Friday, July 31, 2009

Finally....

This moving business seems to have dragged on far too long.

Mrs Velkyal and I decided just after we got engaged in 2007 that we would leave Prague in the summer of 2009, but at that point we had several options of where we go:
  • France
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • USA
To begin with France was our preferred option, and although the UK was on the list we weren't really sure we could afford to move there, and as you all know eventually we plumped for the US.

While it is true that we have now been in the States for a month, we have been staying with the in-laws whilst getting everything sorted out for the final leg of the move to Charlottesville, Virginia - a choice make on the fact that Mrs V got job there (seriously, anyone in Cville reading this who knows of a job in a local brewery, email me! The address is just up there in the "Send me Samples" box).

So with a 6 hour drive ahead of us, followed by setting up our apartment (which is 4 times the size of our old one in Prague!), today promises to be tiring, and I think I know what beer I will be having when it is all done. A nice chilled Budvar.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Simple Delights

The journey from Daytona Beach to Columbia only takes about 6 hours of driving, but why drive all the way up the Interstate when you can spend a few hours in quite possibly the most delightful little town in the USA? About an hour's drive up the coast, and in this case with the Atlantic breaking on the shore just a few feet from the car, is the town of St Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited town in the continental US, founded in 1565.

The heart of the town is home to old houses bearing testament to the Spanish, rather than British, roots of Florida. Also in the town centre is one of my favourite little pubs, which we found by accident 2 summers ago and to which I plan to return every time I come through St Augustine. A place called Rendezvous.

I admit I had a pretext for wanting to return to Rendezvous, I knew they had Budvar and I was craving the clean, hoppy delights of this fantastic lager - whatever the label was saying. So good and so refreshing is a chilled Budvar, it barely touched the sides. Just a quick aside though, I wish people wouldn't put B.B. Bürgerbräu with the German beers - yes it has a German name but it is made in the Czech Republic, just like Pilsner Urquell!

Rendezvous generally has an extensive range of bottled beer, with products from Germany, the UK, Belgium and various other places - including the very pleasant Reissdorf Kölsch you can see in the picture above. As I drink much quicker than Mrs Velkyal and my in-laws, they were just polishing off their Budvar, Pilsner Urquell, and in the wife's case a bottled of Cooper's Sparkling Ale, a very refreshing Australian delight

The highlight though for me was picking up my first bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale, the 2008 edition, for my cellar, to be opened on some auspicious future date.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cerberus Bars the Gateway to Hades

As a dedicated drinker of the amber nectar (and no I don't mean Foster's), I love going to the pub. It doesn't matter whether I am going to a place like the Flying Saucer in order to try something new, or just hanging out with friends, drinking the best of whatever is available on tap, the pub is a place I love to go. So when I find a really good pub then I like to let people know about it through this blog. Of course there are different pubs for different moods, to see what I mean have a look at a week's worth of posts I wrote about my favourite pubs in Prague.

Saturday night was Mrs Velkyal's high school reunion and so after the 3 hours of the official get together thing, a group of us agreed to meet up at a particular pub to continue the drinking. The pub in question was the Pour House, located in Columbia's Five Points area, which is I believe student central. Now, I would love to be able to tell you that they had a great selection of beer, that the atmosphere was excellent and the choice of music simply superb. I would love to, but I can't.

I can't tell you any of those things, because I simply don't know what beer they had available, whether the atmosphere was jumping or even what the music was. Why not? Because the door man wouldn't let me in.

According to the door man, this 6'4" bloke, wearing khaki linen trousers, a black silk shirt and a nice new pair of shoes (and the guys in Prague who know me best will understand that they are a major change from my DMS boots I usually wore), walking hand in hand with his wife, wedding rings glinting under the streetlights, was not to be admitted to the pub, the entrance to which he guarded like Cerberus. Was Velkyal too pished to gain entry to his zythophilic Hades? Nope, bottled beer here is generally of the 330ml kind, and so 5 or 6 Samuel Adams Boston Lagers is just about 3 pints. Perhaps Velkyal looked big, scary and mean, oh wait, sorry talking about me here, yes I am big but I don't do scary and mean very well and would no doubt having a giggling fit if I tried. The reason for Cerberus not allowing me into the domain he guards so jealously was that the sleeves on my shirt were "too long", and that it was "company policy" not to allow people with shirt sleeves that are "too long" into said bar. Here is a picture of my overly long sleeves.

