Friday, December 7, 2018

The Session 142: Last Orders


This month's Session, the last of its ilk, is being hosted by the venerable Stan Hireonymous of Appellation Beer, and plenty of excellent books. Stan's theme for this month is formally titled "Funeral Beers", though he did also suggest that "one more for the road" would be a suitable theme, either way, the session is over, last orders has been called, and there will be no after hours lock in. Stan asked us all to:
Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a relationship. So happy or sad, or something between. Write about the beer. Write about the aroma, the flavor, and write about what you feel when it is gone.
When I lived in Prague, there was a pub that was a very regular haunt, the magnificent proper boozer that was U Slovanské lípy. I spent many a merry time there, draining half litre after half litre of the Koutská Desítka that I wrote about yesterday, but I always ended the session with the same beer, a half pint of Koutský tmavý speciál, an 18° beer that was the perfect nightcap, or as Evan would describe it "simply miraculous".


Pouring an inky deep black, topped off with that firm ivory head, you know just from looking at it that this is a serious beer. No silly fripperies, no flashy gimmicks, just a Baltic Porter as Baltic Porter should be.

As I close my eyes and try to remember the beer's aroma, it has been almost a decade since I had it, the overwhelming recollection is that of a rich bitter chocolate, backed with the punch of an Italian espresso.

As you almost come to expect from a Baltic Porter the flavours are the usual suspects, again the chocolate is there, the coffee, perhaps a merest hint of soy sauce, for a salted caramel umami thing. The hops are in there mainly for bittering, but you know they are there, as a light spice comes through in the finish, but this is very much a glorious rich dark chocolate cake with espresso ganache filling. It's just as well the hops are there though as without them the beer would be an unctuous overly sweet goo, with the beer adding layer upon layer in your mouth as you drink.

This is a beer to linger over. Sure it is only a malé serving of 300ml, or about half a pint, but chugging is most assuredly not the order of the day, it is 8.5% abv after all. Even though the session is ending, there is no need to rush over the last beer, and there is always the knowledge that there will be another session, maybe by another name, in the not too distant future. Not sure where, not sure when, not even sure who will be there, but in the words of the old Scots song:
So fill us a tankard o nappy broon ale
It'll comfort our herts and enliven the tale
For we'll aye be the merrier the langer that we sit
For we drank thegither mony's the time, and sae will we yet
To bring The Session to its end, the song from which the verse above is taken.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Get Your Kout

I spent the early part of this week in New Orleans at a conference. Given the early start on Monday, and the late finish on Tuesday, I ended up being there from Sunday afternoon to yesterday morning. With plenty of downtime in airports, I decided it would be a good idea to get a sense of beer options for a few post flying bevvies. I own the fact that I am not overly fond of flying, so something to relax over is always welcome.

It was on the advice of one of my Twitter friends, the ever lovely Amie, that I decided to look up a place called The Avenue Pub. A quick scan of the website had me thinking it would be my kind of place, then I checked the beer list....

Oh goodness me, right there, magic words....Koutská Dvanáctka.

A beer I love was going to be on tap about a mile from my hotel, it was a no brainer, I knew I would be there as soon as possible on Sunday evening. Having checked into my hotel, chatted with Mrs V and the boys, and showered the grime of flight away (why does sitting around in planes and airports make you feel grubby?), I decided to walk to the pub.

Thankfully the place wasn't overly busy, so I grabbed a stool at the bar (bar stools!!!!), and asked the suitably hirsute barman if they still had the Dvanáctka? My heart sank for a moment when he said 'no', but the 'no' was merely the preface to 'it's the ten that we have'.

Oh goodness me.....even greater magic....Koutská Desítka.

For those in need of a refresher, a desítka is a beer with a starting gravity of 10° Plato, usually about 4% abv (take the ABV and times it by 2.5 is a pretty good way to work out the Plato starting gravity of a beer), and in the case of Koutská Desítka a beer I drank a lot of, and I mean a lot of, when I lived in Prague. When I would go to U Slovanské lípy the desítka was my beer of choice, I spend many afternoons and evenings there with an assorted cast of folks, including Evan Rail and Max of Pivní Filosof, drinking pint after pint of what I regarded as the finest pale Czech lager in the world.


For a moment I feared that it wouldn't be the Proustian Madeleine I imagined, but that first mouthful was nostalgia in a glass. Soft malt backbone, the gentle lemongrass bitterness of Saaz, the snap of a quality lager....for moments in time I was transported, reminded again of the great beers that drew me away from the mass market brands of Gambrinus and Staropramen. Back then there were no pastry stouts, fruit infected infused goses, or barrel aged imperial IPAs, but there was Koutská Desítka, such a simple, beguiling, and bewitching brew, intoxicating in so many ways.

