Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On #Brexit

It's pretty rare that I deviate from the kind of scheduled programming here on Fuggled, you know the stuff about homebrew, beer, and pubs, to discuss something that is actually important. By 'actually important' I don't mean which overpaid athletes Jürgen Klopp wants to bring to Anfield to rocket Liverpool back to glory, though Mario Götze would be most welcome. No, today I want to talk about the referendum happening back home in the UK on Thursday to decide whether to stay in the European Union or not.

I am going to say right from the outset that I am a firm believer in the benefits of the EU, and think it would be a monumentally dumb thing if Britain were to walk away. It may sound strange coming from someone who has lived the best part of the last 17 years outside the UK, and the last 7 outside of Europe entirely, but that experience has made me appreciate the burgundy passport with the words 'European Union' embossed on the front more than ever.

When I first moved to the Czech Republic, in 1999, that country was going through the accession process to eventual membership in 2004, and as a foreigner going to work there it was a nightmare getting through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy to get a work permit and visa. Like many EFL teachers intending to stay for a year it was easier to go for day trips to Germany or Poland and have the 3 month tourist visa renewed. I decided though that I wanted to stay for more years and so the work permit became a necessity, one that involved early morning drives to Dresden or Vienna and endless queuing at the old Foreign Police headquarters to get the necessary stamps in passports and documents.

On May 1 2004 that became a distant memory. As an citizen of the European Union in the now member Czech Republic, I had the same rights as my Czech friends and no longer needed a work permit, just proof of employment and hey presto a 10 year residence permit was stamped into my passport. Also there was no more queuing at the new Foreign Police headquarters, getting to stroll past the assembled mass of people from further east looking for a better life, and be seen within half an hour usually. Those magic golden words on the front of my passport meant that I was able to live and work without hassle. I could, had I so wanted, have owned property or started a business without having to deal with the onerous processes inflicted on non-EU people living in the Czech Republic.

That freedom to live and work anywhere in the 28 member nations of the EU is by itself the main reason that if I could vote in the referendum (apparently those of us who have lived abroad for more than 15 years are ineligible to vote on whether our lifestyle can be wrenched away from us) I would vote to remain in the EU. Not a single argument in favour of Brexit holds any water as far as I am concerned, and while I am not an expert (which I guess in the mind of Michael Gove means the British people might actually listen to me), I can't see anything other than economic hardship in the event of leaving, as tariffs and the additional costs of being outside the single market take effect and drive prices up for the consumer, not to mention the complete lack of suitably qualified workers to take the place of immigrant plumbers, nurses, firemen, etc, etc should they decide to move to an EU country and continue enjoying the benefits of the greatest source of European peace since the Pax Romana*.

So please, if I may make a plea to my British readers, don't turn this into a referendum on the Tories or David Cameron for that matter, because it is more important than that. Should Britain decide to leave the EU, the country will still be subject to the rules of the European single market, exports to the EU will still have to meet EU standards. If we want to trade with the EU then we will still have to meet the conditions of the EU, and no we won't be able to have trade deals just with Germany, France, or any other individual country within the single market since trading with a single EU country means trading with all of the EU, it's just how it works.

A vote to remain in the EU is a vote that acknowledges, to steal a line from a previous referendum, that we are 'better together' with our EU partners, and that working together can make life better for all European citizens.

* - this may be slightly hyperbolic but given the history of Europe tearing itself to shreds ad nauseum for the couple of centuries prior to the EU, it is only slightly hyperbolic.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Session: The Backbone


This month's iteration of The Session is being hosted by Carla, a.k.a. The Beer Babe, who encourages us to:
talk about those businesses in the beer world that aren’t breweries. What are the roles that they can play? What opportunities still exist for new niche roles to be developed? What can local/state/regional governments do to encourage this kind of diversity of businesses around an industry?
Here in Central Virginia he have a plethora of beer allied industries that seem to have popped up from nowhere with the continued increase in brewery numbers (of the 30 odd breweries within 50 miles of my house, only 6 existed when I moved here in 2009), but I want to focus on one in particular, and forgive me if this is an overly obvious allied industies to look at.

Virginia is at heart an agrarian state, once upon a time it was the Kent of the Colonies, a veritable Eden of Humulus Lupulus, but eventually that industry headed out west. Slowly though hop gardens are again becoming a thing in Virginia, with about 25 acres planted in 2014. Much of the renaissance can be put down to small brewpubs planting a half acre or so of hops in the vicinity of their facility - if you have ever been to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton you'll know exactly what I have in mind.

As I said though, hop growing is, well, um, growing again here in Virginia. The Old Dominion Hops Co-op is a group of 185 farmers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland growing varieties like Cascade, Chinook, Brewers Gold, and Goldings for use by small breweries. Some members of the co-op grow on as little of a third of an acre (that's 1375m2 for the metric folks) while at the bigger end of things there are those with 2.5 acres and multiple varieties.

As I said, Virginia is an agrarian state, despite the urban sprawl of Northern Virginia, and while we don't have the expanses of the Mid West flowing with waves of grain, barley is an important crop in the Commonwealth. In 2014, about 20000 acres were planted with barley, producing somewhere in the region of 72 million pounds of grain. Admittedly much of this production goes to cattle feed, but with the growth of beer has come a growth in local artisan malting companies, such as Wood's Mill Malt House, Big Trouble, and even Copper Fox Distillery, who malt their own grain for their whiskey and sell small amounts on to brewers.

I am sure there are sexier allied industries, the tour givers, the distributors, the conference organisers, the other assorted hangers on, but it is the farmers and maltsters providing the raw ingredients to the teams doing the work for the rock star brewers, who are the unsung heroes of the brewing world. I for one am glad to see these industries coming back to life in Virginia, so that one day we may actually be able to buy a distinctively Virginian local beer.

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...