Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blue Ridge Brewing Company

Friends of Mrs Velkyal and I are getting married in April and have asked me to "consult" on the beer selection to be available for the reception. Thus it was, yesterday, that we found ourselves sat in the most convivial surroundings of the the Blue Ridge Brewing Company in Greenville, South Carolina. Unfortunately we didn't have our camera with us, so to get an idea of what the place looks like, see the Photos section of the their website.

Before I start on about the beer, just a quick word about the food - delicious. That's enough of a digression methinks.

On to the beer, I ordered a flight and in return received 6 decent sized samples of:
  • Kurli Blonde Ale
  • Colonel Paris Pale Ale
  • Rainbow Trout ESB
  • Total Eclipse Stout
  • Santa's Little Helper Porter
  • Little Wille Barley Wine
I have to admit that I have grave misgivings about blonde ales, I usually find them boring - perhaps that is because they are generally thought of as a crossover beer to introduce drinkers of regular beers to craft beer. Kurli Blonde really didn't change my opinion, sure it's well enough made, but just unexciting for me, but then I doubt I would be the target market for these kind of beers any more. The Colonel Paris Pale Ale on the other hand did make an impression, largely because it wasn't as in your face hoppy like some American Pale Ales and all the better for it.

The ESB was, well, an ESB, full of all the goodness of Kentish hops and with a nice malty body, very nice beer, so I had a pint of it once the flight was done, whilst wistfully wondering how much better it would be served from cask at cellar temperature rather than a tad too cold. They describe the stout as "Guinness without the acidity", which is certainly is, an excellent stout which belies its 6.7%ABV to be very drinkable.

Santa's Little Helper is their Christmas oatmeal porter, hopped with Galena apparently, and again a very nice beer, by this point my pulled pork sandwich had arrived, see previous comment about food. Last up on the beer front was Little Willie Barley Wine, a total treat and proof that an 11.5%ABV beer need not feel like drinking paint stripper, lots of seville orange flavours and a beautifully smooth body, simply a wonderful beer.

Overall I was very impressed with the Blue Ridge Brewing Company and will certainly be recommending at least one of their brews to our friends for their wedding. Just another quick digression into food, they make thier own tomato ketchup and it is delicious, it actually tastes like tomatoes instead of red coloured sugar.

Fantastic stuff.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Brewing Plans

Having not had a single beer throughout Advent, I was very much looking forward to Christmas Day and downing a few bottles, admittedly though, this week is a blip in many ways because I intend to keep my annual booze free January.

Much to my own surprise, I only drank my homebrew on Friday, mainly the Machair Mor Imperial Stout, but also a couple of the spiced winter ale - Biere d'épices. I will write more about the Biere d'épices some time during the week, as I have more back in Charlottesville and want to do a proper tasting, and take pictures and such like.

One thing I am very happy about with the Machair Mor is just how much better it was with an extra few weeks of conditioning in the bottle, the Galena hops have mellowed a touch and now combine with all that chocolate malt to make a beer which is dangerously moreish.

Possibly the greatest pleasure was being able to share my brews with Mrs Velkyal's father and uncle, both of whom were most complimentary. I think now though I will need to buy a few more of the 3 gallon fermenters and start making more of my staple beers, especially as my dad is keen to try my beers when he and my mother come to visit in March/April. Particularly in order will be more of the Gael 60/-, a fresh batch of my Experimental Dark Matter (not using a kit though this time), and a new, hopefully improved, version of Limelight, which from reading homebrewing.cz (only in Czech sorry), went down very well with other homebrewers.

With all this brewing to come, I must admit that I am doing so with an eye on entering a few competitions this year. I am well aware that I am unlikely to win anything, but I want the feedback from judges so that I can improve my recipes and get more pleasure from seeing people enjoy my beer.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What the Dickens!?

I am guessing that tomorrow I will be in no fit state to post, after all I have plenty of the Machair Mor to enjoy, and share with my in-laws, and of course it will be the official unveiling of Biere d'épices - the spiced ale I made back in November especially for Christmas.

For those members of the family that I am unable to guilt trip into trying my homebrew, which at 9% and 7% respectively might not quite be their cups of tea anyway, I also have the Samuel Adams Christmas box set, whose delights include a Cranberry "lambic", their Winter Lager and the Holiday Porter. If, as is entirely possible, they aren't really into that stuff either then all the more for me!

Beyond all the boozing though, I want to wish all my readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas, whether or not you believe in the Christmas story, which is after all the reason it is called Christ Mass - and let's not get into all the arguments about the birth of Christ, but focus on the message that Jesus brought humanity, one of peace, compassion and humility - things I know I need more of in 2010.

So Merry (take that as you will) Christmas people!

Just to justify the title, here is a little quote from A Christmas Carol:

“It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Back to Brewing

Well, almost back to brewing. About a month back I brewed up my first barleywine, something of a monster of a beer, weighing in at 1.098 if I remember rightly, and it has been happily sat in the primary fermenter since then.

Today is time to rack it into the secondary and begin dry hopping the beer. In the boil I used Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops, so I wanted to kick things around a little bit with the dry hopping, so I went to the new homebrew place in Charlottesville and got myself some more Fuggles as well as some Cascade.

The barleywine will be sitting in the secondary, with the dry hops, for at least the next 6 months, after which I will bottle it up and lay it down for another 5 months, so that it is ready for Thanksgiving 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blog of the Year

Slowly we are getting to the end of my review of the year, only a couple more categories to go! This in some ways though is the one I have been looking forward to writing the most, because I get to give credit to some of the people who make my days infinitely more interesting with their writings.

Like so many of the categories I have done, it really it difficult to whittle it down to just three from which to pick a winner, however I did give myself a couple of criteria which were absolutely vital. Firstly, the majority of blog posts had to be actually about something rather than a few words about how many beers they drank or something equally vacuous. Secondly, the ability to continue the conversation in the comments section is important - I like being able to make a comment and have it responded to, after all, one of the points of web 2.0 isn't just to give every gobshite with a keyboard a mouthpiece, but rather to facilitate dialogue, and through that greater understanding of a topic.

Without further ado, the three best blogs in my world are:
I can't remember exactly when I came across Dave's blog, but from day one I have enjoyed the refreshingly open and honest perspective that Dave brings to his writing.  Whether posting on the trials of running a countryside Free House, tax issues relating to beer, or even why he invested in BrewDog, Dave brings a depth of passion and also willingness to have his views challenged by the wider beer blogging community.

E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst fame doesn't write as often as some, but when he does it is always worth reading, often bringing subtle insights into the Virginia craft brewing scene as well as tips about beers to drink, and which good beers are actually available in this neck of the woods. Of the three bloggers on the list, E.S. Delia is the only one I have actually met, spoken with in person and had the pleasure of his company, in every way he is the stereotype of what a beer lover and blogger should be.

I am sure that most of us appreciate Ron Pattinson's fascinating historical perspectives on gravities and brewing ingredients, I know that I very much plan to make some of the homebrew versions of the beer recipes he has been posting of late. From deep within all the statistics, logs and numbers shines Ron's deep love and passion for beer, which is of course the driving force behind any good beer blogger.

Given that I have one UK based, one Europe based and one American based blogger on my list, it would be so easy to make each of them the winner in their respective geographical location, but that would be shifting the goal posts. So my Blog of the Year is:
  1. Dave's Beer Related Blog
Always challenging, always interesting and always worth thinking over and ruminating on, Dave's blog is the one I always go to the moment it is updated.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Specialty Beer

The last of the beer style awards for this year is another rather large catch all category, basically the beers that don't fit in any of the other categories.

