Thursday, February 8, 2018

☸️ Sinistral Brewing Co., Manassas

The bar area at Sinistral Brewing CompanyWe journeyed to nearby Old Town Manassas this past weekend, for a visit to Sinistral Brewing Company. The taproom and adjoining brewery are tucked alongside the rail line the runs through this historic Virginia town, just a couple of blocks east of the Manassas train station. Old Town Manassas is a beautiful, walkable town with many small shops and eateries, so an afternoon spent at Sinistral need not end when you’ve had enough beer.

As usual, my Untappd ratings from this visit may be found here.

We parked across the street in a tiny open-air lot, but a hundred feet or so down the street is a multi-level parking garage. Parking is free on the weekend, so there’s no shortage of spaces and no hurry to move the car.

Sinistral’s taproom is broken up into roughly two-thirds bar area at the back, and one-third tables and bathrooms closer to the front. The space is long, narrow, and nicely decorated. A wall of windows to the right are hung on garage half-door panels, which roll up to the ceiling for warmer weather. A well-appointed patio with propane heaters and fire pits among the seating is just out the side door. A locked cabinet of mugs for the customer mug club adorns the left wall, as does the bar.

The bar was close to full-up when arrived, and the table next to it filled by the time we had our flights. Neal and I were exiled to the front room. No matter, it was quieter there allowing for conversation at a normal volume.

Sinistral had seven beers on tap for our visit: a cream ale, an amber ale, a brown ale infused with coffee, two IPAs (one a New England style infused with mango), a porter, and their winter ale. They earned two four-star ratings and one five-star among them.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was Buffalo Thief Brown Ale. Traditionally a roasted malt beer on the lighter side of a porter, Sinistral’s version was a tad lighter than most and possessed just the right degree of coffee infusion. I imagine they made a cold brew of the grounds and slipped them into the secondary or brite tank. The balance between moderate malt and coffee was just right. Neal, not usually a brown ale fan, was impressed as well. Five stars.

Six beer samplers with numbered key cardTheir Little Grey IPA was also quite nice, garnering a four-star review. While I’ve gained an appreciation for hop-heavy beers over the years, I still want to taste a malt backbone from them. That’s critical to a well-balanced beer. Little Grey delivers, with a mild, malty sweetness that lingered on my palate. The hops had a floral scent and moderate citrus flavor, giving this beer a complex, yet well-balanced appeal.

I was less enthused by UBetcha NEIPA, a New England-style IPA. Sinistral’s version incorporates mango, and while that fruit goes well with the style’s renowned hop fruitiness I found the mildly astringent back-end flavor of that fruit off-putting alongside the hops. I contrasted this sample with Wort Hog Brewing’s Shenandoah Haze New England IPA, and I think the mango was the undoing of this one for me.

Neal was very positive on it, though, and as he’s an IPA aficionado I’d follow his enthusiastic recommendation if IPAs are what you’re looking for.

Of the remaining beers we sampled, Moo Man’s Cream Ale earned the other four-star rating. Cream ales are an upside-down style, and the mirror image of a steam beer. Brewed as an ale with top-fermenting (ale) yeast, they also may incorporate lager yeast and/or cold conditioning, which is a maturing and clarifying step used with lagers. Moo Man’s was crisp and clean as a result, and finished with a very mild sour note. This is a terrific warm-weather beer, right up there with a kölsch or a Czech pilsner.

St. Nix Fix Winter Ale proved to be what I usually find in “winter warmer” beers—a little too much spice covering an abundance of alcohol. There are ways a brewer can overcome alcohol flavor in a high-ABV beer. Winter ales traditionally employ a variety of holiday season baking spices, enhancing the flavor and cloaking the alcohol, but for me these spices never cloak it well and leave an unpleasant taste on my palate. As a result there are very few winter warmers that get a good rating from me. This was not one of them.

We didn’t have the opportunity to chat up the bar staff, who were uniformly friendly and quick on the taps. Given the crowd at the bar on an early Saturday afternoon and the number of mug club mugs on display, Sinistral appears to be a local favorite. Their beer alone makes them worth a visit.

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