Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Virginia Barleywine is for Beer and Food Lovers

The Starr Hill Brewery currently has three special beers on tap, an 8% ABV saison, a 10.3% tripel and a 10.7% barleywine. I realise I am about to commit yet another beer geek heresy, but quite often the lighter coloured Belgian style beers do nothing for me - although I have found lately that this opinion isn't as rare as I assumed, and I have been told several times in the tasting room at Starr Hill just not to mention it on Ratebeer or BeerAdvocate. Barleywine by contrast is one of my favourite styles.

The first barleywine to pass my lips was last Christmas when I had a bottle of the delightful Benedictus from the Durham Brewery. The style also features in my homebrew calendar as a beer to be brewed in November and then stored for a year in preparation of the next Thanksgiving. I, like many of our regulars coming in for a growler fill at the tasting room, was looking forward to seeing what the brewers would come with for this most venerable of styles.

The weekend when Mrs Velkyal broke her foot, trying to kick some sense into me, I bought a 1 litre bottle of barelywine home with me from work, which we duly polished off over some angel food cake with some friends. So on Saturday I refilled my bottle and decided to do a Cyclops session with the beer, as well as use a little of it in a cooking project I had been ruminating about for a while. First to the Cyclops:
  • Sight - dark copper, foamy ivory head
  • Smell - nutty, earthy, spicy hops, strongly caramel
  • Taste - very malty, toffee, nuts, alcoholic edge
  • Sweet - 4/5
  • Bitter - 3/5

This is fantastic stuff in my book, big, bold and yet so smooth and silky. Yes it is rather sweet, but the spiciness of the hops counteracts that, so it isn't cloying in my experience. There is a very noticeable alcoholic glow that hits you after about half a glass - the one in the picture is a half pint glass. As I was drinking I wanted a nice single malt to go with the beer (I wonder how it would be given the Paradox treatment?). Gorgeous, gorgeous beer.
On then to my cooking project, sticky toffee pudding with barleywine sauce, basically a study in boozy, sweet, powerful desserts. The basic cake part of the dessert was Jamie Oliver's recipe, which you can see here. The sauce though was my own little creation using:
  • a knob of unsalted butter
  • quarter pint of barleywine
  • 1 small can condensed milk
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the barleywine and bring to the boil. Once the beer has reduced by about a quarter, add the condensed milk and then stir, and stir, and stir.

Eventually you end up with a beautifully silky, rich sauce to pour over the cake, or in the case of the picture below, around the case - I was watching Hell's Kitchen while I ate my dessert last night and I could help but
think Gordon Ramsay would have beeping loved it!

How could I stop at a single serving of this delight? So I didn't and had a second!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Caramel 60 and Chocolate Malt Bread

As planned, I spent this morning brewing, making my Gael Scottish ale which I wrote about previously. Well once I was done with the brewing I decided that I would give making bread with the spent grains a bash. Making bread is something I do fairly regularly, and I seem to have a knack for making tasty loaves which are appreciated by more than just Mrs Velkyal and I - last week I traded a cinnamon loaf for 18 free range eggs, and I am looking at doing more such swaps.

If it weren't for my love of brewing, I could quite happily take up being a baker - I don't use a bread machine because I enjoy the process of kneading and proving the bread the old fashioned way. Below are some pictures of the bread in various stages, I am about to enjoy the final stage; butter, a sprinkling of salt and enjoying the latest episode of House!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happiness is...

Judging by the pouring rain and the cooler temperatures, you can safely say that Autumn has arrived. I am one of the few people I know who loves it when it rains, probably just as well given the winters I grew up with in the Outer Hebrides - a little aside here, I always died laughing when people in Prague thought a force 4 wind was "really windy", heaven knows what they would make of a North Atlantic gale. In fact I love Autumn and Winter so much, I have sometimes wondered if I have Seasonally Affective Disorder in reverse, the colder and darker it gets, the happier I become. The big thing I love about the drawing in of the days, the darkening skies and the rain is that I know the best time of the year for my favourite beers is coming.

