Thursday, April 28, 2016

Letting the Side Down?

Mrs V and I are in the middle of training to hike the West Highland Way, a 96 mile long hike through some of the most dramatic countryside in Scotland. The hike starts in Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, and finishes in Fort William.

Almost every weekend at the moment we are out in the Shenandoah National Park hiking up various mountains and getting used to wearing backpacks filled with everything we will need - admittedly we are staying in B&Bs along the way so we don't need to carry a tent and everything else that goes with camping.


Given that we mostly hike in the morning, by the time we are done we both have a hankering for a good pint and thankfully the pubs are open so we'll take a detour to our favourite watering hole in Charlottesville, the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room and knock back several pints of Bitter 42.

After one particularly grueling hike recently though we just wanted to get home and flake. We still wanted to have a decent beer when we got there though. The fridge being strangely empty and my keg of homebrew stout not being what I fancied in that moment we swung by our local petrol station, that has a pretty good booze selection.


I was hoping that they had Port City's wonderful Downright Pilsner, a beer I have waxed lyrical about on here before. What would be better than pouring half a six pack into my 1 litre glass and sitting on the deck in the spring sun? There, on a high shelf stood a couple of six packs of the beer I wanted, and so I reached for it....and was slightly perturbed that it was covered in dust, clearly it had been there a while. Sure enough, on checking the 'bottled on' date, said six pack of this lovely pilsner was bottled sometime in February, 2015.

Now maybe I am wrong, but a beer that is unfiltered and unpasteurised is not likely to be at its best after at least a year of unrefrigerated existence, regardless of how excellent said beer started life out as. Trust me on this, Downright Pilsner properly cared for and fresh is a pale lager that would give any coming out of the Czech Republic a run for its money. Having pointed out the age of the six pack to the staff in the store, and picked up a 12 pack of Founders All Day Session IPA instead, I went home to relax in the sun, muttering, ruminating, and wondering why this kind of experience is sadly not rare - there is a well regarded beer and wine store within yards of my workplace that had Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale on sale at full price a year past its 'Best Before' date. Ultimately I guess the joke was on me because when I got home I noticed that the All Day Session IPA I had paid full price for was 8 months old....sigh.

It's possible that the kind of beers that I like to drink shift slower than the endless rafts of indeterminate IPAs and so linger longer on the shelves, but shouldn't retailers and distributors be keeping a closer eye on their stock? This is especially important because if someone were to wander into the very same petrol station and by a full priced six pack of sub-prime Downright Pilsner it is not the retailer that will suffer, or the distributor, but the reputation of the brewery will be shot with that consumer, who will likely tell more friends of their negative experience than they would of a positive one.

How many people are being turned off excellent examples of classic beers because of shoddy stock management practices? How many distributors actually care enough about the products they place on the shelves to pull any that are past the 6 months since bottling point? Oh and why are there massive fridges in stores stocked to the gunwales with pasterurised, canned, macro lager that is unlikely to go off any time soon?

While I fully agree with the idea of caveat emptor, I also think that retailers need to sort their shit out when it comes to stock control and start discounting beer that is past its prime, if not pull it completely. A store wouldn't do this with cheese, bread, vegetables, meat, or any of the other essentials of life, so why do it with beer?

A few weeks later I was back in the same petrol station and Downright was still there, still unrefigerated, still over a year old, but the six packs had been dusted, I guess that constitutes 'care'.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#MildMonthUS meet #IHP2016

Last night I finally got round to kegging up my American Mild ale for this year's International Homebrew Project - which seems to have lingered far longer than usual.

The picture below shows the sample I pulled out of the fermenter before transferring the beer to the keg:


The colour is pretty much where I wanted it to be, not a dark, dark mild and not a pale mild, somewhere in between, a nice rich amber which is perfect for the name given the beer by the awesome Mrs V - Amber Waves American Mild.

I used the Wyeast American II yeast (not sure which brewery that came from) and it fermented down from 1.044 to 1.012, giving me 4.2% abv, and enough mouthfeel to prevent the beer from being overly dry. In terms of initial flavours, the Victory and Special Roast malts come through nicely, and work very well together to give the beer a sourdough breadiness which I at least really like, and think it compliments the husky graininess of standard American 2-row malt.

