Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Unknown Sierra Nevada

I am on record across various forms of social media as being an unrepentant fan of Sierra Nevada Brewing. I have absolutely no qualms about saying they are probably my most trusted and favourite craft brewery in the United States today. Whenever Mrs V and I are in South Carolina you can guarantee that I will be stocking up on various SN products that are rarer than hen's teeth in Virginia, and also significantly cheaper in SC. For some reason the beer distribution and retail folks that service central Virginia believe that the following SN products are not worth carrying:
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Kellerweis
  • Nooner Pilsner
Well, to that list you can now add Southern Gothic and BFD.

I came across these new-to-me SN beers the other day as I was wandering around Bottles here in Columbia, SC, and wondering how I was going to unwind after the 7 hour drive. Nooner was a given as it is one of my favourite German style pilsners made in the US, but it was the first time I had seen Southern Gothic, bearing those magic words on the can, "unfiltered pils". Yeah I was sold pretty much immediately, so into the cart a six pack went. The only problem was that there were no six packs in the fridges, dear god people is it too much to ask that lager always be stored in the fridge? Anyway, staring into the fridge for something to drink while waiting for Southern Gothic to chill, my eyes landed on imperial sized cans of a beer called BFD, and at just a couple of dollars for a pint of a Sierra Nevada beer I bought two.


Admittedly I had to check out Sierra Nevada's website for a description of the beer as there was nothing on the can to give much away, other than an ABV of 4.8%, very much in my happy zone for drinking. According to the beer's page, it would be "unfussy, uncomplicated, hoppy blonde ale". They forgot to say just what level of perfection is was too. I didn't take notes, but an imperial pint travelled from can to belly in about 5 mouthfuls over 3 minutes, hitting every single spot necessary along the way. Seriously, this is approaching the perfect summer beer. No silly fruit flavours, no bullshit gimmicks, just a damned good blonde ale that works as both a lawnmower beer to crush quickly and a complex beer that warrants a good few minutes to take all in.


A pair of BFD cans suitably polished off, the Southern Gothic was starting to approach drinking temperature, so it was time to carry on with the afternoons imbibing. Billed as an unfiltered pilsner, I was expected a bit more cloudiness to this one, a sign perhaps that beer being unfiltered has become shorthand for mirk, and as all good beer l overs know unfiltered = mirky beer is a false equivalence. How delicious was this beer? Damned delicious that's how. The interplay of hops, malt, and yeast is superb, leaving the drinker refreshed but not satisfied, longing for more. For comparison sake I had a can of Nooner in the mix too, and Southern Gothic has a more rounded, almost softer, character doing on. That's not to say that Nooner is brash but rather that Southern Gothic isn't as dry and crisp in the finish as Nooner, and while it has a classic lager snap to it, Nooner's clean snap is more prominent and pronounced.

Neither of these beers have, as a far as I m aware, graced the shelved of central Virigninia, so I guess I'll be stocking up...

Friday, July 6, 2018

#TheSession 137: Mitteleuropäisches Bilé Pivo


This month's Session is being hosted by Roger at "Roger's Beers...and Other Drinks", and the theme as stated is:
German Wheat Beers. I would like to clarify for myself the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc. I’d love to read about the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history. Yeah, whatever you’d like to say about German wheat beers will be great.

I wish I could remember what my first weissbier actually was, though I well remember the occasion. I was at college in Birmingham, West Midlands not Alabama, and it was the British equivalent of spring break. There was a small coterie of folks at the college I went to who didn't go home for the week of spring break due to distance. The Outer Hebrides being a 24 journey home meant I stayed in Brum, my best mate Cristi is from Timisoara in Romania, so he didn't go home either. Being at theological college and training for ministry, we were officially discouraged from partaking in the devil's brew, but most of us would have the occasional pint at weekends, oh and I could tell you about a reasonably well known evangelist who was on the idiot box post college absolutely pissed as a fart one afternoon. Anyway Cristi and I had decided we would go to a concert during the break. The Mutton Birds were playing at the Flapper and Firkin and before the gig we wandered into a different pub on the canal, got a couple of pints and sat at a table outside, next to said canal. As I said, I had a pint of weissbier, it being 1998 it was probably Schöfferhofer or something, all I really remember was thinking it was rank to my untrained mind. I had half a mind to pour it into the canal, but it looked polluted enough as it was. I wouldn't touch wheat again until I was living in Prague.


