Monday, August 31, 2009

A Most Welcome Weekend

I like pleasant weekends, as I am sure most people do. The weekend just gone definitely fell into that category - despite the ongoing saga of the buggered back and dodgy left leg. Mrs Velkyal and I made the hour long drive down to Richmond in order to meet up with E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst fame, and a raft of other Virginia, and I think a few from North Carolina, beer lovers for the "World Beer Festival is Postponed but we'll meet up and booze anyway" event organised and hosted by the aforementioned Mr Delia.

I had my camera, I had my notepad, I even remembered a pen, I used none of them. Really why bother with making notes when you can stand around chatting with knowledgable folks and enjoying some magnificent brews? Big beers seemed to be the order of the day, with barleywines, imperial stouts and double IPAs in abundance - I think though the beer I enjoyed the most was a very nice dark mild, a style which is in danger of becoming a favourite of mine. One thing that interested me was the number of Belgiam lambics and gueuzes available - styles which I haven't really explored very much, but have plans to.

One of the things I found fascinating was when people discovered I had lived in the Czech Republic there was a sense that I had been blessed to live in one of the world's beer producing heartlands, which is certainly very true, and after tasting so many big, bold and brash beers, I was left with a craving for a simple, well made lager. But settled instead for bangers and mash with a pint of Belhaven Scottish Ale in the nearby Penny Lane pub, which is an unashamedly Liverpudlian pub where I am planning to watch a few of the big games this season, and gives me a reason to get down to Richmond from time to time and the opportunity to trade homebrew with master Delia.

Talking of homebrew, I spent a fair chunk of yesterday formulating recipes for some upcoming brews, and have decided to buy a couple of smaller glass carboys so that I can keep costs down a bit until I am fully employed and also so I can feel a greater sense of control over my brewing. Coming over the next few months will be an Imperial stout called Machair Mor, another stab at my Jack the RIPA red IPA, a dark and complex strong ale for Christmas which will include chocolate malt, rauchmalt, caramel 90 malt and fermented with a Swedish Porter yeast - the plan is to brew that in October and let it bottle condition for at least 6 weeks prior to Christmas. Also on the drawing board is a barleywine which I will make in November, in preparation for Thanksgiving 2010, and an Old Ale to be the first brew of the new year which will be laid down for Hogmanay 2010.

All in all a nice weekend.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Peasant Pairings

Pairing beer and food seems to be the big thing these days, even hotels in Prague are getting in on the act. From what I read over on Relentless Thirst, Richmond has regular beer dinners pairing up different beers with each course. To my mind though there is something about these things which bugs my head.

Beer is the everyman drink, transcending class and status; and the pub is the ultimate social leveller. To my mind then, beer is best "paired" with everyman foods - perhaps this is my inner peasant speaking, but I have no time for juliennes of this with coulis of that. The everyman drink should never lose its place, paired with everyman food. Here then are some of my favourite foods, all of which are British naturally, and the beers I would drink with them:
  • Steak and kidney pudding (it should be in a suet crust not a pastry pie thing!) - good traditional British fare deserves the classic British beer, a pint of best bitter. Anything darker would add an extra layer of richness making it cloying, anything lighter would be lost.
  • Fish pie, not the insipid offerings of the supermarket but my mum's made with trout, cockles, mussels, salmon and whatever other fish we got from the fishermen, topped with mashed potato and grated mature cheddar demands something with backbone, so it has to be a good stout. Stout and oysters is of course a classic, and with fish pie an absolute delight.
  • For me the highlight of the culinary year is Christmas, in particular mince pies (again ditch the shop bought stuff, my mum still makes her own mincemeat, with beef in it). Served warmed with a dollop of philadelphia cheese under the lid, what would work better than a lightly hopped 80/- Scottish ale?

I guess I am just old-fashioned in many ways, and I am quite happy to trumpet loud the superb nature of traditional British food, made properly and served with well made traditional beer. For me the ongoing growth in the craft beer scene is part of something bigger, it is part of a rebellion against industrial food and drink plied with chemicals and junk in order to cut costs.

