Friday, December 30, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

Pubs are a topic very close to my heart. Pubs are, in my as ever unhumble opinion, the natural environment for the lover of beer. It seems fitting then that the last post of 2011 should be a guest post on the theme of pubs, in particular the ones we call our "local". It is also fitting that the author of this post is Adrian Tierney-Jones of Called to the Bar, one of my favourite and absolute must read blogs, he is also the author of Great British Pubs. Without further ado, let me hand over to Adrian....

I’m greedy. I’m positively gargantuan in my appetite for pubs, which is why whenever I am asked about my local, I answer that I have two of them and both suit my ever changing moods in many ways. Both of them serve good grub and I eat in both. Both of them keep a perfect cellar and I drink beer in both, especially at the weekend, where in the company of several other topers I start at the bottom pub by the river and then end up at the pub at the top nearest to my house. I drink cask beer most times — St Austell Proper Job, Tribute, Otter Head, anything from Bristol Beer Factory, Dark Star, Adnams, Thornbridge — or I might have an Orval or a Flying Dog IPA (in their proper glasses).

Then, as Graham Greene wrote, there’s the human element. I like the people who run both these pubs. I enjoy the company of those that drink in both these pubs (some of whom, like myself, lead a dual pub life). We swap jokes, gossip, local news, comments on the weather, football and rugby anecdotes, rarely politics though, moans about road-works (they’ve just finished) and occasionally I talk about beer, though I try not to. I am minded to remember the look on the face of one of the guys a couple of years ago after I’d persuaded one of my pubs to take in Schneider Weiss on draught — I like this lager he said to me, and 10 minutes later was wishing he’d kept his mouth shut as I continued to drone on about Bavarian Weizen. On the other hand, Mike always asks me what the guest beer at one of my locals is like when I see him there over the weekend. We also get lots of tourists and you get wistful comments about how they would like a local back home. I always like talking with them; you just never know where the journey of conversation is going to take you.

So what else do my locals offer me? Both are a home from home, a place that is homely and public, a public house in the true sense of the word and of course having two homes is better than one (well I suppose you could say I have three). And much as I like the social discourse that having a local pub brings there are also subtle nuances that I think you can show whenever you just want to read your paper and have a quiet pint (though there is the odd type who even if it’s obvious that I’m sitting there working on my laptop will wander over and ask me what I am doing — for him and his sort I have reserved a special place in the third ring of hell, otherwise known as one of the pubs in the nearest market town over the border).

There’s one other thing that occurs to me as I think about the local. I travel about visiting pubs and I think that sometimes one also can have a mobile local, one that is very much of the here and now, a local that you don’t visit that often but as soon as you walk in it’s like slipping into a favourite pair of carpet slippers (not that I ever wear the fiendish things) and starting to relax. And this then makes me think that a local pub is both a physical entity (whether it’s one or two) and also a state of mind.

And finally, dialectically speaking, the synthesis of all this thought about the local is that it makes me realise what is the greatest thing about the local pub — it offers a never-ending potential for discussion and debate on what a local pub is. The road goes on forever.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blogs

I like giving this award because it gives me a chance to mention the people whose blogs I enjoy reading, both as the respective representatives of Virginia, the US and the rest of the World and also to give our honorable mentions.

First then, the Honorable Mentions:
A good selection there of beer, brewing and history blogs, all highly recommended and worth clicking the links, after you've finished reading this, naturally.

As for the possible claimants to the crown of Fuggled Blogger of the Year, they are:

The first time I met Tom Cizauskas was last New Year's Eve when Mrs V and I went to Richmond to party with Eric of Relentless Thirst fame. I then had the pleasure of spending more time with Tom at Eric's wedding, and being snapped drinking non-alcoholic Becks. Tom's blog, Yours For Good Fermentables, is a veritable wealth of news and information about the Virginia beer scene, and as such is required reading for Virginia beer lovers.

Another mine of knowledge is Stan Hieronymous's blog Appellation Beer. Often thought provoking, Stan's posts have become a must read this year. I only comment from time to time, but when his blog pops to the top of the blogroll it gets read for sure.

I love history and I love learning about beer, so Martyn Cornell's Zythophile is absolutely essential reading. Sure his posts are longer than most, but they are informed, interesting to read and by the end of them you are glad to have spent those few minutes discovering something new about beer and the world that surrounds it.

The Fuggled Blogger of the Year is still an award unencumbered with much in the way of monetary value, or any other kind really, but the winner for 2011 is:
  • Martyn Cornell - Zythophile
More than a beer blogger, Martyn is a beer scholar and Zythophile is an opportunity to benefit from his research and knowledge. I am sure the next best thing would be having a pint or two with him.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

A quick look at my RateBeer statistics will tell you that other than pilsners, my preferred beers are stouts and porters. You can then imagine how difficult it has been to whittle down the contenders for the Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year down to just three, but three there are:
In choosing my Virginian dark beer of the year, I decided that I couldn't include the 2 clear favourites of mine over the year, Devils Backbone Morana and their Barclay's London Dark Lager because for the former I designed the recipe, and the latter I helped with the brewing. Thankfully though, Jason has a knack for brewing superb dark beers, both warm and cold fermented. The Ramsey's Export Stout, based on early 20th century recipes and laden with coffee, chocolate and a hefty dose of earthy, spicy hops. It was magnficent.