Fast forward about 8 years to 2006, a group of my mates and I were in Pivovarský klub before heading to our regular haunt to watch the footie and one of them is raving about this German wheat beer that they had available, lo and behold the very same Schöfferhofer comes to the table. On a spur of the moment I decided to get one as well, just to see if my tastes had changed, fully expecting to hate it. My tastes had indeed changed in the intervening 8 years and so I had a couple more. The next time Mrs V and I went to Pivovarský klub I tried the Primátor Weizen and I liked it a lot, maybe more than the Schöfferhofer, I was getting a taste for wheat beers. On a trip up to Berlin in 2008 I had a pint or two of Memminger for breakfast, weizen was now a confirmed part of my drinking life.


Something that I was not aware of though as weizens took an increasing share of my drinking habits was the existence in the Czech Republic of "bilé pivo", which translates into English, in common with "weissbier" and "witbier", as "white beer". Apparently "bilé pivo" in Bohemia predates weizen in Bavaria and most historians of beer believe that "bilé pivo" migrated from the former to the latter before falling out of favour in its homeland, so much so that great Czech brewer František Ondřej Poupě is famously quoted as saying "wheat is for cakes, oats for horses, and barley for beer". Today weizen is making a comeback in the Czech lands, both under the modern Germanic name and the older Czech term.


All this thinking about Central European Wheat Beers got me thinking about my need to get back on the homebrew trail, twins inevitably take up the majority of free time that used to be used for brewing, and as soon as time allows I think I will brew another batch of my own "bilé pivo", which I call Böhmerwald, the German name for Šumava on the Czech/German border, which in a nod to the Bohemian origins of the weissbier style is hopped 100% with Saaz and is a lovely later summer thirst quencher.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Blackwall Sails Again

Of the various brewing projects I have done local, and not so local, breweries, I think Blackwall London Porter is perhaps my favourite. It is the only one to have picked up a gong, taking a silver medal at last year's Virginia Craft Beer Cup, it is the only one to date to have been bottled, the label is pretty much as I envisioned, oh and it was a damned fine beer. That's not to denigrate any of the other beers I've done, just that Blackwall has a special place in my beery heart these days.


This weekend sees the return of Blackwall at the original Three Notch'd tasting room here in Charlottesville, but only 2 barrels worth. Why so little? Well it all started a few months ago...

Three Notch'd have moved their main base of operations to a large brewpub facility on the other side of Charlottesville, and the original brewery and tasting room have become their sour house. When I heard that they were going to be producing more soured beers, I sent the brewer responsible for that a message, suggesting that given Blackwall's 19th century roots, we should look at aging a batch in order to get the brettanomyces character that was an integral part of well vatted porter. Brian, the brewer, was enthusiastic about the idea, it was just a case of finding time to do a run.

Eventually, using the original Three Notch'd pilot system, a 3 barrel batch was brewed, with a single barrel being put into an oak barrel, with brettanomyces added for good measure. How long will it sit there? Not sure, we haven't talked about it yet, but as I said, the unaged version of Blackwall has been kegged and will be available from this weekend at the tasting room.

I am confident it won't last long, so if you're around, get out and get some. I might pick up a growler or two, and a bottle of Orval for the dregs to do my own souring.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Session 136: Farm Brewing in Virginia


Another month has flown by, and here we are again on the first Friday of the month thinking about The Session. This month, Dave from Brewing In A Bedsitter, aka @Ramblin_Dave on Twitter, is hosting and his theme is:
Whether it's about the success of modern craft breweries like Jester King and Burning Sky, the worldwide spread of saison or the revival of international interest in Northern European traditions, farmhouse brewing is an recurring theme in the beer world....

You could talk about how the word "farmhouse" is used in modern craft breweries, or about historic brewing traditions. You might want to think about how, if at all, the two are related.

If you think that farmhouse brewing or farmhouse beer refers to something meaningful and relevant in modern beer, you could write something touching on what it means to you. What's its defining element? Is it about style, ingredients, location or something else? Would you call a crisp, clean pilsner or a hoppy IPA a farmhouse beer if it was brewed from local ingredients in a medieval barn? What about a mixed fermentation barrel-aged saison brewed in a light industrial unit in a suburb of Manchester? Why does any of this matter?

If you want to get specific, maybe talk about one or more beers or breweries that you think embody some aspect of the idea of farmhouse brewing. Or if you're a homebrewer, you could talk about ways that your own beer has been influenced by it.