The top three in this category are as follows:

The Starr Hill Barleywine was a small batch made by Starr Hill back in the autumn and for a while was my favourite beer. Big sweet maltiness with a huge whack of spicy hops made this beer simply a magnificent drink. Of the Starr Hill beers I have had this year, the Barleywine was far and away the best and if I were in their shoes I would be doing this on a yearly basis and releasing it bottle conditioned in the same way Fullers do their Vintage Ale.

As I noted earlier this week, Lovibond's make excellent beers and the Gold Reserve is a notched up version of their Henley Gold wheat beer. Referred to as a "wheat wine" and with the brewer's weight in honey thrown in as well, this is a strong, sweet and yet a grassy noble hoppiness that just balances it out nicely.

Back in June, myself and Evan Rail got together to do a comparative tasting of Fuller's London Porter, Lovibond's Henley Dark and Ron Pattinson's re-creation of a 1914 London-style Porter recipe brewed in conjunction with De Molen. Rich and yet dry, it was a pleasure to try a re-created Edwardian beer.

As ever the decision is tricky, but for the pure pleasure of discovering a beer style I had never even heard of and it being a moreishly drinkable beer, the Fuggled Specialty Beer of the Year is:
  1. Lovibond's Gold Reserve
A second award there for the Lovibond's Brewery and my most keen wish for 2010 is that their beers somehow find their way to the USA, in particular this little corner of Virginia, where I know for sure they would be very much appreciated.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Wheat Beer

Ah wheat beer, that once disregarded style which has become my preferred summer tipple - though I must admit a preference for German style weissbier as opposed to the Belgian wits, not sure why to be honest, that's just the way it is.

My three contenders for this award are:
I only discovered the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis a couple of weeks ago when Mrs Velkyal and I were down in Columbia, South Carolina, for Thanksgiving, with our friend Dr Gary having come over from the UK. I was planning to write a full post about the beer, using the title "The Importance of Being Authentic" because of the many American wheat beers I have had, this is the only one that bore any resemblance to the Bavarian style, and it comes with a lovely dose of hefe to swill into the beer.

Primátor's Weizen was a regular tipple for much of the first 6 months of the this year, whether on tap or in the bottle - it is really easy drinking and always satisfying. I said before I moved to the US that I already knew this would be one of the beers I would miss from the Czech Republic, and so it has proven.

Schneider Weisse first came across my path this year when the parents' of one of the Mrs Velkyal's kids in Prague brought a few bottles back from Germany for me one weekend. Of the various German weizens I have had this is one of the most packed with flavour and given that Beer Run had it on tap last time I was there I indulged in several pints, lingering over and enjoying each and every one.

An extremely tricky decision this one, extremely tricky, but when it comes down to it there can be only one (said in a faux franco-scottish accent):
  1. Schneider Weisse
Similar to the choice of O'Hara's yesterday, sometimes only a classic interpretation of a style will do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Porter and Stout

I have said many times that I am a stout man. Mr first love in the world of beer was Guinness, and I have always had a soft spot for the black stuff, and stout is one of those beers which is relatively easy to make, but rather difficult to make really, really well. Porter on the other hand is something that I have come to appreciate more over the past year, whether that be the top fermented British styles or bottom fermented Baltic Porter.

From the many stouts and porters I have indulged in over 2009 the following have stood out:
The La Granja Stout from Nørrebro is made with coffee beans and boy does it tell, big, yet smooth, coffee flavours, rich chocolatey background and a subtle warming glow make this a simply gorgeous big hitter of a sweet stout. The first bottle I had of this beer cost me the equivalent of $20, crazy perhaps to pay an inflated price, but worth it for the lovely beer I got to enjoy, thankfully there was another place in Prague selling it at far more reasonable price, so indulge more I did.

Stout and Ireland go together like fish and chips, Wallace and Gromit or apple crumble and custard. Of the Irish stouts I have enjoyed, as well as "Irish style" stouts from the Czech Republic, UK or US, O'Hara's is head and shoulders above, simple as.

General Washington's Tavern Porter, from Yard's Brewing in Philadelphia, was a gift from a very good friend, and when gifts are this good you know that you have a good friend with excellent taste in beer. Big alcoholic glow and a flavour which packed a punch and a half, while still being eminently drinkable makes Tavern Porter one of the best beers I have discovered since I moved to the US.

Of the three, the one walking away with my utmost appreciation is
  1. O'Hara's Celtic Stout
Sometimes, despite all the innovation, experimentation and generally messing about in the beer world only a classic hits the spot, O'Hara's is that Classic.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber and Dark Ales

This category is something of a catch all for those beers which don't really fit in the world of Pale Ale or in Stouts and Porters, and as such the beers presented here are all rather different from each other,

Without further ado then, the three contenders for Amber and Dark Ale of the Year are as follows:
I guess some would claim that the Henley Amber belonged in the Pale Ale category, but as it is a shade or two more red than most pale ales I chucked it into this category. To my mind, the work Jeff is doing at Lovibond's is as impressive as the likes of BrewDog. Sure he doesn't engage in strange marketing practices, but boy does he know how to make a great range of beers. Henley Amber is crisp, refreshing and with a long, lingering finish it is one of the best sessions beers I have had this year.

Hobgoblin is one of those beers that I simply adore and will drink whenever I have the opportunity, whether on cask or from the bottle, I am always left satisfied by the toffee sweetness and the smooth drinking of this wonderful beer. Best of all, it was readily available in Prague when I was there, and many a bottle shop in this neck of the woods have it as well. You really can't go wrong with Hobgoblin.

The beer that turned my head to traditionally crafted ales, Bishop's Finger is everything a strong English ale should be, full of Kentish hops, caramel flavours in the background and obscenely easy to drink - you are probably seeing a theme here, I like beers that are easy to drink rather than "extreme" beers which I tend to think of as "pivni penis envy" (pivni is the adjectival form of "beer" in Czech). Whenever I have a bottle of Bishop's Finger I wish I was sat in the beer garden of a Shepherd Neame pub near my brother's place in Ashford, listening to the test match and idling away the day.

Anyway, back to the cold reality of Charlottesville in December and expecting over a foot of snow today. The Fuggled Amber and Dark Ale of the Year is:
  1. Lovibond's Henley Amber
As I said earlier, drinkability is one of my big watch words when it comes to choosing beers to rave about, and Henley Amber is precisely that, a beer you could spend all evening downing with mates in the pub and then walk home. The good people of Henley-on-Thames are very lucky to have such a fantastic brewer on their doorstep and should acquaint themselves with Jeff's wears as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Ales

Pale Ales, whether English, American or of the India sort, have formed a large part of my drinking this year and form a nice little juxtaposition to the situation with Pale Lagers - the first 6 months of the year saw the occassional decent Pale Ale, while the second half has been a veritable flood of the stuff. I am sure some will find it too vague to lump together the various pale ale styles into a single grouping, of course not forgetting styles like bitter here, but it works for me (minor aside, does any one else find the BJCP style guides a bit hair splity?).

From a very strong field, the following three beers stood out:

In my final month in Prague I was unemployed, having been made redundant, and was researching for my book, The Pocket Pub Guide to Prague (available very soon). On the days when Mark and I weren't sitting in various drinking holes, taking notes and pictures (which I have been setting in the text and they are fabulous!), you could often find me in Tlusta Koala just round from my flat imbibing this simply wonderful IPA. Seriously hoppy, served perhaps a tad cold but just right for the warm early summer afternoons, it was the refreshment of champions, or at least this champion of Kocour.

