Friday, June 8, 2018

Blackwall Sails Again

Of the various brewing projects I have done local, and not so local, breweries, I think Blackwall London Porter is perhaps my favourite. It is the only one to have picked up a gong, taking a silver medal at last year's Virginia Craft Beer Cup, it is the only one to date to have been bottled, the label is pretty much as I envisioned, oh and it was a damned fine beer. That's not to denigrate any of the other beers I've done, just that Blackwall has a special place in my beery heart these days.


This weekend sees the return of Blackwall at the original Three Notch'd tasting room here in Charlottesville, but only 2 barrels worth. Why so little? Well it all started a few months ago...

Three Notch'd have moved their main base of operations to a large brewpub facility on the other side of Charlottesville, and the original brewery and tasting room have become their sour house. When I heard that they were going to be producing more soured beers, I sent the brewer responsible for that a message, suggesting that given Blackwall's 19th century roots, we should look at aging a batch in order to get the brettanomyces character that was an integral part of well vatted porter. Brian, the brewer, was enthusiastic about the idea, it was just a case of finding time to do a run.

Eventually, using the original Three Notch'd pilot system, a 3 barrel batch was brewed, with a single barrel being put into an oak barrel, with brettanomyces added for good measure. How long will it sit there? Not sure, we haven't talked about it yet, but as I said, the unaged version of Blackwall has been kegged and will be available from this weekend at the tasting room.

I am confident it won't last long, so if you're around, get out and get some. I might pick up a growler or two, and a bottle of Orval for the dregs to do my own souring.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Session 136: Farm Brewing in Virginia


Another month has flown by, and here we are again on the first Friday of the month thinking about The Session. This month, Dave from Brewing In A Bedsitter, aka @Ramblin_Dave on Twitter, is hosting and his theme is:
Whether it's about the success of modern craft breweries like Jester King and Burning Sky, the worldwide spread of saison or the revival of international interest in Northern European traditions, farmhouse brewing is an recurring theme in the beer world....

You could talk about how the word "farmhouse" is used in modern craft breweries, or about historic brewing traditions. You might want to think about how, if at all, the two are related.

If you think that farmhouse brewing or farmhouse beer refers to something meaningful and relevant in modern beer, you could write something touching on what it means to you. What's its defining element? Is it about style, ingredients, location or something else? Would you call a crisp, clean pilsner or a hoppy IPA a farmhouse beer if it was brewed from local ingredients in a medieval barn? What about a mixed fermentation barrel-aged saison brewed in a light industrial unit in a suburb of Manchester? Why does any of this matter?

If you want to get specific, maybe talk about one or more beers or breweries that you think embody some aspect of the idea of farmhouse brewing. Or if you're a homebrewer, you could talk about ways that your own beer has been influenced by it.

Conversely, if you think that the modern idea of a farmhouse brewery is largely just about marketing and aesthetics then you could have a go at dissecting and deconstructing it. Where did it originate and what are its roots? Who popularized it? How is it constructed and signalled? Most importantly, why are people so keen to buy into it?

Here in Virginia "farm" breweries have exploded since the passing of SB430 back in 2014, which established a new brewery license type specifically for breweries located on farms. The relevant addition to the beer licenses section of the Virginia Code reads as follows:
Limited brewery licenses, to breweries that manufacture no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per calendar year, provided (i) the brewery is located on a farm in the Commonwealth on land zoned agricultural and owned or leased by such brewery or its owner and (ii) agricultural products, including barley, other grains, hops, or fruit, used by such brewery in the manufacture of its beer are grown on the farm...
The law sets out quite clearly what the definition of a farm brewery is, as far as the Commonwealth of Virginia is concerned:
  • produce no more than 15000 Bbl per year
  • brewery is on agricultural land in Virginia
  • brewery uses that farm's agricultural produce in its beer

The first brewery to take up this license type is just down the road from me here in Central Virginia, the wonderfully monikered Lickinghole Creek Brewery. I have to admit that I have only been to the brewery itself once, Mrs V and spent several hours sitting in the midst of glorious views, drinking the first batch of their Enlightened Despot Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (I realise some will be shocked by the thought of me drinking anything barrel aged) and eating extra mature cheddar cheese with crusty bread. I was also a big fan of their session IPA, Til Sunset, until they stopped making it.


