Friday, January 23, 2015

#IHP2015 Poll Reminder

7 days......

No, don't worry, the spirit of a dead girl in a well isn't coming for you through your TV. It's just a simple reminder that there are 7 days until the International Homebrew Project 2015 poll closes and the recipe will have been chosen.

As things stand there are 3 recipes in the running:
  • 1860s English Double Stout
  • 1860s English Mild Ale
  • 1850s English Stock Ale
Admittedly the Double Stout is leading by a fair stretch at the moment, but things can change.

If you are planning to brew the winning beer, please email me to let me know (if there are any professional breweries thinking about brewing the recipe on the pilot system, I would love to hear about it!).

Sometime next week I will post a schedule for the brewing/bloggin part of the project, in the meantime, have a great weekend folks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Question of Six

Yesterday on Facebook, Beervana's Jeff Alworth asked for the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking about the following breweries:
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Dogfish Head
  • Rogue Ales
  • Budweiser
  • Lagunitas
  • Goose Island
I responded to Jeff's request, but thought to myself that it would be a worthwhile exercise to follow that up with some unpacking of my thoughts for each answer.

Sierra Nevada - Solid

The guys from Chico and Hendersonsville have become a more regular visitor to the Fuggled beer garden in the last year or so. Why? Because their beers are simply solid, well made examples of styles. Whilst not being an exuberant fan of the standard pine/grapefruit thing with American hops by any stretch of the imagination, SN's Pale Ale is just a very good beer that is nice to drink. Their Oktoberfest likewise, Tumbler as well, Kellerweis too. It seems that everything they brew they brew well, and I look forward to trying Nooner in the near future, maybe as part of a pilsner blind tasting. I love the fact that they bottle condition, and can condition too, their beers, making them softer on the palette as they lack the prickly CO2 of forced carbonation. Yep, Sierra Nevada are something of a default setting for me, something that I am always happy to see available, and something I am always happy to drink.

Dogfish Head - Eclectic

It seems at times that there is always something new and strange going on at Dogfish Head, they are almost the Willy Wonka's of the brewing world, and while I can appreciate the creativity they bring to the scene, I rarely choose to drink a pint of their beer. My issue with Dogfish is simply that level of creativity makes me unsure of whether I would like a full pint of their beer, and given the price of a pint sometimes I am loathe to send money on something that I am sure I will finish (I envy those out there who have far deeper pockets than I and feel no compunction about sending $15 for a 16oz glass of something rare or weird). Having said that, I have a few bottles in my cellar, including a Midas Touch, and a 120 minute IPA from 2009.

Rogue Ales - Anti-worker

Forgive the politics here but any company that fires workers for wanting to unionise will not see a single penny of my money. Yes I am a terrible lefty who believes in collective bargaining, not crossing a picket line, and single payer universal healthcare. The last time I had a Rogue Ale was quite some time ago and I don't remember being bowled over by it, so I get the feeling I am not really missing much in my personal boycott.

Budweiser - Bland

At first I am tempted to be a smart alec and refer to the Budvar, but I knew exactly who Jeff meant. I have no problem with Budweiser in general. Their beers are superbly well made in terms of process control, consistency, freshness, and all that stuff, but I just find them bland, and I am not a fan of the exceedingly dry crackeriness that seems to be the hallmark of their main brands. I will admit though that the occasional Michelob AmberBock will find its way into my drinking life, usually when at the beach and I can't be arsed with something challenging while lounging next to the pool, but even then, as well made as it is, it is still pretty bland. Not bad, just dull.

Lagunitas - Meh

Another well regarded brewery that simply does nothing for me, other than Brown Shugga which quite like from time to time. Little Sumpin' Sumpin' I find inoffensively dull, IPA I don't think is all that great, and in the words of a friend's father, an escapee from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Pils 'is simply not Czech'. Nothing else to see here, move along, move along.

Goose Island - Consistently Good

I first had Goose Island beers a couple of months before they were bought by AB-InBev, and I liked them. When they were purchased I didn't rush into the frenzied whirlpool of labelling them sell outs, crafty, or any other ridiculous epithet. Brewing is a business, and like any other business, big businesses will want to buy smaller businesses that they believe can benefit their business. Since being bought out I have noticed that the Goose Island IPA, which I will drink from time to time, has got consistently better and is always a decent pint, which is always a good thing in my book. At Mrs V's uncle's wedding recently I drank a fair few pints of the IPA and enjoyed them all.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Localising the Revolution

For some reason that escapes me, I have been thinking about the so-called 'craft beer revolution' an awful lot so far this month. Maybe it's the absence of alcohol in the bloodstream? Anyway, I was thinking about the origins of this 'revolution', (though I prefer the term renaissance) and in looking at early pioneers there seemed to be a common theme. Essentially it boiled down to taking established beer styles from the UK, Germany, Belgium, chucking in a shit ton of Cascade, Centennial, or Columbus hops and labelling the beer an 'American 'Insert Beer Style'. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, lots of aspiring brewers jumped onboard and thus the American Pale Ale was born, an offshot of the English Pale Ale, the American IPA was born, an offshot of the early English IPAs, and so on and so forth (this may be an oversimplified view of history, but I think it holds water as a general scheme of things).