Such great length are they not? Stretching like the mighty Euphrates, all the way to my elbow.

Whilst being stunned into disbelief at such a ridiculous reason for barring my entrance to his honey pot, a couple of the girls from the group we were meeting there came out and were likewise stunned into disbelief at this ridiculous scene unfolding. My good lady wife and I decided that we would simply go next door and have a drink there, and so the rest of the group upped and left the Pour House, owned from what I believe by a couple of guys who graduated with Mrs Velkyal and the group we were with, and we all went next door, to a pub whose name I can't recall. There was a trace of irony in that 3 of the guys were wearing full length sleeves on their shirts, veritable Ganges running all the way to the wrist. Surely also "too long"?. If you look at this picture from the pub's own website, you will again see longer sleeves than those which so offended Cerberus. It is also quite interesting to look at their picture galleries and see the length of shirt sleeves on display, and yet their website has no mention of a "company policy" for how patrons should dress.

Thankfully the mindless yapping of little Cerberus didn't put a dent in our evening and I was happy to meet some of the very nice people that Mrs V went to school with.

Friday, July 24, 2009

American Labels

Ok my readers in the States, I need some information. Why oh why are there no ingredients listed on bottles of beer?

Perhaps I am just a sad git who likes to know what hops and malt and other stuff go into my beer, so why aren't the labels telling me?

I have it down to a few possibilities:
  1. brewers don't want to admit the ingredients (highly unlikely I think)
  2. the government forbids it (which makes me ask, if so why?)
  3. lack of interest on the part of the consumer (here assuming not everyone is sad like me)
Any pointers gratefully received.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When Things Don't Quite Make Sense

I am on holiday at the moment, soaking up sunshine in Florida and continuing that proud British tradition of emulating the lobster, albeit with bleached blond arm hair. Seeing as though many a craft brewery in the US doesn't have national distribution, I have made efforts to seek out locally produced craft beer, one of which I mentioned in the previous post about light beer.

Prior to taking up my position on the grill, also known as the poolside deck, the other day, I stashed the complete range of Ybor Gold beers from the Florida Brewing Company into the ice chest and merrily made my way down to the pool. Also chucked into the ice chest were a few bottles of Michelob's AmberBock; Michelob of course being an A-B InBev brand.

I know what a lot of people will be thinking, Florida Brewing Company good, A-B InBev bad, well my friends in this case it is time to switch your thinking. I will write more about the Ybor Gold range of beers next week when I am back in South Carolina, as well as a fuller write up on Michelob AmberBock. Suffice though to say for the time being, AmberBock, while not being a magnificent, blow your brains out beer, is a step above any of the Ybor Gold stuff I tried.

Who said big brewers can't make good beer??

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Little Light Identity Crisis

There are some beer styles that I simply don't get. Among that less than august list is "light" beer, in its various guises, whether the mass produced Bud Light (for some reason I have the urge to call it Butt Wipe, but there we go) or Samuel Adams Light from one of the bigger "craft brewers", to even the abysmal Ybor Gold Light from the Florida Brewing Company which I have just had the misfortune of sampling on the beach in Daytona - seriously it was so bad even my non-craft beer drinker father-in-law thought it was awful.

Before continuing my rant let me just say that I am 100% behind the Session Beer Project, and thoroughly enjoy beers which are below 4.5%ABV, however I have serious misgivings about the fad for light beers which seem to take up the vast majority of cooler space in supermarket beer aisles, especially when it comes to light beers from the craft brewing section of the industry.