In pairing food with beer, follow the peasant inside and go traditional - whatever that means to you in your world. Moules frites with a Flanders red ale? Currywurst with weizen? Burger with an American IPA? Yes, please! Sure cross-cultural pairings may work, but lets not turn our backs on beer's place as the everyman drink.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bottling Day Disaster

Seeing as though I am still devoid of full-time employment, I decided that today was the opportune day to put my first Stateside homebrew into bottles, and of course the 1 gallon polypin for an attempt at caskesque conditioning. Copper Head is the biggest batch I have done to date, being 5 US gallons rather than my 2 that I did in Prague. Obviously more beer requires more bottles, and without the inestimable pleasure of drinking Chodovar and Bernard from swing top bottles, buying some was required, thus yesterday I went and bought 24 650ml bottles from the local home brew shop, which I sanitised in our dishwasher after giving them a quick clean.

Having sanitized all the bottles, equipment, the polypin and siphoned my brew into the bottling bucket, I decided to check the final gravity and disaster struck - the hydrometer read 1.035, this from an OG of 1.045, which would give me an ABV of less than 1%. To say I am bummed is the understatement of the year. However, I decided to go ahead with bottling half the batch and see what happens (the thought of pouring it all away is terrible).

In terms of colour, nose and taste it is what I wanted, just the yeast didn't seem to do its thing - despite there being the beginnings of a krausen after a few hours. I have come to the conclusion though that I am not a fan of fermenting buckets and so I will be buying a glass carboy soon, so that I can see what is going on. The picture below is the sample I took, but put in a glass obviously.

Drowning sorrows in a few commercial beers is in order I think.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A 5 Starr Lager

I have mentioned elsewhere that I am yet to have a pilsner style lager from this side of the Pond that matches up to those I enjoyed regularly when living in the Czech Republic. I wonder though if this lack of satisfaction with American Pilsners is a case of unfulfilled expectation, the label says pilsner so I want a drink which will remind me the classic.

When the label though states that the golden drop in my glass is a "lager" rather than any particular style of lager there is no expectation, so I can enjoy the beer for itself. A case in point would be Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which I really enjoy and am convinced is one of the great lagers of the world. Another American lager I thoroughly enjoy is Jomo Lager from the Starr Hill Brewery in nearby Crozet.

Jomo is a lovely clean lager which goes down with inordinate ease, nicely hoppy but with a lightly sweet undertone - just the kind of beer which requires a leafy beer garden, a warm late summer afternoon and a busty serving wench making regular trips to your table, laden with steins of joy, the smell of bratwurst grilling nearby and so. You get the picture.

Before some smart alec makes a comment to this effect, yes I started working in the Starr Hill Brewery tasting room on Saturday, however this will not affect the independence of this blog. I will continue to refuse money for advertising here and the only opinions represented in posts are mine and mine alone. On that you have my word.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Time for Tea

I am convinced that to be a beer lover is to like quality products in general, whether that be appreciating good wine, excellent food, fine spirits or in my case all of the above. Thus when I received an email from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction about a spirit reviving an old American recipe called Root Tea, my interest was certainly piqued. A few days later a sample bottle and impressive PR pack was delivered, but I was on a booze fast so didn't get round to trying it until last night.

According to the blurb, Root is based on a Native American recipe which the early European settlers took a fancy to and made stronger, especially in Pennsylvania. It was from this potent brew that modern root beer was developed during the Temperance Movement's heyday in the late 19th century. This re-created Root Tea is made from 13 ingredients, including sugar cane, smoked black tea, star anise and birch bark.

As you can see from the picture, Root is a deep amber colour. The nose is distinctly medicinal, which reminded me of Fernet, a Czech spirit with more than a touch of cough syrup. In terms of taste there was a plehtora of flavours bouncing around; a light smokiness (think Schlenkerla Weizen); licorice; sweet toffee like a sticky toffee pudding. Lots of good things! As with all my favourite spirits, there is a lovely warming glow as it goes down and when you drop a single cube of ice into it the water unlocks more of the flavour, especially the birch and smoke - taken neat this is definitely for sipping by a roaring fire.

In the PR blurb several cocktails are mentioned, such as Root Cider, as well as saying that it goes well with dark beers. Normally I wouldn't dream of mixing spirits with anything, but in the interests of science I decided to try a couple of things - Root with Coke Zero Cherry, and mixing it with Ybor Gold Gaspar's Porter.

Mixing it with the Coke Zero Cherry was surprisingly quite interesting as the coke really lessened the medicinal flavours of the straight Root, and the thoroughly artificial cherry flavours worked well - I can imagine a natural cherry cordial would really mix beautifully.

