Sometimes We Just Drink: #18: Beltway Brewing HOV, aka Class of ’69 Cream Ale. Sterling, Virginia
Date: June 17 , 2019 —
The Story— To make a long story short….nah, why would I do that? But to clarify one point right away– I know this beer is not a cream ale. Sort of.
A couple of years ago I promised my Hamilton College reunion committee that I’d have a beer for the 50th Reunion, assuming Tuppers’ would be back in business by then. Ironically we brewed for the first time in almost 5 years one week before the reunion –not nearly early enough to produce a beer for the event. We knew Beltway Brewing did small runs of custom cans, however. For a minimum of 10 cases, they’ll help you design the can label and put pretty much anything “within reason” on it you want. I had intended to brew an extra hoppy cream ale — at least in part because the one-dollar pitchers of cream ale from Genesee and Utica Club were two of our favorite beers in the college’s pub.
A cream ale is light colored, lightly hopped, supposedly easy drinking beer. We’ve tasted over a hundred of them and the greatest shared characteristic is: they’re pretty awful. It would take too long for too little gain to actually run the numbers, but I believe there is no other style — except now maybe Gose– whose average score is lower than cream ale. There are exceptions, but they tend to bend, or in some cases shatter, the general guidelines. (We’ll talk about the exceptions over the next few days in this space.)
Our original intention was to capture some of the drinkability we loved in the 1960s with a hop flavor attuned to the 21st century. As it turned out we didn’t have to brew it– we just had to find it, rename it, design a label for it and haul it up to Hamilton College for a heck of a good midnight party on the back patio of a former fraternity house. It’s almost as light colored as a cream ale and it’s as easy to drink as a cream ale. It’s hoppier than all but a handful of the cream ales we’ve tasted; coincidentally, those hoppy cream ales were the only ones that reached “average” or “above average” in our tastings.
Beltway got its start brewing for other maxed-out breweries when craft beer soared after the turn of the century. Today, far fewer breweries are maxed out — some have added tanks, others’ sales have tanked– and Beltway is promoting more of its original products. The HOV Gold Ale is one of their regular products.
We rate gold ales a bit higher than cream ales in general, but I’m not a big fan of them either. UK brewers cask up low alcohol gold ales by the hundreds, but they taste like a flower shop by the end of the second pint. Beltway’s HOV, though, is a beautifully balanced gold ale, dangerously easy to drink– all night. We both liked it when we tasted it several months ago. When we had a chance to spend a night with it, we loved it even more. The balanced taste stays clean beer after beer (at least that’s what my classmates told me–uh huh), but what impressed me more is that the usual regrets after a post-midnight indulgence just weren’t there. For me, at least, this is as clean and gentle a beer as the masterpiece Helles lagers of Munich.
The Beer– Pale malt includes a touch of soft sweet bread, but enough hops keep it from cloying. A bit of fruit and a hint of metal follow. Not much drama, but nicely quaffable. Ellie’s notes mention a late interesting metal bitter along with the bread, and some sweet fruit before a bit of bitter (yeast?) and some slight hop oil set the stage for another healthy sip.
Value — Very good.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.
Sometimes we just stay home and drink beer — hundreds of them over the course of the year as we hunt for a new favorite. The searching for the beer of the day never stops, so for a while, there will be fewer travel-oriented posts and just some to-the-point descriptions of beers we’ve enjoyed.
We’re often asked to share our tasting notes on over 33,000 beers; this blog is in answer to those requests. Not all our notes, though. The great beer writer Michael Jackson admirably followed the Thumper Rule, and we’ll try to do the same. (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”) All the beers we post are from the top half of our ratings and most are from the top quarter. Of greater value, we think, are the stories behind the beers, and we try to give you enough about the brewery, the style and the places to find great beer to help you on your own beer journeys. At CulturAle Press we try to write books and publish posts that will help you “Drink Well and Travel Safely.”