Monday, January 23, 2017

Public Service Announcement: Sierra Nevada Recall

A friend of mine posted a news article on my Facebook feed this morning about a Sierra Nevada recall that has been issued, so in the interests of public safety I figured I'd also post about the recall, just in case folks haven't seen it yet.

Apparently there is an issue with some of the bottles coming out of the Mills River brewery in North Carolina. According to articles I have read, there are a limited number of bottles which have a defect that causes them to lose carbonation, and possibly also break on opening - with the attendant risk of that piece of glass falling into the bottle and potentially causing injury if unwittingly drunk.

The beers impacted by the recall are:
  • Pale Ale, bottled between December 5th and January 8th
  • Torpedo Extra IPA, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Tropical Torpedo, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Sidecar Orange Pale Ale, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Beer Camp Golden IPA, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Otra Vez, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Nooner Pilsner, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Hop Hunter IPA, bottled between December 5th and January 13th

For more details on the recall itself, see Sierra Nevada's website.

Thankfully the bottles of Narwahl I was given by Mrs V's cousin while we were in South Carolina over the holiday period are unaffected, and I don't think I actually have any other Sierra Nevada beer in the house at the moment, but do please go and check your stashes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Angry Ill-Informed Snobs Ahoy!

Several of my friends work for Devils Backbone, on the business side of things as well as the brewing. They are all really nice people, and I love it when I have the opportunity, or more usually the happy accident, to hang out with them and talk beer. You would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and generally positive bunch of folks, and it helps that Jason shares my love of decocted and bottom fermented beers.


Yesterday, one of my friends was visiting another brewery taproom in Virginia, whose beer and staff are apparently awesome, and she was wearing her Devils Backbone sweater as the weather has been a little cold of late. On seeing said Devils Backbone sweater, some customers in the establishment began to harass my friend, including this delightful comment:
"Fuck those corporate sellouts, and fuck you for working for a bunch of overrated corporate dicks."
Charming eh?

Of course the root of this animosity is last year's news that Devils Backbone are now partially owned by AB-InBev, I am not aware of the full details of the deal but I vaguely recall hearing that AB-InBev don't own the entirety of Devils Backbone. If I am wrong I am sure I'll be corrected soon enough.

It would appear then that in the mind of some craft beer purists it is acceptable behaviour to accost someone you do not know, verbally abuse them, and basically be a total twat of a human being because that person works for a successful brewery. Part of me wouldn't be too surprised if the wanker in question used to drink lots of Devils Backbone beer and is all butt hurt because of the sale, or has a palette so refined that they can taste the corporate structure in the beer.

Whichever way you look at it, and I can understand people choosing to spend their money on whichever brewing company is most acceptable to them, this is completely unacceptable behaviour, the kind of thing you would expect in the school yard from 7 year olds, not from people legally old enough to drink.

One of the things I love about Devils Backbone, and the folks that work there, is that they live by their motto 'beer positive', craft beer fans would do well to do likewise.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Mysteries of the East

I have been pondering what to do with this year's International Homebrew Project, especially with 70% of respondents to my little poll over in the right rail saying they would take part depending on the recipe.

As I was looking back at previous years' projects I realised that we have done several styles without ever tackling the most popular craft beer style, India Pale Ale.


That then will be the theme for this year, but don't worry I don't expect you to do a Pete Brown and traipse your homebrew on a ship from Burton to India via Brazil. I am going to avail myself of some historic IPA recipes and then run another poll to decide which one gets the nod.

If you are one of the 7 folks that said your participation was dependent on the recipe, please leave a comment on this post about whether India Pale Ale works for you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#IHP2017?

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed the little poll in the right rail over there.

The question is very simple, are you interested in taking part in the International Homebrew Project this year?

What is involved?
  • Brew a batch of homebrew from an agreed recipe
  • Blog/tweet/post about the results on an agreed date.
You in?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Beers and Breweries of 2016

Jól is upon us. Today is my last day at work for this year. What better time to take a quick look back at the beers and breweries that have made my drinking life all the richer this year? As in years passim I am sticking with highlighting the pale, amber, and dark beers from Central Virgina, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world that I have enjoyed most, as well as breweries that have impressed me in some way this year. As ever this list is utterly subjective, so let's start shall we?

