Thursday, May 19, 2016

Beer Positive

I am assuming that Devils Backbone brewmaster Jason Oliver doesn't mind me repeating his Facebook post from the other day here. What he wrote really resonated with me, so much so that I assume shared his original post on my Facebook page, so here we go:
One of DB’s family values is "Beer Positive". Dr. Lewis at UC Davis instilled that into us. Never talk bad about any segment of the brewing industry. What’s bad for one part is bad for the whole. Be inclusive not exclusive & celebrate not denigrate beer. I’ve always considered myself a brewer first and a craft brewer second. That approach has served me well. When we opened Devils Backbone I insisted on carrying three bottled products; Coors Light, Bud Light, and Bud. I carried all three because all three are brewed in Virginia!! We sell 5-20 Bud/Bud Lights each week to the 4000 + DB beers. I’m happy to still carry those products. Different perspective from some in my industry I suspect.
I have written about this in a previous post, but it needs saying again, some of the snide comments and abuse on Devils Backbone's Facebook page, Instagram account, and other social media forums has been nothing short of disgusting, and an absolute disgrace to the wider 'craft' brewing world.

It kind of gets to the fevered pitch of a Westboro Baptist Church funeral picketing session, bordering on a cultic obsession with ideological purity. It's like people have forgotten that beer is supposed to be fun.

At the end of the day, it's just beer and some people would do well to remember that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Impartial Pursuit: Deel Drie

This is part three, which you would be aware of if you speak Dutch (assuming Google Translate is reasonably accurate for once), of my occasional series where I dip into the world of multinational flagship beers. Part one was Budweiser, part two Coors, so given the Dutch in the post title, I guess it is pretty obvious that we are talking Heineken here.

The last time I drank Heineken was in the middle of November 2008. How can I be so confident and specific I hear you ask? Simple, I was in Ireland for my birthday and I was drinking with Reuben from The Tale of the Ale - he had one of those mini-keg things and if memory serves we polished off the entire keg before hitting some fine Irish whiskey.

The decision to get a large can of the stuff though this time was rather less prosaic. I was in the shop and decided it was time for another post about those beers people rail against without actually having drunk the stuff. Cynical side note, I have this evil plan to make an IPA using the grist of an American lager, hopping the shit out of it, and then putting it in a homebrew competition as an American IPA - you get the drift.


So how was the stuff? Well, for a start is pours a much richer yellow than either the Budweiser or Coors from previous posts, it was almost golden, topped off with a nice fluffy white head. "Ah yes" I hear the cognoscenti ask "but what about the skunky aroma?" Sorry to disappoint folks, but there was no skunky aroma, I assume because of the can rather than being in a green bottle. What there was though was a general cereal character, maybe a touch of honey, some grassy hop notes, and nothing offensive whatsoever.


"But it tasted awful, right?" come the cognoscenti, and again they would be disappointed, bless their little flannel shirts. Once again that lightly honeyed cereal grain thing is to the fore, maybe a trace of a corny sweetness as well, but nothing anywhere near as bad as some of the craft beer I have had from a couple of local breweries in the last year or so. I didn't find much in the way of hop flavour, perhaps some lemongrass skulking about, but there was a nice bitterness that left the  palette clean and ready for another mouthful. The beer was medium bodied, not thin, not insipid, and not leaving me wretching over the bog in dramatic fashion to prove my craft credentials.


So there we have it, Heineken is a pretty decent, clearly well made beer that suffers from a single issue - ubiquity. It is far from a bad beer, but not one to go expecting inspiration from, and to be honest if you are the kind of person looking for inspiration at the bottom of a bottle, I would suggest you have deeper problems.

Friday, May 13, 2016

#IHP2016 meets #MildMonthUS - The Tasting

Finally it's ready.

Fermentation is done with, the beer is kegged, and now happily being tapped from my kegerator.

I refer of course to my iteration of this year's theme for the International Homebrew Project, 'American Mild Ale'. If you want to read up on my proposed description of an American Mild, see here, and here if you are interested in the recipe for what Mrs V has christened 'Amber Waves Mild'. For the more visual amongst us, here's a picture.


Evidently it's not completely sparklingly bright, with a bit of chill haze in there that does clear as the beer warms, perhaps I'll tinker with the kegerator temperature. However, given that murk is the new IPA (not sure 'murk' is quite the right phrase, pea souper might be better) I am not unduly worried about it right now. The colour is spot on where I wanted it to be though, somewhere between amber and brown.