In keeping with the requirements of SB430, Lickinghole Creek grow a portion of the barley they brew with, as well as wheat and rye, and many of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables that go into beers like their Carrot Cake and Rosemary Saison. In the spirit of keeping things local, they also get some of their barley malted at Woods Mill Malting.

In the 4 years since Lickinghole Creek became the first farm brewery in Virginia, at least 10 more breweries have got in on the act. So whether your in the south west of the Commonwealth, or up north, close to DC, there is likely to be a farm brewery making beer with the produce of their land near you. You're really only shit out of luck if you go east of Richmond, at lest until later this year when Virginia Beach will be getting in on the act.

Of course, when you think about it, farm brewing in Virginia is really nothing new. Peter Hemmings brewed with corn and wheat grown on the Monticello plantation of his owner Thomas Jefferson. James Madison was so impressed with the beer produced by Hemmings that he wanted to send one of his slaves to Monticello for the autumn brewing season so he too could learn the craft. The earliest recipe I have seen for a uniquely American farmhouse beer is from southern Virginia, and dates from 1765, for perhaps the original pumpkin beer, known as Pumperkin, which used that fruit for the fermentables.

All this reminds me that I still have a bottle of that original batch of Enlightened Despot sitting in the cellar...

Friday, May 25, 2018

#MildMonthUS Special Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which of course means just one thing, other than inevitable mattress sales, the final weekend of American Mild Month!


About 20 breweries in total have officially taken part in American Mild Month and had mild ales available through their tasting rooms in May.

Three Notch'd here in Central Virginia are releasing their mild tomorrow, called Mild Marker 20 and brewed to a homebrew recipe from a brewer in Lynchburg, the beer is a thoroughly mild 3.6% and has just 18 IBUs. The beer is being released just in time for me to enjoy while watching the Champions League final, and hopefully afterwards as well.

If you go down to St Petersburg in Florida this weekend though, there is a veritable mildfest going on at Flying Boat Brewing Company.

Flying Boat are one of those wonderful brave souls of the American brewing scene that brew a mild ale year round. At 4.5% abv, Woodlawn Pub Ale is described by the brewery as:
"Irish Red meets an English Mild. Malt forward with notes of caramel and slight roast. Light and easy drinking."
That sounds like the kind of beer I would enjoy any time of the year. Not happy to just have their stock in trade mild around, they got together with some of their friends in Florida to brew a couple of collaboration milds.

With Crooked Thumb Brewery from Safety Harbor they brewed what they describe as a 4.3% 'Light American Mild', which uses rye, spelt, and oats in the grist, and is single hopped with 25 IBUs of fruity Azacca hops. Being honest, that sounds marvellous to me, perfect for barmy Florida days.

The second collaboration was with Brooksville's Marker 48 Brewing, with whom they brewed a rye dark mild that is 4.5% and hopped with East Kent Goldings, Pacific Jade, and more Azacca, to get 30 IBUs. Pacific Jade is one of my favourite hops, and the combination of that and EKG sounds really interesting.

So if you are in the St Petersburg area this weekend, get along to the Flying Boat tasting room and see just how much scope for creativity there is with mild ale.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Session 135: Roundup

A couple of Friday's ago, I jumped into the breach in order to host the 135th iteration of The Session, the monthly blogathon which encourages beer bloggers to write about a shared theme on the first Friday of the month. The theme I asked people to write about was 'Sepia Tones', a trip down your own personal beery memory lane.

Everybody's favourite beer writing couple, Jess and Ray of Boak and Bailey took the theme delightfully literally in presenting images from old school pubs 'dominated by shades of brown'.