I assume there is a market for such beers or people like the Boston Beer Company wouldn't be muscling in on the act, but I fear that products such as Samuel Adams Light takes away from the core Boston Lager brand - which in my world is up there with the finest of Czech lagers and will most likely assume the status of permanent lager in my cellar. However, the very thing that created a national demand for beers such as Samuel Adams is the very thing that the company should cling to, it is different from the mainstream in that it is a flavourful quality lager, by comparison the Samuel Adams Light is an abberation.

Say yes to session beer, but session beer is so much more than just a light lager with nothing going for it other than a low ABV.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Das Problem mit Pils

Don't worry, I am not about to start posting in German, getting pasted I most assuredly can do in that noble language, getting posted, erm no. Call it what you will, pils, pilsner, pilsener (grammatically incorrect but there you go), pale golden lager is the dominant style in the global beer market. As Pivní Filosof has noted this week, the spread of pilsner style lager decimated many older brews as consumers flocked to the new product.

This week I have tried several American pilsners, including Brooklyn Pilsner, Victory Prima Pils and Thomas Creek Dockside Pilsner. Whilst they were all perfectly drinkable lagers, none of them came close to a Kout na Šumavě 10°, and this got me wondering about the difference between German and Bohemian style pilsners, but first a little personal background.

When I abandoned the shores of that Sceptred Isle for a far away land about which I knew nothing, I was a happy ale and stout drinker; the ale being Caffrey's and the stout, well there was only one surely, but I drank the other. Suddenly there is no Murphy's, that being the other, and the need for Guinness would have meant frequenting an Oirish pub filled with Brits trying to live their British life in foreign lands, which even after several years they would probably still know nothing. I don't think I ever had a Caffrey's, although there is a bar of that name on the Old Town Square. When in Rome syndrome kicked in and before you know it I am a fan of Velkopopovický Kozel and Bohemian pilsners in general.

Here is I think the crux of my problem with pils in America so far, they tend more to the German pilsner style - which from my understanding of the BJCP guidelines is thinner in body, and drier in the finish when compared to the complex, malty, floral wonder that is Bohemian pilsner. This is of course to be expected if what I reading in Ambitious Brew is correct, and the American lager brewing industry of the 19th century was essentially German in character - though as with anything from that period in time, nothing is simple and clear cut.

Naturally, this means that more research is required. I will have to hunt out some Bohemian style pilsners made here, the medal winners at the Great American Beer Festival for example, and compare them against Budvar, as well as trying some well regarded German pilsners as a control group for my understanding of the American versions. In the time being though, it is time to spend a week in Florida converting my father-in-law to the delights of pale ale, most likely Sierra Nevada.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Things I Didn't Expect

I think the technical phrase for the jolly little surprises that come your way in life when you cross the ocean to take up a new life is "culture shock". I have been having it in spades in the last couple of weeks, and in almost every possible situation; pleasant immigration officers at Atlanta airport (those of you who have dealt with the Czech Foreign Police will no doubt know to what I refer); shops with nine million flavours of yogurt, but only one plain white; churches as ubiquitous as pubs in Prague; the feeling of not really being so "velky" after all; the list could go on and on.

A couple of things though stick in my mind, I will deal with the negative first off. Yesterday Mrs V and I went to her aunt's for dinner, as they don't drink we obviously weren't going to buy a bottle of vino as a gift, so in to Walmart we jaunted for a bunch of flowers. Walmart is another culture shock after 10 years of soul destroying Tesco - the variety of almost everything available is mind boggling at times, and the fact that someone packs your shopping bags for you and wishes you a pleasant day, a welcome change from the sour cashier in the Tesco on Narodni asking if you have a note smaller than 200kč, the near equivalent of $10.

The nasty shock though is Walmart's new alcohol sales policy - anyone who looks under the age of 40 must provide ID in order to walk away with their favourite tipple. Thankfully I keep a form of ID on me, but I find it remarkable that for 19 years after coming of age, people will be required to prove they are legally allowed to buy alcohol. No doubt Walmart and many of their ilk will cite insurance policies and the inevitable criminal prosecutions that would follow selling alcohol to minors, but if you are going to have such a ridiculous policy, why make someone who is clearly over 21 produce ID like some wannabe under-age booze baron? What happened to innocent until proven guilty, to trusting people to use their discretion?

