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"

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.

Get Your Coat Love

I have said it plenty of times on here as well as my various socials, I am an abysmal beer tourist. You see, I have this tendency to find a ...