Recently I went on a day trip to Northern Virginia's breweries with Dan from CVille Beer Geek (most of the breweries were disappointing to be blunt), one of the highlights of the trip though was the Kybecca bottle shop in Fredericksburg where they keep a good stock of beer. It was there that I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's gorgeous Torpedo. I am discovering that I like hoppy beers which have a good malty body, Torpedo is almost its perfect expression.

Charlottesville's best bottle shop/pub/nacho place is the magnificent Beer Run (seriously, the nachos are awesome and they have Fuller's Vintage Ale for just $9.99!!!) and it was here that while waiting for Mrs Velkyal to return with her ID and for the friends we were meeting that I decided to have a swift half of the Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and I was blown away, simply a gorgeous beer full of the citrusy flavours you expect from an American made pale ale, but with a subtle spiciness behind it and that sweet maltiness that I love.

Again a difficult decision to make, and for the first time this year a Fuggled award comes across the Atlantic, but only just. The Fuggled Pale Ale of the Year is:

  1. Bell's Two Hearted Ale

One of the best discoveries of the last six months and simply good beer.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber and Dark Lager

This seems to have been a decent year on the amber and dark lager front of things, with new offerings from one of my favourite breweries back in the UK, the continued excellence of many a Czech polotmavé and tmavé, as well as a few good lagers from the USA in this category, although if I am honest the majority of amber and dark lagers over here are as crap as the pale ones.

The three beers which make the shortlist for amber and dark lager of the year are:
Here I must make a confession, in ten years living in Prague, I went to U Fleků a grand total of once and that was back in June while researching for my soon to be released pub guide to Prague (released as soon I sort out a technical issue or two). I had avoided it purely because it is such a touristy place to go, had I known just how damned good the beer was, I would have drunk far less in my formative Prague years but drunk far, far better.

Whilst talking of seemingly touristy places to go, U Medvídků will always be a place I love and hanker for, whether for the lashings of Budvar, the wonderful Czech food (if anyone tells you Czech food is awful then they are pretentious knobs with no idea about being a normal human being), and of course U Medvídků's own range of excellent beers. As lovely as it is from a bottle, Oldgott Barique is simply divine on tap in the secluded little brewery area of this labyrinthine pub.

As for the Kout na Šumavě 18°, a magnificent Baltic Porter which rounded off many an evening in U Slovanské Lípy, I have to agree with the august Evan Rail that it is "simply miraculous". Beautifully smooth and rich, like a dark chocolate cake which is sinful beyond words but oh so damned good, as I say, it rounded off so many nights out to perfection.

This is, again, a very difficult decision to make, but when push comes to shove, I usually go for a beer which I can drink several pints of, as such the Fuggled Amber and Dark Lager of the Year for 2009 is:
  1. U Medvídků Oldgott Barique 13°
I had the pleasure many times this year, with various people I have been lucky to get to know as a result of Fuggled, to sit in the brewery side of U Medvídků and polish off copious amounts of the Oldgott Barique - each and every every occassion as good as the beer lubricating the conversation.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Lagers

My experience of pale lagers this year has been something of a mixed bag. The first six months of the year were in the Czech Republic, thus giving me access to endless amounts of quality pilsner style lager. The second half of the year has largely been one of disappointment in the American craft lager scene - seriously, almost every pale lager I have had here has been bland beyond description, with one exception.

My three contenders for the Fuggled Pale Lager of the year are:
The Blue Mountain Lager has been something of a life saver for me on those days when I really fancied a decent lager, how it didn't win any awards at the Great American Beer Fest is beyond me - perhaps the judges should spend more time in Germany and the Czech Republic before being allowed to judge lagers.

What can be said about Kout na Šumavě 10° that I haven't already said? Almost nothing to be honest, a 10 degree lager with more flavour and punch than many stronger beers is something to be savoured.

Discovering Zlatá Labuť 11° was one of my beer highlights of 2009 in general, it is quite simply a magnificent beer that deserves a far wider distribution than it has at the moment.

This is such a difficult decision, but for the second year running, the Fuggled Pale Lager of the year is:
  1. Kout na Šumavě 10°
Kout is the beer I miss most from the Czech Republic and to my mind the finest expression of the Bohemian Pilsner style.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

That Time of the Year

Between now and Christmas, I will be dedicating the majority of posts to the second, annual, Fuggled Review of the Year. Some of the categories for this year's review differ from last year, largely because moving to the US in June has opened up a greater range of beer styles to me, and so they need to be accounted for. I have also decided to add a couple of beer writing reviews, one for the beer blog I think has been the best that I read regularly in 2009, the post that I feel is the best that I have written this year, and the best individual post from other people's blogs.

The categories for this year's review of the year then are as follows:
  • Pale Lager of the Year
  • Semi-dark/dark Lager of the Year
  • Pale Ale of the Year
  • Dark Ale of the Year
  • Porter/Stout of the Year
  • Wheat Beer of the Year
  • Specialty Beer of the Year
  • Blog of the Year
The one thing which this year's review has in common with last year is the complete absence of any financial award, or even any meaningful history. It really is just a list of the highlights of what has been a very good year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Paddling Up the Amazon

It probably isn't much of a big deal in the grander scheme of things, but heck it got me excited.

On Friday afternoon as I was preparing for the 6 hour drive from Charlottesville down to Columbia, South Carolina, to go to a friend's engagement bash, I got an email from Lulu.com. Usually the only emails I get from Lulu are to tell me about a sale for one of the two Fuggled calendars or some guff about special deals on shipping if I buy 10 paperback books. I duly opened said email to give it a quick scan, and my chin almost hit the floor. It appears that Lulu have selected the Fuggled calendars to be listed on the Amazon Marketplace!

Being listed on the Amazon Marketplace rather than the main site is probably akin to playing in the Europa League instead of the Champions League, but hell the EL is still a European competition worth winning, so I am undoubtedly chuffed to bits about a wider audience seeing the calendars and maybe making some beer lovers happier this Christmas!

According to the email, both the Prague Pubs calendar and the Beer calendar will be available on Amazon from this Wednesday, December 9th. And yes, I am still chuffed to bits about it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pocket Pub Guide - Prague

Back in June, having just been made redundant, I spent an ordinate amount of time in some of Prague's most blogged about and generally well-regarded, for whatever reason, pubs. Many an afternoon you would find me trawling around the city with my friend Mark - who did the pictures for the Fuggled calendars which are advertised to the left of this post. I bought one just to make sure that the quality was good, and I have to say I am deeply impressed and anyone with fond memories of drinking in Prague really should buy one, better, buy the pair.

The purpose of all this travelling, drinking and photography was not simply to make a couple of calendars for Fuggled, but rather to write a guide to 40 of Prague's pubs. I hesitate to use the word "best" because it is such a subjective thing. Rather I chose 40 of the pubs in the city which I think are good pubs, and that doesn't necessarily mean that they have a wide choice of beer, or obscure micro-brew from the Bohemian villages, in fact a few of them are Staropramen pubs, not great beer but there are some good pubs selling Staropramen in Prague.

Recently I got the complete set of photography produced by Mark - and people, if you need any photographic needs in, or about, Prague then talk to Mark, so skilled it is frightening at times and a top bloke to boot - so I have been going through the pictures deciding which ones to use and where. In order to at least get the book available, I have decided to first release an e-book version before I go for the printable version through Lulu.com.