Sure, summers drinking weizen and pale ale are great, but as the things get colder I turn to darker thoughts, a pint of stout, a good strong ESB, a barley wine - I style I only really discovered last Christmas and which became an instant favourite and one that is on special at Starr Hill at the moment, hence I plan to bring some home with me tomorrow and use it for a creamy sauce to go atop my sticky toffee pudding. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the time when I plan to make my autmnal quaffer and some big hitters for the winter. From my provisional brewing calendar, I will making dark and/or strong ales from now until March.

The only problem I have is how to recreate the ideal drinking environs given the size of our flat, and the absence of a live fire. I have a slightly insane idea of buying a proper barbecue, not a gas thing, and using it to have a fire on our covered patio and get a few blankets to drape over the patio furniture. It may also be time to buy a nice bottle of whisky or two, if I can find Talisker over here.

It is also this time of the year that my family starts preparing the traditional Christmas foods. None of your shop bought, over-sugared junk for us, no sir! My mum still makes mincemeat with meat in it, originally a preserving method, still makes proper Christmas pudding, and will soon be making the Christmas cake to be loving fed brandy every weekend until the season is upon us. Mum might be thousands of miles away, but the family recipes are just on the next table, so Mrs Velkyal will be preparing them this year.

I will stop myself there, the temptation to rattle on and on about how much I love autumn and winter is becoming too much! Have a good weekend people!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Machair Mor and Gael 80/-

In the next couple of weeks I plan to do a couple of brews and so went to the local home brew shop to pick up the necessary hops and special grains to complement the DME on its way from Northern Brewer. While at the home brew shop I also picked up a clear 3 gallon carboy, so that I can make smaller batches of beer and because it is transparent will actually be ale to see what is going on.

The first one to go into the new carbaby will be an imperial stout, which I am calling Machair Mor - for those not from the west coast of Scotland, machair is the fertile land between peat bogs and the beach, and mor is the Gaelic word for "big" or "great". Machair Mor is inspired in part by Wrasslers XXXX from the Porterhouse in Dublin, which I really enjoyed when I was over in Ireland last year. The recipe for my beer is as follows:
  • 1.75kg Light DME
  • 250g Chocolate malt
  • 100g Roasted barley
  • 100g Flaked oats
  • 30g Galena, boiled 60 minutes
  • 10g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 15 minutes
  • 5g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 5 minutes
  • Wyeast Irish Ale
According the Beertools recipe calculator, this should give me an OG of 1.089 - by far the biggest beer I will have made to date, with a projected ABV of 8.7%! In terms of IBUs, my hopping schedule will apparently yield 51 IBUs, just on the lower end of the scale according to their style guides.

The second beer is kind of my autumnal quaffer, an 80/- ale which I am calling Gael 80/-. The recipe for this one is:
  • 1kg Light DME
  • 55g Crystal 60 malt
  • 30g Chocolate malt
  • 12g Fuggles, boiled for 60 minutes
  • 5g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 15 minutes
  • 5g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 1 minute
  • Wyeast Scottish Ale
Again, according to Beertools, the OG for this should be in the region of 1.048, giving me an ABV of 4.5%. The IBUs rating for this recipe is 17, again on the lower end of the spectrum, but as Scottish ales are not particularly hoppy anyway, not a problem.

I decided to go back to using the yeast smackpacks from Wyeast as they always fermented when I used them in Prague, so it was a case of better the devil you know. I will also be using Irish Moss in the boil for the first time, so it will be interesting to see what effect that has on the clarity of the end products.

Monday, September 21, 2009

60 Minutes to Hop, 10 to Drink

America is full of beers that have acquired cult status, even bordering on legendary. Every time I meet with a fellow beer geek I am being recommended all manner of stuff; seemingly Colorado is home to some excellent breweries; of course California has Sierra Nevada and the Stone Brewing Company; here in Virginia we (can I say we after a couple of months?) have a slew of craft brewers; and then there are the likes of Samuel Adams and Brooklyn (who I hope make beers better than their pilsner). As is my habit before I go somewhere new, I like to do a bit of research about local beers, and I make it my intention to seek them out, one such brewer that I knew of and was keen to try their wares was the near mythical Dogfish Head. My friend Mark gave me a copy of an article about them some time ago in Prague and my interest was piqued, especially by the concept of continual hopping.