Put it simply, I am excited about this beer being carbonated and ready for drinking, should be at least tryable from the keg by Sunday, as the beginning of American Mild Month, and give it a few days and I think it will be ready for a fuller, proper review.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Of Vitriol and Bile

The announcement earlier this week that Devils Backbone had agreed to being sold to Anheuser-Busch brought a topic that has been pottering around my head for while now to the fore. While Tandleman noted on my previous post about Twitter being fairly quiet about the deal, other social media outlets have been a veritable cesspool of bile and hatred. Take for example these comments from Devils Backbone's Facebook page:
"Sell out. Won't get a cent from me again."
"You sold out, you sold your soul!"
or even this peach from their Instagram account:
"Just stop posting on social mediaDB. Give that up like you just gave up your souls."
Admittedly those are fairly tame comments, unlike some that I see on Yeungling's Facebook account, for example calling their Traditional Lager 'scab beer', but you get the drift.

The vitriol and abuse that some people feel necessary to hurl at any brewery that has the temerity to do something that they don't agree with just staggers me, especially when it gets ladled up with a healthy dose of nationalist shit about only buying beers made by breweries from their own country. At the same time platitudes abound about beer people being 'good' people, or that 'good people drink good beer', which makes me wonder about people's definition of 'good' in light of torrents of abuse that rain down on occasion.

Now, I understand that people develop deep feelings for the breweries behind the beer they drink, but I think we sometimes stray so far into fandom that it borders on extremist fanaticism. There are even times when the abuse sounds like the kind of stuff you could imagine a craft beer equivalent of Westboro Baptist Church spouting at a funeral, and with just as much vehemence.

To put it simply, this needs to stop, now.

People need to get their heads out of the sand/their arseholes and realise that while beer is great, and we all have breweries we love, craft beer is a business, subject to all the same rules of the capitalist game as any other industry. People like Steve and Jason who have worked tirelessly to build a brewery like Devils Backbone to a point where it is an attractive proposition for bigger breweries should not be victims of such mindless opprobrium, especially not from self-declared 'good' people (as if one's choice of drink is an indicator of one's moral/ethical standing - which fucktard came up with that idea?).

Perhaps the most important thing we all need to do is remember that the drink we all love is just beer. No more, no less. It's not a panacea for the world's ills, it's just beer. It's not a cure for cancer, it's just beer. It's not the solution to climate change, it's just beer.

Yes we love it, but let's not turn it into something to be idolised. Drink it, enjoy, talk about, but respect people that disagree with you, that way we can all get along.

Here endeth the half baked rambling lesson.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Devils Backbone Sale - Initial Thoughts

So the Anheuser-Busch shopping spree continues...only this time it is much closer to home. News came through this morning that they have purchased Devils Backbone, a brewery very dear to my heart.


One of the first breweries Mrs V and went to when we relocated from Prague to Central Virginia was Devils Backbone, which had been open for a mere 8 months at that point. The beer was solid, the service maybe less so, but they were finding their feet and a few months later we went again for their 1 year anniversary, which also happened to be my birthday. The beer was great, and I knew then that I would drink a lot of Devils Backbone.


If you've followed Fuggled for a while now you will know that I have brewed on the brewpub kit a few times, firstly as an eager observer/mash digger outer for the Trukker Ur-Pils, then creating the recipe for Morana, a Czech dark lager that makes it's fourth appearance in a few weeks, and also recreating a London Dark Lager with Ron Pattinson.


I guess then people will be expecting a renting in twain of my robes, and the liberal application of ashes to my head in mourning. People will be disappointed. I have met Steve and Heidi a few times around the brewery, I would count Jason as a friend, and have had drinks from time to time with Hayes and a few other folks from Devils Backbone, and to be perfectly honest I am happy for them. The hard work they have put into the brewery is staggering, and to think they have gone from being a brewpub in the mountains of rural Virginia to the largest craft brewery in the Commonwealth in the space of just 7.5 years.