At the other end of the strength scale is Victory's Donnybrook Stout, at only 3.7%. Still, it is packed with all the classic stout flavours and there are few finer ways to spend an evening than sat in Beer Run indulging in pint after pint of this perfect session beer. I love this beer so much that if it is on tap at Beer Run then I don't even need to order, an imperial pint of it is placed in front of me soon enough.

My first taste of Nørrebro's La Granja Stout was in Prague, when I paid well over the odds for it, but the orchestra of aromas and tastes made it worth every Halíř (1 Czech Crown = 100 Halíř). When I saw it was available at the Greenville Beer Exchange, I made sure I got some. It was still worth every cent, and still hitting all the right notes.

Ah, the agony of choice. Three lovely beers but the winner has to be the one I drink regularly, so the Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year is:
  • Victory Donnybrook Stout
Donnybrook is everything a beer should be in my world, tasty, sessionable and never disappointing, a worthy winner indeed!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

Earlier this year I had the inestimable pleasure of brewing a beer with the guys at Devils Backbone and beer historian Ron Pattinson, of Shut About Barclay Perkins fame. Well Ron has stepped in the guest blogger shoes to tell us about his local pubs....

My local. What could be easier than shooting the breeze about the place you usually drink? Well, for me it's a bit tricky. First of all I have to decide what is my local.

Strictly speaking, it's either the Playground Pub or Gent aan de Schinkel.

I would tell you the real name of the first one. If I could remember it. Physically, it's the closest pub to my flat. And, as the nickname might well give away, It's a place I used to frequent with the kids. Dump them in the playground and then dump myself at the bar. Only it never quite worked out as simply as that. But when does anything go the way it should? (And for that matter, when will I stop asking questions?) Kids, eh. Always wanting attention the little attention vampires. That and unhealthy food.

The pub was a good way to get acquainted with some of the other people in our neighbourhood. As it turned, mostly ones with kids themselves. I wasn't the only one with the idea about dumping the babes and boozing myself into oblivion. Must be something about children that prompts that.

I don't go there any more. On principle. Despite the law, they allow smoking. Yes, just what I need. Bugger my lungs even more.

I have a strange relationship with Gent aan de Schinkel. I won't go into that now. Let's just say that it also has something to do with my kids. On the face of it, it's an obvious candidate for my local. Just around the corner and a sort of half beer café. It used to be a full one, but they've pared back the range somewhat over the years. Still, La Chouffe and Filliers 8 (a rather delicious jenever) is usually enough to satisfy me. All sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? Now here are the not-so-good points.

They major on food. I rarely to never eat out in Amsterdam. No point. There's a kitchen and a cook back home. Seems like a huge waste of money. Being crowded out of a pub by diners isn't my idea of fun (I won't tell you what is, it's just too sad). Especially (here's the second not-so-good point) when they are a bunch of yuppies. I prefer a more genuine drinking atmosphere myself. Preferably without any music, TVs, slot machines or yuppies. Miserable old git, that's me.

The pub I most regularly go in Amsterdam in Wildeman. Not exactly local, at near dead on three miles away, as the crow flies. Not being a crow, it's just as well the number 2 tram takes me virtually door to door. Usually on Saturday afternoon.

Night time boozing. It's a young man's (or woman's) game. My powers of recovery are too feeble for it to be an option most nights. And, given the state I'm in when I leave a pub, it's best if there's still daylight. Gives me a sporting chance of getting home uninjured. It's hard enough getting up in the morning when I've gone to bed sober. I'm not taking any chances. That's why 2 o' clock in the afternoon is my designated Wildeman time.

I'm not the only one with a routine. The bloke with a beard who reads the paper. He's always there, too. Reading the paper. As well as me and Mike, Guy Thornton often turns up. Very reassuring. Usually we occupy enough seats to keep out the young. The bastards. With their designer clothes, radiant skin and irritating electronic devices. Ticky, ticky, tick. You can't get away from people fiddling with some gadget or other nowadays.

When I contemplating writing this piece I realised there was another pub that had a claim to be my local. What is a local? It's a home from home. Somewhere you feel comfortable and safe. Where there are people you know. Where you can walk in at any time of the day and someone will say "Hello Ron" (it's probably a different name your case, but you get the idea). Where there's always someone to chat with. A place where the normal rules of physics don't apply. It doesn't matter how long since your last visit, you pick up straight away where you left off, even if it's been a year.

