Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Dreich Delights

Dreich is perhaps my favourite Scots word, I can think of few words that more perfectly fit what it describes. Dreich means "bleak" or "dreary", and is most commonly used to refer to the weather, those grey days, awash with a dispiriting drizzle, where the clock seems to slow to a crawl, as the tick and the tock ring louder in your head. A dreich day is one where the clouds are a uniform mirk, without even the occasional white patch to give you a merest glimmer of hope that the rain will end. Although I grew up primarily in the Western Isles on Scotland's west coast, my folk are actually from the other coast, from the Fraserburgh area. When I think of dreich, I am reminded of a miserable stroll in Aberdeen as a teenager, the rain settling on my jacket and staying put, the clouds so heavy with moisture that even the city's famous granite took on an enhanced, lustreless, grey.

Saturday in central Virginia was dreich, gey dreich, as the remnants of Hurricane Ian drifted up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a day for comfort clothes, pots of tea, and whatever mindless shite the kids wanted to watch on the idiot box - I am starting to worry about their love of screens, but that's not the point of my post. I pondered lighting the first fire of the season, but the wind was whipping along at 20mph and I have an in built fear of a chimney fire. Into this revelry of gloom came a text message from Jason at Devils Backbone...

Alt Bier was on tap and wouldn't last the weekend, also on tap was Ein Kölsch, O'Fest, and a bevvy of other Germanic delights that Jason knows I am fan of. I hadn't known that the Alt Bier was on because the Devils Backbone website didn't have it on the beer list, I had seen nothing from them on Instagram or Twitter, and I don't do Untappd. Barely 15 minutes later Mrs V and I had bundled the twins into the car and were headed off on the near 50 mile drive to the original Devils Backbone brewpub, Basecamp, in Nelson County. The rain was incessant, the clouds pressing down, but the thought of an afternoon at Basecamp was lifting our spirits, well mine at least, Mrs V lost her voice last week so god knows what she actually thought. The kids also love a trip to Devils Backbone, when we told them we needed to get ready to go, the oldest one, Fin, ran to fridge, grabbed a bottle of O'Fest and proclaimed "we can drink this at Devils Backbone"...well, daddy can, soon enough Fin, soon enough.

Thankfully my theory about dreich weather and it's impact on the touring classes of American life held up and Basecamp wasn't wildly busy...sat in a booth, there could be only one beer to begin with.

Altbier is something of a rarity in the US, at least in this part of Virginia, an altbier that is made without the "benefit" of crystal malt even rarer - I have said this many times in various contexts, but crystal malt sweetness in Germanic style beer just tastes wrong. Assuming that Jason brewed this batch in the same way as the most recent handful, there are even fewer US altbiers being brewed with open fermentation and extended lagering in horizontal tanks. It is a beer that I love and would usually have stuck to for the duration of our stay, but it is the time of year for all things German, or at least Germanish, and I wanted to have O'Fest on tap - very, very nice it was too.

The Germanic theme was carried over on to the menu, wurst and schnitzel galore, including a dish called "Elk Jägerschnitzel" that sounded marvellous, so I ordered it, eschewing a potato based side and sticking with the cucumber salad as accompaniment. The schnitzel was topped with roasted mushrooms in a brown gravy like sauce, and if you have never eaten elk then hunt it out. It was as the schnitzel was being devoured that I looked around the brewpub that Mrs V and I have been frequenting since 2009 and it dawned on me just how much I love the place. It is irrelevant to me that the business is owned by Anheuser-Busch, Basecamp is pretty much as it has been all along, nothing much has changed. Sure it is bigger, and has more facilities, but sat in the booth it was evident that the heart and soul of Devils Backbone still beats there.

Feeling vaguely nostalgic, as much as one can do for a place that still exists and has barely changed, I had a half litre of an Oktoberfest themed beer that you won't see in the shops, 1872 Steinlifter. 1872 is touted as an old school märzen as opposed to the modern pale festbier that you would be served in Munich. O'Fest on the other hand is a modern Festbier, and in my opinion a damned excellent one. As we were leaving, I picked up a crowler of both the O'Fest and 1872 to do a side by side tasting, with a slightly heretical notion pottering around my head as I drove home listening to the gemütlichkeit that is Versengold's "Funkenflug" album...