Conversely, if you think that the modern idea of a farmhouse brewery is largely just about marketing and aesthetics then you could have a go at dissecting and deconstructing it. Where did it originate and what are its roots? Who popularized it? How is it constructed and signalled? Most importantly, why are people so keen to buy into it?

Here in Virginia "farm" breweries have exploded since the passing of SB430 back in 2014, which established a new brewery license type specifically for breweries located on farms. The relevant addition to the beer licenses section of the Virginia Code reads as follows:
Limited brewery licenses, to breweries that manufacture no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per calendar year, provided (i) the brewery is located on a farm in the Commonwealth on land zoned agricultural and owned or leased by such brewery or its owner and (ii) agricultural products, including barley, other grains, hops, or fruit, used by such brewery in the manufacture of its beer are grown on the farm...
The law sets out quite clearly what the definition of a farm brewery is, as far as the Commonwealth of Virginia is concerned:
  • produce no more than 15000 Bbl per year
  • brewery is on agricultural land in Virginia
  • brewery uses that farm's agricultural produce in its beer

The first brewery to take up this license type is just down the road from me here in Central Virginia, the wonderfully monikered Lickinghole Creek Brewery. I have to admit that I have only been to the brewery itself once, Mrs V and spent several hours sitting in the midst of glorious views, drinking the first batch of their Enlightened Despot Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (I realise some will be shocked by the thought of me drinking anything barrel aged) and eating extra mature cheddar cheese with crusty bread. I was also a big fan of their session IPA, Til Sunset, until they stopped making it.


In keeping with the requirements of SB430, Lickinghole Creek grow a portion of the barley they brew with, as well as wheat and rye, and many of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables that go into beers like their Carrot Cake and Rosemary Saison. In the spirit of keeping things local, they also get some of their barley malted at Woods Mill Malting.

In the 4 years since Lickinghole Creek became the first farm brewery in Virginia, at least 10 more breweries have got in on the act. So whether your in the south west of the Commonwealth, or up north, close to DC, there is likely to be a farm brewery making beer with the produce of their land near you. You're really only shit out of luck if you go east of Richmond, at lest until later this year when Virginia Beach will be getting in on the act.

Of course, when you think about it, farm brewing in Virginia is really nothing new. Peter Hemmings brewed with corn and wheat grown on the Monticello plantation of his owner Thomas Jefferson. James Madison was so impressed with the beer produced by Hemmings that he wanted to send one of his slaves to Monticello for the autumn brewing season so he too could learn the craft. The earliest recipe I have seen for a uniquely American farmhouse beer is from southern Virginia, and dates from 1765, for perhaps the original pumpkin beer, known as Pumperkin, which used that fruit for the fermentables.

All this reminds me that I still have a bottle of that original batch of Enlightened Despot sitting in the cellar...

Friday, May 25, 2018

#MildMonthUS Special Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which of course means just one thing, other than inevitable mattress sales, the final weekend of American Mild Month!


About 20 breweries in total have officially taken part in American Mild Month and had mild ales available through their tasting rooms in May.

Three Notch'd here in Central Virginia are releasing their mild tomorrow, called Mild Marker 20 and brewed to a homebrew recipe from a brewer in Lynchburg, the beer is a thoroughly mild 3.6% and has just 18 IBUs. The beer is being released just in time for me to enjoy while watching the Champions League final, and hopefully afterwards as well.

If you go down to St Petersburg in Florida this weekend though, there is a veritable mildfest going on at Flying Boat Brewing Company.

Flying Boat are one of those wonderful brave souls of the American brewing scene that brew a mild ale year round. At 4.5% abv, Woodlawn Pub Ale is described by the brewery as:
"Irish Red meets an English Mild. Malt forward with notes of caramel and slight roast. Light and easy drinking."
That sounds like the kind of beer I would enjoy any time of the year. Not happy to just have their stock in trade mild around, they got together with some of their friends in Florida to brew a couple of collaboration milds.

With Crooked Thumb Brewery from Safety Harbor they brewed what they describe as a 4.3% 'Light American Mild', which uses rye, spelt, and oats in the grist, and is single hopped with 25 IBUs of fruity Azacca hops. Being honest, that sounds marvellous to me, perfect for barmy Florida days.

The second collaboration was with Brooksville's Marker 48 Brewing, with whom they brewed a rye dark mild that is 4.5% and hopped with East Kent Goldings, Pacific Jade, and more Azacca, to get 30 IBUs. Pacific Jade is one of my favourite hops, and the combination of that and EKG sounds really interesting.