Going by those criteria, I realise there was an odd candidate for my local: the Gunmakers in London. The preceding paragraph, that was all about the Gunmakers. I feel bizarrely at home there. Even though I've not lived in London since I became aware of it. Even though I've not spent more than four days on the bounce in London for several decades. Yet every time I walk through the door the welcome rushed out to meet me.

Of course, it helps that I'm mates with Jeff, the landlord. But that isn't the only reason I love the place. Well-kept cask beer is a must. And Jeff's is very well looked after. Not a huge selection, just four handpumps. But I've never been shallow enough to judge a pub by the number of beers it sells. (Some of my favourite pubs only sell one.) Small, but well chosen. That's the Gunmakers beer range. You're guaranteed that any beer you buy will be in top condition.

I'm going to contradict myself now. But who gives a toss about consistency other than premiership managers? The Gunmakers is at times of the day mostly given over to diners. I told you I hated that. But there's always space for the solitary drinker and his pint and paper. And having a full kitchen means they can offer the things I like to eat in a pub: homemade scotch eggs and pork pie.

Maybe it's the associations that makes it such a happy place for me. Most of my visits are after a session in the London Metropolitan Archives, which isn't far away. Aching and dirty, but with a camera full of brewing records, I stumble in and soothe my exhaustion with a pint. Several pints. Because pints like company, too.

There you have it, three locals for the price of one. Sorry, four for. Pubs, they’re like kids. Noisy, irritating, lively, invigorating. And just like kids, it’s cruel to pick just one favourite.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber

I almost went to live in Lithuania once, well actually twice, but there we go. For the first few years of my stint in Prague I taught English as a Foreign Language, and the same year I moved to Minsk in Belarus, I was offered a position in Klaipeda, and again the year after, but Prague has claws. That little story is entirely irrelevant other than whenever I think of amber, I think of Lithuania. So to the contenders for the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year:
You often hear that beer is best drunk fresh, well it didn't get much fresher than the night I had Blue Mountain's lovely Lights Out Holiday Ale earlier this year. The company I work for got the beer for our Halloween party from Blue Mountain, and it was my job to drive out to the brewpub and collect it, and take the opportunity for lunch and a pint. So fresh were the cases of Lights Out that the bottles were still wet as I packed then into my car for the drive back to Charlottesville. The rich mahogany of the beer pointed to the delights of sweet and spice which were to come.

Our local Whole Foods recently moved to a new building, and the new venue has a bar with 8 taps and a selection of wine, but most importantly of all, they have happy hour from 4 to 6 every work day. Mrs V and I regularly go to happy hour on Friday's and for a while in October they had the simply delicious Clawhammer Oktoberfest lager. Dollops of juicy malts balanced with noble hop aromas and a drinkability that was insanely dangerous. Highland are fast becoming a favourite brewery of mine, and they had a couple of contenders for this award, including their Gaelic Ale, several of which I polished off recently.

The Isle of Arran is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, and Scotland has plenty of beautiful places (minor side note, I haven't been home since 2005 and am yet to show Mrs V the delights of Highlands, one day, one day). The Arran Dark was another of the beers brought up from South Carolina by Mrs V's best friend. There was only one word to describe this beer, gorgeous, and next time I get to Greenville, South Carolina, I will be buying at least a case of it.

It's very difficult to decide from the three beers for this award, but while I always enjoy seasonal offerings, I like to be able to drink superb beers at any time of the year, and so the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year is:
  • Arran Dark
If you are looking for a classic Scottish ale, then Arran Dark is it, sweet without being sickly, a light hop bite in the background to keep it balanced and at 4.3% the kind of beer you could drink all night and then stumble to bed without too much hassle. The only thing missing would be a fire, so here's one for you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

For the 2011 iteration of my Fuggled Review, I have decided to stick with the nice, simple approach that I adopted last year. Rather than trawling through the various categories accepted by the Brewers Association for the Great American Beer Festival, I will have 3 beer awards, one each for pale, amber and dark, as well as a blog of the year selection. I will choose a "best of" from Virginia, the rest of the US and then the rest of the world for each category. So without further ado, let's see the nominations for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year:
The St George IPA is that most rare of beasts, an American made, British style IPA. It is hopped exclusively with Fuggles and boasting a solid malty backbone, the combination of which reminds me a Seville orange marmalade. Unfortunately there are some who think Fuggles is a "boring" hop, personally I think they have just jumped on the grapefruit/pine resin bandwagon and fail to appreciate the flavours Fuggles brings to the table. Of the various pale beers from Virginia I have drunk this year, the St George IPA has been the most consistently enjoyable, and really what else is important?

Unless you have been cowering under a cyber rock at some dim and distant IP address, you will know that I love pilsner and will go out of my way to try beers availing themselves of that appellation. When a friend of Mrs V and I came to visit us from South Carolina, I asked her to bring me some beers that we couldn't get in Virginia, including the Bohemian Brewery 1842 Pilsener. Simply put, I was in heaven as I drank it. It very definitely hit the spot and ticked all the right boxes for a Czech style lager, decoction mash, Saaz hops, 5 weeks of lagering and easy drinking. Please, please, please would someone distribute them in Virginia!