Pale
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Meadow Bier
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
  • Honorable mentions - Champion Shower Beer, South Street My Personal Helles, Three Notch'd Road Soda, Cromarty Brewing Happy Chappy, Fyne Ales Jarl, West St Mungo Lager, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Fuller's London Pride (cask)
2016 has been a good one for this central Virginia based lager drinker (the only downside being that Three Notch'd didn't release their lovely Of.By.For Pilsner this year). My local clutch of brewers all seem to be churning out the kind of pale lagers I like, crisp, clean, packed with hop bite, and not crazy on the alcohol. Meadow Bier from Devils Backbone has been a revelation, and would compete with Rothaus Pils as my favourite iteration of a German Pilsner right now. Port City's Downright Pilsner makes it onto my list of best pale beers for the 5th year in a row, it really is that damned good. Now sure it's not likely to please a total Czech lager purist, dry hopped with Saaz as it is, but to this lover of all things Bohemian I can give it no higher praise than my belief it would sit very well among the lagers being brewed in the Czech Republic, and they know a thing or two about brewing lager. This year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest really had a high bar to meet after last year's version. Lighter in colour, but still packed with the glorious flavours of Munich malt and Record hops, it was great drinking, and I drank lots of it. The one top fermented beer on this list is one of the influences on Three Notch'd Bitter 42, and when I was home in Scotland over the summer I made sure to drink as much of it as I could get my hands on, and finally found a place with it on tap - Beinglas Farm Campsite since you ask. Bitter without being puckering, malty without being too sweet, moreish in the extreme, it is a simply great beer.


Four superb beers, it really is difficult to single one out, but making this list 5 times in a row, winning gold at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup for the Pilsner style, and being the perfect expression of the simple delight of well made lager, Port City Downright Pilsner it is.

Amber
  • Central VA - South Street Satan's Pony
  • Rest of VA - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest of US - River Rat Broad River Red Ale
  • Rest of World - Isle of Skye Red
  • Honorable mentions - Cromarty Brewing Red Rocker, Schlenkerla Märzen, Adnams Broadside, Fullers 1845, Fallen Brewing Dragonfly
Amber beers are always the most challenging category for me as I tend not to drink that many copper to red beers, being more of a pale or dark drinker. Having said that the four winners have been companions to pleasant afternoons, wonderful lunches, and enjoyable evenings. Satan's Pony from South Street is kind of my fall back beer if the magnificent My Personal Helles isn't available, nicely balanced, just bitter enough to not be sweet, and low enough gravity to make a couple of pints acceptable - I would love to see it on their beer engine, without any silly additions like cinnamon or gorilla snot (seriously why adulterate a beer just because it is going into a firkin? Another Port City beer makes the list, and their Oktoberfest is one of the few I will drink every year, mainly because in common with the Downright, they get the details spot on making the beer clean and crisp, just as a lager should be, and Port City's Oktoberfest is as eagerly imbibed in my world as the Sierra Nevada. On the rare occasions I head down to South Carolina to visit Mrs V's family, I now make sure to pick up at least a six pack of Broad River Red, again it is immensely easy to drink, and always something to look forward to. Isle of Skye Red was an integral part of one of my highlights of 2016, being sat in a pub in Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland, eating freshly caught langoustines in the Chlachain Inn, served from a sparkled beer engine, it was gorgeous.


Another 4 excellent brews, but this time the winner is easy to pick out. Isle of Skye Red Ale gets the nod, and if you're ever in the north west of Scotland and see it on cask, be sure to try it, and if you can get a dish of langoustines at the same time even better!

Dark
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Oats McGoats
  • Rest of VA - Port City Porter
  • Rest of US - Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin
  • Rest of World - Cairngorm Brewery Black Gold
  • Honorable mentions - Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter, Fullers London Porter, Guinness Original,
Mmmmm.....dark beer. I love porter, stout, mild, brown ale, schwarzbier, dunkles, and tmavé - all things generally dark, I like. Three Notch'd Oats McGoats has done something that I once considered impossible, it has replaced Starr Hill's magnificent Dark Starr Stout in my affections. If Starr Hill were to ever bring it back I would not really be all that interested in Oats was available. Smooth, creamy, roasty, and dangerously drinkable, Oats is one of those perfect winter beers, supped beside the fire whilst reading a good book and listening to an opera. Port City have swept the board with my rest of VA picks this year, and that is testament to their all round superb brewing skills, they make classic beers, they make them well, and the make them consistently well, Porter is just another example of their genius. Velvet Merlin from California's Firestone Walker is another oatmeal stout, and one that has just enough of trace of some lactic character that it isn't overly slick, six packs tend to disappear quickly. Cairngorm's Black Gold was another integral part of a great night's drinking in Scotland, in the Climbers' Bar at the Kingshouse Hotel. Beautifully conditioned, served at the right temperature, sparkled of course, I still remember that night with great fondness.