Not only had Mark given me an article about them, but another of my friend's, Jay, had mentioned that since his return from Prague, they had become one of his favourite breweries, notably the 60 Minute IPA. Thus when Jay descended from Philadelphia, he came bearing gifts - 11 bottles, and a can, of varied American craft beer, whose names now grace my Little Cellar Holdings list to the left of this site.

Now, I had certain pre-conceived notions as to what this would taste like. You know the score, American made IPA, so it will be heavy of the C-hops, lots of citrus and hoppy bite but not much of a malty sweetness to back it up. Oops, again my expectations proved to be wrong.

The colour was a beautiful clear amber, as you can see from the pictures, and the head was fairly minimal though came back to life when the glass was swished around. The nose took me aback, where was the grapefruit and orange I expected? There were nice lemon notes there, just not in the abundance I expected, the dominant smell was a sweet toffee laced with cocoa, I was intrigued. Tastewise, the hops and malt were nicely balanced, a good caramelly sweet body with the spiciness of the hops playing off it to perfection. God this was good beer, really, really good beer. Where I was expecting to be sucking lemons and making that sour drink face, this was lusciously smooth, even creamy and so dangerously easy to drink.

Quite simply a lovely beer

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beer and Cheese

When I read around beer blogs, I find that I am in minority when it comes to things such as music in a pub, in that I like a pub to have either a decent sound system and the occasional band. Having said that, I don't like pubs where the music is so loud that it gets in the way of talking with whoever I am there with. I am yet to reach that point where my sole purpose in going to a pub is to drink, I go primarily to meet with friends, or because I know the bar staff and am happy enough to drink at the bar and chat with them. If you ever see me in a pub drinking alone, it is because I am waiting for someone, or because everyone else was busy and so I brought a book with me - downing pint after pint by myself is just not my thing.

Because I like a pub with music, I have recently been wondering if there is any correlation between what is coming through the speakers and what I feel like drinking, so below are different songs and the beer styles (in some cases specific beers) that they put me in mind of, call it a soundtrack to Friday!

  • Sweet and Tender Hooligan (song is important here not the "video") - Wychwood Hobgoblin
  • Yesterday's Men - a nice pint of mild, ah lovely!
  • Dignity (yeah right after 15 pints!) - Gillespie's Scottish Stout, I used to love that stuff
  • Disarm - Budvar, a beer and music you don't need to think too much about, just plain good all round
  • Folk Police - too much of the imperial stout and I am soon getting homesick, the Peatbog Faeries stoke that fire quite easily

So there you have it, some nice cheesy tunes and beery pairings! have a top weekend people, do good things, like buy calendars! ;)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Better in the Bottle

A few weeks before Mrs Velkyal and I got on the plane to Atlanta, I was sat in PK with Evan, drinking the Primátor Weizen, commenting that it was one of the beers I knew I would miss - really it is that good! Evan mentioned that an esteemed beer blogger/writer (can't remember who it was though) wasn't unduly impressed with it when he had it on draft. Evan then said something along the lines of wheat beer generally being better from the bottle, which of course goes against the grain of so much received wisdom when it comes to beer, but I have to agree.

Most of you probably know that I work at weekends for the Starr Hill brewery, where I serve samples of the brewery's range to visitors, just little 2oz servings of each. When I went to meet the guys there about the job they treated me to a sample of all the beers available in the tasting room, including their wheat beer pictured above. The Love is a perfectly respectable wheat beer, clean, refreshing and enough to make me long for proper bratwurst from an imbissbude on the streets of Dresden (just outside Hauptbahnhof there is a fantastic little snack stand that does a sublime currywurst). I say proper bratwurst because the "brats" I have bought in the shops over here are nothing like the bratwurst I grew up on as a kid in Celle and have an ongoing love affair with (yes, yes I am a Germanophile).

Every time I am working, I have to explain exactly what a wheat beer is, usually followed by the question "what is in the other beers then?", and tell visitors that the bananas and cloves they are experiencing are perfectly normal, and that the slight bubblegum touch is also ok, often much to their wonderment.