Each summer, Mrs V and I buy season tickets to either Busch Gardens or Water Country USA in Williamsburg. This year we chose Busch Gardens, and when we went down for the day we stumbled across Sünner Kölsch in their Bavarian part of the park. We sat on a bench with a bratwurst wrapped in pretzel dough and shared the cold, clean, crisp beer between us - it was perfection.

I can choose but one of these three fine libations, and so the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year is:
  • Bohemian Brewery 1842 Pilsener
So, for the second year in a row a Czech style pilsner beer take the award, still unburdened by financial value though with a modicum of history I guess! As I said in the title of my post about the beer, Americans CAN make good pilsners, it is just a damned shame so few of them bother to do it properly.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

We come back to Virginia for this week's guest blog. Richmond based Eric Delia is the man behind the Relentless Thirst blog and an all round superb human being to boot. Since Mrs V and I moved to the States in 2009, Eric and his now wife have become good friends and we count it an honour to be able to name them as such. So let me hand over to Eric.....

I'll be up front with you. I don't have a local.

To make a fairly confident assumption, I'd argue that most Americans don't have one either. At least not in the traditional British sense of the word. The way I see it, you can be a frequent customer of a drinking establishment, but that still doesn't necessarily make it your local.

Local as an adjective is defined by Merriam-Webster as "primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district." In noun form, the same source also includes the British definition of "a nearby or neighborhood pub." Due to zoning laws, reliance on the automobile, and the vicious circle of demonization and quiet overindulgence of alcohol, "locals" in the United States are mainly confined to densely-populated urban centers, if they exist here at all. Oft-cited examples are bars, but to me, a public house means more than just that. Though that tangent is probably best left for another post.

Therefore, if I have to pick a place in order to appease Velky Al, I'll go out on a limb and pick Whole Foods.

That's right, I'm not going with any of the grassroots spots in Richmond, Virginia that have happened to catch the beer bug in the past few years. I'm picking a chain of upscale grocery stores that has caught the beer bug in the past few years. In particular, my local Whole Foods.

The Whole Foods in my area has quite the selection of beer, not to mention food, wine, homeopathic healing salves, and accessories for the home. It's a regular earth-loving granola-fest, and I dig it. The products on the shelf often emphasize local, organic, or both simultaneously, all of which I'm happy to support with my wallet. That, and they fill growlers. So it's a win-win.

At any given time, there are eight beers on tap, and they rotate constantly. In addition to standard releases from breweries, their beer buyer often stocks up on limited release kegs of various sizes to store for appropriate seasons or occasions, and rarely do I come across their current draft list without wanting to walk away with 64oz of something.

It's my local, in a sense, because it's where I buy my groceries, where I can have an open discussion about the latest trends in the beer world, and at times, it's also where I do my drinking. As always, there's more to do there than just drink. After work, when I need to pick up some made-in-house organic sausage or fresh local produce, I can grab a pint before I do my shopping. How cool is that?

It's also a place to get away from other places. Not to be insulting, but I'd rather discuss beer, or any topic really, with people I care about or whose opinions I respect. It would be nice to have the sense of community that truly local, neighborhood pubs often cultivate, but I just don't see it here in the US.

So while it may sound selfish to want to drink a pint alone in quiet reflection, or in the company of a small group of friends, it's the way I prefer to spend my valuable leisure time when having a pint out. It just so happens that I enjoy doing that at Whole Foods. Lately, it's the closest thing to a local that I can find.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To The Dearly Departed

Pubs are about more than just beer, they are about people and memories. I am firmly convinced that a pub doesn't need to sell the trendiest beer, they can sell the most generic of generic pale lagers and still be a good pub. A couple of years ago I wrote a few posts about my favourite watering holes in Prague, among them was Zlatá Hvezda, the sports bar where my mates and I would watch the football.

The first time I darkened the door of Zlatá was the very first weekend I was in Prague, in September 1999, when Liverpool lost 3-2 to Manchester United, with a couple of gift goals from Jamie Carragher. The place was packed, the atmosphere raucous and the beer was Velkopopovický Kozel. Kozel back then was a lovely, lovely beer, back before SABMiller took over and it became somewhat bland, though the Premium Kozel is still nice enough. A few weeks later, I watched Liverpool lose to Everton, with Stevie Gerrard sent off, and Sander Westerveld getting the red card for punching Franny Jeffers and Steve Staunton replacing him in goal and pulling off a couple of decent saves. Zlatá showed practically every Liverpool match, and I went to watch practically every match for the next 10 seasons.

