Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Märzen/Festbier Review

So far this year I have drunk at least 53 examples of lager made wiith Oktoberfest in mind. I say "at least" because there are a couple that I didn't subject to my rigorous scoring system, rather just got merrily blattered with friends and I didn't want to be rude.

I still have 13 examples of märzen and festbier in my various beer fridges, including a slew of Texans sent up by Ruvani, aka Amethyst Heels, so I hope to get round to drinking those and probably posting about them at some point later this month.

Rather than present a massive list of breweries, beers, and scores, I figured I'd use the general format of my annual "review" posts, where I highlight the top three beers in the following categories:

  • Virginia
  • Rest of USA
  • Rest of the World (let's be honest it's just Germany in this case)
Out of those beers I will then select a winner in each category and eventually an overall "Fuggled Oktoberfest of the Year" award that has no monetary value, and probably a miniscule amount of shock value.

Let's get started here in Virginia then:
  • Devils Backbone Brewing - 1872 Steinlifter
  • Ballad Brewing - Oktoberfest
  • Port City - Oktoberfest
It's probably not wildly surprising that Devils Backbone and Port City make it into this three given that I think they are two of the best lager brewers in Virginia, Ballad though was something of a surprise. I have enjoyed a few of Ballad's beers in recent year, most notably their Fast Mail mild ale - one of the few milds in Virginia that is a core beer, but I couldn't recall having a lager from them, it was a very pleasant surprise. Although I wasn't shocked by Devils Backbone making the finalists, the fact that it was their 1872 Steinlifter rather than O'Fest was interesting. Steinlifter is an old school 19th century style märzen where O'Fest is a modern, paler, festbier, and you won't find Steinlifter in any stores as it was a brewpub only beer. Port City's Oktoberfest is, in common with most of their beers, an excellent example of style and technique. It is not as heavily malty as some märzens that get made over here, but it is delightfully complex and moreish at the same time. However, the beer going forward to represent Virginia in the final three is Devils Backbone 1872 Steinlifter.

On then to the rest of the US, here we have:
  • Von Trapp Brewing (VT) - Oktoberfest
  • Bierstadt (CO) - Oktoberfest
  • Jack's Abby (MA) - Copper Legend
The most  telling thing with these three is actually the names of some of the breweries that missed the cut, the likes of Olde Mecklenburg, Harpoon, Bell's, and TRVE Brewing were all up there in the running. Both Von Trapp and Jack's Abby are readily available in this part of Virginia, and when it comes to Vermont's finest I am always happy when I see the flash of blue that denotes their märzen. In the absence of Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest Amber Märzen, Von Trapp picked up the slack and became my go to beer for the season. I had the Bierstadt Oktoberfest when I was over in Denver last month, and in common with the other lagers I tried from them, whilst geeking out on the glorious brewing system, it was excellent, and thankfully not overwhelmingly malty. Jack's Abby have only recent bee available in Virginia, and so I am slowly making my way through their range, and again it was an excellent example of the older märzezn style, and eminently drinkable. However, Von Trapp takes the plaudits as the Best of the USA. mving on to the final three.

  • Rothaus - Eiszäpfle
  • Ayinger - Oktober Fest Märzen
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
Yeah, yeah, I know, there is not a single official Oktoberfest beer in my list, but there is a reason for that, they are all too syrupy for my taste. Even though Eiszäpfle is a year round beer in Germany, it only makes its way to the US in the autumn, which you could argue is just plain cynical marketing, but when a beer is this tasty, who really cares? Ayinger, which is the current Fuggled Oktoberfest champion, is the single most hunted out beer at this time of year for me. Last year I managed to only get a single 4 pack, so I took no chances this year, buying and stashing a couple of 4 packs a week while it lasted. Decidedly old school in its thick, chewy maltiness, it is wonder beer regardless of which autumnal or winter month it is. Weihenstephaner Festbier is unrepentantly modern, pale, noticeably hoppy - got to love those noble hop grassy, lemony, and subtle spice notes - and it looks grand in a maß. For fear of being labelled boring, the Ayinger takes the plaudits here, and was actually the highest scoring beer of the 53 examples I had.