Up in Ontario, Alan wondered if my theme was an allusion to the idea that we drink in order to "fill in the gaps", and gives us an interesting take on the being of memory and how it relates to boozing in our younger years.

Dean at The Beerverse recounts his personal beer story, starting with his dad asking for a beer from the fridge, and the 10 year old Dean duly obliging.

In my own post I recalled my local pub in Birmingham when I was a student, which is sadly no more, and also my favourite beer in my early years in Prague, which is also sadly to become no more and was the genesis of the theme.

On Instagram, KN published this image of a 'precursor to the nostalgic dominance of PBR'.

This clutch of content is everything that I am aware of with May's Session, but if there is anything else out there in the beery internet on this theme, let me know and I'll add to the list.

Oh, and please, please, please think about signing up to host a Session, go here for more.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Old Friends: Guinness Draught vs Murphy's

Stout was probably my first beer love. Guinness was my first legal beer, when the other options at the Dark Island Hotel on my 18th birthday were Tennent's Lager or Newcastle Brown Ale. I literally chose Guinness because that was what my eldest brother drank, he is also the reason I love The Smiths, Madness, and The Jam, as well as know how to read the form at a bookies for the horse racing (hot tip, if a horse has come 4th in its two previous outings it's worth an each way bet as often a pair of fourth place finished is followed by a first). He has much to answer for.


When I eventually left the Hebrides for the mainland, I found myself drinking almost exclusively in Oirish pubs, they had Guinness you see, and usually Caffrey's as well, which was my back up. I don't recall where I had my first Murphy's, but I liked it immediately, as I did Beamish, and the much lamented (in Velkyal world at least) Gillespie's - my tipple on Friday nights at the bowling alley in Inverness. Oh yes, we knew how to live large in the 1990s Highlands....


I recently bought a four pack of Murphy's on a whim, basically it was reasonably priced, a recurring theme in my beer life at the moment - seriously, prices for self consciously 'craft' beer are getting out of hand. I polished off all four cans in a single sitting, watching the most recent Star Wars film and decided to do an Old Friends post comparing it to Guinness, so here goes...


As expected the Guinness poured black, with deep fire ruby highlights at the edge of my dimpled mug, the classic white nitro foam cascaded its way to about three quarters of an inch and then lingered for the duration, it looked as a pint of Guinness is expected to look. Forcing it's way through that shaving foam cap on the beer were lightly roasty aromas and a bit of grainy bread character too. It sounds like a disparagement in some ways, but it's not really, it tasted like Guinness and if you don't know what Guinness tastes like then when you finish reading this, go drink some. All the elementes were there, coffee, roastiness, and a bit of a hop bite to snap you back to attention, the bitterness of the hops accentuated by the bitterness of roasted grains. I was actually quite surprised at how light bodied the beer was, not watery at all, but more medium light than medium, maybe that's a nitro thing, maybe it's the Draught in general, and maybe it's me being too used to drinking Guinness Extra Stout as my go to Guinness.


On then to the Murphy's, which poured jet black, dark brown at the edges, and this time the nitro cascade left a good three quarter inch of dense beige head. Through the foam came aromas of cocoa, a touch of graininess, and that classic stout roastiness that you just kind of expect. Tastewise we are again in classic stout territory, roasted grains, light coffee, a biscuity character, and also some subtle unsweetened cocoa. The Murphy's has the medium body I was expecting ans an almost velvety mouthfeel that makes for smooth drinking. It is a really nicely balanced, satisfying pint.

So there we go, 2 classic stouts, 2 rather different tastes. I think that the Murphy's is my preference really, say it quietly but it was just a more satisfying pint than the Guinness Draught. I am sure though that both will continue to be regular visitors to the Velkyal fridge as I indulge my love of the black stuff, which reminds me, I need to finish my keg of homebrew stout to make room for my next keg of best bitter...

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Session 135: Sepia Tones

As the host of this month's Session, I feel a tad embarrassed that having stepped in at the last minute it has taken me a few days to get my own post written and posted. Life with twins.