Aroma wise we're talking about a really nice sourdough breadiness that I put down to being the product of using Victory and Special Roast malt, also in there is a trace of unsweeetened cocoa powder, and a weak coffee thing that reminded me for some reason of the Douw Egberts instant coffee I used to drink at college. When it comes to the flavours again that toasty breadiness comes to the fore, layering over the grainy cereal nature of American 2-row base malt. The bitterness is clean, evident, and balances the beer really well, and even though I used aroma and flavour hops they are both very faint. Also in the mix was a light nuttiness, like a schmear of Nutella on toast, and just a faint fruitiness that I assume is coming from the Wyeast American II yeast.


Overall, Amber Waves is a nicely balance mild ale, all the flavours I expected are evident but nothing dominates. The body is on the light side of medium, so it avoids being watery. I am very happy with my latest stab at Americanising mild ale, and look forward to bashing many a pint of it of an evening.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Morana Unleashed

Last night I met up with Jason from Devils Backbone for a pint, or two, of his new rye Maibock that was being released at Kardinal Hall, a very nice beer it is as well. Naturally we discussed many things beer, including ideas for forthcoming brewing projects together, and I also learnt that Friday is the release date for the current batch of Morana, which I posted about on Monday.

I realise this is of more interest for Stateside folks than for my friends in Europe, but if you're in the vicinity of the Devils Backbone Basecamp sometime in the next few weeks drop in and give Morana a try.


If you've never had a Czech style dark lager before, called "tmavé" or "černé" in Czech (assuming that the following word is 'pivo' that is - ah the joys of Czech grammar), then this would be a great opportunity to type of beer not well known on these shores. I tend to tell people that it kind of a middle ground between a Munich Dunkel and a Schwarzbier, though as with any analogy that's not a perfect rule.


As I mentioned in my last post, Morana is very much inspired by the 14° tmavé speciální from Kout na Šumavě, and I would go as far to say that if Evan Rail, Max Bahnson, or even the guys from Kout itself had the opportunity to try it, they would approve heartily.

So...Friday is coming, and the beer will be flowing. No doubt I'll get down there at some point to fill a growler or two for another afternoon on the chez Velkyal front porch.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Of Mountains, Meadows, and Morana

With only a handful of weekends left until Mrs V and I fly to Scotland, via Reykjavik, the weekly training hikes are getting progressively longer. Having woken up at the crack of dawn to finish making baking morning rolls, and yet again grateful for having had the option of good session beer the night before, we eschewed our regular hiking haunt in the Shenandoah National Park to head for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The next 6 hours were spent hiking along a rocky part of the Appalachian Trail to record a 10.5 mile hike and by the time we got back to the car a well stoked thirst for a pint.


Now, I have to admit there was an ulterior motive for hiking this particular part of the AT. Just a couple of miles from where we parked the car is Devils Backbone, and it had been an age since we had been there of a Saturday afternoon. The main reason for swinging by was to pick up a growler of Morana, but we don't really need much of a reason to grab a seat and stay for a couple of hours. When the beer menu came, it was an easy choice. Morana is not on tap yet, the growler having been filled from the conditioning tanks, but there was a pilsner that I liked the look of, Meadow Bier.


As you can see from the picture, it was everything you would expect to see from a German style pilsner. Weighing in at 5%abv, and with 38 IBUs of Slovenian Celeia hops it was an absolute drinking delight - I had 6 and asked Mrs V if she would be so gracious as to drive us home. The highest praise I can give Meadow Bier is that if it were on tap at Kardinal Hall alongside the Rothaus Pils from Germany I would drink Meadow Bier instead. Yes, it really is that good of a beer. I am not sure how long it will be on at Basecamp, but I hope it will become a regular part of the lineup. If I hadn't been taking a growler of Morana home I would likely have filled up with it.

On then to the Morana, the 4th (I think) time that Devils Backbone have brewed the tmavé I designed for them back in 2010, and after polishing off the growler last night while Mrs V played the fiddle on our front porch - it was a rather idyllic afternoon at chez Velkyal yesterday - I am in full agreement with Jason that this is the best batch yet.


The beer is a deep inky darkness, the body voluptuous, and the mouthfeel almost silken as it goes down. There is plenty of clean Saaz bitterness to stop it from tipping over into being overly sweet, and damn is it drinkable. I might even go as far as to say that it comes even closer to the Kout na Šumavě 14° tmavé on which it was modelled.