The three finalists all scored over 34 out of 40 in my ranking system, with Ayinger scoring 35, Devils Backbone 34, and Von Trapp also 34. Rather than just declare Ayinger the winner though, I wanted to think a little about the drinking experience a bit more. In terms of volume drunk, Von Trapp has been the most regular visitor to my fridge, followed by Ayinger, and then Devils Backbone - don't forget though that Steinlifter was a brewpub special, and thus I had that on draft there and a couple of crowlers that I brought home. Ultimately I think is comes down to which beer did I enjoy the most, and the winner therefore is Devils Backbone 1872 Steinlifter. It has all the malt complexity of the Ayinger, but was more drinkable, perhaps by virtue of being fresh from the serving tanks at the brewpub, but either way it was an absolute delight.

Friday, October 21, 2022

TRVE and Golden

I've been home from Colorado for almost a week now. The twins have turned five, developed attitudes, ahem I mean "personalities", and I haven't found the requisite few minutes to mention the other breweries I visited while at the foot of the Rockies. If you are here looking for my thoughts on Bierstadt, with a side note about Reverence, and Cohesion, you have come to the wrong post.

The day after our colleague gathering at Cohesion, it was planned that the team I am part of would have our quarterly planning meeting at TRVE Brewing (pronounced "true" I am informed) before heading out to Golden for the company retreat that formed the second half of my week. On looking up the brewery on Google Maps, the entry claimed that they opened at 3pm, which was problematic as our meeting was scheduled to start at midday. My original plan had been to Uber over there with a colleague, but things transpired that I just fancied walking the mile and a half, with my backpack slung over my shoulders as I had to also check out of my hotel. By the time I made it there, and discovered to my delight that Google was wrong and the brewery's website was right that they open at 11am on Wednesdays, I needed a beer...

Now, I am sure there are some who must wonder why I am constantly drinking pale lagers of some provenance, rather than the latest, hypest, hazy IPA that looks like sheep phlegm topped with shaving foam. They are just my sweet spot, and they tell you how good a brewer actually is as you can't hide flaws, so if a brewery has some form of pilsner, helles, Dortmunder, or just plain old pale lager on tap, that will invariably be choice one. In the case of TRVE, it was an excellent indicator, clean, crisp, beautifully bitter, "Cold" is their kellerpils and it was simply lovely. Also delicious was Xtra Good, a collaboration with Austin's fantastic Live Oak Brewing. Xtra Good is a light lager made with corn grits, and really highlighted that light lager need not be flaccid and boring, it was superb. The highlight though was "Bloodaxe" a "Nordic Farmhouse Ale" made with orange peel and grains of paradise, dropping a fairly hefty 7% abv into your bloodstream. Not something I would usually go for, but so good were the kellerpils and light lager, I figured I'd give it a bash and it was well worth it.

Unrelated to the beer, TRVE tout themselves as a "metal" brewery meaning the soundtrack to our team meeting was a eclectic mix of speed and death metal - I loved it. With the meeting wrapped up, it was time to head out to Golden for the first in-person company retreat since pre-March 2019.

We were staying at a place called The Eddy Taproom and Hotel, which had a few own label beers available in their bar, the pale ale being a respectable American pale ale which hit all the right C-hop notes. In terms of breweries though we only went to one while we where there, on our way to dinner on the Thursday night...Golden City Brewing.

Golden City Brewing is located in a mostly residential part of Golden - imagine trying to do that in NIMBY-centric Virginia! - and it being a Thursday night was very quiet. With just an hour to go before they shut for the night we ordered, at Jerry's instigation, a round of The Geologist, a 9% abv doppelbock that frankly has no right to be such easy drinking, and very appropriate given we work in geoscience publishing. I was being sensible though, and pacing myself in line with the rest of the group rather than pouring it down my neck and getting another.

I loved that in the middle of a residential area was a brewery with a fairly expansive beer garden to complement its bar area. It actually reminded me in terms of the vibe of Bar Chýše in the Čimice district of Prague. So taken was I with Golden City that I returned the following night, with just a single colleague as most of the company had flown home. This time I had their imperial milk stout, Eyes Wide Shut, and nursed that for the half hour or so we were there.