I left the pub having reveled in memory, knowing that my future would include another trip, this time on Tuesday night having wandered briefly the gaudiness of Bourbon Street. Earlier that day I got talking to another attendee about beer, and had mentioned both beer and place to him, sure enough he turned up with his wife - the first person I have ever actually seen using Untappd in public. As we talked beer she confided that she used to love IPA, especially the hazy New England slop that is the rage these days, then her epiphany came, she just wanted a Pilsner Urquell and all the hop bite and delight that comes with it. Koutská Desítka found a new fan that night, I rekindled the flame of a long lost Czech love, and I saw that there are plenty of folks out there eschewing the new for a taste of classic, traditional, well crafted beer.


I headed to bed cheered, but still had to fly in the morning.

Friday, November 30, 2018

An Adventful December?

One of the highlights of growing up in Germany, the joys of being an Army brat, was getting a fancy German Advent calendar with chocolates rather than just wee pictures - perhaps my memory is faulty but I always remember the British ones being somewhat dull as a kid. Complete side thought, Germans in particular, and more broadly central Europeans, do Christmas the best. Any how, it seems that Craft Beer™ Advent Calendars have been all the rage in recent years and I thought I'd jump on the old bandwagon. Only one minor issue, I have an aversion to having stuff curated for me, I much prefer to survey what's available and make my own decisions, yes I can be something of a contrarian, I know.

The plan as it currently stands is to buy 24 bottles of seasonal beers, drink one each day of Advent, and then write a blog post about it. Pretty simple really, and if you have any recommendations of beers to include, I am all ears - assuming I can find them in the stores of central Virginia.


However, Advent is just the lead up to Christmas, and so naturally that got me thinking about what I am going to have on my table come dinner time on the 25th. I have a decent collection of big boozy beers that would go nicely with dessert - hopefully Mrs V is going to have another stab at making a traditional British Christmas pudding, minus the coins. So I need something from the cellar to go with pud, here's the long list of options:
  • Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout - 2013 vintage
  • Olde Hickory Irish Walker Barleywine - 2012 vintage
  • Victory Old Horizontal - 2010 vintage
  • Bell's 25th Anniversary Ale (2010)
  • North Coast Old Stock Ale - 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016 vintages
  • Fuller's Vintage Ale - 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 vintages
  • Starr Hill Bandstand Barleywine - 2013 vintage
  • Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot Batch 1 (2014)
  • Alewerks Brewing Grand Illumination - 2009 vintage
  • O'Hara's Barleywine Aged in Irish Whiskey Barrels Edition 3 - 2015 vintage
Naturally with twin 14 month old sons to deal with I won't be just parking on the couch and drinking all of the above, though tempting it may be, so I will have my latest batch of my best bitter homebrew on the kegerator, this time hopped with Australian Galaxy.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Trading Up

Once upon time, back in Mrs Velkyal and I's BC days (before children), we would quite regularly pop into Trader Joe's to pick up some of the more interesting food that they sell. Nowhere else in the area does things like chicken balti pies, proper German bratwurst actually from Germany, or even divine 1lb bars of Belgian milk chocolate. In the chaos that is the first year or so of twin parenthood we stuck exclusively to Wegmans largely for the convenience of being able to go to one place and be done. Recently though we went back to Trader's to stock up on some of the things we had missed, so naturally a wander to the beer aisle was in order, and I was kind of hoping the winter doppelbock would be on the shelves.

Alas and alack there was no doppelbock on this trip, but there were a couple of beers I had not seen before, a Mosaic Pale Ale called Caco-Phony and a Dutch Pilsener called Peter's Brand. The Caco-Phony came as a 6 pack of 12oz cans for $6.49, and the pilsener a six pack half litre cans for $7.99 - bargain central! Let start with the Peter's Brand.


Ok, so the can says this is a 'Dutch Style Pilsener', but it is brewed under license in a German brewery - ahhh European integration and collaboration at its finest. It actually pours a really nice golden colour with a very flimsy white head that vanishes the moment you look askance at it. Aroma is mostly a nice malted graininess with some herbal hoppiness buried in the background, and that is pretty much the tale of the flavour as well. The malt just about dominates, it has a juicy sweetness that I tend to associate with European base malts, maybe a light nutty character, and then some more herbal hops and a little lemongrass chucked in for measure. One thing missing from the beer for my tastes is a good firm hop bitterness, it is just a touch too smooth and mellow, almost like a Dortmunder really. This one is simple, obviously put together well, and a perfectly chuggable beer, I'll be buying it again for sure.