The plan is to have it available within a week to ten days, so blogging might be a bit slow next week while I set the pictures and make this the best project I can.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Smoke Free Virginia

Apparently there is now a smoking ban in place for restaurants in Virginia, how does this affect me? Well, for a start, there are no such things as bars in Virginia - bars in the sense that most people understand them, watering holes, drinking dens, places with beer and maybe some snacks. To serve alcohol in Virginia it is required to serve food as well, effectively making a pub in reality a "restaurant that serves alcohol" to quote Dave over at Musings Over A Pint.

From my experience of going to "pubs" so far, very few of them have been smoky in the slightest - now admittedly my frame of reference for a smoky pub would be one of the various dark places in Prague that filled up fairly quickly with a blue fug, and you left reeking incredibly badly. But I think making restaurants no smoking is a good idea, simply because eating dinner and inhaling copious amounts of second hand smoke really isn't all that pleasant, it ruins the food for a start.

This has, however, convinced me that Virginia needs bars where the food available includes crisps, chocolate bars and pre-made sandwiches for the hungry, nothing fancy, but something which is easy to do and doesn't require massive capital investment in building a kitchen. I have to admit that I am a bit confused by the law here about what qualifies as food in order to serve alcohol, so if any of my Virginia readers can enlighten me then I would be very happy.

I do however have a problem with smoking bans in principle. What is the point of having a perfectly legal, if unhealthy, habit and then proscribing partakers in that particular habit from performing their perfectly legal act in given places? Why not go to the heart of the problem and ban tobacco (and yes I know the tobacco lobby would be up in arms)? But part of me also wonders, when will the prohibitionists attempt to force similar "alcohol bans"? Now, it would be easy to convince ourselves that the nutter prohibitionist movement could never impose another alcohol ban, but they did it before and would love to do it again, indeed I know of a few towns in the US which are "dry".

Perhaps what is needed in Virginia is a campaign for the law to be changed, and allow bars and pubs to open which are primarily "wet-led" to use the British industry parlance. I would posit that there is scant evidence that insisting on serving food in order to serve alcohol makes people likely to drink less, so why hobble entrepreneurs with ridiculous legislation? While I am in a slightly campaigning mood, I would also like to campaign for the legal age for alcohol consumption to be lowered to 18, it a person is old enough to pay taxes, smoke, vote, die in the army, then by what justification do you deny people the right to enjoy a pint at the end of the day. Also, I want to see the requirement for carding people who look over 30 in shops and other places serving alcohol outlawed - have these people never heard of "innocent until proven guilty". Yes it can be difficult to tell, but you should only card when you are not sure.

Here ends today's lesson.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The 300

People quite often ask me what my blog is about, usually the conversation comes out something like this:

"I write a beer blog"
"oh, cool, so what do you write about?"
"mainly beer, pubs and brewing at home"
"ah"

I probably spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this blog, which was fine when I was unemployed, but now I have to squeeze blogging time into the wee hours of the morning before Mrs Velkyal gets up and we head off to work together - an incurable romantic perhaps, but I love the fact that we head out to work together. The question, however, remains; what is Fuggled about?

First and foremost, Fuggled is about me. I have met some of my regular readers, whether by design or them turning up at the Starr Hill tasting room and telling me they read Fuggled, or even by complete random chance as happened one night in PK, I hope that my personality is evident from the things I write about, because they are some of the things I care about as well. I do have another couple of blogs, one dealing with my religious issues, and the other kind of a catch all for the stuff that doesn't go here or there. I love writing, and while I accept that I am not in the Douglas Coupland (imagine his beer reviews!) league, I think I am a fairly decent writer. I am something of an opinionated git at times, which I guess helps to keep the content flowing for a blogger.

Of course beer is at the heart of Fuggled, not necessarily craft beer, not even necessarily "good" beer, just beer, the people that drink it, the places they drink it in - I love to watch people and I love a pint, so pubs crop up regular in my wafflings (which you may have noticed is the number 1 label on here).

From re-reading my early posts, it is evident that the beginnings of Fuggled was my ambition to make my own beer - to start with I wanted to make stout because in April of last year it was difficult to get stout in Prague, and what there was would mean going to one of the Oirish bars in the centre of the city. Out of my plan to make my own beer came wandering around various pubs in the city and discovering lots of good beer and plenty of good people, especially Rob, Evan and Pivni Filosof. So home brewing is very much key to Fuggled, I don't always post my recipes or even tasting notes, but it is always there, lurking in the background.

So there we go, in some small way, Fuggled is about me, my tastes in beer, my home brewing experiences, my thoughts on pub life wherever I happen to be at the time. As for today's title, nothing to do with Spartan warriors, but rather than since 10th April, 2008 I have now written 300 posts - a small milestone for sure, but one I am happy to have got to, and hopefully the next 300 will be just as much fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beer Geek or Pub Snob?

Something that has been going round my head a lot of late is the question of whether or not I am a genuine beer geek, a term I have come to loathe, or am I in fact a pub snob? I am fairly sure that the two are opposite faces of the coin when it comes to the beery world, and perhaps this is heresy but I don't particularly enjoy drinking in the comfort of my own home, without mates to chat with (real, live mates that is, rather than my online buds - as great as they are), barmaids to flirt with and the general buzz and hubbub of a good pub.

Due to various, utterly boring and not worth repeating here, reasons, I have not really discovered much about pub life in Charlottesville, but whenever I come down to Columbia, there is one place that I simply must, absolutely have to, go to - Flying Saucer. I have waxed lyrical about Flying Saucer several times before, but last night it simply went up yet another notch in my estimation. Did they have new beers? Well yes in fact they did, they had my current favourite pale ale, Bell's Two Hearted Ale. Were the staff superb? Yes, our beer goddess last night, Caycee, was magnificent, when I eventually get my own pub, then staff like her are exactly what I would be looking for, her and the world's best barmaid as far as I am concerned, Klara from PK. Are these the things that heightened my appreciation for Flying Saucer? Not in the slightest.

When sitting in PK with Evan, he once told me that to really understand a beer you need to drink it least 4 times. Pubs are the same, you have to go several times to really judge whether this is a pub you would go to regularly. Simply put, the consistency of excellence I have experienced at Flying Saucer in Columbia makes it my favourite pub in the city, and makes me wish we had one in Charlottesville.

I don't know if the beer tastes better in the pub, I don't want to get into the whole draught vs bottle debate, but the beer is so much better when it is with good friends in a good environment. God help us if beer ever becomes an aspirational, niche product that you sit, sip and contemplate like some pretentious wine buff. With places like Flying Saucer in the world, that dark day is kept at bay.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Slacking off

Mrs Velkyal, myself and a friend from England have driven down from Charlottesville to Columbia, South Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with the in-laws. Of course making sure I had plenty of good beer was in order, thus a trip to the local booze store was in order, and the beer for the next few days comprises:
  • Starr Hill Northern Lights (bought from home admittedly)
  • Unibroue La Fin du Monde
  • Unibroue Les Trois Pistoles
  • Unibroue Maudite
  • Unibroue Ephemere (made with apple juice, coriander and curacao!)
  • Budvar
A good triumvirate of beers there for the holiday, and I am sure some stuff will make it's way back up the Interstate.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beer People Stand!



This part of Virginia sometimes seems to be booze central, with 4 breweries, plentiful vineyards, at least one cider maker (that's proper cider people, without alcohol it is called "apple juice"), and a newly operational distillery - all within about 30 miles of Charlottesville. One of the most interesting things about working a brewery tasting room is indulging in a little people watching, whilst talking with people about the beers produced by Starr Hill.