The combination of the Root with this porter from Florida was a major disappointment, however I think that was mainly because of the beer. I bought the complete Ybor Gold range when I was in Daytona Beach last month and of the five beers only 2 were mediocre - the brown ale and amber lager, but these mediocre beers were the best of the bunch. It really was dire stuff, but I think that was due to the beer rather than the Root, so next time I will trying with something better - probably Starr Hill's lovely Dark Starr Stout.

From what I understand, Root is only available in the US (and not in every state) for the time being, but it is a worthwhile addition for a drinks cabinet, especially as the winter nights start to draw in.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Budweisers Go Wrong

The plan was simple, to try all three of the beers which lay claim to the Budweiser name. having found a shop in Columbia, South Carolina which had not just Czechvar but also B.B. Bürgerbräu I thought that this was going to be one of the most fun blind test tastings I had done in a while. Mrs Velkyal was in charge of bring out the three Budweisers, and the first two went swimmingly - I have drunk enough Budvar to know the difference between that and the American version. Then she brought out the third glass.

I was looking forward to the B.B. Bürgerbräu because I couldn't remember trying any of the products from Budějovický měšťanský pivovar while I was in Prague. When it came though it looked like this:

Oh dear! What was going on there then? But I wasn't too worried as I had bought a six pack so I decided to just get another bottle and ditch the blind tasting. The first bottle I picked up looked like this:

Oh dear, oh dear! Every bottle had this foul scum floating in the bottle, an entire six pack rendered undrinkable - I had taken a couple of sips of the original glass and it was simply awful.

What was going on? Surely they filter the beer, so where did this stuff come from? Any thoughts?

Next time Mrs Velkyal and I go to visit the in-laws I will pick up some more Budvar (still haven't seen it in Virginia) and a pre-checked case of B.B. Bürgerbräu in order to do a proper blind tasting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Copper Head Cask

At some point this week I will be preparing Copper Head Pale Ale for its assembled delivery systems, when they arrive that is. One of the things I wanted to do with my beer once I got here was to get into cask conditioning my beer as well as the bottle conditioning I have been doing up to now.

When I went to buy my brewing kit in Columbia, I noticed that the shop had small wooden casks, just what I wanted! At $120 a pop for a 5 gallon cask, I decided that cask conditioning could wait until I had a job and had finished eating into my savings. I still wanted to try something different though, and then I remembered reading somewhere that you could use a polypin as a form of "cask". Finding information about polypin conditioning was a piece of cake, especially as Boak and Bailey's blog is right up there in a Google search for "using a polypin as a cask", several emails later and I am fairly confident about my upcoming Copper Head Cask.

There was only one problem, I couldn't find a polypin supplier on any of the American homebrew websites. Somehow though I stumbled upon the fact that a "polypin" in the States is a "cubitainer" and thus ordered the necessaries from Northern Brewer. Not wanting to risk all my brew exploding over the storage space, I got just a 1 US gallon cubitainer and will bottle the rest in 12oz bottles, that's 375ml for the metric guys.

Apparently the cubitainer stuff takes about a week to condition, so it should be ready for when my good friend Jay comes down from Philadelphia for the Labor Day weekend. Some of the bottles will make it down to Richmond when I finally meet E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst fame, and if you haven't already read his excellent blog, get over there as soon as you finish reading this. Around about now for example.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Drinking Song Videos and a touch of Sentimentality

Just for a laugh!

You can't beat a bit of Monty Python really can you?

Same goes with The Dubliners in my world.

Like most people who like a pint and a dram or three, late in the night I tend to get soppy and sentimental. When this happens, I think of home and this song:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beers to be Cloned or Bettered!

Last week I picked up the current edition of Brew Your Own magazine as something to read while chilling out by the pool and enjoying the Virginia evening sunshine. On a side note, we have had fantastic weather here since arriving from South Carolina, temperatures in the mid 80s (high 20s for my European readers), and almost wall to wall sunshine. Ideal for sitting by the pool and reading.

Anyway, back to beer, this edition has a selection of clone brews for both the all grain and extract with grains brewer, which got me thinking about the beers in this world I would love to eventually learn to "clone". So far in my homebrewing ventures I have mainly messed around with established styles, such as the smoked chocolate porter I did last time round.