The positive shock though was on going to Green's Warehouse Store to see what lovely crafty beer goodness they had, and seeing beers from a raft of my favourite British brewers; BrewDog and Wychwood to name but two. But on one aisle I found several Czech lagers that I hadn't expected to see in a million years, including Žatec, B.B. Burgerbrau (from the original brewery in Budweis! hint: it isn't Budvar) and Staropramen. Happily though, Budvar seems to be quite readily available, so when I have the urge to drink a good lager again I know I can get hold of something worthwhile.

Perverse as it may sound, I was actually quite glad to see the presence of Staropramen in the USA as it allows me to do a couple of taste tastings comparing the worst of Czech mainstream lager with the mainstream lagers here, the likes of Budweiser, Miller and Coors - masochistic I am sure, but certainly worth it for interest's and comedy's sake.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloated Bars?

On Friday night Mrs Velkyal and I went out for dinner with a few friends of hers, after which we went to probably Columbia's most popular beer bar, the Flying Saucer. I was quite looking forward to going there because it had been my favourite pub last time we visited Columbia in 2007.

Although we arrived at about 9:30 at night there was plenty of space, Columbia is a college town and so pubs in the centre tend to be somewhat quiet when there are no students around. So we tucked ourselves into a corner of the bar - I am a people watcher and corners are the best place from which to do so and soon enough a barmaid, or "beer goddess" as they are called came over to take our orders. I had much about Harpoon IPA from my friend Kacenka, and sure enough it was a decent enough IPA, lots of blah blah blah - come on people, it's an American IPA so you know what I am going to say! Several other pints of various beer came and went, including an Oatmeal Porter from the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina which was very nice indeed. None of the beer I had in Flying Saucer though came near to the magnificent Stone's Smoked Porter I had to round off my dinner - what a simply fabulous beer that is, not too smoky, with delicate sweetness which rounds it all out nicely, wonderful!

The Flying Saucer however got me thinking about the issue of how many taps a pub has, in this case it is over 100 taps, and countless bottles on top of that. From the perspective of wanting to find a pub to call my local, the Flying Saucer probably wouldn't be in the running, simply because it has so many choices of draught beer. I am beginning to realise that I am simply not ticker material. assuming of course that "ticker" is the relevant American term, although I do love trying different beers, it is a question of trying new things rather than putting zythophilic notches on the bed post.

As some people probably already know, one of my aims in my new life in the New World is to set up my own pub, hence my interest in the number of taps, I think the ideal number is 6, set up as follows:
  • 2 permanent taps - a lager and a bitter for example
  • 2 semi-permanent taps - rotating between EPA/stout and IPA/altbier for example
  • 2 seasonal/specials
From the, admittedly not many, people I have spoken to here about pubs and beer, I regularly hear the same thing, pubs with 100+ taps are intimidating and they would like a pub where they can go in, ask for a beer and not immediately be ask "what kind of beer?". There is also the question then of having staff who know their stuff, but that is for another post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Question for Homebrewers

Ok guys, some advice would be appreciated.

At the moment I go for the dry malt extract with specialty grains method of brewing , rather than all grain, although that is very much part of my plans for the near future (pointless side note, when I think of brewing, I always use the specialty instead of the British "speciality" - perhaps because all the homebrew books I have are American).

Looking at the various brands of dry malt extract out there, does anyone have a recommendation?

Cheers people.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

6 Beers, 18 Phrases - Southend Brewery and Smokehouse

On Tuesday Mrs Velkyal and I went to Charleston, down on the coast of South Carolina - ostensibly to go and see Charleston Battery get massacred by the Houston Dynamo in the Lamar Hunt Cup, the American equivalent of the FA Cup.

As we hadn't really celebrated our first wedding anniversary on Saturday, overshadowed by some local bash as it was, we decided to have a special lunch and visited the Southend Brewery and Smokehouse, a lovely place for lunch and a sampler tray (I have a feeling they will be a big part of life here for a while), here are my thoughts.