We get quite a few people who are out touring a couple of the vineyards and taking in a couple of breweries, usually it is the ladies who advocate for the vineyards, while their significant male others prefer the breweries - and from talking with such couples, I find it interesting that the beer lover of the pair often has a well developed opinion of the wine, even if he doesn't drink it often, while the wine buff is, to be blunt, either pig ignorant about beer (and unwilling to learn) or passive aggressive toward it, simply refusing to try a few tiny samples. The usual form with such couples is that both will approach the bar, ascertain that tastings are available and when I suggest both starting out with a particular beer, the beer lover will say something like "sounds good", while the wine buff sneers and says "I don't do beer" or some such crap, said buff then wanders off to browse the merchandise, or sit at a table cross legged and armed waiting for the beer lover to be done with.

Now, I am aware that it is sweeping generalisation here, but I am coming to the conclusion that beer lovers are simply more open-minded than our wine loving cousins, and that in many ways wine people simply do not understand beer people. Take for example tasting notes. I believe that many of vineyards in this neck of the wood provide their customers with tasting sheets, and these are greatly appreciated apparently. In the brewery tasting room context, and I speak as a note taker, on the days I remember my note book and/or pen, very few people bother to take notes, even when asked if they would like a tasting sheet - which we do have at Starr Hill, and only once has someone taken said sheet when offered at the bar. I think those of us who do take notes, again sweeping generalisation here, do so in the comfort of our own home when supping on a bottle of something we probably tried in the pub context and want to get a better handle on.

Beer is a deeply unpretentious drink, it is not an aspirational product, or even a lifestyle choice, and from my experience beer people are unpretentious, open and fun loving, so why we would try to ape the wine buff world of spouting drivel about being able to taste curried rubber or some such crap when talking about beer? Yes there are different tastes, flavours, aromas and feelings that beer produces, but let's remember where most of us do our drinking, down the pub with mates, the social aspect is key, and it is something a lot of wine buffs simply do not understand in my experience, sometimes I am sure that "I don't like beer" really means "I don't like life and people".

Again, yes I know there is a lot of generalisations in this piece, and we all know people who defy them - just needed to blow off some steam about waffly wine buffs looking like they are being forced to suck lemons by even being in a brewery. oh and the wine in the picture was lovely (I really do like wine, and get as excited by a good wine as I do a good beer).

Friday, November 20, 2009

End of Week Laziness

Tis the end of my first week back in gainful employ, and my mind it in overdrive as a result. Hence today's very lazy post just of pictures....








Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Right Regal Stout

Once again I succumbed to temptation about 10 days ago. I popped open a bottle of my imperial stout and was greatly encouraged by what I saw, smelt and tasted. Yesterday it was 3 weeks since I had bottled the beer, and so I decided to try it at its minimum conditioning, and the great encouragement became much joy.



I poured the beer into my new Everard's glass, which as you can see celebrates the fact that the Leicester brewer is in its 160th anniversary. Because I used far more chocolate malt than roasted barley, the beer is rather more brown than black, with a deep crimson around the edges, the head is tan and just sat there like a cap on top of the beer. Chocolate is very much the defining theme of the beer, the nose is redolent of dark bitter chocolate, with subtle spicy notes in the background. Those smells are replicated in the taste department, smooth chocolate with a distinct bitterness with balances out the sweetness to make a remarkably drinkable imperial stout* - even Mrs Velkyal described it as "strangely refreshing"!

So, yes I am very happy with this beer and at the moment think it is the best beer I have made, so have another picture.



* I can write bollocks as well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tour of Northern VA Breweries

I spent most of Friday on the road touring various breweries in the northern Virginia area, visiting a very good bottle shop, a slew of small breweries and a brewpub with cask ale.

It was the cask ale that caught my imagination. The place in question was Capital City Brewing in Shirlington, one of 3 brewpubs, the other two are in Washington D.C., while the beer was their Pale Rider Ale, an American Pale Ale hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me, and I didn't bother with tasting notes, simply put, on cask it was delicious.

Of course in the name of science I tried a bit of the regular keg version alongside the cask, and really there was no comparison. On keg it is a lovely beer, on cask it was simply superb!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Something Soft

I spent much of Monday morning driving around from specialist shop to specialist shop looking for key ingredients for mincemeat, which Mrs Velkyal is making for the first time this year. The things we needed at that point were ground rump steak, currants and mixed peel. The ground steak was easy in the end, I just went to our local supermarket and asked if they could grind some for me, and they were more than happy to do so.

The currants were a bit of a nightmare because Americans don't call them just "currants" like we do in the UK, instead they called them "Zante Currants". Having not found them at Whole Foods, although I did find something rather nice there - more of which in a bit, I came home and decided instead of driving around town I would call the other specialist shops to see if they had the stuff I was looking for. Several calls later and I was on the road to Foods of All Nations to pick up the currants and mixed peel, and having been in there before I decided to see if Fentimen's soft drinks were as good as Dave from the Woolpack Inn in Cumbria says they are. Therefore, I picked up a mini-bottle, 125ml, of the Curiosity Cola and Ginger Beer.



For those not in the know, Fentimen's drink are "Botanically Brewed" and use natural ingredients, I was very happy to find them here in CVille, though I believed they are made under licence in Canada.



There really is only one thing I can say about the Curiosity Cola, if this is what cola drinks originally tasted like then I can understand entirely how it became the world's most popular soft drink style. This stuff really is delightful, refreshing and not cloyingly sweet and the ginger zing in the background just rounds it off perfectly.



I have always liked Ginger Beer in general, particularly the Marks and Spencer ones, but this one was just a revelation. It probably sounds ridiculous to say it was full of ginger, but it was massively zingy and tangy and just simply oh so good! I can safely say that these soft drinks will be making regular appearances in my fridge, and my brain is wondering what mixed drinks I could make with them, especially given the choice of funky little bottles (they do have big ones as well) - perhaps Ginger Beer and brandy? Curiosity Cola and Jameson?

Skipping back a little bit to Whole Foods, I picked up a bottle of Legend Pilsner from the Legend Brewing Company in Richmond - a brewery I have heard much about from my good friend Mark. Regular readers will know that pilsner in this country has so far left me disappointed, but this one was quite good, nice and malty body with a good hoppiness you would expect from a nice Czech pilsner, though a bit strong at 6%abv, probably the equivalent of a 14˚ lager back in the Czech Republic. Whilst not up there with my favourite Czech lager, not bad at all, and in my Chodovar glass it certainly looks the part!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Erm, no.

I am all for making new beer styles, and for the creative fusion of existing beer styles. Some call it innovation, others call it messing about, but sometimes it works perfectly and the end product is simply a delight. Sometimes though, the end product looks great but tastes crap, and I have to wonder if the brewer in question has forgotten the power of colour in the perception of how a beer should taste.

Take for example the oxymoronic "Black IPA" that all of a sudden appears to be the latest beer rage. I had a pint of Laughing Dog's Dogzilla Black IPA at Beer Run here in Charlottesville last night, it was my first trip as I am celebrating soon to be an employed person! The beer was certainly dark, indeed it put me in mind of a good porter, especially given the tan head, however the nose was the classic American IPA citrus. Taste wise the hops simply overpowered everything else in the beer, I may as well have been drinking a standard IPA.

This got me to thinking exactly what the point of a style bastardisation such as Black IPA would be? Judging by the colour and body of the beer, I got the feeling it was basically a porter hopped with C-hops, but without the body and malt that would balance out the hops sufficiently. Also, why try to coin such an oxymoronic beer style? Black India Pale Ale? How can black be pale? India Black Ale maybe, India Porter maybe more so, but an ale that is black and pale at the same time? Please, come on!