Yes, that is a hurdy-gurdy. The world needs more hurdy-gurdy.

Come Sunday afternoon I had abandoned plans to taste the modern and ancient Oktoberfest lagers side by side, the dreich of Ian's remnants lingering on. I wanted to test my heretical theory that had been on my mind. 1872 reminded me distinctly of my favourite beer at this time of the year...Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, and with a fair old stash in the fridge what better opportunity to compare them.

Having poured half a crowler's worth into my Chodovar mug, it was clear to me that the colour of 1872 was very much in the same ball park as Ayinger. The malt complexity likewise reminded me of Ayinger, with lots of crusty bread, crackers, and honey all layered on top of each other, finishing with a slightly spicy hop finish, think nutmeg and cinnamon. Where the two beers really parted way though was that Ayinger is heavier in the finish, with a wallopingly dense mouthfeel that 1872 doesn't have to such a degree. Here is my heresy then, 1872 is more drinkable, more maß-able you might say.

1872 is only available, to the best of my knowledge, at the Basecamp brewpub, so if you are in the area make a beeline for it, though keep in mind there is a music festival down there this weekend, so you'll need to get there before Friday or after Monday. If you are going to Hoopla and you see it on tap, have at it, there are few darker style märzens available in the US right now that are this good.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Places New...to Me

I am sure I have mentioned this several times, but I am an abysmal beer tourist. I do have a rule that I like to give a new brewery at least 6 months before visiting so they can get the hang of their equipment and start churning out the best beers they are able to. If brewing systems were just plug and play, we wouldn't need brewers now would we? The problem with my 6 month rule is that I am not strict about getting to places once that 6 months is up, and so there are a handful of breweries in central Virginia that I haven't visited because, well, like I said, I am an abysmal beer tourist.

Recently though, I have resolved to try and be better at getting to some of the newer breweries within easy reach of my house, as a result of which I have found a few places that have become, or are very likely to become, fairly regular hangouts.

Patch Brewing is just on the outskirts of Gordonsville, basically a large village that for some reason gets to call itself a town. It is not the first brewery in Gordonsville, that honour goes to Champion Icehouse, but it is the one that I go to with way more regularity. Housed in a former Veterans of Foreign Wars building, they have, I think, 14 acres of land, and plans to basically become a beer hall, beer garden, pick your own berry farm, and several other things all rolled into one. The brewer, Erik, spent several years working under the tutelage of Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone Basecamp, and so you know he knows what he is doing.

Despite being open since October 2021, they have only recently got their own brewing equipment installed (yay COVID!), and so have been brewing at Devils Backbone. Erik has clearly brought some of the Devils Backbone influence to his equipment with him, with horizontal lagering tanks being part of the setup - maybe I am crazy but horizontal tanks are just nicer to look at that endless rows of CCVs. My first trip to Patch was actually last November, when they had only been open for about 6 weeks, as my best mate was in town and we'd been hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, along with my neighbour, stop 1 was so horrific that I will never grace the place with my presence again. It was our second stop of the day before heading home for continued boozing around the fire pit. Being something like a 7 minute drive from my house to the brewery, it is supremely convenient, and I have several friends who work there, so it is always good to get along for a pint, or three.

On the beer front, their Pylon Pilsner is a good, solid German style pilsner, replete with the requisite, at least in my world, noble hop bitterness that so many other pilsners seem to shy away from. I also have a soft spot for their brown ale, A Stone in the Woods. Hopefully this weekend I will find some time to venture out into the remnants of Hurricane Ian as it impacts central Virginia and try their new märzen, Germanna, and a dunkelweizen (a rarity in the US) called 1714 for the year the first German colonists came to Orange County.

