Thursday, January 16, 2020

Half Cut

Decisions, decisions, an excess of choice is not always a good thing.

There are times when I sit agonising over a beer list trying to decide what beer to pour down my gullet next. Interestingly enough, such existential angst rarely happens when faced with the tap wall equivalent of an anti-immigrant's wet dream, invariably it is when faced with both a pale and a dark lager that rank among my favourites.


When facing this dilemma back in the Czech Republic, the answer was often to order a "řezané pivo" which literally translates as a "cut beer". A řezané pivo is nothing more than half a serving of pale lager and half of dark, though in Czech law said beers must share the same starting gravity. From experience, however, pubs are more than happy to make a řezané that would be technically illegal. In the warm fermented world this is known as a black and tan, where a pale ale and stout are the ingredients.


As you are no doubt aware, the drinking world that is Fuggled is a lager dominated one. On a couple of occasions at the Devils Backbone Basecamp I have asked for a řezané, though memory is hazy as to what was involved, most likely their magnficient Schwartzbier and Gold Leaf lagers. When sitting at home though I have been known to mix up Von Trapp's Helles and Dunkel, and more recently the Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner and their winter seasonal Dunkel. To add some context to what was going into my glass, the Captain Jack is 4.8%, thus assuming a starting gravity of 12°, and has 25 IBUs. The Dunkel by contrast is 4.9%, so just a quarter degree of Plato difference assuming the Czech method of multiplying ABV by 2.5 to arrive at starting gravity, and again has 25 IBUs.


It was halfway through a recent řezané that I realised I had never bothered to sit down and actually think about the interaction of the two beers. So it was that one of the final beery drinks of 2019 ahead of my dry January was decided upon and I poured the Olde Mecklenburg combination into a glass...
  • Sight - beautiful clear red, mottled head, quarter inch of foam, excellent retention
  • Smell - freshly baked crusty bread, Nutella, some floral hops
  • Taste - toasty, blonde roast coffee, nutty toffee, lemons in the background, trace of cocoa
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
First things first, a confession, I only just looked up the specs on the Dunkel and was surprised that it has 25 IBUs. I had assumed that it would be a little lower and that the overall perception of bitterness in the blend would be more subtle than I found it. Thankfully I like my beers to be bitter, and in this blend that bitterness is right there, front and centre. There is a very strong possibility that my first beer at home when I resume drinking on February 1st will be this precise mix as I have plenty of both beers in the fridge. Now that I know they are so close in starting gravity to each other, I might try to layer the beers so that the dunkel sits on top of the pilsner. At some point I will also delve deeper into the Von Trapp Helles and Dunkel mix, as well as bringing their Pilsner to the party, and if by some miracle I can squirrel a bottle of Olde Mecklenburg Dunkel away somewhere then when they bring out their summer seasonal Helles an experiment could be called for.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Pilsners of the South

Just after Christmas Mrs V, myself, the twins, and the in-laws took a trip down to Williamsburg, one of my favourite places in Virginia to visit. As the one time capital of the colony of Virginia, and close at hand to places like Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg really appeals to the history nerd in me, it also happens to be home to the Alewerks Brewing Company, makers of one of my favourite brown ales in the US, and also a lovely helles lager.

Unfortunately for this trip a visit to a brewery was not on the cards, so I had to limit my beer to what was available in the store, in this case a pretty decent Harris Teeter. Having driven the couple of hours it takes to get there, I took a detour to the store to stock up on booze, picking up a six pack each of New Realm Euphonia Pilsner and Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner. Knowing that I had some Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner back home in the fridge, I decided on a comparative tasting.

Said tasting was planned for the evening of the last Sunday of 2019 when joy of joys I discovered that our local Wegman's was finally stocking Port City Downright Pilsner (it had only taken 18 months of badgering for this wonder to occur). Thus the threesome became a foursome, and as the kids watched their Krtek cartoons I dived in...

New Realm Euphonia Pilsner - Georgia/Virginia


  • Sight - pale yellow/straw, thin white head, poor retention, slightly hazy
  • Smell - white pepper, watermelon, trace of generic citrus
  • Taste - crackers, melon, slightly musty, pithy bitterness in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
New Realm Euphonia, from the new brewery of Mitch Steele formerly of Stone Brewing, won best in show at the 2019 Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, and sorry if I am being blunt here, how that happened I have no idea, there are plenty of much better beers in general in the Commonwealth. This is not a bad beer, far from it, it is a nice German style pilsner. I found it a bit thin overall, though it didn't go so far as to be watery, and it was just too fizzy for me, perhaps that is a reaction based on my week or so of drinking German pilsners in Germany on tap, but still, too much gas involved.

Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner - North Carolina/Virginia


  • Sight - crystal clear gold, quarter inch white head that lingers for the duration
  • Smell - spicy, pepper, slightly bready, some floral notes, tangerines
  • Taste - soft marmelade, custy bread, citrus - lime/mandarin, pithy bitter bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Even though this is a Wicked Weed beer, the can says that it is brewed and packaged in Lexington, Virginia, which makes me think that it is being brewed by Devils Backbone on behalf of their AB-InBev stablemates. This is a really good beer, ticks all the right boxes for what you would expect from a German style pilsner, especially given it has that sharp snappy crisp bite that screams good fermentation practices. I can see this being pretty regular in the old beer fridge this year.

Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - North Carolina


  • Sight - clear gold, half inch white head, very good retention
  • Smell - floral hops, lemony citrus, a touch of spice, some grainy character
  • Taste - light toast, clean citric hop bite, touch of lemon, water biscuit crackeriness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I make no secret of the fact that love this beer, and indeed Olde Mecklenburg in general. Captain Jack is beautifully balanced, with both hops and malts shining through but neither stealing the limelight from the other. There are times when I can think of nothing I would rather drink than three bottles of this poured into my Paulaner 1 litre mug, every mouthful finishes dry and refrshing, willing you to keep on drinking. I have no shame in showing my bias here, but this is for me one of the top 5 lagers being brewed in the US right now.

Port City Downright Pilsner - Virginia



  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, firm white head, excellent retention
  • Smell - Saaz, Saaz, more Saaz, and then some Saaz, lemons, lemongrass, slightly spicy, orange blossom, think alpine meadow and you're close
  • Taste - very much dominated by the hoppiness that comes with the judicious use of Saaz, lemons up front and some some grass and spice in there too, malt background has bready character
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Again I will make no apologies for being a fan of this beer. Downright is a wonderfully balanced, drinkable beer that I can happily sit and drink all night. However, it does lack a little of the clean finish that I really like in my lagers, and although it is in the Bohemian style it doesn't quite have the body that comes with the territory, perhaps due to it not being decoction mashed. Even so, it is a damned fine beer and one I am thrilled to see available at Wegmans. I will be stocking up come February.

If I were pushed into ranking these four very good beers, all of which I would happily drink wherever and whenever, it would look like this:
  1. Olde Mecklenbug Captain Jack Pilsner
  2. Port City Downright Pilsner
  3. Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner
  4. New Realm Euphonia Pilsner

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Breweries

Hark what is that bugle call....? It's the last post, or at least the last review post for 2019. Having looked at the beers themselves, the places I drink them in, so finally we come to the companies that actually make the booze itself. To be listed as one of the regional breweries of the year, said brewery needs to have at least a couple of beers I have had this year, also no honorable mentions. Onward then.

Virginia
  • Port City Brewing - Alexandria
  • South Street Brewery - Charlottesville
  • Alewerks - Williamsburg
Rest of USA
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing - CA/NC
  • Von Trapp Brewing - VT
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - NC
Rest of the World
  • Cromarty Brewing - Scotland
  • Pivovar Hostomice - CZ
  • Schlenkerla - DE
Reviewing that list of breweries, I realise that if I were given that list and told I could only ever drink beer from those 9 breweries then I would never be left wanting for quality beer, so whittling it down to just three is nigh on impossible, but needs must.
  • South Street Brewery - Charlottesville
  • Von Trapp Brewing - VT
  • Pivovar Hostomice - CZ
There really is a clear winner when it comes to my brewery of the year, but first let me point out that each of these breweries makes wonderful pale lagers that I would happily guzzle every day, they also each make dark lagers that I would happily guzzle every day. The winner though is the brewery who do every beer they produce superbly well and who I can drink pretty much whenever I feel like it, so well done to Von Trapp Brewing from Vermont for being the 2019 Fuggled Champion Brewery, and for making all those glorious lagers.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Drinking Dens

Moving on from the beers of the year to the places in which I drank them, and with an utter absence of ceremony, I give you...