Colour is an important signifier of what is likely to be in the glass, to get that colour makes use of crystal malts, maybe some chocolate malt, maybe some roasted barley or even black malt, so you expect a certain sweetness to the beer that was simply absent in the one I had last night.

On a positive note, the Bluegrass Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout was magnificent!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Difficult Position

No, this post isn't about the advanced acrobatics required by the Karma Sutra, but rather about the uneasy position I, and most certainly many others, find themselves in. It is only 7 posts ago that I could in all honesty write these words:

"as long as the beer remains good then I am a happy BrewDog fan".

As a result of the latest marketing stunt, which is more clearly laid out by Mark over at Pencil and Spoon, and Pete Brown, I find that statement sorely challenged. As I have commented on Mark's blog, I am shocked by this latest whoring of the BrewDog name to the media circus, which of course we bloggers are part and parcel of, whether we like it or not.

At the end of the day, as I have said before here, the important thing for me is not what is written on the bottle, not the factory that the bottle came from, but what is in the bottle, the beer itself, and this is where I feel BrewDog can very easily redeem themselves, they make truly excellent beer.

Yes, the Portman Group often appear to be misguided zealots, ranting, raving and generally getting the wrong end of the stick entirely, but paying  excessive attention to them does nobody any favours.

I don't care if you call your beer Nanny State, Knackered Old Cripplecock (still the funniest suggested idea for a beer name in history) or Coors Lite, it is the brew itself which will pass or fail the test of excellence, and it is excellence in the beer that the niche market BrewDog is looking to exploit cares about. There is a very fine line between standing for one's beliefs and courting needless controversy, and this stunt is needless. The people that Tokyo* was allegedly aimed at lapped up the beer, loved it, raved about it, gave BrewDog heaps of positive, free, advertising and marketing.

Those very same people are no doubt confused and have taken a step on the path to disenfranchisement from the BrewDog brand.

As lovers of craft beer (I am sick of the phrase "beer geek"), many of us consider ourselves sophisticated, well read, educated and worldly wise, and this is most probably why this stunt has backfired so spectacularly - BrewDog have insulted its core target group, not a very good "lesson in marketing".

As I said, they can easily redeem themselves. Admit they were wrong to pursue this course of action, attempted justifications just makes me think that they should stop digging their hole, and go back to what they do best, making great beer.

After all that is what James, Martin, myself and the rest of the beer blogsphere care about, great beer.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Driving Mrs Velkyal

Today is a momentous day in Velkyal World, and one that Mrs Velkyal has been eagerly anticipating since the day we arrived in Charlottesville. Today I got my driving license, at the ripe old age of very nearly 34! People have looked at me with incredulity for years because I couldn't drive, but when you live in Prague for 10 years with its phenomenal metro, tram and bus system, there really is no need to burden yourself with the expense of a car, insurance and petrol (that's gas, and at current prices it is about 4 times as expensive as here in Charlottesville!).

In honour of my passing the test, first time round as well, here are a couple of songs to take you in to the weekend.

By the way - I am now on Twitter, so come follow me!



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Those Lovely Gaels!


Sometimes I am really impatient, especially when it comes to trying my homebrew. Generally speaking I leave my beers in the primary fermenter for 14 days before bottling and then three weeks to condition. Admittedly I sometimes dip in a bit early, purely for scientific reasons you understand, to compare the fully conditioned ale with something in progress.

Thus it was that 11 days after I bottled Gael, a Scottish ale, I succumbed to temptation and was greatly encouraged by what I tasted. Yesterday, I tried a fully conditioned bottle - as ever I am using my Cyclops variant to describe my beer. On a quick side note, does anyone else laugh at some of the descriptions you read on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer? I have no problem with the premise behind both sites, and am indeed a member of both, but some people really do write Jilly Gooldenesque bollocks. Anyway, back to my beer:


  • Sight - dark amber, orange edges, large white head
  • Smell - malty sweetness, lightly spicy, very subtle cocoa
  • Taste - toffee, light chocolate
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Oo-er missus, this is nice (purely subjective opinion of course, but aren't most things?)! I believe the ABV is only about 3%, making it a nice session beer, but it has a decent medium body so isn't watery when drinking it. One thing I noticed in particular was just how clear and sparkling the beer was, when I brewed it I used Irish Moss for the first time. Only a few bottles of this remaining in my cellar, and they'll be gone soon enough!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Previously Unpublished Pictures (I think)

My brain is on something of a hiatus today, I guess I am suffering from bloggers cramp, if such a thing exists. There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I guess the following pictures are something of 5000 word essay about beer, their meaning is of course a purely subjective interpretation on the part of the reader.











Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Countries Divided By a Common Beer Style

For those of you who are not aware of my employment, or lack thereof, situation at the moment, at weekends I work in the tasting room of the Starr Hill Brewery. On Saturdays and Sundays you are very likely to find me at the bar in the tasting room, serving samples of the brewery's range of beers to visitors, it is a job that I enjoy immensely. One of the most common questions I get asked by visitors is which of our beers is my favourite, and I am very lucky to work for a brewery whose range I genuinely enjoy. At the moment, because these things change, I have to admit that I have two favourites, we currently have a bourbon barrel aged, dry hopped barleywine available to which I am particularly partial, but from our core range, my clear favourite is Northern Lights IPA. For some time then I have been planning to get my hands on a bottle of a British IPA and do a comparison tasting of British and American IPA, that bottle arrived on Wednesday and was St Peter's India Pale Ale from Suffolk in England. As ever, I am using my variation on the Cyclops system for my tasting notes (the sooner American brewers adopt this system as well the better as far as I am concerned).



First up the English IPA, naturally as England is the home of IPA.
  • Sight - amber with a definite orange, small white head
  • Smell - bitter orange peel, faint caramel
  • Taste - sweet maltiness, spicy hops, mellow citrus
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
What a nice beer this is! Seriously, it is delicious, an excellent balance between the hops and malt, both kind of up and in your face, but neither dominating so much as to make it either sickly or like sucking lemons, there is a noticeably bitter aftertaste which I really enjoyed. A beautiful beer.



And now the American contender:
  • Sight - sparkling amber, loose white head
  • Smell - heavy grapefruit hoppiness (it's the Cascade!)
  • Taste - In your face grapefruit, smooth marmelade background
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 4/5
Damn it I love this beer, I really pity people who can't get this beer in their neck of the woods, seriously it is such a nice IPA. The thing it has for me over most IPAs in the US is that there is far more going on than just a hop bomb. Yes there is that classically American C hop, in your face, grapefruit citrus that you expect, but the malty sweetness of the body, and a subtle boozy glow, set that off perfectly. As I say to a lot of people in the tasting room, it is like hoppy marmelade. It is interesting the number of women who tell me that don't like hoppy beer, usually after they have just tried our Pale Ale, and thus don't want to try the IPA, but love it when I eventually persuade them just to try.

There really isn't much to tell these two excellent beers apart, other than the hop varieties in use. Perhaps then Northern Lights is closer to a genuine IPA than many of the hopbominations out there in the American market because it has the extra maltiness needed to balance out the big citrus flavours. My only gripe with the St Peter's is the use of a green bottle, but that is purely because my experience here so far is that green bottles don't travel as well as brown - thinking about Pilsner Urquell here for sure, so much so I have sworn not to drink it until I am again in Prague and can have it unpasteurised, it really makes such a difference.