Heading into Charlottesville, one new name on the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian Beers this year was Decipher Brewing, and I can tell you now that they will be featuring quite a bit for the annual Fuggled Review of the Year in December. But first a story. As you may recall, I made a batch of my homebrew best bitter with Murphy & Rude Malting Company back in the late spring, using just their malts - which have now become the standard for that recipe as they improved it so much. On the day that I was due to go and try the beer with Jeff and co at the malthouse, Mrs V and I arrived early, so wandered up to Decipher Brewing for a quick pint whilst waiting for Jeff. There were still 10 minutes to opening time, but the bar staff that day welcomed us in and soon enough a pint of their 80/- Scottish ale was sitting in front of me, and I loved it. When I saw that they had a Czech style pale lager coming soon, I naturally inquired as to dates, and resolved that the following Friday I would get along to give it a bash, and I loved it.

Saaz, lots of Saaz, that's how I would describe Krypto, in the case of the picture above poured from a Lukr tap. This is a very, very respectable Czech style pale lager, if I were to quibble (what? Beer bloggers quibbling? Never!) then I would say that it would be even better with a decoction, or two, chucked into the mash schedule for some Maillard reactions to fill out the malt profile a little. Sitting in their little garden area with a pint after work on a Friday afternoon has become something of a thing for me in recent months. The beer is very good, as evidenced by their taking the Virginia Craft Brewers' crown this year, the ambience is chilled out, laid back, and decidedly unsceney (Mrs V and I have a shared aversion to places that become scenes). Oh, and they did a grodziskie, and I loved it.

Oh, and they did a smoked bock, and I loved it.

Decipher are one of only 4 Virginia breweries that are pouring at the Great American Beer Festival next week, so if you are there, check them out - I believe they will be pouring Krypto and the smoked bock.

Last week I got a message on Instagram from the brewer at Selvedge Brewing, also in Charlottlesville, just round the corner from Decipher actually. The message, accompanied by a picture of a fine looking glass of beer, was to tell me that they were releasing a German style festbier and that he knows I do a big Oktoberfest (märzen and festbiers) tasting around this time year, come on down and try the wares...

A couple of days later I tested positive for COVID, so that had to go on hold until the 10 days of quarantine were over. With that suitably out of the way, I finally made it to Selvedge, which is located in a renovated wool mill, in the Woolen Mills area of the city. Think repurposed 19th century brick and glass built factory and you'll get a sense of how it looks, as a fan of industrial architecture, I loved the high ceilings and light streaming in through the windows. There was an outdoor event going on when I was there, thankfully the inside bar was empty, so I pulled up a seat and ordered a pint of Tracht...

What a lovely beer it is. The crackeriness of pilsner malt, the sweet bready malt of Munich, and hops, a good amount of hops for a clean bitterness, if I remember rightly from Perle, and dollops of Hallertau Mittelfrüh for a slightly spicy finish. While I was sat at the bar, Josh, the brewer, came and sat for a chat and we discussed his plans for the brewery, having only taken the reins in the summer. From what I understand there will be a new larger location in the near future, and he plans to make authentic lagers a central theme of the brewery - any guesses how excited I am at that?

Naturally I tried a couple of the other beers on tap. Poplin is an Italian Pilsner - admittedly a style that seems a little contrived to me, if dry hopping a German pilsner a la Tipopils makes it Italian, does that mean Port City's dry hopping of their Czech style pale lager, Downright Pilsner, makes it a Virginia Pilsner? Either way, Poplin is a veritable carousel of noble hop flavour and aroma that I rather enjoyed, though I have to admit to following it up with another Tracht. 

One of the beer styles that I often find annoying in the US is Kölsch, I just find that they don't live up to the bright, sparkling, refreshing beer that the breweries of Cologne churn out, Selvedge's Linen bucks that trend, and is glorious into the bargain. Mrs V is a fan of the Kölsch style, so I look forward to getting a baby sitter to deal with the twins, so we can have a date afternoon/evening. As we sat discussing the merits of decoction mashing, open fermentation, and the like, Josh mentioned that it took being in Cologne for 16 hours to really get a sense of what Kölsch should be, and how important authentic yeast is to the style, pointing out that many a US brewery just uses good old neutral Chico...and thus it made sense why I found it disappointing over here. For fear of being type cast, I followed it up with another Tracht, did I mention yet that it is a lovely festbier, and hopefully there will be some still knocking around this weekend.

