FOOD- THE DISH- Heads up! Do we now have a budding beer trail?

Starr Hill Brewery's Mark Thompson put us on the beer map with his award-winning brews. Now other brew masters have joined him.

As the Washington Post discovered recently [Virginia Is Also for Beer Lovers, by Jenny Mayo, published January 21, 2009], Thomas Jefferson was the area's first brew-master (Is there anything that guy didn't do!), growing his own hops and grain at Monticello and brewing both beer and cider for his guests. Flash forward a couple hundred years, and it's the Starr Hill Brewing Company in Crozet, South Street Brewery downtown, the Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, and the Devil's Backbone Brewing Company near Wintergreen carrying on the tradition.

So what was there verdict? Although the Post refrained from passing judgement, they did seem to like the Blue Mountain Brewery's penchant for risk taking, mentioning the Afton brewery's Double Barrel-Aged Chocolate Cherry Imperial Bourbon Stout, brewed with cocoa nibs and cherries in bourbon and wine barrels.

At Starr Hill, they deemed a limited-edition lime and ginger flavored brew called Lucy "delicious." At Devil's Backbone, they took time out to identify Tom Peloso of the band Modest Mouse in the crowd, and suggested the place lacked atmosphere without saying why.

Strange. From what we could tell the place looks like everything you'd expect at a Nelson County beer hall– beautiful wooden tables, lots of stonework, high ceilings, brass bar fixtures, and even a moose head over the fireplace. And at South Street the copper bar and fireplace get some press.

Overall, though, a nice romp and swill through our budding beer trail, which appears to have left the writer and her boyfriend a bit tipsy!

"We were excited about the area's Beer trail being recognized," says Devil's Backbone general manager Chris Trotter, which he says is what the area breweries and Nelson County's tourism board have been trying to promote for some time. "Beer geeks are very well networked, and we've had people visit from as far away as Richmond and DC."

As Trotter admits, Mark Thompson's famed Starr Hill Brewing Company has had alot to do with making the area a beer destination. A year ago, Starr Hill struck a national distribution deal with Anheuser-Busch, which has plans to ship the award-winning stuff all over the country. And, of course, we have Starr Hill's founding brew master Mark Thompson, a kind of beer pontificator. 

"God put me on this earth for this purpose," he told the Hook last year. "Every culture in the world has a fermented, cereal grain beverage that people use to sit around and talk. I'm a steward of the product that enhances this thing we call life."

But with Starr Hill in Crozet and the Blue Mountain Brewery just down the road, aren't places like Devil's Backbone worried about the competition? 

"We enjoy the fact that we have Blue Mountain up the road," he says. "Yes, it's competition, but as our owner likes to say, a rising tide floats all boats."

Indeed, if it weren't for the fact that our area breweries seem to be multiplying, it's unlikely the Post would have visited.

So might more breweries begin popping up like wineries? 

Trotter wouldn't be surpised. "People's palates," he says, "are becoming more discerning when it comes to beer."


Restaurant spending will rise in ‘09, report says

According to Forbes, one of the 10 things we're still buying in this crippled economy is food. No, duh! Of course, they mean restaurant spending specifically. The good news? The National Restaurant Association predicts that we'll spend a whopping $566 billion at restaurants this year, 2.5 percent more than last year. The bad news? It won't be at nice restaurants. They say that four-star restaurants will see a decline this year, while fast food restaurants and other places to get cheap eats will get the cash.

Bad peanut butter update

If you're like Dish, you've heard of the salmonella outbreak caused by peanut butter but don't know much more than that. Should we stop eating peanut butter? Where are people getting sick? Who is making the bad stuff? And how bad is it? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now has an update on its website regarding the salmonella outbreak. Since September 2008, there have been 491 cases across the country, including 20 in Virginia. Of those, 48 percent have been women, 22 percent have been hospitalized, and seven have died.

Georgia-based King Nut brand creamy peanut butter has been identified as the likely source of the outbreak, but investigators say that "180 peanut butter-containing products produced by a variety of companies may have been made with the ingredients recalled by the Peanut Corporation of America." 

Jeeze, talk about a reason to eat organic and local!

People are being advised to dispose of Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers and King Nut brand peanut butter produced since July 1, 2008. It is also recommended that you not eat other products that contain peanut butter, such as cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, and ice cream.

For more detailed information, visit the CDCP website at