Congratulations Devils Backbone, and as long as the beer remains good, then I will remain a happy Devils Backbone drinker.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Session Beer Day

It's today!!!


Now, if you have followed Fuggled for any length of time more than say, three days, you'll know that I love my session beers. I love bitters, milds, desítky, dry Irish stouts, et al, the kinds of beers that are ideal for a long period of time I the pub with friends, playing pool, talking shit, and just hanging out, kind of like this pub from a Greene King ad:



Naturally then I fully support the Session Beer Project, and will find some session beer to drink today, whether that's Three Notch'd Bitter 42 (originally Session 42 but some people seem to think they can own the term 'session'), O'Hara's Red Ale at the Tin Whistle, one of the other handful of places round here that are guaranteed to have session beer available.


Session Beer Day is also the ideal pre-cursor to American Mild Month, which encourages breweries, drinkers, and homebrewers to celebrate a particular kind of session beer, mild ales, whether dark, pale, or 'American', for the entire month of May.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CAMRA - A Fellow Traveller's View

I have never been a member of CAMRA, at least not the Campaign for Real Ale (the homebrew club I go to is called the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale). It really didn't make any sense to be a member when I lived in Prague, and it still doesn't now that I live in Virginia. Those facts though don't change the fact that whenever I go home to the UK I drink mostly real ale, actually that's understating it a bit, I actively hunt out real ale. I consider myself something of a CAMRA fellow traveller and am grateful that they took the step to protect, promote, and campaign for a wonderful expression of beer drinking.


Having said all of that, it is clear to me that the Revitalisation Project that CAMRA are now undertaking is kind of overdue. I remember running into some CAMRA members when I lived in Prague, Liverpool had spanked United 4-1 at Old Trafford, and we went to Pivovarský Dům for some celebratory pints, and got talking with them about Marston's MD referring to certain sections of the CAMRA membership as 'gobby Hobbits'. These guys were, if memory serves, knowledgeable about beer in general, appreciative of a good lager, and good company over all.


That's kind of what I would like to see come out of the Revitalisation Project, a campaign that knows and promotes good beer in general, sure with a focus on real ale but without being snotty about it.


I would also like them to drop their quasi-nationalist double standard. If you go to the Great British Beer Festival the foreign bars serve beer from kegs rather than casks, seemingly the thinking being that this allegedly inferior product is perfectly okay for Johnny Foreigner but not for John Bull Esq. Good beer is good beer whether served from a cask, keg, bottle, or can, and British brewers shouldn't have to labour under the misapprehension that cask is the be all and end all of British beer.


As well as being an opportunity to broaden the scope, and appeal, of the Campaign, this project is also an opportunity to re-victual the idea cabinet so that once again CAMRA is a vital part of the beer scene in the UK in a way that is relevant to drinkers in the 21st Century. Without it, I fear the Campaign will become just a chapter in the next edition in the Oxford History of Beer, an important chapter yes, but still just history consigned to the page.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Litigation Suggestions

It seems as though there is a bunch of people out there who are either dense or need to be found in contempt of court for wasting the time of lawyers, judges, et al for utterly ridiculous litigation proceedings.

The latest is some guy in Miami who claims confusion because he thought Leffe was brewed at an abbey in Belgium, and thus Anheuser-Busch are misleading consumers, despite the fact that this relationship has existed in some form or another since 1952 and royalties are still paid to the abbey, facts that are readily available to anyone with access to a handy website called Google.

It is in the spirit of being a disingenuous jerk then that I would like to offer my a laundry list of potential lawsuits against craft brewers for misleading the drinking public:
  • Any brewery outside Plzen that makes a Pilsner - how am I supposed to know that these pilsners aren't the real thing?
  • Brewers such as Devils Backbone that don't make Vienna lager in Austria.
  • Any non-Belgian brewery making Belgian ales outside of Belgium - think Allagash
  • Brewers that make an Irish stout without being in Ireland - Victory beware!
  • Brewers from outside Cologne brewing Kolsch
You get the drift. These kind of lawsuits such a glorious waste of space and time it is tempting to file suit against people that file such suits for giving the rest of the beer drinking world a bad name.