Now if only I could find somewhere with Northern Lights as a cask conditioned ale, who happen to have a cask of St Peter's India Pale Ale, then I would be in IPA nirvana.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brewing Tunes

Once again I am brewing today, for something like the third time in a month. I bottled the Machair Mor yesterday and this morning, while waiting for UPS to deliver a case of beer from Vintage Cellar, I will be making Biere d'épices - my spiced Christmas ale.

While I am brewing, I will of course be listening to some of my favourite music, so here is my selection of brewing tunes for each stage of the process.

1. Steeping the grains: Hope Street - The Levellers



2. Boil: Amerika - Rammstein



3. Hop Additions: Uprising - Muse



4. Chilling The Wort: Obsessions - Suede



5. Pitching the Yeast, Fermentation: The Sun and the Sky - The Violet Burning

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some Things Mean More

Starr Hill Barleywine, superb;
Primator Weizen, magnificent;
2-0 against Manchester United, priceless

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nitro Nostalgia

As much as I would be classified as a "beer geek", or "beer anorak" if you prefer, I am not adverse to taking trips down beer memory lane, despite the fact there are more than several nights where the beer stole my memories entirely, although I would like to claim that the Scotch on top of the beer was to blame. I have mentioned on Fuggled before that before I moved to Prague from the UK, I drank ale instead of lager as a rule, beers like John Smith's, Murphy's and Caffrey's were my staple tipples.





If those beers weren't available then my back up plan was Boddington's, which I vaguely remember being available on draught in a few places in Birmingham, but when I moved back to the Highlands I could only get in cans. About a week ago I noticed that our local Food Lion was selling four packs of Bod for only $6.79, and so for purely nostalgic reasons I dropped a pack into the shopping trolley - sorry guys, "cart" just sounds wrong - they won't let me bring my horse into the shop to pull it.





Well it certainly still pours with the bubble cascade and thick, creamy white head I remembered so well - I was tempted to try the old Czech quality test and see if I could balance a coin on the head, it is said that being able to do so is a sign of a properly made beer. Whereas I used to enjoy watching the cascade, and though that the head was great, these days it just annoys me. Eventually though the head settled and I drank my Bod, and although it isn't great, it isn't that bad - I have certainly drunk far worse, and that from the "craft" beer world.





Probably one of the main contributing factors for a lad of my age drinking Boddington's back in the 90s was the advertising, with the lovely Melanie Sykes fronting a series of commercials based around the theme of Bod being the "Cream of Manchester", my favourite though stars Sarah Parish:






Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swimming in the Rip Tide?



So BrewDog have decided to sell a 9% stake in the company to, hopefully, 10,000 lovers of the brand - describing it as the "single most exciting, influential and ground-breaking thing to happen in the British brewing industry for decades". I will say quite openly here and now, as I have on several people's blogs - were I still living in the European Union, I would no doubt be one of those 10,000 people. Would I be doing it because I think it would make me rich? Probably not. Would I be doing it because of the 20% lifetime discount on BrewDog beer? Again, probably not. I would be doing it because I genuinely and sincerely want BrewDog to succeed, grow and show that British brewers can be as iconoclastic as their American cousins. Basically anything that means I can walk to a beer store in Charlottesville and pick up bottles of Hardcore IPA, Paradox and Rip Tide is a good thing in my world.

As things stand, BrewDog appear to be in a very fortunate situation at the moment. Their edgy and aggressive marketing is backed up by seriously good beer. They have a groundswell of goodwill from many in the beer blogging world, and I would be surprised if many of the British bloggers I read don't go out and buy a share in the company, most likely for reasons very similar to why I would if I could. However, this rosy situation could so easily turn sour, and that is the tightrope that James, Martin and the BrewDog guys will now find themselves walking along - and to be honest it is one place I wouldn't want to be.

Having read on BrewDog's main site about their plans for the investment, I must admit that a somewhat parochial question went through my mind, why build the new carbon neutral brewery in Aberdeen? I am assuming here of course that the facilities in Fraserburgh will be closed down in the process. Would the jobs created by building and running the new brewery not be welcome in Fraserburgh? I am aware that the Broch's unemployment rate is below average in Scotland, but while having a nice shiny new brewery is a nice thing, why not keep the company's roots in Fraserburgh?

Another part of BrewDog's plan is to create a new range of beers under the brand name "Abstrakt", you can see the promotional picture here. Now, please, pardon my French and perhaps I am wrong but it seems entirely out of keeping with the concept of BrewDog as the brewing world's "punks" and more like yuppies in denial. Seriously, who wrote the bollocks on that picture? "directional boundary pushing beers"? "will release a small amount edition batches per year" - someone perhaps was in the Foundation class doing Standard grade English? As I have said elsewhere, I am not convinced that Abstrakt is really all that ground-breaking - Fuller's annual Vintage series springs immediately to mind.



As I said at the outset of this rambling, I wish BrewDog nothing but success at bringing excellent beer to the drinking public, and if in the process they make themselves wealthy men then well done to them. What they have done with their new plans is take a difficult path, and one where I am sure it won't be long before some people feel disenfranchised from the brand, and begin to label them as sell outs - much as embittered Pearl Jam fans did with Nirvana when they achieved commercial success. For me though, as long as the beer remains good then I am a happy BrewDog fan.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Change in Christmas Beer Plan

When I was a kid, we lived in Celle in northern Germany - or West Germany as it was back in those days - and every Christmas my mother would make a gingerbread house. Now, my mother isn't one for buying ready made kits or foods for Christmas, whether that be a gingerbread house, the mincemeat for the pies, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, pretty much everything was prepared from start to finish the traditional way. Around this time of  year, mum would make the Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, and let them mature and age until the big day itself - every weekend feeding the cake with brandy. For all the work my mother would put into the making of the Christmas feast, it took my little brother and I moments to bash through the gingerbread to get at the sweets inside, and then days to slowly eat the house itself.

It was this gingerbread house tradition that we had as kids which has inspired my Christmas beer this year, and the fact that until I go all-grain in my home brewing, I would have problems with my original intentions of making a dark top-fermented Baltic Porter in the style of Nøgne Ø's fantastic Christmas beer. I also wanted to use a French hop as a nod to the fact that my parents now life in the Limousin area of France, so I am using Strisselspalt in the brew.

The recipe is as follows:

  • 1.3kg Amber DME
  • 250g Caramel 80
  • 1/4 tsp crushed cloves, boiled 10 minutes
  • 1/4 tsp grated ginger, boiled 10 minutes
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, boiled 10 minutes
  • 15g sweet orange peel, boiled 10 minutes
  • 30g Strisselspalt @ 60 minutes
  • 15g Strisselspalt @ 15 minutes
  • 15g Strisselspalt @ 5 minutes
  • Wyeast Belgian Abbey II
I am hoping for an OG of 1.048, and eventually an ABV of 4.5%. Brewing is scheduled tentatively for next Wednesday as I will be bottling my Machair Stout on Tuesday once it has had two weeks in the carboy. Given a couple of weeks in the primary fermenter followed by being in bottles for about 5 weeks before Christmas itself, I am hoping that everything will work out well.

The name for my new beer? Biere d'épices!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Heretic? Me?

As much as I love Guinness, I have always loved Murphy's more.

I have a four pack of cans to enjoy with myself tonight - perhaps I am a heretic, but every prospect pleases!

And a wee song to get you in the mood....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Authenticity Important?