The contrast to the Thursday was stark. The place was heaving, as in genuinely busy and buzzing. The food truck on the road seemed to be doing a roaring trade, and something that was evident from the wide age range present was that this is clearly a community hangout spot. Kids, parents, single adults, grandparents all happily mingling and having a good time in their local, it was heartwarming to know such places can exist in the heart of an American residential area. Feeling drained from the constant go of conferencing and company retreat, I finished my beer and retired to my room at The Eddy, a cracking little hotel by the way, ready to fly home to Virginia and my wee family.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Cohesion Brewing...dokonalost

I first heard about Cohesion Brewing through an Instagram post, which showed an attempted pronunciation guide for several Czech beer words which I described at the time as "iffy". One of the founders of the brewery, Eric Larkin, reached out to me to see if I could give some pointers, which I was more than happy to do. My conversation with Eric so impressed me that I knew if I ever got to Denver then Cohesion would be an absolute must visit brewery. I absolutely visited last night, though unfortunately Eric was unable to be there, hopefully next time.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am over in Denver for work and yesterday several of my colleagues, including Jerry Fagerberg, arrived in town for our company retreat in the next few days. We bundled into an Uber and made our way to the brewery, which is in an industrial area, past many over workshops and businesses, that actually reminded of getting to Caboose Brewing in Vienna on a previous company night out.

Walking through the door my heart leapt for joy at the site of horizontal lagering tanks, and a chalkboard list of beers where everything included the °P, mostly 10 and 12, as well the Czech style designation, including diacritics! We weren't expecting to see the name of one of Jerry's local breweries from Minnesota though, Utepils have done a collaboration 10° pale lager with Cohesion, of which more later.

I actually wish I had taken a picture of the bar itself, as it was a delightful setup, with a pale green tile bar back, a pair of beer towers which housed the 6 Lukr taps, gleaming brass, an unexpected British beer engine, and all manner of Czech paraphernalia - nice to see you again Private Švejk. We started with the Cohesion 10° pale lager.

Look at that lovely cap of frothy wet foam...and what a gorgeous beer this is, as good a desítka as I have had in many a moon. Had I been served this in a pub in Prague, I would be a very happy camper. Much in the same spirit as Bierstadt, tradition is an honored thing at Cohesion, they decoction mash for example, which is always a good sign to me with lager breweries - yes, you can make good lagers with infusion mashing, but decoction just adds things to the beer that no amount of carapils can. Four mouthfuls and I was ready for a second I popped things up a degree or 2 and went for the Ovce 12°.

Again a wonderful beer, I was back to not bothering with notes, I was just enjoying really good examples of some of my favourite types of beer. Absolutely dripping with Saaz, this is a beer that would delight any fan of noble hops, I was delighted. Eventually we moved on to the Utepils collaboration, again a 10° beer, a bit paler than Cohesion's own desítka, and noticeably bitter, with a long lingering dry finish, another absolute banger of a beer.

By this point I had noticed a corner of the taproom that was set up in such a way that it reminded me of many a Czech boozer I have frequented, places like u Slovanské lipy or Hostomická nelévárna...maybe it was the wooden paneled wainscoting, sure still a bit clean in its newness, but I insisted our group abandon our table so I could create some hospoda nostalgia for myself.

By this point I had settled on another collaboration beer as my go to, Herald 12° brewed in conjunction with Brewery Novalis in New York and using Saaz hops grown in New York state as well as Premiant hops. Another delightful brew that would more than pass muster in Czechia. With closing time approaching and swag having been bought, new brewery hats for the twins, the barman brought us over taster glasses poured in the mlíko manner, and it was actually the first time I had ever tried beer in this way - yeah I know, boring me for sticking to a regular pour. I don't recall which beer he brought over, but that foam was sweet and malty, and delicious. I am not sure I will ever become a devotee of mlíko but it was fun to try it.

I am sure plenty of others have waxed lyrical about Cohesion, and so I can only add to that chorus, what a fantastic brewery and taproom it is. Every beer we had was on point, the venue itself was a delight, and that little hospoda corner just capped the night to perfection. I also loved the fact that not a single beer was over 4.8%, and in the case of the 10° lagers, Cohesion's own was 3.9% and the Utepils collab 4.1%.