  • Southend Blonde - pale yellow, faint citrus, thirst quencher
  • Southend Blonde Light - pale, crisp, weak
  • Seasonal Ginger Ale - amber, grapefruit (amarillo?), refreshingly tart
  • Bombay Pale Ale - light copper, citrus aplenty, hoppy marmelade
  • East Bay Brown - crimson, caramel, smooth
  • Southend Oatmeal Stout - dark drown, coffee and smoke, lusciously smooth

Overall I left the Southend Brewery with very positive feelings, afterall I had some excellent beers, the service was perfect - I can't remember the girl's name but she was everything a waitress should be, and she was on the nail in recommending the Bombay Pale Ale. Only the two blonde ales did absolutely nothing for me, perhaps blondes aren't my thing (don't tell the wife!!). The Oatmeal Stout was up there with the Sam Smith's I luxuriated in last year, high praise indeed, and this is certainly a pub I will be visiting again when I get to Charleston again, although next time I hope the real Charleston Battery turn up!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Get Into The Spirit

BrewDog are one of my favourite breweries. Not just because they are from the same part of Scotland as my mother and most of my family; not just because they make fabulous beer (of the 4 bottles than came across the Atlantic with me, 3 were Paradox Smokeheads); not just because they actively involve their customers in their decision making processes; because of all the above and more.

Well, James and co are at it again and have created a website dedicated to their excellent Zeitgeist lager, which they are turning over to their customers to take ownership of. The idea behind the website is that the Zeitgeist brand belongs to the customers, as such the content is created by those who buy and drink the beer.

Here's how it works, firstly you need to buy some Zeitgeist through the website - use the purchase code SHEEP in order to get a 70% discount, and you will get a code allowing you to post content on the blog. Considering a 12 pack costs £12, a 70% discount will save you £8.40. Not only do you get to be part of something different and new, you can get some superb beer at an insanely low price, so get in there while the offer stands!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Samuel Adams - Brewmaster's Collection

Craft beer is not always synonymous with small breweries, I for one would include Budvar in my world of craft brewers simply because they use traditional ingredients and continue to make their, oh so lovely, lager traditionally, without cutting costs and corners by using maltose syrup or that nebulous ingredient in Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, "hop products". Likewise Fuller's in the UK is a craft brewer, and here in the US companies like the Boston Beer Company, who trade under the brand name Samuel Adams, would also qualify despite the fact that their beers are readily available and for all intents and purposes mass produced.

I have something of a soft spot for Samuel Adams because their Summer Ale was the first beer I had in the USA when I first came in 2007, it was also the first beer I had after 6 months abstinence in an attempt to lose weight (I lost 50lbs eventually, although I have regained a little of that, such is the price to pay for a love of beer). After a 9 hour flight from Prague to Atlanta, and then the short hop to Columbia, not to mention the fact that our bags where held back due to some lunatic driving his burning Jeep into Glasgow airport, it hit the nail right on the head. Thus, one of my aims once Mrs Velkyal and I arrived here to stay was to get to grips with the entire Samuel Adams line, a task which may take a while of course, however I made a start by picking up a boxed Brewmaster's Collection containing the following beers:

  • Blackberry Witbier
  • Irish Red
  • Black Lager

First up was the Blackberry Witbier, made with Oregon blackberries according to the blurb on the neck label, and a fairly new addition to the product line apparently. It certainly pours like a witbier, cloudy amber, slightly off-white head which did a vanishing trick fairly sharpish. This has lots of fruity flavours going on, the nose was like mixed fruit jam, while tastewise some sweet maltiness underlay the fruit flavours again. There was some spice, although I would like to have more as I think the fruit overpowers it and about half way down the glass it becomes boring and even flaccid.