Zlatá was my local, very much so for the last 3 years of my time in Prague as it was a 5 minute walk from my flat. For all it's failings, the grim toilets, the spectacularly variable food and by the end of my 10 years, the Gambrinus that I was never quite sure whether it had been watered down, or the water had been beered up, I loved Zlatá. I learnt this week that last Saturday Zlatá served its last customers and that my old local is to be turned into yet another "cabaret", which is basically Prague speak for a whorehouse.

I am sure there are many who won't lament its passing into history, but I am not one of them. Many of the best nights of my decade in the Czech Republic were spent in Zlatá: Gary McAllister's last minute winner against Everton, the 2001 UEFA Cup Final, the 2005 Champions League Final. All great games that led to great nights out on the lash, especially the Champions League final.

I am fairly sure that most people connected to Zlatá don't read this blog, but anyway, I want to thank Sasha and all the staff over the 10 years that I went there for making Zlatá what it was, a dive with sometimes dire beer but always a great atmosphere and, in my experience at least, excellent service, simply a great pub. Thanks guys, it was golden!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dashed Expectations

Early on Saturday morning Mrs Velkyal and I piled ourselves and our little dog into the car and set off to Columbia in South Carolina. Yesterday we drove back to Charlottesville, minus the dog. Don't worry, we haven't sold our wee Honza to people with nefarious designs on world domination. We are going to France this week and can't take him with us, so he is on holiday at Mrs V's parents and I am left wondering what to do when I wake up at 5.30 in the morning.

Before we got to the in-laws' place, we swung by a Walmart to pick up some bits and pieces for dinner, including a six pack of something or other.

Highland Brewing from Asheville are fast becoming a go-to brewery in my world. I loved, and dranks lots of, their Clawhammer Oktoberfest lager when it was available. The Black Mocha Stout is as flavourful a stout as you could ask for. I was looking for something a bit easier on the palate and so I picked up a six pack of Gaelic Ale.

Once we got to the house I read the blurb on the bottle and my heart almost sank as I read that they used "Cascade and Willamette hops". The last thing I wanted was some classic C-hop citrus attack, still I had splashed the cash and pretty much had no choice, so I dived in. The beer pours a rich dark amber, bordering on deep red and with a thinnish off white head. It was in the nose that I got all confused, where was the grapefruit, the pine resin? The aroma was a complex layering of sweet malts, cocoa and rich earthy spiciness. Confused and yet encouraged. Goodness me, what a lovely tasting beer! More of the sweet malts, with a healthy wallop of biscuits, toast and caramel, all balanced by an unobtrusive but still noticeably firm hop bite. I polished off the 6 pack with the minimum of fuss and the maximum enjoyment.

I learnt something this weekend. It seems that Cascade in the hands of a brewery like Highland doesn't have to be the dominant flavour and aroma in a beer. As part of the whole it was a key element of a very nice beer and one that I will be buying on a regular basis in the future.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

Pubs are a ubiquitous feature of life in many European countries and Ireland surely has one of the more celebrated pub cultures. So, off to Ireland we go, and this week's post comes from Reuben, writer of the Tale of the Ale blog and all round good egg. I'll be hanging out with Reuben and his wife in a few weeks in Paris, something Mrs V and I are very much looking forward to. Without further ado.....

Ah the local, a term of endearment. It's a home away from home. For many it might feel more like home than wherever you live. It's an odd term "Your local". What does it actually mean? In the strictest terms, your local should be the pub/bar that's closest to your place of residence, or at least in the vicinity. What happens if you live in a small rural town with only two remaining pubs? That's my current situation, since I have moved to the town formerly known as Beggars Bridge, though the Irish name Droichead Chaisleán Loiste means Castlelost Bridge and refers to a ruined castle named Castlelost and so on. Yes there is history to this little town, though little of it all that interesting. Not until you get to more modern times. Apparently (and I have no evidence either way), my humble little town is the site of the country's first strip or pole dancing club. I'm not sure which, or even if it's true but since it happened before I moved here, I also don't care.

What I do care about is that of the two pubs remaining in my town, neither have any beer worth drinking. Now that would not bother me so much if my closest pub, Bagnalls (the one VelkyAl has been to) still served food. When we moved here first they actually had lovely food and Sunday lunch was fantastic. It was not a carvery, it was menu and table service but the cost was about the same and the food quality far superior to a carvery. Sadly they stopped serving food a few years ago and as a result, we stopped having a reason to go there. I have tried a few times to make it my local. For a time they had bottled Guinness and I went to watch a few rugby games but it just had no atmosphere.

The other pub called Lysters is more of a farmer and GAA pub. I have only been in there once while waiting for the post office to open. When I mentioned this to the bar man he pointed out that in actual fact the post office closed in 20 minutes and I had been waiting for it to close all that time.

I now have a dilemma. The closest homely pub to me is in my closest large town of Mullingar. Daly's serves craft beer and is a lovely pub as well. It is hard to get to using public transport. My only real option is to either use a taxi at over €20 each way, or I can cycle as I did in my report.

That means my real local, the one I feel most at home in must be somewhere with a better public transport link and where else but my home town of Dublin?