Perhaps it is the comfort of drinking at home, although I much prefer being in the pub, even if I am not paying "Tesco prices" to use Cooking Lager's oft mentioned phrase, but I am convinced that The Love is a better beer from the bottle than from the tap. The banana and clove are as present as on tap, but there is just something more lively, slightly more in your face when you pour it from the bottle, and perhaps a touch more body, which fills out the beer perfectly.

The Love very much embodies what Evan and I were discussing that afternoon in PK, and is a very welcome part of my little cellar of treats. Popping open the bottle you see in the pictures last night just brought that whole conversation back, and made me a little nostalgic for the many sessions I had with Evan, Rob and Pivní Filosof in various bars in Prague.

If you haven't already, have a look at the Fuggled calendars(the Lulu links in the corner) and buy one - great photography and a good present for your beer loving mates!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dropping the baton, taking up the Challenger

I am not the kind of person to only talk about my successes, I am perfectly happy to admit my failures as well. The fact that my Copper Head Pale Ale turned out so poorly is not something for me to worry about unduly, but rather an opportunity to try and do it better next time because I am convinced that I have a good recipe in the making. Where did it go wrong? Well if I want to use the passive voice I could simply say that the yeast didn't do its thing, if I want to be honest about it, I probably failed to give the yeast good conditions in which to do its thing. Leading contenders at the moment are pitching temperature and aeration, too much and too little respectively. As you no doubt recall, I decided to bottle half the batch anyway and see what happened in the three weeks it usually takes to condition properly. So here goes.

The colour is just what I wanted, a nice rich amber which almost makes me think of breakfast marmelade. Not much head to speak of, and that which was there disappeared fairly sharpish, but the carbonation was decent. The nose is dominated by malt, which is not what I was looking for having used Amarillo hops. In fact it kind of reminds me of the smell you get from a beer soaked rug, not good but redolent with happy, if drunken, memories. Tastewise, very bland, nothing really going on at all, except for a light orangey citrus thing in the finish. The body is a rather thin, something I generally don't like in a beer, so this is not something I would happily drink. A failure for sure, but then it is only brew number 4 in my career so far, it is about time I had something bad happen - especially given the fact I have a somewhat rough and ready approach to brewing and have yet to afford some of the fancy gizmos that seem to be de rigeur.

Undeterred, I am plotting my next couple of brews, having decided to go back to really small batches of about 6.5 litres at a time so I am not throwing money and beer needlessly down the sick. One of the beers likely to be made in the next round of brew days will be an homage to Pete Brown's Hops and Glory, Challenger IPA. For some reason Northdown hops are not available in my local home brew shop, or through Northern Brewer, so I will substitute the Northdown used in his Calcutta IPA with Challenger. Obviously I won't be booking myself on a cargo ship to go to India, as tempting as that would be, but it will be aging for a few months in my storage room, ready I guess for February next year.

Friday, September 11, 2009


As you can see, on the left hand side are a couple of buttons that link to Lulu projects, the first products in a range of Fuggled merchandise in the pipeline. Our first offerings are two 2010 calendars.

The first calendar, I guess the name gives it away, is the Fuggled 2010 Prague Pubs Calendar, which consists of 13 beautiful pictures taken in some of the city's best pubs and brewpubs. The Fuggled Beer Calendar 2010 focuses purely on beer rather than pubs.

With all my ideas for merchandise I am very lucky that I get to work with some exceptionally talented people, and these calendars are a product of working with Mark Stewart from Black Gecko Photography. I have worked with Mark a couple of times now, he was the photographer at my wedding last year, and we have been working together on a project which we hope to bring to fruition in the very near future - a pocket guide to the pubs of Prague.

To my mind, Mark is one of the very best photographers in Prague at the moment, you really should check out his website and look at his work, in particular some of his evocative pictures of the city skyscape. Not only is he superbly talented, he is a top top man as well, and someone who I miss very much from this side of the Atlantic.

The price for each calendar is $15.50 each plus shipping, however much that would be to your particular part of the world. Beautiful pictures of the Mother of Cities and a beer inspired 2010, what more could you ask (I think your mates would like them too!)?

Now before I get some smart alec comments about advertising on Fuggled, I have only ever refused to take paid advertising, making my own merchandise doesn't count.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lights! Darks! Cut!