Each of the three breweries here have been open since at least last November, and in Decipher's case for a few years now, but as I said, I am an abysmal beer tourist, even on my own front door. I am glad though that we have them, and when I talk to folks working in them about their plans, I feel like times are going to be good ahead for this unbashed lager boy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Of Style and Substance

I can almost hear a collective groan as I type the following words....beer style.

Beer styles are simply part of life, it's how a brewer indicates to a drinker what to expect from the liquid they are about to consume. Styles are essentially shorthand, if I tell you I am drinking a Czech Pale Lager, it puts an image in your mind, likewise porter, amber ale, and so on and so forth. 

Styles also have their place in the beer judging world for competition, I know of at least one instance for example where an excellent "Scotch ale" was entered by a local brewery here in Virginia as a "Scottish ale", and got roundly panned for being too strong, too sweet, altogether "not to style". Well, of course it wasn't "to style" because it had accidently been entered into the wrong style.

Sometimes though, the "style" just isn't apparent from the label on the can. Take this for example:

I wasn't entirely sure what "style" of beer I was buying here. The name didn't really help much either, was it a helles or was it a festbier? Of course, festbier is basically a strong helles, so again we are perhaps going round in unnecessary circles. I wanted to know though as it is the time of year when I gather up as many märzens and festbiers that I can lay my hands on for my annual Okotberfest Maß Tasting. Anyway, a quick text to the brewer and it is being marketed as a helles, a 5.5% abv helles, hopped with 30 IBUs of Hallertau.

According to the GABF style guidelines, the booze is spot on, but the hopping is too much for the Munich Helles style. The BJCP guidelines on the other hand have it both to strong and having too many IBUs. As a "Festbier", which GABF calls "German Style Oktoberfest/Wiesn", it is just a touch too strong, and again has too many IBUs, but BJCP has it being too weak and with too many IBUs for its Festbier definition.

A random thought popped into my head, maybe it's a Dortmunder....? Nope, GABF says it has too many IBUs for Dortmunder, but acceptable abv. In BJCP world, where Dortmunder is called "German Helles Exportbier", both ABV and IBU are within the expected bounds. Do we have a winner here then, it would appear to be a German Helles Exportbier?

But wait, what about the guidelines for the European Beer Star categories? Basically it could be either a Festbier, or an "Export"

There are times when I have flashbacks to my days studying theology and everybody having their version of beer styles, while the lay community are not interested in how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Anyway...Dave at Three Notch'd told me that is is a helles, and it really is a rather bloody nice beer whatever you want to brand it. The balance of malt and hop is just right, the cracker character of pilsner malt is evident, and the hops add a lovely counterpoint to that. There are some floral aromas floating around as well as the classic hint of spice that Hallertau brings to the table. All round yummy good stuff in the glass, regardless of how it is styled. 

I am looking forward to polishing off the other three cans that are currently in the fridge, and then restocking. I can see this becoming my go-to palate cleanser after several syrupy sweet märzen malt messes.

These kind of pale lagers are very much the happy place of this Mitteleuropaphile.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Without Farms There is No Booze

First there came the beer, the colours, the aromas, the flavours, the multitude of things you can do with just four inputs, malt, hops, yeast, and water. Think of beers as diametrically opposite as a Czech 10° pale lager and jet black imperial stout, and everything in between, and you have wildly different interpretations and expressions of the same four basic inputs. 

I am deliberately avoiding adjuncts here because the word "adjunct" just means something is non-essential, and rice, corn, marshmallows, breakfast cereal, invert sugar, etc are not really all that essential to make beer, they have their place, but they are not essential to beer per se.

Beer is a product of the genius of humanity, of our innate desire to experiment, our love of getting a buzz on - you folks going on about unsafe water supply, explain why most human settlements are beside rivers or have wells, we know how to find good water sources. Humans like to get tipsy, some humans enjoy getting drunk, they may even be the occasional weirdo who loves a good hangover, and as age creeps up on me, I am not assuredly not one of those.