Moving on then to something more with the current craft zeitgeist, Caco-Phony is an American Pale Ale hopped apparently exclusively with Mosaic, one of the darlings of the new hop varieties out there. As you can see form the picture it pours a hazy orange, topped with a slightly off white head that lingers, and lingers, and lingers. Through the head though comes a kaleidoscope of aromas, yes the pine and citrus of American hops is there, but then so was a rich earthiness, some tropical fruit, mangoes in particular, and even a lovely spicy note, mosaic indeed. Tastewise the Mosaic again is front and central, but with a honeyed support cast from the malt giving it way more balance than I expected from the aroma. This really is a nice, nice beer, and at $6.49 for a six pack it'll be int he fridge again pretty soon.

I will be raiding the booze aisles of Trader Joe's again more often I think if I get decent beers at a price that won't send me to the workhouse. Hopefully next time though there will be the doppelbock, I need it to soak the fruit for my Yule cake in...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Old Friends: Left Hand Milk Stout

Back in October 2012 I was laid off by the company I worked for at the time. It was 10 o'clock in the morning when I got the news that it was happening, about 30 of us were laid off that day, and so I did what any sensible person does on such an occasion, I went to the pub. OK, maybe that's a British response, but by 11am I was on pint number 3 or 4. Said pints were all Left Hand's majestic Milk Stout, one of the few beers for which I will give up my animus against nitro. In a pleasing piece of circularity, I believe the nitro version is on tap at the same pub at the moment.

Anyway, this is not about the nitro version, this is about the non-nitro version that I picked up in the store last weekend, I guess at some point I should do a side by side comparison as I believe Left Hand also do a bottled version of the nitro. Before launching in to the tasting itself, look at this from the label:


I was thrilled to see a suggested serving temperature on the label, and while I won't be buying a 'stout glass' any time soon, my pint pot being more than adequate, I am glad that Left Hand encourage drinkers to take the temperature of their beer seriously. As I mentioned in a recent post I have taken to keeping my darker ales in the wine cooler, which is set at 54°F (12°C), so this was perfect as it poured....


Beautiful, perhaps I am odd finding beauty in an inky jet black liquid, but I found this absolutely entrancing in the glass. That thinnish half inch of mocha head clunk around doggedly. From that thing of beauty came a gentle roast aroma, a toffeeish thing that reminded me of dulce de leche, or creme caramel, all backed up by a lovely spicy hop note. In terms of flavours, lots of smooth chocolate and coffee (think Gervalia brand) going on, lovely stuff. Add to the mix some toast and biscuits with a really clean hop bitterness and you have a veritable smorgasbord of happiness to deal with.


Beauty is a word that ran through this beer like words trough a stick of rock, beautiful to look at, beautiful aromas, tastes, and so beautifully balanced that even at 6% abv this is a beautiful beer to just drink and drink and drink. Even though I will happily drink the nitro version, this is much more in my wheelhouse, and that wheelhouse may just be seeing more of it this winter.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Old Friends: Samuel Adams Boston Lager

What could be a more appropriate way to mark my 1000th post on Fuggled, than to write about one of the earliest American craft beers that I remember drinking? I say 1000th post with some qualification however, as there have been 1066 posts prior to this, it's just that 67 of them were guest posts or Brewer of the Week interviews where most of the content was provided by someone else, so I am not counting them.

There was a time when Samuel Adams Boston Lager was a reliable go to beer when the place I was in had nothing better on offer, whether that be a store or a restaurant. Given the changes that having 12 month old twin sons have wrought, I hadn't drunk it in an age, we rarely go to restaurants any more, and I am brewing more of my own beer than buying stuff at the moment. Still, Boston Lager would sit on the shelves like an old flame winking seductively, and this weekend I succumbed to the temptation and bought a couple of bottles.


Pouring the two bottles into my Purkmistr half litre mug, one of my favourite glasses, it was a delightful shade of light copper or amber, with a firmish white head that lingered for a while, and no visible carbonation. Definitely still looked the part. The aroma was mainly a bready malt quality, with a bit of light toffee sweetness, balanced with grassy hops that danced merrily into floral territory as well.


Leaving behind the olfactory delights, tastewise the bready thing was there in the drinking, with a toasty edge, toast that had been schmeered with dulce de leche that is, and then there was something you hadn't noticed before, a bitterness that seemed out of place, like singed sugar, acrid, distracting, not something you remember, absence may have made the heart grow fonder.


The sugary sweetness definitely dominated here, and given the fact that I am very regular lager drinker a couple of things were missing, bitterness and the clean snap of a well lagered beer. So entirely absent were they that the beer was basically unpalatably sweet and syrupy. I don't remember Boston Lager being so entirely meh, perhaps my tastes have changed? Perhaps the beer was been "re-formulated" to make it "smoother" (brewery code for making a beer bland as all hell by ditching the bittering hops)? Whatever it was, the daliance was a disappointment, and not one I plan to repeat again any time in the near future.