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.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Faux Boozers for the Instagram Generation

This may come as something of a surprise, but I really don't mind folks who don't drink, horses for courses and all that jazz. I have even been known to go on extended booze free stints, beyond my annual January break - for the record, I find advocates  for both "Dryanuary" and "Tryanuary" tedious and smug in equal measure - if I fancy a break from the booze it is none of their business, in support or otherwise.

One thing though that is really guaranteed to get my goat is people who claim their don't go to the pub because of some particular thing, and if that thing wasn't there, they would go. Take smoking for example, now I am not, never have been, and never will be, a smoker, but I think the smoking ban is a piece of officious nonsense handed down from a government pandering to puritans. If we believe in the free market, then businesses should have been free to decide if they wanted to ban smoking in their establishments, or to introduce a smoking room. There are solutions that don't require total bans, though campaigners are rarely likely to opt for sensible compromise in this extremist day and age. From a purely anecdotal standpoint, many of the people I know who said they would go to the pub more if smoking were not allowed don't actually go to the pub any more than they used to. I should also point out that I don't hanker for the days of having to air out my coat from an open window after a night in a smoky pub, but I think the ban is heavy handed and a contributing factor to the crisis of the pub trade.

Anyway, this morning on Twitter The Pub Curmudgeon tweeted a article from the Morning Advertiser about people looking for a booze free pub like environment. I find myself asking the question, what is the point of having a "pub" that doesn't serve alcohol? After all, the dictionary definition of a pub is:
a building with a bar and one or more public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals
The English language does have several perfectly good words, and the occasional one nicked from French, for places that sell non-intoxicating drinks, and maybe even light meals, but for which a license to sell booze is not required, here is a select sample:
  • teashop
  • tearoom
  • coffee shop
  • coffeehouse (though somewhat sketchy places in the 18th century, what with the political intrigue and gambling that went on)
  • café (I guess for those cosmopolitan types for whom a solid English word isn't good enough)
For the non-drinker there are plenty of options of places to go, is it the pub's fault that they don't stay open until 11pm? Is it the pub's fault that they don't have an atmosphere to rival the local boozer on a Friday night? Nope, and so the pub need not be impacted because people who have no desire to do what happens in pubs by virtue of them being pubs want to go elsewhere.

Rather than lobbying pub owners to make spaces more appealing to them, how about frequenting the types of places already available and advocate for them to open later, have a broader range of drinks suitable for non-drinkers, and encourage a kind of pub like atmosphere to make them slightly less joyless holes of puritanical face pinching?

Coming back to the original Morning Advertiser article, I think this quote from perhaps the most puritanically named sober bar imaginable is very telling:
"Young people don't want to get drunk anymore...They care about how they look on Instagram"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Question of Locality

Everyone and his mate, it seems, loves to bang on about "local beer", even though as I have written before the whole concept of "local" beer is fraught with problems:
"so often the ingredients being used by "local breweries" are anything but local. Malts come from Canada, the UK, Belgium and sometimes Germany, hops likewise come from a raft of countries, including the latest craze for Antipodean hops. Yeast is sourced from multinational companies with libraries of strains again spanning the globe. Want to brew a witbier? No problem, order a Belgian yeast specifically for use in witbiers, use the Weihenstephan strain for making a German hefeweizen, Nottingham for an English ale, or even Prague's Staropramen for making that Bohemian pilsner you've been dreaming about.

That pretty much leaves the water as the only genuinely local element of a beer, but how many breweries strip their water of all the minerals and salts which make regional water a driving force in the history of developing beer styles and then add back the required minerals for a particular style? Imagine London and Dublin had soft water instead of hard, porter and it's offspring, stout, would likely be very different beers."
That may sound like a strange comment to make given that I am someone that drinks far more beer from the area in which I live than stuff brought in from the wider world. It just so happens that I live in a part of Virginia with plenty of good breweries. If my choices were a third rate local craft brewery and buying Sam Adams in the store, I'd be on the Sam Adams all day long. Drinking local only really works when the drinking is a pleasurable experience rather than an industry induced guilt trip. In all the industry's posturing and waffle about supporting and drinking local (and no doubt some people will say that you should drink local shit so the brewery has funds to improve, as if shiny toys make better beer for a brewer with no sense of taste), it feels as though the locals themselves get forgotten about.

Can a brewery for example truly call itself "local" if it relies on daytrippers and tourists for a large bulk of its revenue, or if the price of a pint excludes its nearest neighbours from being able to drink there? There was a story I read recently about a brewery owner looking for a new location because the expected gentrification of the neighbourhood in which he pitched his tent didn't happen and his target audience didn't feel safe enough to visit his brewery. Now, call me a miserable git, but if you expect your audience to take their lives in their own hands and come to a rough neighbourhood for a bevvy while you wait for potential gentrification then you deserve to go under. If you want "nice" people to come and drop $6+ for a 16oz pint of whatever you are selling then work that into your business plan and go to areas they frequent.

