Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let The Session Commence!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Friday morning at Three Notch'd doing the ceremonial dumping of hops, the slightly more labour intensive digging out of a mash tun, and the ever pleasant ritual of watching the runnings of a beautiful copper wort flowing from the mash tun to the kettle. Or to put it more simply, brewing Session 42.

This Thursday brings the best part of brewing a beer to town, drinking the stuff!

Yep, on Thursday at the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room, the third iteration of Session 42 Best Bitter will be tapped, from about 5.30pm if memory serves.

I am sure I have said this before, but it's always worth repeating, Session 42 is as close to a British style best bitter as is possible to get over in the States, at least, in the Virginia part of these United States. If you have ever had Timothy Taylor Landlord or Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted then you know what to expect in terms of colour, none of your 'boring brown bitter' here (the less said about people who think bitter is brown and boring the better really). That colour comes from a combination of 2 row pale malt and Victory malt, which lends the beer a distinctively biscuity flavour.

In keeping with the theme of the beer using all US ingredients, the hops are US Goldings, which are very similar to East Kent Goldings, in that they are spicy, orangey, delicious, all 42 IBUs of them. A good whack of bitterness, plenty of flavour and aroma.....mmmm......Goldings.

So guess where I'll be on Thursday after work, and with Friday off to boot, so I can have a fair few pints. Oh, and at some point, not this Thursday I believe, there will be cask Session 42....oh yes, cask best bitter!

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Pursuit of Impartiality

Perhaps it is a sign of my being a craft beer dilettante but I find it near impossible to lather myself into the pre-requisite rage required when the likes of InBev, SABMiller, or MolsonCoors purchase a small brewery. Neither yet does it bother me that people get 'confused' by Blue Moon being a Coors beer rather than a 'craft' beer, perhaps I believe in caveat emptor a little too much, or I just don't think it is relevant who makes a beer as long as the consumer is enjoying it. Worse still, I think the whole 'drink local' is a crock of grade A bullshit given that most breweries source their ingredients from around the world, strip their local water of anything unique and then add chemicals to the water to ape that of somewhere else.

The fact remains though that I drink almost exclusively beer that would  fall into the category of 'craft' simply because it is what I like to drink as a rule. The big three breweries in the US simply do not make or distribute the kinds of beer I like. There is no Anheuser-Busch Best Bitter, or Miller Mild, or even a Coors Session IPA. One thing though struck me recently as I sat in a dive bar drinking, nay thoroughly enjoying, a Goose Island IPA that there are some beers which get the boot end of opprobrium that I just don't see very often on draught.

The missing beer that immediately caught my attention in its absence was Budweiser. Not Bud Light, which is fairly ubiquitous in the bars I generally like (the divey types), nor any of its lime/strawberry/flavour of the month variants, but classic Budweiser. I simply cannot think of a bar in the Charlottesville area that I go to semi-regularly that has it on tap. Neither could I remember the last time I drank it, other than as a kid being allowed to stay up late and watch the Superbowl in the mid-80s (the reason for my vague liking of the Chicago Bears).

Anyway, this has been pottering around in my head a bit of late, so I decided to buy a single can of classic Budweiser, try and remove my blinkers and actually evaluate the beer as a beer rather than a monolithic straw man for the little guys to denounce as the source of all zythophilic evil. So here goes...

  • Sight - pale golden yellow, with a half inch of loose white foam that disappears quicker than collaborators after the fall of Communism
  • Smell - Not much at all, kind of a grainy character, like Carr's Water Biscuits, with just the merest hint of grassy hops, like your neighbour is mowing his lawn, and your nearest neighbour is a couple of miles down the road (maybe that's a Uist reference)
  • Taste - Again mostly a cereal thing going on, with a touch of malty sweetness and just enough of a clean hop bite to give the beer balance.
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Taste - 1.5/5
  • Notes - Clean, very clean. Medium-light bodied. Fizzy. Clearly a superbly constructed beer, nothing is out of kilter but also nothing stands out, which makes it kind of bland. It's not offensive at all, but neither is it interesting.

I had no problem finishing off the contents of the 25oz can (that's 0.75l/1.3 imperial pints) but at the same time my empty glass wasn't demanding that it be refilled. It really was a once in a while kind of thing, nothing to turn your nose up at and alright in a pinch, kind of like the occasional Staropramen in Prague. I'm glad I tried it, and maybe I'll see if I can find single bottles/cans of standard Miller and Coors to see what they are like as well. One thing that definitely sprung to mind was how much I wish craft breweries could get the process side of brewing down to such a fine art as Anheuser-Busch and produce stuff that is solidly consistent as well as flavourful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Club for Connoisseurs

Of the various beer and homebrewing related magazines that I pick up from time to time, The Beer Connoisseur is one of the more reliably worthwhile reads. Whether it's interviews with well known brewers or in depth articles about a given beer style, every issue has something of interest for beer lovers of all stripes.