Even so, here are a few of the beers I would love to clone - on that basis that I can't buy the original here in Virginia:

  • Wrassler's XXXX from the Porterhouse in Dublin, a simply magnificent stout which I could happily spend a rainy afternoon pouring down my throat, while watching the rugby.
  • Samurai IPA from Kocour back in the Czech Republic - what a flavourful and drinkable beer that was, and a great beer to drink almost daily in my last month in Prague.
  • Kout na Šumavě's entire range, in particular the 10˚.
  • Schumacher Alt - had it in Berlin at an arts festival, love at first sip.

One beer I either want to emulate or better is the English Pale Ale from Primátor, which was Mrs Velkyal's favourite beer when back in Prague, so to have something of that merit would be a cap in the feather!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back to Brewing - Happy Days

As planned a while back, Saturday was my first day of brewing here in the US.

Even before we moved over I had staked a claim on the storage room in our new flat as being my fermenting room and of course sorted out where to get my new brew kit - these very helpful guys in Columbia, South Carolina, as well as locating an ingredient supplier near Charlottesville.

My original intention was to brew a Red IPA, using Caramel 40 malt to add some colour and amarillo hops for those lovely citrusy flavours which I have really started to enjoy, not forgetting the East Kent Goldings hops for the flavour and aroma additions.

Back in November when Mrs Velkyal and I had the great pleasure of meeting the Beer Nut and Adeptus at the Bull and Castle in Dublin, they made me aware of, a handy little site for calculating recipes, which I use to get a general idea of what to expect from my ingredients.

Beertools told me to expect an OG of 1.057, however I ended up with only 1.045 - any thoughts on what caused the lack in OG would be much appreciated. Anyway, here is the recipe I used:
  • 6lbs Muntons Extra Light DME
  • 1lb American Caramel 40
  • 2oz Amarillo hops, boiled 60 minutes
  • 1oz East Kent Golding hops, 15 minutes
  • 1oz East Kent Golding hops, 5 minutes

My yeast was from White Labs, the WLP023 Burton Ale, which was in a very nice vial and apparently didn't need a starter to cope with 5 gallons worth of wort. Sure enough this afternoon my wort has the beginnings of a lovely krausen on it and will hopefully produce a very nice American Pale Ale. Judging from the sample taken for the OG, it will be a copper coloured ale, so fingers crossed.

As I said I was planning to make a Red IPA, but the colour and gravity are slightly off hence the "re-branding" to an APA. Next time I will up the caramel malt to an 80 and use some C-hops for the Red IPA, but that has left me with a little problem regarding what to call my beer. Some thoughts bouncing around my head at the moment are:

  • Copper Head Pale Ale
  • Commonwealth Ale
  • Ploughman's Delight

It is great to be brewing again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Praise for My Favourite Breweries

Last year Primator won Best Lager in the World in the World Beer Awards, in this year's edition of the awards the guys from Nachod get more praise for their range of beers.

First is the World's Best Oatmeal Stout for the new Primator Stout, which Evan, Pivni Filosof and myself have enjoyed many a fine pint of (note however that the brewery themselves class it as a dry stout!).

They also won World's Best Marzen/Oktoberfest for their very quaffable 13 degree amber lager.

Fuller's weigh in with a World's Best Special Pale Ale, namely their wonderful 1845 - a rich delight of a beer which belies its strength.

Also given a "World's Best" is the fantastic Gold Reserve from Lovibonds - well done Jeff!

Good to see brewers like Lovibonds and Primator getting the recognition they deserve beyond their core markets, and of course seeing the likes of Fuller's keeping up their reputation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Good, the Bland and the Uninspired

Sorry for the lack of posts of late, still in the process of getting essentials sorted out here in Charlottesville - which is a lovely place from what we have seen so far, very happy to be here. So here are a few pictures of some beer I have had of late:

The Good - Dundee Pale Bock Lager, very nice, not overly sweet and eminently drinkable.

The Bland - Dundee Honey Brown, not much honey, not overly brown, ho-hum.

The Uninspired - Brooklyn Pilsner, pilsner? really? Hmmmm

Of Bostonian Beer...

 A couple of weeks ago I was up in Boston for a work related conference. Having only ever been to the city for a few hours previously, to vi...