Virginia
  • Beer Run - Charlottesville
  • Port City Brewing - Alexandria
  • South Street Brewery - Charlottesville
Honorable Mention:

Kardinal Hall - Charlottesville

Rest of USA
  • Barley House - Cleveland, OH
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - Charlotte, NC
  • Fraunces Tavern - New York City, NY
Honorable Mentions:

Scholz Biergarten - Austin, TX; Gordon Biersch Brewing - Atlanta, GA; Bar America - San Antonio, TX; Hofbräuhaus Cleveland - Cleveland, OH

Rest of World
  • U Slovanské lipy - Prague, CZ
  • Hostomická nalévárna - Prague, CZ
  • Brauerei Spezial - Bamberg, DE
Honorable Mentions:

Schlenkerla - Bamberg, DE; Airbräu - Munich, DE; Brauhaus Ernst August - Hannover, DE; Pivovarský klub - Prague, CZ; Cromarty Arms, Cromarty, Scotland

Given that this was the first time I had visited many of these cities, it is no wonder that there are so many new pubs on this list. I own the fact that I am an abysmal beer tourist, I simply don't plan my trips around breweries, tap rooms, and pubs, I find out where I am going and then arrange the booze around that. One thing that is clear though is that I definitely have a soft spot for places in the US that harken back to central Europe. My final three boozers though for 2019 are:
  • Beer Run - Charlottesville
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - Charlotte, NC
  • Hostomická nalévárna - Prague, CZ
This is actually a much harder decision than choosing the various beers of the year. Beer Run is basically my local and I love a couple of hours just sat at the bar talking with the staff. Since Mrs V and I started stopping at the 8 acre biergarten that is Olde Mecklenburg, our trips to South Carolina have a genuine thing to look forward to with the driving, the thought of a couple of jars of quality Germanic lager in a proper beer garden after 5 hours of driving is a delight. My one afternoon with Evan in Hostomická nalévárna back in October will probably be my favourite individual session for many a year, it was simply perfect. However, I don't feel I can base my decision on a single visit, and so the Fuggled Drinking Den of 2019 is Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, a more perfect place to drink great pilsner, superb altbier, or cracking hefeweizen is hard to imagine.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

On third day of Christmas, we move on to the undeniably dark beers of the world, porter, stout, dunkel, tmavé, et al, including some brown ales simply because you can only see though them by holding them up to the light, ah the delights of capricious whimsy. Here are the runners and riders for today.

Virginia
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
  • No Veto Brown - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Schwartzbier - Devils Backbone
Honorable mentions:

Britchin' Brown - Stable Craft Brewing;

USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Narwahl 2018 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:

Dunkel - Hofbräuhaus Cleveland, OH; Porter - Sierra Nevada, CA/NC; Trösten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT

Rest of World
  • Altbairisch Dunkel - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
  • Märzen - Schlenkerla, DE
  • Fabián 14° tmavé - Pivovar Hostomice
Honorable mentions:

Oatmeal Stout - Samuel Smiths, England; Black - Belhaven Brewery, Scotland; Urbock - Schlenkerla, DE

Some absolutely glorious beers there, and that is just with the honorable mentions, several of which came very close to breaking into the top three in each regional category. As a devotee of the dark beer arts, I could happily drink just the honorable mentions and be a happy camper, imagine then the ecstasy of only being able to drink the top three. Cutting 9 down to an ultimate three then was insanely difficult as there have been plenty of occasions where I have preferred, for example, Devils Backbone Schwartzbier over Port City Porter, it's so often a question of context.

  • Virginia - Porter, Port City Brewing
  • USA - Dunkel, Von Trapp Brewing
  • Rest of World - Märzen, Schlenkerla
Carrying on the theme of context, it is that factor that decided the winner of the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2019. Drinking a legendary beer in a legendary brewpub in a legendary beer town just cannot be beaten, and so obviously the winner is Schelnkerla Märzen. As I mentioned in my post about drinking in Bamberg, I have loved rauchbier since I first have bottled Schlenkerla in Prague, and I drink a couple of litres of it every month still to this day, so having it on tap was a nigh on religious moment. I didn't expect though for the divine itself to be even more divine, but it was, and I savoured every drop of that holy communion.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber, Red, and Brown

On this Boxing Day, or St Stephen's Day if you insist, we move up in the colour charts to the rather broad notion of amber, red, and brown beers, which here I am defining as anything that you can actually see through without being held up to the light. With no further ados being necessary, let's jump straight on in.