The best thing about this renaissance was not being cowed by a given beer style, for want of a better word, and using ingredients that were more readily at hand to create something both identifiably within a tradition but also unique, and the drinking world would be all the poorer without Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, perhaps the archetype of my theme here.

Skip forward some thirty years to the modern day and you have a situation where the 'craft beer revolution' has spread beyond its American heartland to the wider world. Breweries in the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, and Belgium, for example, are taking American styles and brewing them for their own markets. Personally I think this is a pity in many ways.

Mrs V and I are planning to head back across the ocean again this year, though this time back to what we consider in oh so many ways our spiritual home, Prague. We are both looking forward again to long walks by the Vltava, the Christmas markets, and sitting with our friends drinking excellent beer in watering holes like Pivovarský klub. I am already looking forward to my first půllitr of a well made desítka. I doubt I will be drinking much in the way of pale ales hopped with Cascade, Amarillo, or Citra. What would interest me though would be a Czech brewery doing Czech interpretations of the 'new' styles that are sweeping the beer world (there's an interesting circularity in that but I won't unpack it here). Imagine a Czech IPA, hopped with Kazbek, Saaz, or Premiant.

Maybe brewers in other countries could do likewise? A German stout using Tettnang and fermented with an altbier yeast strain, a Belgian IPA where all the ingredients are actually Belgian rather than just the yeast, more British 'craft' breweries having faith in both traditional and new British hop varieties

I guess my fear here is that the wave of innovation, creativity and excitement around beer could be diluted if 'craft beer' becomes defined in the minds of many as being 'pale beer made with New World hops', much like the multinational brewing industry became defined as being 'pale lager of indeterminate flavour'. The seemingly inexorable rise of American hopped IPA (and variants) is, in my as ever unhumble opinion, in danger of becoming as dull and uninspiring as the mass produced pale lager.

Monday, January 5, 2015

#IHP2015 Style Poll

Fare thee well 2014, greetings 2015!

It being January, two things are true for me; firstly I am engaged in my annual 31 day booze fast, not for any daft ideas of detox or getting healthy, just because I think it is good to take a break from time to time and just after 6 weeks of near constant imbibing seems as good as any; secondly, it's time to think about styles for this years International Homebrew Project.

As in years passim, we will recreate a beer from the past, the only question though is what kind of beer will it be? Hence the poll in the right rail. I have decided that this years choices all date from about 1850 to 1865, for no other reason than capricious whimsy. Your choices are:
  • 1860s English Double Stout
  • 1860s English IPA
  • 1850s English Pale Ale
  • 1860s English Mild Ale
  • 1850s English Stock Ale
  • 1860s Scottish Strong Ale
Have at the poll folks, it will be open until Friday January 30th.

As in previous years, these recipes are the work of Ron Pattinson, but this year they come from his superb resource, The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer. If you don't own it, you should.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Session: Reading Material

This month's Session is being hosted by the august Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog. Alan has asked the question 'What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?'.

Like many of you fine folks that read Fuggled, I spend almost as much time reading about beer as I do brewing and drinking it. Most of the books I have are of a more reference nature and so I dip into them regularly, and often in search of inspiration for my homebrewing activities. Side point, reading reference books is nothing new for me, when I was the shy kid at Sgoil Lionacleit in the 1990s I would spend most lunchtimes sat in the library reading encyclopedias, and even today I am happy to potter around Wikipedia.

When it comes to the beer books that have yet to be written, I think a coming together of my various interests would be my first stop, history and theology being two of them (if you don't already know, I studied to be a minister, though was never ordained). A history then of beer in monastic communities would be interesting, especially if it could go back to medieval times, and included lots of period correct methods for the various stages of brewing. Given that I wrote my BA dissertation on the missionary movements of the Celtic Church prior to the Synod of Whitby in 664, I would be particularly interested in brewing in the monasteries of Ireland and Scotland.

Another book I would love to see published, though it is has already been written, is the 'Geschichte des Brauwesens in Budweis' by Reinhold Huyer, though published in English. The book is a history of brewing in Budweis, which today is České Budějovice, and was published in 1895, the year Budvar was established. Though I have a CD-ROM copy of the text floating around somewhere, the 19th century German typography is a bitch to read, and I'm a lazy git quite often.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Beers, Breweries, and Pubs of 2014

I toyed with the idea of following the format of the Golden Pints this year, but almost pissed myself laughing at the thought of nominating an 'American Cask Beer' of the year, such is the parlous state of beer's finest, and most natural, form of presentation on these shores. So, I figured I'd stay with my tried and tested categories of pale, amber, and dark, further divided by region - Central Virginia, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the World. I am also including brewery and pub categories this year. So without further ado.....