There are many great pubs I can choose but The Bull & Castle usually ends up as number one, as long as we are talking Saturday or Sunday afternoon when it's quiet enough to sit at the downstairs bar and read. Later on weekends they bring on a DJ and loud music to ruin the atmosphere and ability to have a conversation. This can be overlooked for their dedication to craft beer, their sheer range of craft and world beers and also because if I get hungry, as I often do when drinking beer, I have some fantastic dishes to choose from. The manager also runs a blog listing their latest beers and current rotation cask and keg offerings.

Sitting at the bar downstairs is probably my favourite place to be while enjoying a beer, a book and perhaps something to eat. Upstairs is the German style beer hall but there is something more homely & more welcoming about the downstairs bar if you are on your own. If not, head upstairs to the beer hall and pick any bench style table. Pick a beer of any of the chalkboard or table menus. See what's on cask that day or watch a match on the projector, assuming there is one. It's a great place to watch Rugby matches.

There are quieter and more relaxing pubs, pubs that serve better food perhaps or even pubs that might be better craic, but as an all round great place to be, for their sheer number of speciality world and craft beers, their dedication to Irish craft beer and their cask offerings and many other indefinable reasons, The Bull & Castle is my local, my home away from home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Last Chance Saloon?

It is that time of the year again. Don't worry, I am not getting going on the annual round of review posts quite yet. I am referring to it being the time of year when the shops abound with calendars for next year.

Let us for a moment assume that the Mayans were right and there is a great cataclysm coming our way next year, and given the look of the field of candidates for the Republican Party's nomination for the President I fear they may have been on to something, this could be your last chance to have a Fuggled calendar adorn your wall for 12 months.

Once again the supremely talented photographer, and all round good bloke, Mark Stewart of Black Gecko Photography has provided the pictures. There isn't an overarching theme to this year's calendars, over than beautiful pictures of pubs, beer and brewing.

The link to the calendar is over there, just above the link to the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague, also with pictures by Mark. The price is an eminently reasonable $15.50, I shall stop there for fear of sounding like those TV salesman proclaiming "but wait, there's more", which really should be translated "What? You haven't put the kettle on yet to escape my dreadful drone?".

* The picture above is a low resolution version of one of the pictures that didn't get chosen for the calendar.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Backwards and Forwards

Saturday was a brew day for me, indeed it was the last brew day of this year. Next weekend Mrs V and I head south again to South Carolina to drop our wee Cairn terrier off at Mrs V's parents, and then the following Friday we fly to France for Christmas. I brewed my strong ale for next Thanksgiving, changing tack a little bit by brewing a Belgian style strong dark ale, which the 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast is fermenting away nicely at the moment.

I have brewed 21 beers this year, with an average starting gravity of 1.053, an average IBU rating of 32 and an average ABV of 5.1%, not including the beers I currently have in various carboys. I guess if that shows anything, other than perhaps an unhealthy interest in statistics, it is that generally I like beers that are balanced and drinkable, but you knew that already.

This year I also made the jump from brewing with extract and specialty grains to brewing all grain, and while I enjoy the process more than before, I am not going to make claims that all grain is naturally superior to extract and grains. I have also had some success in competitions, picking up 2 golds and an Honorable Mention in regional competitions, the latest gold coming just this weekend at the Palmetto State Brewers Open, where Samoset 2010 went one better than the 2009 version.

As for the beers themselves, I think brewing the 1933 Barclay Perkins Milk Stout as part of the International Homebrew Project was the most technically challenging. The 3 way wheat beer experiment where I used the same ingredients to brew 3 batches on the same day and then ferment with different yeast strains was also very interesting, if a little hectic. My favourite beer to drink was my Fuggold Bitter, a clean Ordinary Bitter weighing in at just 3.3% ABV, which took gold at the Dominion Cup back in August.

Not one to rest on my laurels, I am putting together my brewing calendar for 2012 already. Apart from my annual strong beers, I am planning to make next year a study in beers below 12° Plato, or 1.048. I am convinced that the truly great brewers are the ones making session beers which are packed with flavour and drinkability. I might never reach those heights, but as the much maligned Gerard Houllier once commented, "if you aim for the stars you might just land on the moon".

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

For our guest blog this week we head to the right side of Hadrian's Wall, and then up the M8 a bit to Glasgow, a city where I have spent many a happy evening hanging out, drinking and having a black pudding supper. Needless to say I like Glasgow a lot, and when Mrs V and I discuss the possibility of moving to the UK, Glasgow is high on the list of places I would happily move to. The Glasgow based blog "I might have a glass of beer" is absolutely essential reading, written by Barm, also known in the Twitter world as @robsterowski. Here, then, is the post...

I should admit it straight away: I’ve never really had a local.

