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Want Great Beer? Get a Shovel

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It's difficult to accuse David Rhode and Bill Lawson of not following instructions.

Especially in the intake of boutique microbrew beers, these two longtime brew buddies excel in their adherence to following all of the manufacturer's suggestions for consumption.

Such is their devotion to directions that the two invented a festival, the Richmond Beer Dig, which took place this year on March 8. The party comes complete with bizarre ritualized activities, devoted adherents and commemorative T-shirts.

It all started with one whimsical beer label pasted to an equally whimsical beer, a bottle of Olde School barley wine made by Delaware-based Dogfish Head brewery. The beer provides two recommendations for consumption: 1) open and drink, or 2) bury in the woods and return a year later to dig it up and drink what brewers suggest is a completely different, aged beer.

“We bought one of those [several] years ago and we said ‘Well, let’s go ahead and put one in the ground,'” says Lawson, who acknowledges getting somewhat carried away with the idea that first year. Somewhere around 30 or 40 bottles of beer entered up in the ground at his house.

The following year, Lawson, Rhode and about a half-dozen mystified friends — and a couple of very indulgent wives — returned to the spot, dug up the stash and drank what all agreed was some of the best age-conditioned beer that ever passed their parched but discerning lips.
It was so good, in fact, that Rhode and Lawson decided to bury back some of the beers and add to the stash — just to see if what went back in the hole might become even better with an extra year of age.

Turns out the Beer Dig ritual, which marked its seventh year Sunday, is based in science. Beer with high alcohol content — 9 percent or more is best — goes in the ground with the yeast still alive and with plenty of sugar still to be consumed.

Not surprisingly, some the of beer comes back sort of skunky. Some bottles were compromised by rusted caps. But a lot of it emerges even more awesome than before.

Rhode says he's made calls and done Internet searches to try to determine if anyone else has ever made it past the first set of instructions on the label.

Whether or not they're alone, he's glad they kept reading and decided to fetch a shovel.

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