Pale
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Grey Ghost American Pale Ale
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Cromarty Happy Chappy
  • Honorable Mentions - Timothy Taylor Landlord, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Three Notch'd 40 Mile

This year was really difficult to decide from the two front runners here, both of which I drank plenty of, though on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Three Notch'd are pretty much my go-to brewery these days, their core lineup is excellent and that always makes me sure to try their more experimental stuff, because I have trust in the quality of their beer overall. When we were in Scotland over the summer, I think I drank more Cromarty Brewing beer than any other, as they blend the hopping of the New World with the sessionability of the British tradition to make beers which are the best of both worlds. As such, the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2014 is Cromarty Happy Chappy, a simply magnificent beer that I am still working on producing a decent clone of so I don't have to wait until I next get to Scotland to enjoy more of.

Amber
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Hydraulion Irish Red
  • Rest of VA - Ardent American Mild
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Kelburn Dark Moor Mild
  • Honorable Mentions - Greene King The King's English IPA, Skye Red, Cromarty Atlantic Drift, McEwan's Scotch Ale
Much easier this year was choosing my amber beer of the year, even though it is more of a dark amber than some beers, but there we go. I polished off several pints of Kelburn Dark Moor while sat in the Bon Accord one afternoon in Glasgow. There is only one word to describe this beer, delicious.

Dark
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Schwartzbier
  • Rest of VA - Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot Russian Imperial Stout
  • Rest of US - River Rat Hazelnut Brown
  • Rest of World - Skye Black
  • Honorable Mentions - Isley Brewing Tall, Dark, and Hopsome, Black Isle Oatmeal Stout
If you are a regular Fuggled reader, I hope you are sat down. My dark beer of 2014 is something that most people I know wouldn't even consider me liking. Enlightened Despot is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels. One day in early summer, Mrs V and I went to Lickinghole Creek Brewing and sat with a large block of farmhouse Cheddar, freshly baked crusty bread, and we sat and drank this unctuous potent brew in the peace of the Virginian countryside. It was quite simply, divine.

Fuggled Champion Beer

My overall best beer of 2014 was a revelation, a beer that I just wanted pint, after pint, after pint of, and several times on my trip home to the Highlands I did exactly that. Whether sat in the Cromarty Arms, the Castle Tavern, or the Phoenix, the very site of a Cromarty Happy Chappy pump clip was enough to make up my mind.


Breweries
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd
  • Rest of VA - Port City
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada
  • Rest of World - Cromarty
  • Honorable Mentions - Hardknott, Fullers, Lickinghole Creek


This is actually pretty simple, even though there are some great breweries on that list, producing magnificent beers. It is simple because it all comes down to which brewery I trust the most to produce the kind of beers I like drinking, flavourful, balanced, moreish. That brewery is Three Notch'd.

Drinking Holes
  • Central VA - Whiskey Jar, Charlottesville
  • Rest of VA - Mad Fox, Falls Church
  • Rest of US - Flying Saucer, Columbia, SC
  • Rest of World - Bon Accord, Glasgow
  • Honorable Mentions - Tin Whistle (Charlottesville), The Brixton (Washington DC), Castle Tavern (Inverness)


I was only at the winning pub for a matter of hours, but it was love at first pint. I wrote about the Bon Accord here.

So there we go, that was the highlights of my drinking in 2014, not a bad way to mark my 900th post on Fuggled.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Return of the Mole

March seems so long ago, it's been that kind of year, busy, busy, busy.

It was back in March that I spent a day with the folks at Blue Mountain Brewery bringing a recipe for Burton Ale from 1923 back to life. A few weeks later Sensible Mole saw the light of day. I really enjoyed the beer, rippingly bitter but with enough residual sugar so as not to feel like your tongue was being savaged by coarse grain sand paper.

Given the historical aspect of the project, we were drinking Burton Ale mild, that is, young. However, a goodly proportion of the brew was stashed away in the most neutral bourbon barrels that Taylor and company had at the Blue Mountain Barrel House. There is has sat for the best part of 9 months and aged.


Where Sensible Mole was mild, the barrel aged version is old, Old Burton Extra could could call it, and if you were a Londoner drinking it in the 1920s, that's likely exactly what you would call it.

I am not entirely sure what to expect with this version of the beer. I imagine it will pick up some faint whiskey notes and a trace of vanillin from being in the barrels. The intense hoppiness must surely have lessened in the interim, though the bitter bite will, I think, still be there. Will the beer have picked up any light oxidation from the aging process? I would like to think so, especially if it lends the beer some sherry like notes. In short though, I have no idea what to expect.

Sensible Mole OBE makes its debut this Friday at the Blue Mountain brewpub in Afton, and yes I'll be making my way out there to try it and maybe get a sense of the kind of beer my great-grandfather might have drunk in the 1920s whilst telling war stories with his friends.*

* My great-grandfather was an Old Contemptible who went to France in 1914 as part of the Rifle Brigade, saw action at places including Mons and Ypres, eventually he came home in 1916 when he was wounded in action.