None of this would be possible without the agricultural revolution that kicked off in the Neolithic period, when human beings started domesticating their meat supply, and their grain supply, by forming communities of farmers. Beer does not exist without agriculture. This simple fact is something I have back to time and again this year in my reading. Whether it is crop reports for barley and hops in various newspapers in the Austrian National Archive, or learning far more about malt than I could squeeze into a single Pellicle article, none of this is possible without farmers.

Of course, it is not just beer that is reliant on agriculture, cider, perry, wine, and basically every spirit known to man would not exist without farmers growing the raw ingredients. It fascinates me that basically every ancient culture created some form of fermented drink to use in rites of passage, celebrations, memorials, or their religious practices. If memory serves, it is in the Epic of Gilgamesh that the definition of being civilised is to eat bread and drink beer.

As I referred to at the top, first came my interest in the beer itself, then came my interest in the ingredients that brewers use to make the stuff, and so I started brewing my own. As a result of my interest in malt in particular, an appreciation of the grains and their producers is becoming an endless source of fascination. The fact, for example, that not all barley strains are created equal, you can't just turn any old barley into malt, and even malting barley needs an expert hand as it grows.

This may be one of the reasons I love the concept of the farm brewery, a distinct form of brewery license here in Virginia. They are perhaps the purest form of "craft" brewing, especially when using malt made from the grain they themselves grew, as is the case with Wheatland Spring, maker of many magnificent lagers, including the pilsner I crowned as number 1 in my recent Top 10 Virginian beer post.

Farmers are very much the unsung heroes of the booze industry, without them, there are no raw ingredients, and without raw ingredients to couple with the genius of humanity for creating buzz inducing products, there would be no booze.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Czeching out Cola Town

Since the demise of the Flying Saucer I have been somewhat bereft of places to drink when I am in Columbia, SC visiting Mrs V's family. Having recently discovered the delights of the Cock n Bull, and with Bierkeller Columbia opening up their beer garden this autumn, things are decidedly looking up. One thing though that I have neglected when we go south is discovering the local breweries, beyond buying the occasional six pack at the shop. With summer holiday time winding down this past weekend, I resolved to put that right.

First stop on my planned itinerary was Columbia Craft Brewing, which from Google Maps would seem to be at the heart of an area with plenty of breweries to visit, including the package brewery for Columbia's oldest brewery, and a personal favourite of mine, Hunter Gatherer. I walked through the door, surveilled the situation, it was actually pretty packed outside, but relatively quiet inside, so I grabbed a seat and did something I very rarely do, ordered a flight.

Flights are not something I often do mainly because I am not convinced that you can really judge a beer's merits based on a few ounces of liquid. With my plan to visit a couple of other breweries though, I figured that a flight and a pint would be the way to go. My 4 choices then at Columbia Craft were:
  • Columbia Craft Lager - a 4.8% Munich style helles
  • Carolinian - a 4.7% American blonde ale
  • Pull - a 4.5% Czech style pale lager
  • Pint - a 5.6% English style "pub ale" - basically an ESB
I made the mistake of starting from the lowest abv beer...the 4.5% Czech style pale lager, which makes me assume it had a starting gravity of 10° Plato, a desítka. It was a mistake, because one mouthful in, I knew my plans to hit another couple of breweries that afternoon were in danger of being curtailed to perhaps one other brewery.

The other beers in the flight were all very good, but the pull of the Czech pale lager was too great, so I had a half litre, poured from a Lukr tap, and served in a Tübinger glass...

The first thing that hit me was unlikely many a US brewed pilsner poured on a Lukr tap, Pull didn't have a craggy head that towered over the rim of the glass. The head was nicely wet foam that sat on top of the liquid for the duration of the drinking, which to be honest wasn't particularly long, maybe 5 mouthfuls at best.