So if you are in the St Petersburg area this weekend, get along to the Flying Boat tasting room and see just how much scope for creativity there is with mild ale.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Session 135: Roundup

A couple of Friday's ago, I jumped into the breach in order to host the 135th iteration of The Session, the monthly blogathon which encourages beer bloggers to write about a shared theme on the first Friday of the month. The theme I asked people to write about was 'Sepia Tones', a trip down your own personal beery memory lane.

Everybody's favourite beer writing couple, Jess and Ray of Boak and Bailey took the theme delightfully literally in presenting images from old school pubs 'dominated by shades of brown'.

Up in Ontario, Alan wondered if my theme was an allusion to the idea that we drink in order to "fill in the gaps", and gives us an interesting take on the being of memory and how it relates to boozing in our younger years.

Dean at The Beerverse recounts his personal beer story, starting with his dad asking for a beer from the fridge, and the 10 year old Dean duly obliging.

In my own post I recalled my local pub in Birmingham when I was a student, which is sadly no more, and also my favourite beer in my early years in Prague, which is also sadly to become no more and was the genesis of the theme.

On Instagram, KN published this image of a 'precursor to the nostalgic dominance of PBR'.

This clutch of content is everything that I am aware of with May's Session, but if there is anything else out there in the beery internet on this theme, let me know and I'll add to the list.

Oh, and please, please, please think about signing up to host a Session, go here for more.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Old Friends: Guinness Draught vs Murphy's

Stout was probably my first beer love. Guinness was my first legal beer, when the other options at the Dark Island Hotel on my 18th birthday were Tennent's Lager or Newcastle Brown Ale. I literally chose Guinness because that was what my eldest brother drank, he is also the reason I love The Smiths, Madness, and The Jam, as well as know how to read the form at a bookies for the horse racing (hot tip, if a horse has come 4th in its two previous outings it's worth an each way bet as often a pair of fourth place finished is followed by a first). He has much to answer for.


When I eventually left the Hebrides for the mainland, I found myself drinking almost exclusively in Oirish pubs, they had Guinness you see, and usually Caffrey's as well, which was my back up. I don't recall where I had my first Murphy's, but I liked it immediately, as I did Beamish, and the much lamented (in Velkyal world at least) Gillespie's - my tipple on Friday nights at the bowling alley in Inverness. Oh yes, we knew how to live large in the 1990s Highlands....


I recently bought a four pack of Murphy's on a whim, basically it was reasonably priced, a recurring theme in my beer life at the moment - seriously, prices for self consciously 'craft' beer are getting out of hand. I polished off all four cans in a single sitting, watching the most recent Star Wars film and decided to do an Old Friends post comparing it to Guinness, so here goes...


As expected the Guinness poured black, with deep fire ruby highlights at the edge of my dimpled mug, the classic white nitro foam cascaded its way to about three quarters of an inch and then lingered for the duration, it looked as a pint of Guinness is expected to look. Forcing it's way through that shaving foam cap on the beer were lightly roasty aromas and a bit of grainy bread character too. It sounds like a disparagement in some ways, but it's not really, it tasted like Guinness and if you don't know what Guinness tastes like then when you finish reading this, go drink some. All the elementes were there, coffee, roastiness, and a bit of a hop bite to snap you back to attention, the bitterness of the hops accentuated by the bitterness of roasted grains. I was actually quite surprised at how light bodied the beer was, not watery at all, but more medium light than medium, maybe that's a nitro thing, maybe it's the Draught in general, and maybe it's me being too used to drinking Guinness Extra Stout as my go to Guinness.


On then to the Murphy's, which poured jet black, dark brown at the edges, and this time the nitro cascade left a good three quarter inch of dense beige head. Through the foam came aromas of cocoa, a touch of graininess, and that classic stout roastiness that you just kind of expect. Tastewise we are again in classic stout territory, roasted grains, light coffee, a biscuity character, and also some subtle unsweetened cocoa. The Murphy's has the medium body I was expecting ans an almost velvety mouthfeel that makes for smooth drinking. It is a really nicely balanced, satisfying pint.

So there we go, 2 classic stouts, 2 rather different tastes. I think that the Murphy's is my preference really, say it quietly but it was just a more satisfying pint than the Guinness Draught. I am sure though that both will continue to be regular visitors to the Velkyal fridge as I indulge my love of the black stuff, which reminds me, I need to finish my keg of homebrew stout to make room for my next keg of best bitter...