This week I got an email from The Beer Connoisseur letting me know about a Kickstarter campaign they have started to create The Beer Connoisseur Club, which is described on the campaign page as:
the world’s common place where people meet, share, learn and organize around beer.
The campaign is looking for people to sign up as 'Founding Members' of the club at a cost of $35 per year, which gets you:
  • a year's subscription to Beer Connoisseur magazine
  • 12 months access to the new Beer Connoisseur website, including an interactive Beer School
  • a veritable raft of discounts and benefits from participating breweries/organisations, such as Starr Hill, Allagash, and Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
The club certainly seems like a good idea, and I imagine the discounts at various breweries, pubs, and restaurants would cover the annual fee pretty handily if you're a regular beer traveller and brewery hopper. If the club sounds like the kind of thing you'd be interested in, pop along to the Kickstarter campaign and sign on up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Session Season Cometh

It's a four day week for me this week, but I will be working all five days of the week. Although I won't be spending Friday doing my usual business analyst tasks such as requirements gathering, writing user stories, or working with software developers to create something useful for our clients's users, I will be working. Working as in dumping sacks of grain into a mill, digging out the mash tun, and ceremoniously chucking hops into boiling wort, yes I am off to a brewery for a brewday and all the satisfaction that gives me.

The brewery in question is my favourite local brewery Three Notch'd, and the beer is the third rendition of Session 42, the best bitter I designed a couple of years back using Timothy Taylor Landlord as something of a model.

I know that I am utterly biased but Session 42 being available is one of the highlights of my drinking year, not just because it is great to see 'my' beer available in lots of places in the area, but also because best bitter is probably my favourite style of beer to drink. Whether I am sat on the patio just chilling with Mrs V, or with a group of colleagues kicking back after work, or even by myself at the bar of one of my favourite watering holes, I find that best bitters suit my mood more often than not.

For those in Virginia, and hopefully it will again make it down to Richmond,  maybe even up to Northern VA, Session 42 is a burnt orange delight that packs a punch belying its 4.2% abv and is essentially a love song to Goldings hops, with all their spicy, Seville orange goodness. Yes I am biased, but if you see it on tap in a few weeks time, give it try.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Session: Colonial Uprising

This month's Session is being hosted by my mate Reuben over at The Tale of the Ale, who I am looking forward to showing the delights of the Central VA booze scene in a few weeks. His theme is as follows:
If you have a local beer style that died out and is starting to appear again then please let the world know. Not everyone will so just write about any that you have experienced. Some of the recent style resurrections I have come across in Ireland are Kentucky Common, Grodziskie, Gose and some others. Perhaps it's a beer you have only come across in homebrew circles and is not even made commercially.

There are no restrictions other than the beer being an obscure style you don't find in very many places. The format, I leave up to individuals. It could be a historical analysis or just a simple beer review.
If you've been reading Fuggled for a while you will know that history is something I am generally very interested in. The history of beer is of course very interesting, and far better served by the likes of Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson than I. Each year since I moved to the US I have organised the International Homebrew Project, which seeks to rebrew historic recipes based on Ron's research. You could say then that I enjoy reviving lost, forgotten, or misunderstood beer styles.

Living in an area of Virginia steeped with Colonial and Revolutionary era history, I am finding myself more and more interested in the lives of the people that left everything they knew back in Europe to come to the New World, including what they drank. It would seem from my reading that malted barley was something of a luxury item, and so beers from those eras were laden with ingredients that would make a Reinheitsgebot purist freak out.

Thomas Jefferson for example sought out 'The New American Brewer and Tanner' by Joseph Coppinger because it contained a method for 'malting Indian Corn'. Coppinger though mentions that it is 'peculiarly adapted to the brewing of porter' which makes me wonder if the pale beers on the market claiming to be based on Jefferson's 'recipe' (which he himself claimed was impossible to write down) are missing the mark by not using corn in a porter.

However, I digress. This year I am doing a homebrew project to recreate a drink that dates from the early 18th century, and is attested to as being brewed in southern Virginia in the run up to the American Revolution. Said drink is called 'pumperkin', and is described thus:
Let the Pompion be beaten in a Trough and pressed as Apples. The expressed juice is to be boiled in a copper a considerable time and carefully skimmed that there may be no remains of the fibrous part of the pulp. After that intention is answered let the liquid be hopped culled fermented & casked as malt beer.

Thus it is that I have 16 pumpkin plants in grow bags in a part of my garden where hopefully the deer will not discover them. I want this project to be as faithful as possible to what would have been produced at that time, so I am growing a heritage cultivar of pumpkins dating back to the 17th century. When the time comes to brew the beer sometime in the autumn, I will likely use Cluster hops, or alternatively East Kent Goldings, rather than a modern American hop strain.