As I said in the initial announcement, I wanted us all to engage in a little beery nostalgia for those lost pubs and beers that were part of our formative years as beer drinkers. Melancholy and its attendant nostalgia comes easily to those of us with Highland roots, booze often just brings it into a sharper focus.

Let me tell you a story. When I was 19 I left the safety of life on the Isle of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides for the bright lights of Birmingham. It was the first weekend in October if memory serves, and I started college, studying  for a degree in theology at the Birmingham Bible Institute with a view to becoming a minister of religion. Moving from an island with a population comfortably south of 1500 to the second largest city in the UK cramming about a million people into little more than 100 square miles was, erm, interesting to say the least.

On that first Sunday in Brum all the single students went for a walk around the Edgbaston area to get our bearings, wandering from Pakenham Road, where we lived, to Calthorpe Park and back. Making our way toward the Bristol Road we passed a McDonalds, next to which stood a  fairly nondescript box of a building on which hung a sign that said 'The Trees'. I took a mental note to return when I had a moment and see what delights lay within.

A couple of afternoons later I snuck off for a pint. My memory of The Trees is that it was a run of the mill residential area boozer, and that they had Caffrey's on tap, and I loved Caffrey's at the time. A couple of afternoon pints at The Trees became my routine, I guess I should have known even then that the fact I just wanted to have a couple of jars away from people at college was a pointer that I would never really realise the aim of being a minister. Maybe then I could have gone elsewhere for my degree, and studied something that deep down I wanted to, history or German for example. In a weird twist of fate I later learnt that my older brother's then girlfriend had once been a barmaid at The Trees.

The Trees is gone know, demolished, the land awaiting redevelopment, though the McDonalds remains. A sign of the times perhaps.

Let me tell you another story. When I was 23 I again left Benbecula for a major city. This time I went to Prague, reasonably freshly minted BA (hons) in Theology in hand, recently broken up with my then fiancee, and with my parents encouragement not to get stuck in the relatively empty north west of Scotland. I was off to train as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, with a plan to spend a year in Prague and then go off to different countries every year, before heading home to become a minister, I still clung to the vaguest notion of faith then. However, now I didn't worry about heading to the pub for a bevvy, the long moralistic arm of the Free Church minister's disapproving righteous scowl couldn't make it to central Europe (I wasn't Free Church but the church I went to, while independent, had lots of connections in the Free Church on North Uist).


That first Sunday afternoon in Prague, having arrived that morning on the 24 hour bus from London (I hate flying), I sat in a pub/pizzeria in Černý Most with a 4 cheese pizza on my plate and a half litre of Velkopopovický Kozel in my glass. Kozel was still independent back then, before merging with Pilsner Urquell in 2002, and the beer was like nothing I had drunk before. A lager that was packed with hop flavour, finishing with a clean bite, and so moreish it would have been remiss not to have at least one more, no wonder the first phrases I mastered in Czech were 'pivo prosím' and 'ještě jedno'. While most of my friends stuck to the ubiquitous Gambrinus, I hunted out Kozel wherever I could, and happily one of the main expat brunch hangouts, Jama, had it on tap.

Kozel was the genesis of our theme for this Session, as this week they announced they are getting rid of the Kozel Premium, the 12° lager in their range, and sepia toned memories of those first years in the Mother of Cities came flooding back. Much like the beer, it was bittersweet.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Session 135 Announcement: Sepia Tones

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. (You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin).

This morning I went looking for the theme for this month's Session, and discovered there was none, so I am stepping into the breach.

As the title of this post suggests, today I want you to put on your sepia tinted glasses and indulge in a little beer nostalgia, a bit of personal beer history you might say.

What kind of things would be suitable topics for today? Well, here's some suggestions:
  • Discontinued beers that you miss.
  • Breweries you once loved that are no longer around.
  • Beers that are simply not what they once were.
  • Your early steps in the world of beer drinking, whether craft or just in general.
There you have it, get melancholy, drag up memories of good times gone by, and join us in this month's Session (I'll be posting mine later today).

Cheers!