I did when I started drinking. It was the only decent pub in my town, and the last bus home left from across the street, which was convenient. I spent many sessions in there with my chums from school, before we all started moving away, discovering the differences between Guinness, Heineken, Whitbread Pale Ale and McEwan’s Blue Label. It had a big mahogany island bar and was one of those pubs where the ladies’ toilet was an obvious recent addition.

But I’ve seldom lived close to a pub where I’d actually want to drink. Some will say the first mentioned above doesn’t even count, as it wasn’t within walking distance. It’s usually been at least a bus ride away.

This is probably why I always insist on booking somewhere central when I go on a trip. For a few joyous days one time, Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg was my local. That was nice.

The essence of a local, though, isn’t really proximity; it’s having a connection to the pub and to its regulars. For a period a group of us scenesters would hang around in an old Victorian pub at Charing Cross talking about music; the bands and songs we talked about would naturally flow into the playlist at the club night the next evening. The beer was nothing special, but the scene was.

This went on for a year or so and then fizzled out, as these things inevitably do. Oddly enough, the club night was in a different venue, which had terrible beer. I begrudged the money for every pint I bought there, but I never resented buying a round in the pub. Because the local isn't really about beer, but relationships. If the beer is good, that makes the relationships stronger because you find yourself in the pub with your friends more often.

Every pub should aim to be a local for at least a few people. If too many of the customers are regulars, it can be unwelcoming to outsiders. Maybe this is why I never really wanted to go to a lot of pubs that were physically nearby.

Constant motion is the price paid by those who crave variety in their drinking. Even if you have a bar with a hundred or two hundred different beers, waiting for the world’s beers to come to you is lame. You have to go out and find them in their native habitat. Then come home and drink ale in the local and try to fit in again. As people move about so much nowadays, a session with friends in the local can become a special occasion, which is a shame.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monastic Reflections

While we were in South Carolina last week we went wandering round World Market. I like strolling through the food aisles at a World Market, sweets and biscuits from Blighty, sausages and mustard from Germany, Indian curry sauces, all that good stuff. It is also from World Market that I buy my imperial pint nonic glasses from which I do most of my home drinking. Most stores have a decent enough beer section, admittedly with a lot of the usual suspects but still with the occasional engaging rarity.

As we bimbled about, I spied a gift pack of Chimay, bimbling around stores is not something I usually like, but there are exceptions. The gift pack had a 12oz bottle of each of the three Chimay offerings and a branded chalice, which we spent the week referring to as the "shalice".

First a confession, up until last week, Chimay was the only Trappist brewery I had never had a beer from, for some reason I had never bothered to pick them up. As we were on holiday I decided the time was ripe to rectify that little oversight. That night I sat with the "shalice" and drank the three beers, without the aid of a camera and not scribbling notes, though I did put my thoughts into RateBeer (yes, I know I bash the excesses of RateBeer at times, but it has its uses). Don't worry though, I am not going to regurgitate those notes here, other than to say my favourite was the Cinq Cents as it is called over here, or the Blanche as it is called elsewhere.

As I sat sipping the Bleue, I got to thinking about the Trappist beers and which ones are my favourites. While all of them are very nice, I still think it is a toss up between the Rochefort range and those from Achel. Narrowing it down to one from each monastery, I would go for the Rochefort 8 and Achel 8 Bruin, and trying to choose from those two is nigh on impossible. Perhaps I will soon buy myself a cowl and surplice to use the packet of Trappist High Gravity yeast I have in the fridge.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pubs Are Great

As I am sure you are aware, last week was Thanksgiving, and Mrs V and I jumped in the car on Tuesday afternoon and went to Columbia, SC, to spend the holiday with her family. The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday and the shops have insane sales which encourage slaves to consumerism to unleash their base natures in random acts of violence. I went to the pub instead, and walked seven and a half miles into the bargain, for which I got an over fizzy pint of Boston Lager, a St Bernardus Abt which smelt distinctly of caramelised bananas, and Left Hand's wonderful Sawtooth utterly abominated by the use of nitro. Oh, I almost forgot, I got a bloody huge blister as well. At least the bratwurst in a bun was top notch.

Despite the less than stellar drinking experience, my few hours sat in the Flying Saucer in Columbia, reminded me of why I love going to the pub. I was sat in a comfy, battered old armchair with my book, lost in the world of the Scots language with barely a care in the world. The Saucer wasn't wildly busy, there were a few people in watching the American Football, the service was efficient and in the midst of it all I could shut everything and everyone out for a wee while.

On Saturday night we met up with friends at Hunter Gatherer, Columbia's only brewpub and quite possibly my favourite place to go for a drink in the city. Again it was everything a pub should be, a laid back atmosphere, efficient staff and good food and booze - their ESB is fast becoming a favourite of mine, and their seasonal stout was a good solid offering. Thankfully one of the things that gets right up my nose didn't happen. There have been occasions when the service in a pub has been abysmal when they discover you won't be ordering food straight off the bat.