It probably comes as no surprise then that my dark beer of the year is Cairngorm Black Gold, the name says it all.

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Picking a single beer of the year from my three winners is pretty difficult, but the winner is the one which was an integral part of a night a great drinking, in a great bar, surrounded by great people, and lots of craic. I refer of course to that night in Glencoe, fuelled by beer and the occasional drop of Talisker and Balvenie.

Congratulations to Cairngorm Brewery, Black Gold is the Fuggled Beer of 2016.

Brewery
  • Central VA - South Street Brewery
  • Rest of VA - Port City Brewing
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Fullers
  • Honorable mentions - Guinness, Three Notch'd,
Deciding on a brewery of the year for 2016 is actually quite difficult, especially given that Port City have taken the best of the rest for Virginia for all three beer categories. However, the other breweries have been regular features of my drinking this year. I have drunk more South Street beer than anything else in 2016, the My Personal Helles has been my go to beer for quite sometime, it is simply delicious, the brewery is a 2 minute walk from my office, and the bar staff know me well enough now that I rarely have to ask for another beer. When drinking at home, Sierra Nevada and Port City are both regulars in the fridge, whether that's Pale Ale or Downright Pilsner respectively, I never turn down a beer from either brewery. Fuller's might not have taken any of the gongs for best beers in the rest of the world, but with honorable mentions in each category they are most certainly one of the most consistently excellent breweries in the UK, and one that I am always happy to see on tap which side of the Pond I am on.


Mainly because I drink there so damned often, and they are brewing a beer that I can happily drink lots of and not grow tired of it, the Fuggled Brewery of the Year for 2016 is South Street Brewery - well done Mitch and crew, keep doing what you're doing, and keep brewing My Personal Helles!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Several Jars of Porter

A couple of months back a friend, and colleague at the company that is my day job, of mine was in Oxford for work. Naturally I asked him if it would be possible for him to bring me back a bottle or two on Oxford beer. After a week of seething jealousy as him sent me messages from places like the King's Arms, he came back to Central Virginia with a bottle of Shotover Brewing's Oxford Black Porter, which spawned a plan to do a tasting of as many porters as I could lay my hands on.

Originally the plan had been to find as many British porters as possible, but then I decided to broaden that out to include US made porters as long as they didn't have weird shit ingredients - I really fail to understand why craft brewers insist on putting extraneous shit in their dark beers (or in their beer at all to be honest).


Thus after Thanksgiving I had collected the following porters for my tasting:
This weekend just gone, and last night, I got round to drinking this little bevy of dark bevvy and here are my thoughts, a la Cyclops...



Fuller's London Porter
  • Sight - dark chestnut brown, light tan head
  • Smell - chocolate, caramelised sugar, roasty
  • Taste - toast, cocoa, molasses
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - very smooth, complex, moreish

Shotover Brewing Oxford Black
  • Sight - dark brown, red edges, off white head
  • Smell - spicy, slightly phenolic, touch of band-aid
  • Taste - lightly roasty, bready, trace of rubberiness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
  • Notes - bit thin, muddle of flavours

Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter
  • Sight - rich dark brown, red edges, loose tan head
  • Smell - light coffee, cinnamon, molasses, slight tobacco
  • Taste - dark brown sugar, some coffee, roasty notes
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - dry, slightly lactic finish, great balance

Deschute's Black Butte Porter
  • Sight - rich dark chestnut, crimson edges, tan head
  • Smell - molasses, bittersweet chocolate, burnt sugar
  • Taste - bittersweet chocolate, slight roast
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - medium bodied, great balance, moreishly drinkable

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
  • Sight - deep brown, light tan head, dissipates quickly
  • Smell - bitter chocolate, molasses, light roast coffee
  • Taste - bready, nutty, cafe creme
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - beautifully balanced, medium-full body, ideal for fireside in winter

Port City Porter
  • Sight - very dark, almost black, ruby edges, tan head that ligners
  • Smell - burnt sugar, light treacle, coffee, chocolate
  • Taste - sweet molasses, chocolate spread on toast, spicy
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - rich, unctuous brew, really well integrated
Other than the Shotover, each of these porters was a beer than I would be happy to drink whenever the porter mood strikes. If there was one take away from this mini session it was the American made beers tending to be sweeter, fuller bodied, and maybe a bit more complex, without having that much higher an alcohol content - only the Great Lakes and Port City brews were over 6%. It seems sometimes as though porter kind of gets lost in the IPAness of the modern craft brewing world, but for those of us who like dark beers, there are some decent ones out there.