I wonder if you are anything like me. I guess you are in some ways, after all you are reading this blog, so I guess you like beer, I like beer; perhaps you brew your own, as do I - though I hope yours turn out better than my last effort; but do you pick up beer in the shop purely on the strength of having a funky bottle or label? I have done this to great effect with CDs, for example I picked up the Envy of Angels album by The Mutton Birds purely because I liked the atmospheric photo on the cover. It was that whimsy which took hold of me in Florida in July and as a result I bought a bottle of something called Mississippi Mud.

Reading the blurb, this was a "black and tan", a blend of a robust porter and a continental pilsner which I found intriguing as I always thought a black and tan was part pale ale and part stout, but I guess any blend of light and dark can be called a black and tan - thinking here of the guys in the Starr Hill tasting room on Saturday who blended our stout with the special saison we had on tap. Czechs do a similar thing with a pale lager and a dark lager, which can be an excellent alternative to drinking the straight up pale lager, most definitely the case at Zlata!

But what of this goodly looking 1 quart (that's almost a litre there for the Brits/Euros/RoW) bottle in front of me?

Well here goes with the Cyclops fun and games:

  • Sight - deep crimson, tiny ivory head
  • Smell - toffee, chocolate, light lemoniness
  • Taste - smooth chocolate with crisp lager bite
  • Sweetness - 3.5/5
  • Bitterness - 3/5
What a lovely surprise this was, almost like a slightly more bitey (is that a word?) Hobgoblin, it has all the big flavours you associate with a porter but a slightly thinner body that makes it very easy to drink. Part of me would love to dry mixing Pardubický Porter with Primátor Exklusiv or similar to make the ultimate big hitting Czech black and tan (without the legal strictures of making a řezák with beers of the same gravity of course)!

As I say, it was the bottle that caught my attention here, and the bottle itself will be put to good use for making starters for my homebrew so hopefully I can avoid stuck fermentation in the future.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Brewery Hopping

Just after Mrs Velkyal and I tied the proverbial knot last year, one of our good friends left Prague. Originally from Texas, he and his girlfriend decided to head back to the US. Jay is now studying in Philadelphia, and so before school starts in earnest for him tomorrow, he came to spend the weekend in Charlottesville.

The first time we met was in Pivovar U Bulovky back in Prague, where we enjoyed lashings of good beer, and that night a live concert. Obviously on Saturday Mrs Velkyal brought Jay out to Starr Hill Brewery while I was working in the tasting room, where he got to enjoy the special barleywine that was on tap - a monster 10.7%ABV brew which had lots of earthy hop notes to cut through the sweetness of the malt, as well as the regular range of Starr Hill beers, which he agreed were certainly very nice.

The night before, we had popped into the South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville and partook in the sampling flight of their beers, the highlights for me were the J.P. Cask Conditioned Pale Ale and the Hop Harvest Ale, which uses fresh hops from this year's harvest. Much of that night is something of a blur, but one fuelled by good beer and excellent company - the beer highlight for me was Samuel Smith's IPA, which we had in the Court Square Tavern, just off Charlottesville's Downtown Mall and a front runner for being my favourite pub in town.

Pretty much on a whim, we decided to spend our Sunday visiting the other couple of breweries close to the city, Devil's Backbone and Blue Mountain Brewery, both of which are in the same neck of the wooded mountains as Starr Hill and form integral parts of the Brew Ridge Trail. First up was Devil's Backbone, and all you can say when you see the building itself is "wow!", styled after a Swiss mountain chalet and built from mostly reclaimed materials, it is one impressive brewpub. This time Jay and I ordered a flight of samplers between us, but due to the barmaid mixing up which beers were which, my tasting notes got well scrambled and I gave up. The highlight though was their Eight Point IPA, a typical American interpretation of the style, and a very good one at that. Interestingly they have a beer called a Saazer Golden Ale, which is apparently made accroding to the pilsner method but then top-fermented. I was certainly intrigued but ultimately disappointed, with an IBU of 18 (I think) it didn't even come close to the 40 IBUs of Saaz hoppy goodness that Pilsner Urquell has, up the hops though and I think they could be on to a winner!