Virginia
  • Vienna Lager - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Satan's Pony - South Street Brewery
  • Hydraulion Irish Red Ale - Three Notch'd Brewing
Honorable mentions:
Fast Mild - Ballad Brewing; Oktoberfest - Port City Brewing
USA
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Bigfoot 2019 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:
Bauern Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, NC; Troeganator - Tröegs Brewing, PA
Rest of World
  • David's Not So Bitter - Spey Valley Brewery, Scotland
  • Lager - Brauerei Spezial, DE
  • I.P.A. - Isle of Skye Brewing, Scotland
Honorable mentions:
O'Hara's Red - Carlow Brewing, IE; Oktoberfest-Märzen - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
Bringing the list of amber, red, and brown beers down to just three was actually pretty simple as in each regional category there was a standout beer across the year, so kind gentlefolk I give you the final three...


  • Virginia - Satan's Pony, South Street Brewery
  • USA - Copper, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing
  • Rest of World - Lager, Brauerei Spezial
Picking just one though is much harder, however there is one that achieved something special this year. I am a big fan of rauchbier, Schenkerla in particular, and so when I was sat in a side room at the Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg on my second, or possibly third, half litre of Spezial Lager it dawned on my that this would be my local and my tipple if I lived there. Such a lovely beer, and I am sure the location helps, but it was complex enough to be interesting, moreish enough to sit and enjoy several of, and so damned well made that I could find no fault in it. As such, it is worthy to be declared the Fuggled Amber, Red, and Brown Beer of 2019.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

It has been almost a decade since I wrote multiple blog posts for my annual review of drinking. When I was in my thirties, and new to this beer blogging malarky, I even broke down the annual review into seven individual posts. In more recent years passim I have stuck to a single post, list style for pale, amber, dark, pub, and brewery categories. This year though I have travelled a lot more than I have for many years, thus have a lot more options for all the categories and a post for each is, in my unhumble opinion, warranted.

As usual I will decide the top three applicable beers from Virginia, the USA, and the rest of the world, as well noting any honorable mentions. From those finalists I will pick the ultimate winner of the category, and we start today with pale beers.

Virginia
  • Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing
  • My Personal Helles - South Street Brewery
  • Weekend Lager - Alewerks Brewing
Honorable Mentions:
40 Mile IPA - Three Notch'd Brewing; Lagerboi - Champion Brewing; Striped Bass - Devils Backbone Brewing; Saison - Reason Beer; Helles - Port City Brewing
USA
  • Pilz - Live Oak Brewing, TX
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable Mentions:
Celis White - Celis Brewery, TX; Southern Gothic - Sierra Nevada, CA/NC; Allagash White - Allagash Brewing, ME; Czech Pilsner - Gordon Biersch Atlanta Airport, GA; Lager - Firestone Walker, CA; Play Action Pils - Victory Brewing, PA
Rest of The World
  • Fabián 10° - Pivovar Hostomice, Czech Republic
  • EPA - Inveralmond Brewery, Scotland
  • aU Ungespundet Naturtrüb - Mahr's Bräu, Germany
Honorable mentions:
Břevnovský Benedict - Břevnovský Klášterní Pivovar, CZ; Albrecht 10° - Zámecký pivovar Frýdlant, CZ; Únětické Pivo 10° - Únětický pivovar, CZ; Jarl - Fyne Ales, Scotland; Tennent's Lager - Tennent's, Scotland; König Pilsener - König-Brauerei, DE
Come on admit it, you're really shocked by the prevalence of pale lagers, whether they be helles or pilsner. I have said it many, many times on here, as well as on various social media outlets, lagers are just my thing, and pale lagers are the style of beer I drink more than any other. To whittle this list down further, the regional winners are:
  • Virginia - My Personal Helles, South Street Brewing
  • USA - Helles, Von Trapp Brewing
  • Rest of World - Fabián 10°, Pivovar Hostomice

The overall winner was pretty much decided after four mouthfuls of beer, and I am sure it comes as no surprise that the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2019 is Pivovar Hostomice's simply majestic Fabián 10°. If I may get on my soapbox for a moment, why American brewers seem unwilling to brew sessionable lagers in the vein of the Czechs is frankly a mystery. Sure I get the fact that the Untappd tickers and braggers are unlikely to rate it very highly, but when done to such a high level of craftsmanship, there is simply no better type of beer on the planet. Fabián 10° hits all the right high notes, loads of Czech hop character, with all the fresh lemon zest, spice, and floral notes that implies, behind that sits a decocted malt backbone that no amount of modified malt can replicate, even if a brewer follows a brew by numbers approach to brewing.

Half Cut

Decisions, decisions, an excess of choice is not always a good thing. There are times when I sit agonising over a beer list trying to deci...