Friday, December 2, 2016

#TheSession 118 - The Feast of Four


This month's iteration of The Session is hosted by the venerable Stan Hieronymous, whose latest book I am currently reading as it happens. His theme for this chilly December day is:
If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?
A challenging theme for sure, more so because I have a general aversion to the concept of the beer dinner (how many more times do I have to read of innovative pairings like chocolate and stout for dessert?). So I am ditching the beer dinner part of his theme, sorry Stan, and focussing on four people that I would invite to dinner with the inestimable Mrs V and I....


Unless this is your first visit to Fuggled, in which case welcome, or have been living under a rock since the Pliocene, you will know that I lived a large chunk of my live in the Czech Republic. I love Czech food, Czech booze, Czech people, etc, etc, and no one person embodies the Czech Republic more to me than Václav Havel. Playwright, philosopher, politician, and above all dissident, Havel understood what it was to suffer for his beliefs, denied the ability to go to a university with a humanities program due to his bourgeois background, imprisoned several times for his views opposing the Communist Party during the post Prague Spring era, one of the founders of Charter 77, and if details in the magnificent biography 'Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts' are to be believed, a raconteur extraordinaire. I imagine dinner with Havel, fuelled with beer - Havel would take visiting dignitaries to the pub - would be an evening to remember, especially if that beer fuel were Kout na Šumavě's magnificent 10° pale lager.


I've lived in the US now for seven and a half years, and being the kind of person I am, with the interests I have, I have taken great delight in reading about the Founding Fathers. It is difficult in central Virginia to get away from the Founding Fathers, after all, three of the first five Presidents were from the Charlottesville area and my house is pretty much equidistant between Jefferson's Monticello and Madison's Montpelier. My favourite Founding Father though is Benjamin Franklin. From reading about his, and there is no other way to put this, unbelievable life (seriously, if someone wrote the life of Benjamin Franklin it would be mocked for being unrealistic), here is a guy interested in pretty much everything, an unparalleled intellect, and seemingly not jammed so far up his own arse as to be a bore. As for the beer to serve with our growing band on luminary visitors, a good cask of Fuller's London Porter would do the trick here.


When I was at college, studying to be a  minister of religion, my favourite subject was hermeneutics, and it was through that subject that I developed a lasting love of language and its functions. I find things like semantics, semiotics, linguistics, philology, and etymology endlessly fascinating. So my third guest to arrive at my dinner table should come as no surprise, Umberto Eco. I love Eco's novels, in particular The Name of the Rose, as much as his essays and writings on literary criticism, and the thought of getting to sit down with him and just talk books, words, language, and symbols would be enough to make me smile broadly whilst skipping around the kitchen. For a mind such as this, the beer to be served would have to be complex, layered, polyvalent you might say, a good strong ale....North Coast Old Stock Ale, perhaps left in the cellar for several years, which reminds me that I have a bottle from 2010 floating around somewhere.


Rounding out my guests at the Feast of Four is Scotland's finest comedian, Billy Connolly. In common with the other guests, here's a guy with an incredible range of interests and knowledge, and a wonderful way of looking at the world. I imagine he would be the anchor that would stop the other three drifting off into the intellectual ether. The fourth beer that would be making an appearance at the feast would be probably my favourite beer on the planet, and I am sorry for the shameless self promotion, Three Notch'd Bitter 42.

So there we have it, the guests and the beer, but what of the feast itself? What would Mrs V and I lay on for our guests....
  • Starter - French onion soup
  • Main course - Mallaig langoustines and chips
  • Pudding - Sticky toffee pudding and custard
  • Cheese, fruit, oatcakes, coffee
For music through the night, I would just play my Teuchter Tunes playlist from Spotify, a collection of traditional music from around the world, including Scotland, Ireland, Appalachia, Brittany, and others.



Hopefully the following morning we would wake with raging hangovers, happily distended bellies, and an inclination to do it all again