I have no idea what to expect from the beer in terms of flavour, strength, drinkability, or even how much I will have of the stuff - that all depends on the pumpkins themselves. All I know at this point is that it is exciting to think about being engaged in experimental beer archaeology.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Pedant's Dilemma

I have been drinking quite a bit of a certain beer style of late. No, not mild ale, though I have enjoyed a fair few of those so far this month, especially the Three Notch'd 'Method to Your Madness'. Nor is it lagers, though the most recent iteration of Devils Backbone Morana is a delight to savour, and South Street's Back-to-Bavaria dangerously drinkable. Nope, I have been drinking a lot of a beer style that really brings out the pedantic purist in me. Session IPA.

My current favourite is Lickinghole Creek's wonderful 'Til Sunset, 4.7%, moreishly hoppy, and a beer I would happily drink all summer if need be. Then there is Founder's All Day IPA, a similar story, and also South Street's Conspicuous Consumption. It's as though American craft brewers suddenly realised that hoppy beers need not also be imperialised to shit and that people actually like a drink rather than just a collection of tastings (cynical side note, I wish they'd also learn to do the basics of proper cask conditioning before fucking around with nonsense ingredients and chucking them in a firkin).

What then draws out the pedant in me? The style name itself really (another side note, how come 'session IPA' got a style of its own on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate so soon after being invented, but the 19th century Bohemian tmavé tradition was lumped with Dunkel and Schwarzbier until recently?). What the hell does 'session IPA' even mean?

Clearly most of these beers fail to meet the definition of a 'session beer' being stronger than 4.5% abv, and 'IPA'? Does that even have any meaning at all anymore as it has been bastardised and had any meaning beaten the shit out of it? Then there is the question of how a 'session IPA' really differs all that much from a standard American Pale Ale?

But there is, I think, a solution to my ire, and I am sure I am pissing into the wind with this, but here goes anyway. 'Session IPA' is, in reality an Americanised version of the great English classic, the Extra Special Bitter. Look at the style guideline numbers for ESB:
  • ABV: 4.8-5.8%
  • IBU: 30-45
  • Colour: 8-14 (deep gold to deep amber)
Look familiar?

And the GABF description?
ESBs are amber to deep copper colored. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Fruity-ester aroma is acceptable. Hop aroma is medium to medium-high. The residual malt and defining sweetness of this richly flavored, full-bodied bitter is medium to medium-high. Hop flavor is medium to medium-high. Hop bitterness is medium to medium-high....The overall impression is refreshing and thirst quenching. Fruity-ester and very low diacetyl flavors are acceptable, but should be minimized in this form of bitter.

It's almost that as though the IPA driven craft beer world is taking another leaf from the Anheuser-Busch playbook, except instead of the word 'light' they are using the word 'session' (the other leaf being opening multiple breweries to deliver fresh beer to different locales - nothing new in that, the big boys did for the very same reasons decades ago).

What would be wrong with calling them American Special Bitters?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Session #99 - Roundup

Well, that was the Session that was, and this is the round up that is. The theme for Session #99 was on localising mild, and we got an interesting array of responses.

Over in Ireland, The Beer Nut got 'historically pedantic' and pointed out that most modern beer would be considered 'mild' due to the focus on freshness. Staying in Ireland, The Drunken Destrier suggests than making an 'Irish' mild would largely be an exercise in dropping the booze on an Irish Red Ale while asking the question 'do we want or need a 3-4% ABV red/brown ale with little hop character and low gravity?' Meanwhile, my good friend Reuben of The Tale of the Ale, aka 'johnny come lately' on account of his post being a week late, suggested the possibility of going native with an Irish mild by using 'bog fauna like heather and bog myrtle', an idea I have to admit I like, being a fan of Williams Brothers and their collection of historical ales.

Coming back to this side of the Pond, Sean Inman of Beer Search Party wondered how to create a mild that would appeal to a 'Brit living in L.A.' as an homage to both the homeland and the locale. Fellow VA blogger, American Mild Month co-conspirator, and all round good top bloke, Tom Cizauskas took to Yours For Good Fermentables to discuss 'The Audacity of Mild'. Jon at The Brew Site suggested a pumpkin mild for the US or a manioc mild in Brazil, before telling us about a beer called Murican Mild. Stan Hieronymous points out that beer can also be localised when it is 'part of the local fabric'.

Up in Canada, Alan, of A Good Beer Blog, took the opportunity to compare the situation for mild drinkers today with that of the last time mild featured as a topic for the Session. In the southern reaches of the Americas, Bolivian homebrewer The Brewolero engaged in an 'imagination exercise' for localising mild to the ingredients available in East Asia, in particular Cambodia and Vietnam.

Heading over to mainland Europe, Joan Villar-i-Martí of Birraire tells us that mild is not a popular style among his fellow Catalans. Skipping up to Berlin, Joe Stange wants to 'abstract the mild' so that it can fit in his sitz im leben, wherever his leben is sitzing at that time.

And there we have it. Thanks to everyone that took part! If I missed your post in the roundup, let me know and I'll rectify that as soon as possible. Cheers people!!