewers that’s not often fulfilled.

A product labeled craft should be able to show me beer brewed straight-up, meaning no tweaks, additives, barrel aging, or other jazz outside the German Reinheitsgebot. A kolsch style beer is a way to demonstrate this, because its delicate malt and mild hopping leave nowhere to hide brewing errors. It’s always the first sampled; its flavor should be too mild to follow anything else. Again, nothing to mask the brewer’s handiwork, such as a hoppy IPA sampled immediately prior.

Twinpanzee’s kolsch showed off a successful effort at straight-up brewing.

Our next sample, Lawnmower Mangg, is billed as a session ale. Lower in ABV at 3.8% and tweaked with a hint of lime zest, the moderate malt flavor and mild hopping let through only the refreshing nature of lime—no sour oiliness—and defied any particular style name. It is simply an ale, because it was brewed with ale yeast. This sample put Antonio’s flavor blending acumen on display, laying traditional floral ale flavor alongside just enough citrus lime to balance the two.

This was the first of Twinpanzee’s beers that got my full attention. A good kolsch is always a nice find, but balancing flavors, like balancing malt and hops just right, is a skill of its own.

Finishing this beer, my thoughts were along the lines of two beers, four stars each, what’s going on here? I’m either in for a disappointment from the rest of the menu, or this will be a memorable afternoon. Too often brewers have two or three beers that resonate with my palate, and the rest are fine for someone else. Giving away the end of this story, we had a hell of a memorable afternoon ahead of us.

Twinpanzee’s grapefruit-punched hefeweizen was up next. I’m a fan of hefes, though not so much those that lean heavily on clove-like flavor-producing yeast. Antonio employed a yeast strain producing signature hefe banana flavor, but no clove. Laid up alongside the traditional hefe flavor was grapefruit—not grapefruit from citrus-like American hops, but rather from zest and juice—that again well-balanced the beer flavors.

Three beers, three four-star ratings. I don’t think this has happened before.

Their brown ale was solid for the style, and incorporated toasted coconut that added to this beer’s richness. I’m a fan of brown ales. I’d say this was a good representation, and the toasted coconut earned it an extra half-star for its unexpected finish.

There were two IPAs on tap for our visit. Both were at least very good, while one was the five-star standout of the day for me. Better Than Bling’s aroma hops were amazing, and the distinctive flavors emerging from this beer added to my enjoyment. Though I’ve developed a palate for IPAs over the past few years, I’m generally not a fan of heavily hopped beers. This one was pungent and outstanding. I’d bring this home in a growler.

The other IPA, Am I For Rillo?, puts a solid malt backbone under different hops, making it somewhat heartier than Bling. The combination yields a beer worthy of four stars. It’s a very good example of the style, but probably suffered from following Bling. I’d try them in the opposite order next time just to see how each changes on my palate.

The last beer I want to cover is Twinpanzee’s oatmeal stout, Camisa Negra. So often brewers overdo their stout with too much roasted malt, leaving the beer somewhat bitter. I guess their logic is more is darker, and darker is better, because it’s a stout. Well, Camisa was thoroughly dark enough, yet refined in flavor and dry at the finish just as an oatmeal stout should be, without a hint of over-malting.

Along with the beers we had the pleasure of conversation with Donna, the bartender at Twinpanzee, and co-owner and CFO Maha. Both are beer fans with broad knowledge of the brewing that goes into each beer.

We had a long chat about Twinpanzee’s work to get their labor of love open and serving beer. There was a lot more labor than love on the front end, but now that they’re into a space and producing beer their future is bright.

If I’ve been extra effusive about Twinpanzee, it’s for good reason. While the facility is modest and the locale industrial, the product is collectively among the best I’ve had from the many breweries I’ve visited. I’ve left breweries enjoying but two of their beers, departed others wondering how they get rave reviews serving one-dimensional IPA and everything else rested in flavor-changing bourbon or wine barrels. Not so here.

What you get at Twinpanzee is nothing but great beer. To obtain direct knowledge of their brewing skill, you need sample but three beers: Far From Lonely kolsch, Better Than Bling IPA, and Camisa Negra stout.

Bring your growler, because you’re going to want to take some home.

#TwinpanzeeBrewing #craftBeer #Sterling #Dulles