As a music lover, I have had the opportunity to watch one of our locals grow from the early days of his band Double Barrel Darrel, and then the Goldmine Pickers. Many of you may already know that I am speaking of Jay Lapp. Although Jay now lives in Ann Arbor, MI, he has teamed up with Trent Wagler, Eric Brubaker, and Brian Dickel to form the award winning Steel Wheels, based in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Now, you are probably wondering what the connection is between The Steel Wheels and beer, other than my sharing many beers with the band over the years. The band tours all over the country and often they play taverns and breweries. One of these such venues is Blue Mountain Brewery, located in Afton, VA, just a stone's throw from where the band is based in Harrisonburg, VA.
Jay speaks highly of brewery owners, Taylor Smack and Mandi Stintzi. According to him, back in the formidable days of both the brewery and the band, “We would play at their brewery and they would take great care of us and it was always a fun time.” A few years later, Taylor and Mandi offered to name a beer for the band, and the band gladly accepted.
The brewery chose an ESB (extra special bitter) style to bear the band's name. Taylor told me this was “because it was a great, easy drinking flavorful style that was prevalent during the early heydey of the mid '90s, but has fallen by the wayside since. ESB's are rich and rewarding, not over the top or in your face; we thought it represented the music of The Steel Wheels well.” Taylor and Mandi continue to attend local shows and sometimes even offer fun beer tastings when they can. They try to make the beer available at as many shows as possible and it has made appearances as far away as Charlotte, NC, Michigan and Texas. The brewery even sponsored the inaugural Red Wing Roots Festival this past year.
Steel Wheels ESB (6.5% ABV, IBUs 30) is crafted by the sister brewery (same brewer) Blue Mountain Barrel House. Originally this beer was bottled in beautiful 750 ml corked & caged bottles, but shortly after the brewery began canning it in six packs – perfect for music festivals, parks, and other locations where glass in not allowed. Although it is not distributed in Indiana yet, you can find this beer in Michigan, as well as up and down the eastern seaboard. I found it at Tiffany's Wine and Spirits in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately, I had to pay $14.99 for the bottle, but Taylor has assured me that it is only $6.99 for a 750 ml bottle and $7.99 for a six pack of cans at the brewery. So, I'm not sure where the mark up came, but hopefully the price will be better next time I look for it in Michigan.
The beer quite enjoyable with a bready malt flavor alongside some toasty, sweetness. The hop flavor is fairly subtle, as is the alcohol level, which is very appropriate for an ESB. Here is the description from the website:
“The music of The Steel Wheels and the beer from Blue Mountain are both original and handcrafted, with inspired Americana flavors from the heart of Virginia. Our collaboration E.S.B. draws from the past with British crystal malts and Scottish yeast, but uses American hops to put our own stamp on the creation. Like this beer, The Steel Wheels draw you in from the first sip … not because their music is loud or in your face, but because it's surprising and original, and because its inspirations – a story, a character, a memory – have been brewed with just the right ingredients. Take time to drink slowly and listen truly. Wherever you are, get ready to sing along, to harmonize. Maybe even get up and dance.”
This is not the first beer to be named after the Steel Wheels. Several of their tours have been done on bicycle, (yes, with special trailers and cases for all of the instruments including the stand up bass) and one of these tours took them to The Livery in Benton Harbor, MI. Currently, The Livery has Steel Wheels Oatmeal Stout (6.5% ABV) on tap.
On Thursday, February 13th, I was able to travel to Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo for a Steel Wheels show that was amazing. If you can't drink Steel Wheels ESB, a Bell's Le Bretteur or Baltic Porter will suit just fine. I was very happy to see a good turn out from the Goshen area, and they closed out their second encore with an un-miked version of the bluegrass tune Working on a Building, played from the middle of the audience.