This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately, is the authenticity of a beer really that important? Does it matter much that a golden lager from Germany bears the label "pils"? Are the methods and ingredients used in producing a particular beer as important as the taste of the end product? Where is the line between making a genuine artisan beer and being innovative just for the hell of it?

The spur for this train of thought over the last couple of weeks was a short clip on TV about how Samuel Adams Boston Lager is made. Part of the process used, according to the clip, was the use of a decoction mash - in particular a double decoction. I was thrilled to be honest to see that at least one of my favourite American lagers (and that is a very, very short list) is made with a decoction mash, as well as 5 weeks of lagering, not to mention being krausened. Of course, strictly speaking, the word lager comes from "lagern" meaning "to store" in that most wonderful of languages, German. Lagering as a process not only takes place in the bottom fermented beers we, in the English speaking world, term "lagers", but also styles such as Altbier and Kölsch - some labels for which carry the phrase "obergärige lagerbier" or "top-fermented lagered beer", yet we label it an ale, when it is just as much a "lager", being the product of a decoction mash and a period of cold conditioning.

This got me to thinking about Shakespeare's maxim that "what's in name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", and while I think that is generally true, it is also true that the elements which compose a rose come together in such a unique way as to make calling a rose a daisy, pointless. If you see what I mean. It is ridiculous to call Altbier an "ale" when the only difference between it and "lager" is the yeast employed to make the alcohol, and the only thing it shares with what the English speaking world calls "ale" is the very same yeast. So, in a long round about way, we come to why I think authenticity is important - simply because we insist on using styles in order to categorise the beers we drink.

Let's look at the overused term "pilsner", one which has led me to be deeply disappointed with many of the beers I have tried which proudly display the term on their label. While I see the value of the appellation "pilsner", I also think that Pilsner Urquell forfeit the right to use that name on their products made in Poland and Russia. But is it just a case of where the beer is made that is important? Are not the accepted process of production and ingredients used by the brewers in that place equally as important? I would argue that is exactly the case; thus a "pilsner" for me is made of 4 ingredients; pale moravian malt, Saaz hops, soft water and bottom fermenting yeast stolen from Bavaria by a dodgy monk. Just as important is a triple decoction mash and a lengthy lagering period. For breweries to make a "pilsner style lager" whilst ignoring the very things that made Pilsner Urquell the wonder beer it was, is gross misrepresentation.

Such a strict view of the term "pilsner" begs then the question, can an India Pale Ale be thus called if it hasn't spent 6 months bobbing around on the ocean? Not to mention the difference between a style and an appellation, and where those two monstrosities overlap. This is perhaps where I depart from the fans of "extreme" beers - I would rather drink a well made, traditional, pilsner, for example, than a pure alcohol, 6 trillion IBU, double, imperial IPA or some such. I guess what I am saying is that authenticity is vital when using a beer which has an appellation, but of course innovation when interpreting a style is acceptable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not Quite As Planned - Again!



Yesterday was brew day. The plan was to brew the imperial stout I am calling Machair Mor, whilst being open to the possibility of another wort not being what it should according to both Beertools and the Beer Recipator, and even my own slight confusion after taking a sample of the boil's specific gravity.

The recipe ended up as follows:
  • 1.75kg Muntons Light DME
  • 900g dark brown sugar
  • 250g American chocolate malt
  • 100g roasted barley
  • 100g flaked oats
  • 30g Galena @ 60
  • 10g Fuggles @ 45
  • 10g EKG @ 15
  • 5g EKG @ 5
The brown sugar was thrown in to the original recipe as a backup to the lack of OG in previous beers, a fact which has been bothering me somewhat. The extra addition of Fuggles was just to use up the remnants of a packet I had after making the Gael 60/- ale.

When I took a sample of the boil, the gravity was 1.150, I had to use my longer hydrometer as the one I usually use just didn't have the scale to deal with such a big wort. When I added the wort to the rest of the water, the OG came down to 1.050 - it has however been suggested to me that the density of the wort caused the boil to sink to the bottom of the carboy and was insufficiently mixed up before taking the OG reading. Something to bear in mind for my next beer.

Since I have started using pre-purified drinking water from the shop, I am getting the wort down to pitching temperature in about 15 minutes, which is brilliant - I chill the bottles of water not being used in the boil, pour 1 gallon into my carboy, put the carboy in an ice bath, pour in the wort - through a re-useable coffee filter for removing the hops sludge and other sundried gunk, top up to about 8 litres and then pitch my yeast. It is easy, cheap and it works! The last couple of beers I have made started fermenting within 3 hours, using the Wyeast Activator - this time I am using the Irish Ale Yeast, and currently have the biggest krausen I have had so far, as you can see below.



Whether it is just plain Machair, or the Machair Mor, I have another nicely fermenting batch of beer to sit in the storage room for a couple of weeks before bottling, and that is the important thing as far as I am concerned.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Of Bottles and Buckets

Later this morning, I am going to bottle my Gael 60/- Scottish ale, which was originally intended to be an 80/- but for some reason I ended up with a more dilute wort than I had planned. Not to worry though, I am expecting a decent session beer for autumnal quaffing, with a light caramel and chocolate thing going on.

Originally I was going to brew up Machair Mor (hopefully it will acquire the title Mor, otherwise it will just be Machair) this afternoon, but I'll leave that for tomorrow.

In the mean time I am going to look into the practicality of converting my 6 gallon plastic bucket fermenter into a fruit press. As you probably know, I am not one for going out and buying the latest fancy pants gadgets and gizmos, plus at $280 for a new one I am not prepared to shell out when I can make a perfectly functioning equivalent for about a tenth of the price. Call me tight if you want, but gathering toys and filling up storage space with stuff I only use a few times a year is just plain dumb.

Anyway, time to sterilised the bottles, thank goodness for the dishwasher! And details of Gael to come later this week.

Quick update:

The Gael 60/- has fermented beautifully and is giving me an ABV of 2.7%, which is just about right for the style. The beer itself is dark copper and beautifully clear - I used Irish moss for the first time, green it is lightly bitter (perhaps a wee bit too bitter for the style) and with a touch of caramel sweetness in it. Once it is bottled it will condition for about 3 weeks in the storage room and I have high hopes for this!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mrs Velkyal's Cider

Sometimes it feels as though our flat is slowly turning into a home-made alcoholic beverage production line. Regular readers will know that I have a 60/- Scottish ale currently in my carboy, which will be bottled on Monday, and then in a quick turn around I plan to brew up my imperial stout on Tuesday. Yesterday though, we added another boozy project to the list, when Mrs Velkyal made her first batch of cider. Last week there was an apple festival near Charlottesville, so while I was at work in the brewery, Mrs V went with a colleague and came back with 3 US gallons of pressed apple juice.



In order to make the cider we needed more fermenting space, so up to Fermentation Trap we went and bought another 3 gallon carboy, the necessary bung, airlock and yeast. Originally we were going to use wine yeast, but after speaking to the guy working in the store we opted for the Safale 04 dry yeast, which apparently most cider makers in these parts use. I also picked up some more steriliser because I didn't like working with the C-Brite stuff.

Mrs Velkyal's recipe was simplicity itself:
  • 2.5 gallons pressed apple juice with no preservatives and junk
  • Safale 04 yeast
The process was also simplicity itself, as you can see from these pictures:



1. Mrs V pouring the juice into the carboy



2. Yeast sprinkled on the must



3. Yeast happily doing its thing.

The OG of the must was 1.044, so we are looking for a 4.5%-5%ABV cider when it is done, and after months in bottles conditioning, something nice and refreshing for next summer. Now, where can we hide a small still?