Back then into the car, with designated driver and all round fab soul, Mrs Velkyal in the hotseat, off to Blue Mountain Brewery it was. Again the obligatory flight of samples, although the lager was temporarily off so we would have to wait for that. An excellent Kolsch, a weizen excellent as both hefe and kristall (better with of course in my world), followed by an IPA which was a delight, then a Double IPA which was smooth beyond your wildest beery dreams, topped off with a nice imperial porter served on nitro - much to my bemusement, although excellent it was, I would love to try it on cask or CO2. Finally the lager was once more available and of course in the interests of science it needed tasting, I was not expecting much though.

In various posts lately I have lamented the inability of many American brewers to produce a good lager, sure Starr Hill's Jomo Lager is very nice, as is Samuel Adams Boston Lager, but most of the lagers I have tried have otherwise been bland, insipid or just plain bad. Blue Mountain Lager though bucks the trend, not just completely, but completely and utterly, as well as with style - this is a good, good lager. Full of flavour, a nice hoppy bite to fight with the malty body. Simply an excellent lager, and the beer I stuck to for the rest of our time in the brewery.

I have more friends coming to Charlottesville this coming weekend, I think more Blue Mountain Lager will be consumed with gusto!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hops and Glory - Beer Book of the Year!

On Monday, when checking one of my various email accounts I noticed a message from saying that my copy of Pete Brown's "Hops and Glory" had finally shipped, after several delays and what have you. Imagine then my joyful surprise when the DHL man rang the doorbell on Tuesday morning and handed me a package containing the long awaited book. Let me just say that I hate, literally hate, being unemployed - I hate not contributing to the household, hate not doing something vaguely useful, hate the feeling of uselessness, but when the book you have been waiting for arrives then I guess the chance to read it undisturbed is a good thing, and sure enough 22 hours later it was finished.

It was through my good friend Jay, who is coming to CVille this weekend, that I became aware of Pete Brown. Jay gave me his copy of "Three Sheets to the Wind" and I got repeated strange looks on the metro in Prague for chuckling out loud at points. So I was really looking forward to "Hops and Glory".

For those few people living in the outer reaches of the universe, "Hops and Glory" is about India Pale Ale, and Pete's journey taking a cask of a specially made beer from Burton-on-Trent to India by ship, around the Cape of Good Hope. The book thus is part travelogue, part history, part beery geekdom, and eminently readable. Pete has a talent for letting the reader in on his inner feelings, so much so that you can clearly imagine headed toward the equator on a sail boat - or perhaps it was just my seething jealousy?

In the chapters about the history of the British in India and the characters that sailed from our tiny islands to the far flung corners of the earth it is impossible not to feel a certain amount of pride - quickly followed by a healthy dash of liberal guilt for the unseemly side of Empire. In discussing though the racism that became part and parcel of the Raj in the latter years of the 19th century, I think it is important to remember that this was the era when blind nationalism became the rage throughout Europe and not just a British thing.

The chapters about the actual making of an original IPA recipe were of course fascinating for my inner beer geek, especially given that the American version is fast becoming one of my favourite styles over here, hence the picture at the bottom of this post. I find myself very much agreeing with Pete that American IPAs could use a healthier dollop of malt to balance out the hoppiness, thankfully the Northern Lights in the picture does have a nice marmeladey sweetness to back up the citrusy hops. Completely incidently I have been drinking a fair bit of Bass Pale Ale recently, a beer which I actually quite enjoy - one of the upshots of reading the book is wishing that I had enough cash to rescue Bass from the grip of A-B InBev and restore it to its former glory (even though it is a perfectly drinkable pale ale as it is).

I really don't want to give too much away about the actual contents of the book, but I would encourage you to rush out, if you haven't already, and buy it. If you are one of my American readers then visit and get it from Canada, you really won't be disappointed.

Well done Pete in writing a simply superb book.

Just a little side note, it was kind of weird at first seeing the names of people who follow, have commented on this blog and even that I have sat and drunk with being mentioned, but I guess the beer world is like that and I for one thoroughly enjoy being a small part of it.

Homebrew - Cheaper than the Pub?

The price of beer has been on my mind a fair bit lately. At the weekend I kicked my first keg of homebrew for the 2024, a 5.1% amber kellerb...