The star of the show though for me was the masses of delightfully spicy Saaz character bursting through the foam, both as aroma and flavour. With just a single decoction as part of the brewing, there were enough Maillard characteristics to fill out the body, making this anything but watery. This is a seriously, seriously nice beer.

Needless to say I didn't make it to any other brewery on Saturday afternoon and got myself a couple of crowlers of Pull to nurse through the evening. The next time I make it to Columbia, I expect that Bierkeller's beer garden will be open, this delight on tap, and with the Cock n Bull in which to watch footie, I will have plenty of options for places, and beers, to enjoy.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Brewing with Murphy & Rude

Hopefully by now you have read my article about Charlottesville's Murphy & Rude Malting Company on Pellicle. One thing that I mentioned in the piece is that I have brewed several times with their malt in my own homebrewing shenanigans, usually as a specialty malt on top of a base of Golden Promise or Maris Otter. When Jeff suggested then that we brew a batch of my best bitter recipe using just his malt, I jumped at the chance. For the eagle eyed among you, you will have noticed us doing so in some of the pictures on the article.

It was actually Jeff who suggested brewing the best bitter, and I am never one to turn down the opportunity of a collaboration, though it is definitely the first time I have brewed with a malting company. I momentarily played with the idea of creating a new recipe specifically for this project, but when I mentioned it to Mrs V she suggested that we stick with my tried, trusted, and oft brewed best bitter that is the basis of Three Notch'd Bitter 42. Fun fact, the first time I met Jeff, at Kardinal Hall, to discuss the article his first words were "you're miss Ashley's husband, right?" - Mrs V is a Montessori teacher, and Jeff's kids went to her school, though were in a different teacher's class.

Anyway, I took a look at the Murphy & Rude website to decide what malts would take the place of my regular Golden Promise and Briess Victory combination. The base malt was pretty obvious, Jeff does an "English Pale" that he describes as:

"Well-modified pale ale malt kilned to slightly higher temps at the end of curing to release the slightest bit of nutty sweetness (Grape Nuts®, saltines, sunflower seed, honeysuckle) and unlock hints of pretzel and pizza crust."

With a Lovibond rating of 3-3.5° it is just in the same ballpark as both Golden Promise and Maris Otter from the UK.

The specialty malt to replace Briess Victory was more of a challenge as they do a Biscuit malt, which I had previously used as a substitute for Victory to good effect, and a Belgian Amber that sounded intriguing. The Biscuit is described as:

"A fantastic malt for adding body, smoothing out competing dark malt flavors, or delivering buttery or baked dough sensory attributes mid-palate. Biscuit malt is also a great selection when seeking additional body for sessionable beers without adding significant color"

while the Belgian Amber thus:

"Built upon a higher kilned base malt to deliver exponentially more depth than a traditional Amber. Flavors of biscuit bottom, roasted peanut shell, toasted Grape Nuts®, Bran Flakes®, and hard pretzel, with the slightest bite in the background. Great for big Belgians, Fall seasonals, spiced beers, Double IPA".

I took Mrs V's advice though and stuck with the Biscuit, which is a bit paler than the Briess product.

The only challenge in the brewing was the temperature, it was bloody hot that day. If memory serves it was the first 95°F day of the year in central Virginia, though it was much cooler a few weeks later when it came time to drink the beer and see how it had turned out. Throughout the fermentation process, Jeff kept me up to date on how things were progressing, and basically we hit every number and milestone as expected.

Other than a touch of chill haze, the beer was exactly as I had hoped it would be. We went classic with this version of the recipe, using East Kent Goldings for the 40 ish IBUs, and my house yeast strain Safale S-04 to get to the 4.2% abv. One thing that really took me by surprise was just how much additional flavour came out by virtue of using really fresh malt, rather than just freshly milled malt. In the Pellicle article, Josh Chapman at Black Narrows Brewing commented that closing the circle between supplier and producer really benefits the beer, and that freshness really shone through in the beer that we produced.

