I didn’t think I’d ever do this. I’m an eternal beer optimist. To me every flavor, every oddity has its place, has a context. I don’t sit at my computer and trash beers or brewers or breweries because at the end of the day we’re all just people trying to live our lives on this planet and there’s no point in berating someone else’s work. But I just opened a bottle of beer that pissed me off—even after I was told that it would piss me off—even after I tried to give it every chance I could.
That beer is the 2010 “Old Dominion Brewing Co” Millennium Ale.
Full disclosure: I never was a huge fan of Dominion. I always thought that their best beers were their contract beers, Tupper’s Hop Pocket in particular. When I was buying beer for Rick’s Wine & Gourmet, I’d stock plenty of Hop Pocket and when it was released Millennium as well. Millennium was never my favorite Barleywine, but I always found it enjoyable and a fine example of the style. It was nice as a Beer Geek in the DMV to be able to say that we had a local brewery that had come to be somewhat well known for craft beer styles.
When Anheuser-Busch (I’m sorry—I mean Coastal Brewing, a ‘joint venture’ between A/B and Fordham Brewing) purchased Old Dominion in 2007, myself and every customer who came by the shop could only shake our heads. Promises flew left and right about how the quality of the beer would remain unchanged; how A/B was dedicated to keeping Dominion a craft brewery and only wanted to expand the distribution possibilities. Our little local brewery was grown up and ready to hit the big time. Sure.
In August 2007 Hop Pocket was discontinued. The local legend hoppy Ale wouldn’t reappear for two and a half years. I stopped ordering OD beers (I was only really selling Hop Pocket anyway) making an exception for Millennium when it came out every year. The Old Dominion Brewfest died a quick, ignominious death (can’t promote craft beer if it’s not your craft beer I guess) and in August 2008, the brewpub itself was shut down. Brewing was moved to Fordham’s “Coastal Brewing Company” (quotes because I don’t even know what to call the place—Google “Coastal brewing company” and you’ll get Fordham’s website) in DOVER, DELAWARE.
Yes Virginia, there’s an Old Dominion Brewing Company—and it’s in freakin’ Delaware.
#1: Delaware is Dogfish country. Don’t front.
#2: This is where the insidiousness of marketing rears its ugly head. So many people try a Magic Hat or a Sierra Nevada seasonal, think they’re experts on beer, see a name like “Old Dominion” and jump on board thinking they’re supporting a local business and brewery. Old Dominion is a name being positioned by a multinational conglomerate to represent the Home of Presidents without giving one Virginian a job. If you go to a Nats game (and if you do I don’t even know what to tell you) and get a Dominion Ale on draft you’re being bamboozled. You may as well buy a goddamn Stella Artois to try to buy local—they own A/B now anyway.
So why get all worked up about it now, Nick? I’ll tell you why…this is tougher than I thought…
…Their beer sucks. There. I said it. The beer sucks. The Ale, the Lager, the friggin’ Root Beer were always middling at best, even before the outsourcing courtesy of A/B. To be fair I always enjoyed Oak Barrel Stout even though it had no right to be as good as I thought it was. Like I said, Tupper’s was always great and the New River Pale Ale was pretty good too (not my favorite, but always popular). The saving grace of Old Dominion Brewery for me was Millennium and it’s Oak Barrel Aged version.
But do me a couple favors: Go take a look at the huge towering stack of this years Millennium (gotta catch that consumer eye, gotta take as much space as possible) at your local supermarket/Total Wine/etc. Now, don’t buy the beer. That’s the first favor. What I want you to do next is take a look at the packaging. Read carefully, now: “Dominion Millennium Ale. Ale Brewed With Honey. Brewed & Bottled by Old Dominion Brewing Co, Dover DE”. The words “barley wine” are tucked away on the back label, which seems to be the only thing unchanged about this abortion.
There are hints of the beer Millennium used to be in this bottle. But what it really is now is about as Barleywine as Shock Top is a Belgian White. It’s an “Ale Brewed with Honey” all right; the front palate and finish are overwhelmingly honeyed. The feel is that of a foamy soda, with only the faintest hint of hop reminding you that yes, this is supposed to be a beer you’re drinking. Not that you’d get that from the flavor of banana chips that seems to be the thrust of the Millennium experience now. I gotta tell you, this is the part that pissed me off the most. I love banana chips, and this beer made me be angry at the flavor of them.
By the end of the bottle this fizzy mess just didn’t taste like much of anything anymore. It’s just as well, because Old Dominion Brewing doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. If you really want to support your local breweries, do it right. From Blue Mountain Brewery to Devil’s Backbone to Blue & Gray to Legend’s to Williamsburg Alewerks to Cap City and so many many more just getting started there are endless ways to support local real honest great craft beer. Ask your beer guy at the shop you frequent. Ask the bartender at the good beer bar you go to. Email writers you enjoy who live around the area. They’ll tell you what’s up.
We all want to do well by our neighbors. We all want our local businesses to succeed, because success breeds success and we can all take pride in something great that comes from our community. If you strive to buy organic, dine sustainable or if you buy food from the local farmers’ markets in the area, the least you can do is take the time to try what your true local breweries are putting out. The A/B’s of the world can find some other podunk state to hoodwink with fake “local” beer, but not here. Not in Virginia.
Don’t buy it.
There is no Old Dominion Brewing Company.
No more Old Dominion Brewing Company.