How exactly the presence of a new brewery in a rough neighbourhood benefits that neighbourhood often escapes me. Job creation is often lauded as being a benefit, but then the people that fill the jobs being created are often likewise bussed in from outisde the neighbourhood. Indirect benefits to other local businesses gets touted too, but as daytripping tourists come in their cars, drink their flight, then leave in their cars, I wonder what other neighbourhood businesses benefit? Unless there is a petrol station to hand.

For millennia beer has been the everyman drink and the pub a social leveller, but there are times when it seems as though craft beer is for white, college educated, middle class folks, and the craft beer bar/brewpub/taproom little more than a ghetto in which white, college educated, middle class folks can feel safe from the marauding hoard that is the working class of their imagination. It's almost as though there is an unspoken code that only acceptable people are worthy of craft beer, as the industry and its attendant hangers on sneer at the great unwashed and decree "let them drink Bud".

Friday, October 12, 2018

Favourite Watering Holes

The inestimable pairing that is Boak and Bailey have a list of what look like wonderful pubs over on their blog today, and so in the spirit of shameless plagiarism I figured I would make a similar list. My list, by virtue of bouncing round the world for the last couple of decades needs to have the addition of dates for some places, as they have either closed down, or gone to shit from what friends have told me. In no particular order then, in we dive...


Pivovarský klub, Křižíkova 17, Prague

It really is inevitable that Pivovarský klub is on this list, it was there that 13 years ago on Sunday I met Mrs V after all, and for the next four years before moving to the US it was our local. We lived about a 5 minute walk from the place, got to know the staff really well, had our wedding reception there, and still recommend friends that are visiting Prague to pop in. I remember how revolutionary the idea of 6 taps, 5 of which rotated, and at least 200 bottled beers seemed at the time, opening up a whole new world of Czech beer to me. Most of the time I drank in the cellar bar, sorry my American friends "basement" just doesn't cut it as a description for their subterranean space, sat at the bar, in the corner under the spiral staircase. From my perch I could happily engage in my favourite, well second favourite, pub pastime - people watching. I often tell this story, but one of the things we loved about PK was that we were such regulars that the staff knew exactly what Mrs V wanted to drink without having to ask (Primátor English Pale Ale), and usually had it ready as she sat down. In many ways the feel of the place was Craft™ before it became a thing, you know, stripped brick and shiny metal, with paler wooden furniture than many a traditional boozer.


Zlatá hvězda, Prague, 1999-2009

Comically poor beer, toilets that would disgrace a refugee camp, and an owner that was known to physically throw people out of his pub that were being arseholes shouldn't really make for a place that I loved and frequented regularly, but love Zlatá I did. It was the place that for all 10 years of my stay in Prague I watched football, mostly Liverpool obviously, but not exclusively. With a group of fellow Liverpool fans, as well as a revolving cast of English teachers, teachers at one of Prague's international schools, Finnish chefs on disability who supported Chelsea, this place could generate an atmosphere unlike any other sports bar I have known. Similar to PK, I lived just a 5 minute walk from the place for the last four years of my stay in Prague, and was known to pop in even when there was no football, the cavernous, cool, dark space being perfect for reading the international edition of the Guardian. Shame they never learnt to spell my name for my reservations, but I got used to being "All" instead of "Al".


The Bon Accord, 153 North Street, Glasgow

Only been here a couple of times, but both have been fantastic. A good range of well kept real ales, 25 year old Talisker just one of the superb whiskies available, and an all day breakfast that will keep you going for several days. Both of our visits have ended up with us sitting with owner getting bevvied, and remarkably he remembered us the second time we turned up, some 2 years after the first, so gets additional kudos points for that. During that second trip, on a Friday night, I mentioned to Mrs V that one of the things I miss about British life was Friday nights in the pub, without the need to worry about driving home, sadly in central Virginia regional public transport is non-existant and taxis cost several appendages.


Devils Backbone Basecamp, 200 Mosbys Run, Roseland, Virginia

Some places are worth the hour it takes to drive there, said places are often also a factor in deciding where to go hiking of a weekend, the original Devils Backbone brewpub is one such place. When we landed in Virginia back in 2009, Devils Backbone was just coming up to its first birthday, and our first visit was on a tour of local brewpubs with a friend from the Prague days who was now living in Pittsburgh. That first visit was a bit underwhelming, mainly because the server got our flight all mixed up and let's just say expectations went all awry until we worked out the correct order from the menu notes. In those early years we would pretty often jump in the car to spend Sunday afternoon sat at the bar, surrounded by the taxidermy, reclaimed wood, and superb lagers. It was that commitment to quality lager that pulled me into Devils Backbone's orbit, and I have been a happy lager drinker because of them ever since. Some might baulk at spending money at an AB-InBev owned brewery, but Devils Backbone really looks after their people well, many of the wait staff having been there for almost ten years, and the fact that the beer keep improving as they invest in new shiny toys means I will always be able to get my lager kick satisfied at what I still think of as Virginia's best craft brewery.