 With Morana going on tap soon, I have a feeling that we'll be hiking that part of the AT a bit more often in the coming weeks...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Letting the Side Down?

Mrs V and I are in the middle of training to hike the West Highland Way, a 96 mile long hike through some of the most dramatic countryside in Scotland. The hike starts in Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, and finishes in Fort William.

Almost every weekend at the moment we are out in the Shenandoah National Park hiking up various mountains and getting used to wearing backpacks filled with everything we will need - admittedly we are staying in B&Bs along the way so we don't need to carry a tent and everything else that goes with camping.


Given that we mostly hike in the morning, by the time we are done we both have a hankering for a good pint and thankfully the pubs are open so we'll take a detour to our favourite watering hole in Charlottesville, the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room and knock back several pints of Bitter 42.

After one particularly grueling hike recently though we just wanted to get home and flake. We still wanted to have a decent beer when we got there though. The fridge being strangely empty and my keg of homebrew stout not being what I fancied in that moment we swung by our local petrol station, that has a pretty good booze selection.


I was hoping that they had Port City's wonderful Downright Pilsner, a beer I have waxed lyrical about on here before. What would be better than pouring half a six pack into my 1 litre glass and sitting on the deck in the spring sun? There, on a high shelf stood a couple of six packs of the beer I wanted, and so I reached for it....and was slightly perturbed that it was covered in dust, clearly it had been there a while. Sure enough, on checking the 'bottled on' date, said six pack of this lovely pilsner was bottled sometime in February, 2015.

Now maybe I am wrong, but a beer that is unfiltered and unpasteurised is not likely to be at its best after at least a year of unrefrigerated existence, regardless of how excellent said beer started life out as. Trust me on this, Downright Pilsner properly cared for and fresh is a pale lager that would give any coming out of the Czech Republic a run for its money. Having pointed out the age of the six pack to the staff in the store, and picked up a 12 pack of Founders All Day Session IPA instead, I went home to relax in the sun, muttering, ruminating, and wondering why this kind of experience is sadly not rare - there is a well regarded beer and wine store within yards of my workplace that had Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale on sale at full price a year past its 'Best Before' date. Ultimately I guess the joke was on me because when I got home I noticed that the All Day Session IPA I had paid full price for was 8 months old....sigh.

It's possible that the kind of beers that I like to drink shift slower than the endless rafts of indeterminate IPAs and so linger longer on the shelves, but shouldn't retailers and distributors be keeping a closer eye on their stock? This is especially important because if someone were to wander into the very same petrol station and by a full priced six pack of sub-prime Downright Pilsner it is not the retailer that will suffer, or the distributor, but the reputation of the brewery will be shot with that consumer, who will likely tell more friends of their negative experience than they would of a positive one.

How many people are being turned off excellent examples of classic beers because of shoddy stock management practices? How many distributors actually care enough about the products they place on the shelves to pull any that are past the 6 months since bottling point? Oh and why are there massive fridges in stores stocked to the gunwales with pasterurised, canned, macro lager that is unlikely to go off any time soon?

While I fully agree with the idea of caveat emptor, I also think that retailers need to sort their shit out when it comes to stock control and start discounting beer that is past its prime, if not pull it completely. A store wouldn't do this with cheese, bread, vegetables, meat, or any of the other essentials of life, so why do it with beer?

A few weeks later I was back in the same petrol station and Downright was still there, still unrefigerated, still over a year old, but the six packs had been dusted, I guess that constitutes 'care'.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#MildMonthUS meet #IHP2016

Last night I finally got round to kegging up my American Mild ale for this year's International Homebrew Project - which seems to have lingered far longer than usual.

The picture below shows the sample I pulled out of the fermenter before transferring the beer to the keg:


The colour is pretty much where I wanted it to be, not a dark, dark mild and not a pale mild, somewhere in between, a nice rich amber which is perfect for the name given the beer by the awesome Mrs V - Amber Waves American Mild.

I used the Wyeast American II yeast (not sure which brewery that came from) and it fermented down from 1.044 to 1.012, giving me 4.2% abv, and enough mouthfeel to prevent the beer from being overly dry. In terms of initial flavours, the Victory and Special Roast malts come through nicely, and work very well together to give the beer a sourdough breadiness which I at least really like, and think it compliments the husky graininess of standard American 2-row malt.

Put it simply, I am excited about this beer being carbonated and ready for drinking, should be at least tryable from the keg by Sunday, as the beginning of American Mild Month, and give it a few days and I think it will be ready for a fuller, proper review.