With the new brewing season almost upon us, I rarely brew during the summer, I have started to work out how I can get back to doing all grain brewing rather than extract brewing. I have nothing against extract brewing, indeed my kegerator currently houses a 100% extract ordinary bitter that is delicious and I plan to brew it again soon. However, with all grain back on the horizon as a viable option, I plan to use Murphy & Rude malt wherever possible.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Distributed Denial of Standards

It should come as no surprise that I spent Saturday afternoon in the pub. It was, after all, the traditional English football season curtain raiser, the FA Community Shield - though my brain still thinks of it as the Charity Shield. I am a Liverpool fan, have been since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and so by virtue of winning the FA Cup last season we got to play Premier League champions Manchester City. Enough though of my footie choices, this is a booze blog after all.

I was sat in the pub, the kind of place that is owned by Brits looking to recreate something of the British pub on foreign shores, the kind of place that I love. Mismatched tables and chairs, dark wood, an almost forbidding air. Even though my first visit to the place was for the Champions League final that Liverpool lost, I had a great time and decided this pub would be a place to visit whenever I am in Mrs V's hometown of Columbia, South Carolina.

The pub in question has a decent number of taps, with a blend of well regarded national craft brands and a clutch of local brews from throughout South Carolina, as well as the stock in trade Guinness, and the usual domestic suspects in cans. The atmosphere during a match was almost like being back in Zlatá Hvězda, raucous, a distinct blue tinge, and not from cigarette smoke, with plenty of banter between fans of different clubs. I was kind of in my element, at least during the Champions League final, as the Community Shield didn't attract anything like a sizeable crowd, but I was cool with that given the ongoing pandemic.

Anyway, having tried a couple of local brews that didn't do anything for me, and the one I really enjoyed on a previous visit having kicked, I had a Guinness while I pondered my next beery move. They had Devils Backbone Vienna Lager on tap, so I decided on a pint of that. It was pure vinegar, a fact that my server recognised when she tried it and apologised, taking the beer off tap. That was how I got talking to Lesley (I am assuming on the spelling here), the Cicerone Certified Beer Server, who also works at Hunter Gatherer, Columbia's original craft brewpub that I have a massive soft spot for.

We got talking about line cleanliness in particular and I learnt something that was actually new information for me. Line cleaning, at least in the US (meaning this likely varies state to state), is a service provided by beer distributors. Having not heard this before, I sent a quick message to a mate of mine that used to work for a big Virginia distributor and is now general manager of a brewery near my house. He confirmed that it is indeed the standard that distributors clean lines, so I bluntly asked:

"So shit draft beer is the distributor's fault?"

His response was just as blunt...


Our conversation continued, and of course pubs can clean their own lines if they have the necessary equipment, which I get the sense many an American pub doesn't, and are thus at the mercy of the distributor's commitment to cleanliness. Imagine being at the mercy of the one part of the American beer system that gets precisely none of the shit for a bad beer. How many customers had the Devils Backbone Vienna Lager and decided that obviously the brewery is shit because it is owned by AB-InBev, when the problem is the distributor not caring for the product appropriately, and ensuring that it cleans lines regularly.

This experience left me wondering about beer distribution in this part of South Carolina in general as it was the second egregious experience with bad beer while I have been down here. I only realised the first when I got to Florida for our beach week, having muled a mixed case of beers down. The case included a couple of four packs of a go-to pilsner of mine, Eggenberg's lovely Hopfenkönig, I wish I had checked the bottom of the cans earlier...

I seriously purchased beer that was canned before the pandemic began...28 months ago. I opened a can and while it was far from terrible, it was not the great pale lager I have come to love. Of course there is a large dose of caveat emptor here, especially given I have had out of date beer from this retailer before. I have to admit that I feel far less sympathy with a bottle shop in this instance than with a pub, unless distributors actually have a sale or return element to their contracts by which they remove out of date goods from the shelves - which I believe is not a common thing here. Being an idiot I turned down the option of a receipt, and so have no recourse to get my money back, but I will be far more careful in future buying from this particular retailer.

Dreich Delights

Dreich is perhaps my favourite Scots word, I can think of few words that more perfectly fit what it describes. Dreich means "bleak"...