Kardinal Hall, 722 Preston Avenue, Charlottesville, Virginia

As close to a German style beer hall as we are likely to get in this part of Virginia, and a pretty damned good stab it is too. Any place where I can get a litre of Rothaus Pils on draft has got to be a good place, add to that the excellent food, and this is somewhere my friends and I pretty often end up after a morning of hiking in the mountains. Admittedly I have to get used to the fact that "bratwurst" in America means something different than in Nuremburg or Thuringia, and so I avoid them so as to not be disappointed, but their Belgian fries are phenomenal. One of the great things about Kardinal is they actually have a decent sized and pleasant outdoor space that when the trees grow to maturity is going to make a really nice beer garden.


The Castle Tavern, 1 View Place, Inverness

The first time Mrs V and I wandered into the Castle Tavern was in 2014 when I took her for her first trip to Scotland, and the first time I had been home in almost a decade. It was Sunday lunchtime and my parents were at church, being good heathen folks my wife and I had wandered along the River Ness and decided it was time for a pint. Said pint was Cromarty Brewing's majestic Atlantic Drift, and in that moment I had found two new loves, a brewery and a real ale pub. Whenever I am home, the Castle Tavern is an essential port of call, anywhere that gets Timothy Taylor Landlord on cask is going to be a place I want to be at. If Mrs V and I move to the Inverness area in the future, it will be a regular haunt.

Photo credits
  • Pivovarský klub: Mark Stewart

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Old Friends: Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale

The brown ale kick shows no sign of abating, at least not in the immediate future, especially given my next homebrew project is to make another batch of my own nut brown ale.

What seems like an interminably long time ago these days, Mrs V and I went for a weekend to Williamsburg in 2010 to mark our 5th anniversary of meeting in a boozer in Prague. Williamsburg was the colonial capital of Virginia, home of the College of William & Mary, (yes, the Glorious Revolution William and Mary), and all round delightful little place to visit for history nerds like myself. We also took some time to head out to an industrial estate and try the beers from Williamsburg Alewerks, these days simply known as Alewerks Brewing Company.


Alewerks' beer regularly shows up in my annual Top 10 Virginia Beers lists, and their Weekend Lager is something that I am always happy to see on tap in the Charlottesville area, and even happier when the first glass is placed in front of me. My first Alewerks crush though was their Tavern Brown Ale, a beer I first had in August 2010 in a pub near Starr Hill Brewing, where I worked in the tasting room at the time, and it was a revelation. At the time I described it as:
wonderfully smooth and tasty, a great beer for sitting on the balcony in the autumn chill and just watching the sun go down over the turning leaves.
Once again the leaves are turning, and while I didn't sit on the deck, I did sit looking out over the deck to the woods at the back of my property, past the garden where the chickens are making a wonderful stab at eating the weeds and clearing out the raised beds.


Anyway, on to the beer itself, which was a couple of bottles stashed at 54°F for a few days. Poured into my Timothy Taylor pint pot, perhaps my current favourite glass. The beer was a deep garnet, with flashes of dark copper around the edges, the small, tan head dissipated rather quickly, and I have to admit that at one point I didn't think I was going to have much foam in the glass at all. The aroma department was dominated by tangy sourdough bread, unsweetened cocoa, and hazelnuts, there were some traces of toffee and caramel, but not much going on hop wise. The bready, nutella theme carried on when drinking the liquid itself, with some added caramelised oranges and spicy hop bite that reminded me of cinnamon chucked into the mix for good measure.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tavern Brown Ale again, and I think pouring it at 54°F as opposed to the usual chill of a beer straight from the fridge accentuated the complexity, making it a more pleasurable drinking experience. The word that kept running through my head as I drained my pint was that this was a "satisfying" beer, complex, balanced, and moreish, the kind of beer that you thoroughly enjoy drinking. It may just have made itself a front runner to be the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2018.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Session 140 - The Round Up


As the host of 140th monthly Session, I asked people to write something about Czech beer, beer culture, or the impact of Czech beer on the wider beer world. I chucked out a few suggestions as well:
  • reminiscences of a trip to the Czech Republic
  • a Czech beer that is your go to drink
  • lesser known styles of Czech beer, tmavé or polotmavé for example
  • the booming craft beer scene in the Czech Republic
  • small Czech breweries that deserve a wider audience
  • a beer you love inspired by Czech styles
So what did the folks come up with?

A new site for me, Franz Hofer is the mastermind behind A Tempest in a Tankard, and his post regaled us with memories of a few days drinking in the Czech capital. His trip included several of my favourite watering holes from my time there, as well as a few new places that when Mrs V, the Malé Aličky, and I eventually get back to Prague.

Over at The Brewsite, Jon admittedly to being "woefully inexperienced" in the delights of Czech beer, other than a keg of Pilsner Urquell at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Tampa. He also lamented that the Full Sail website no longer seems to list any Czech style lagers.

Stan Hieronymus wondered on Twitter if he had gone off topic by writing about Czech hops rather than Czech beer, but given the importance of hops to Bohemian history I have no problem whatsoever with that slight sideways step, especially as it is a very interesting article.

For my own post, I wrote about a pub that I loved when I lived in Prague but seem not to have written lots about on Fuggled, it also helped that said pub sold the wonderful Zlatá labuť Světlé Kvasnicové pivo 11°