When it comes to Czech beer, it is easy to get snared into 14° and high dark lagers, but the 10° has been the go to beer for generations, it is the beer you drink in the hospoda with your mates, you maybe have 5 or 6 in a night and get up for work the next day none the worse for it, Czech beer culture is ultimately a drinking culture, and Cohesion seem to get that.

What a fantastic place and if you are ever in Denver and only want to visit one brewery, make sure it is Cohesion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Of the Cupolas of Bierstadt

I am currently in Denver for work, having arrived on Sunday evening and staying here for a week before heading home to Virginia in time for the twins 5th birthday.

Even though I admitted recently to being an abysmal beer tourist, in the sense that I very rarely plan travel around breweries to visit, when I travel for work I do my research and pick out some places that I want to try. Given that Colorado is known for its lager brewing, I had plenty of options, but I knew straight off the bat that Sunday night would be Bierstadt.

In the week before I flew out social media was full of pictures of Bierstadt's legendary Slow Pour Pils beer as it seemed that everyone and his mate that attended the Great American Beer Festival had made a beeline there.

I was pretty wiped out by the time I got to Bierstadt on Sunday, and my palate may not have been in the best of shape, having had a couple of airport porters, a brown ale, and when I got to Denver a couple of excellent Mexican lagers from Reverence Brewing. If you are ever in Denver you should go there, it's a fantastic place that feels like a community bar that happens to have damned good beer.

Having grabbed a seat at the upstairs bar, I ordered the obligatory Slow Pour Pils, and a Helles to drink while I was waiting...

The thing that hit me most about both beers was just how insanely clear they are, almost in a fuck you juxtaposition to the hazy IPA world. I wasn't taking notes, preferring to just mess around with my camera in the very cool art deco/industrial fusion surroundings. Knowing that I had some spare time on the Monday, I decided that I would head back once work was done for the day, and also so I could think a bit more about the Slow Pour Pils, as Evan Rail had asked for my thoughts on Instagram.

With work commitments out of the way, at least until a late dinner, I headed back over to do some more considered evaluations, and also make sure I had a palate more up to the task at hand - as in I remembered to drink plenty of water. Again I went to the upstairs bar, and ordered myself a pils, pulled out my phone and shock, horror, I took notes about a beer I was drinking in a bar! So here we go...

  • Sight - pale gold, huge rocky white head (duh), crystal clear
  • Smell - crackers, crushed water biscuits, very subtle floral hop aroma
  • Taste - classic pilsner malt graininess, almost flinty mineral note, grassy hops with a hint of wildflower
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Advertised as a Northern German pilsner, I was expecting more bitterness upfront, maybe the slow pour kicks some of it out of the beer? The mouthfeel was softer than I expected, which makes the beer feel sweeter. I realise the slow pour part of things is the star here, but I was left wondering how it would taste hladinka style in a mug, especially unfiltered - can't remember where I read it is filtered, but I am sure I did. It is though a thoroughly delicious beer, if I didn't have plans for another couple of breweries...I'd likely be back.

I didn't take notes about the helles, I just sat and enjoyed a lovely iteration of one of my favourite styles, I did though make sure to try the first märzen of the trip, and it was likewise excellent, though poured from a can as they were done with draft, and it scored a very respectable 32/40 in my points system, which places it currently joint third, along with the likes of Port City and Olde Mecklenberg.

The thing I had hoped to do while I was at Bierstadt was to get a peek at their brewhouse...and I wasn't really paying attention as I walked to the bar when I noticed a copper dome. The brewhouse is right there for all the see, and what a thing of beauty it is.

From what I understand the brewhouse was originally housed in the local brewery in Ammerndorf, a small village just outside Nürnberg, and was built in 1932. Bierstadt shipped it to Colorado and essentially rebuilt it exactly as it had been in Bavaria. To my mind, this kind of thing is what makes a "craft" brewing business truly artisanal. I may have geeked out looking at those glorious copper domes.

I am not sure when I will ever make it back to Denver, but whenever I am here I know I will go to Bierstadt, not just to enjoy the triple decocted beers, though the Pils is double decocted, but to look at that rescued brewhouse and be glad it is still churning out great lagers.

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 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 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.

Märzen/Festbier Review

So far this year I have drunk at least 53 examples of lager made wiith Oktoberfest in mind. I say "at least" because there are a c...