On to the Irish Red then, a style I am planning to brew myself once in Virginia (actually I am planning to cross an Irish Red with an India Pale Ale and make an India Red Ale with lots of C-hop flavours!). Can you guess what colour it was, yes that's right, it was red, and the head was a big fluffy ivory affair. Caramel and cocoa dominated the nose, with some subtle earthy aftertones - my brain immediately said English hops, and thankfully the neck label said East Kent Goldings! The beer itself is quite sweet, with lots of syrupy caramel flavours, which put me in mind of a slightly thinner version of London Pride - which is never a bad thing in my world.

Last up and the most anticipated was the Black Lager, I was eager to see whether this would be a more Bohemian or German interpretation of the dark lager genre. It pours a very dark red with a tan head, and even on popping open the bottle their is a rush of roasted smells, with a light touch of coffee in the background. The roasted theme continues in the drinking, bittersweet and with more than a hint of coffee, with touches of burnt sugar and caramel ending in a gentle dry finish. Yup it's a schwarzbier for sure, and a mighty fine one at that.

For me the Blackberry Witbier does nothing, that is not to say it is a bad beer per se, just that it doesn't rock my boat. The Irish Red is a nice smooth ale which will no doubt make the occasional appearance in the fridge, although given that Irish Red is a style I haven't explored much it will need trying alongside others to get a handle on it properly. The Black Lager will no doubt become a regular in the cellar, it really is lovely and I can imagine that it would be very useful in some of my cooking ideas floating around my brain.

With another 8 styles in the Brewmaster's Collection, not to mention the very nice Boston Lager, I am fairly sure I will be returning time and again to Samuel Adams.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Beerless Beer Festival

I stumbled upon this article during my daily trawl through the BBC website. At the recent Beer on the Wye festival, they ran out of beer!

Some might look at this as poor planning, or something to poke a bit of fun at - however, and I am sure most people reading this agree, I find myself greatly encouraged by all the beer being drunk because it means more and more people out there want real ale.

I say it often to my friends, that during an economic downturn people don't necessarily what more for their money, they want better for their it. Let the unthinking masses go to Tesco for their bumper packs of Swill, let's enjoy the fact that real ale, and by extension good beer in general is becoming more accepted and even expected by consumers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

First Impressions - Supermarkets

I will admit it openly and unashamedly, I am a fan of American supermarkets, and have been since the first time I wandered around a fruit and veg section and saw the produce being automatically sprayed with water, to a soundtrack of thunder!

In the last couple of days we have been to a Walmart and a Kroger in Columbia and like a good homing pigeon I went straight to the beer aisle to see what was there. At Kroger there was a huge selection of brands that I already recognised; Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Ice and the like. There were however a few interesting beers:
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Sam Adams Boston Lager
  • Sam Adams Summer Ale - the first beer I tried last time I came to the States
  • Sam Adams Light
  • Tap Room 21 Pale Ale
  • Tap Room 21 Amber Ale
  • Tap Room 21 Lager
Nestled however in a corner of the beer aisle was a little box of golden treasure, a six pack of Budvar, which will hopefully still be there later today, when I pop by. At Walmart it was a similar story, although they also had a variety pack from Sam Adams, and no Budvar. I walked out of Walmart with a case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the Sam Adams variety pack and several bemused looks from people with trolleys loaded with Bud Light.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Safely Stateside

It is 5.40 AM (4.40 central - I am learning guys!) and the Velkyal retinue, somehow "family" sounds strange when there are just the two of us, are safely across the Atlantic and now in Columbia, South Carolina. Uneventful flights thankfully, although the Chilean red wine for free was much appreciated, and then sitting around for couple of hours in immigration before getting my new status as a permanent resident of the USA, so different from the process in the Czech Republic of going to the Foreign Police and dealing with that particular bundle of joy - put it this way, I think Franz Kafka is the patron saint of Czech bureaucracy!

At the moment I am on one of my week long beer fasts, saying goodbye in Prague has seen a lot of beer consumed and so I decided to not drink from last Saturday until the very important celebration this Saturday, Mrs Velkyal and I's first wedding anniversary! Thus I have time to peruse the shops and see what beers I can find, and have already found the nearest place selling craft brew so a visit is most certainly in order. There is also something else happening on Saturday, but it slips my mind for the time being.