Both these trips to the pub got me thinking that there is so much more to a good pub than just an impressive selection of taps. A proper pub is place where you can socialise with your friends or bury yourself in the corner with a book and really doesn't matter because you get well treated either way.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

We're staying in the UK for this week's guest blog. Ten Inch Wheels chronicles life in London from the perspective of a Yorkshireman and goes beyond being a blog just about beer. It is always a good read, and his photos are excellent as well, so I heartily recommend reading more of his posts, once you have read the one below of course!

You're home. As you walk up the slope from the station platform, an inch of snow crunches underfoot. The Pennine air is fresh and frigid, biting your face. Snowflakes hang in the streetlights. You turn left onto East Parade, the pub windows glowing a hundred yards away. Through the doors and the heat from the coal fire wraps round you like a blanket. A nod from one of the regulars. 'Yes, love?' from the barmaid.

Locals aren't always local. Mine's about 230 miles, give or take, from where I live - but The Boltmakers Arms in my home town of Keighley is my 'local'. You'll have heard of Keighley because of Timothy Taylor. Taylor's is - but me no buts - the greatest brewery on earth, and the Bolts (as it is universally known) is their de-facto brewery tap. It's a tiny pub - really a converted cottage - and almost always busy. Some nights it can be so packed it's difficult to get your pint to your mouth. If you're lucky you can snag a seat by the open fire. It doesn't matter if you're on your own. This is Yorkshire. If you haven't got your nose in the paper, someone will want to chat.

I've known the Bolts a long time. When I first started going in, it had been run for years by Eric French. Kept a good pint, did Eric. His main punters came from the printworks over the road and the mill round the back. Both long gone. I think I was the only one who liked the decor as it was back then; a palimpsest of decades of Taylor's ad hoc makeovers - Red vinyl benches, formica tables and Bakelite lampshades. When Eric retired The Bolts had a couple of wilderness years and a refit before the current guv'nor Phil Booth took over. The Taylor's pumps are front and centre on the bar. You'll never find a better pint of Landord. No, really you won't. I've looked. Phil pours a pint of Taylor's flagship brew to such forensic perfection it can make a returning native weep.

The Bolts is one of about five Taylor pubs in the town centre. They're all good, but there's something very special about the Bolts. Something you can't quite define that makes it all just right. Maybe it's the easy bonhomie between the generations - the flat cap chatting with the baseball cap. That fire, or even the size of the place which helps you feel as comfortable as you would in your own living room. Ultimately at all comes down to it being a classic town pub that happens to serve extraordinarily good beer. And you can't ask for much more than that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vintage Time!

I can't remember where I read it, perhaps Pete Brown's "Hops and Glory", but there is a story that in the making of the British Empire there were two foodstuffs that were vital, beef and beer. Wherever we founded a colony we sourced the local beef, but made sure that the beer came from home - random thought, imagine if under the reign of George I there had been a United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland and Hannover, some of those old beer styles might still be around.

Whether the English that came to the New World landed in Virginia with a view to making money or further north to establish a colony of Puritans, they all brought their beer with them. Mourt's Relation, the major primary source for the Plymouth Colony, says that they chose their final landfall partly as a result of running low on beer. English beer clearly had a reputation with some of the native Americans as it was one of the first things asked for by Samoset, having strolled through the woods and greeted the newcomers in their own tongue.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and is the day when my Samoset Vintage is officially ready for drinking. I say "officially" because I took a bottle to our homebrew club prior to entering it in the Virginia Beer Blitz to help me decide whether it is an old ale or a barleywine. I am aware that in reality there is no difference, but I had to choose the most suitable BJCP sub-category. The beer itself received an Honorable Mention, so I guess it is pretty good!

On top of a base of Munton's light DME, I added chocolate malt, Briess Special Roast and Caramel 40. The hopping was a blend of Admiral, Northern Brewer and East Kent Goldings, to give me 59 IBUs and all that was fermented with my good friend Nottingham. I ended up with an abv of 9.3%. Bottled in January, it has sat in the cellar at a fairly steady 60 degrees Fahrenheit for 11 months.

Next weekend I will be brewing the 2011 vintage, the recipe really hasn't been finalised yet, though with the size of mash tun being somewhat on the small side, I will be using more DME to bump the gravity.

Well, rather than wittering on, have a happy Thanksgiving people!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Horses and Ships

My good friend Max over at Pivni Filosof is asking the following question today on his blog:

"If you had a brewery with a capacity of 3-5hl a batch, what sort of beer would you have as your "workhorse"* and which would be your "flagship" and why?"

As a beer lover and homebrewer it is the kind of question which inevitably crops up fairly often, usually though in the context of the kinds of brews that would form the core range. Having to decide though on two beers to really be the heart of the line up is more challenging.

As with any business plan, it is important to consider your market and what they expect when they drink beer from your brewery. It would be all too simple to say, I live in America therefore I need a big hoppy pale ale. You have to remember that I live in Virginia, and so what are the local beer tastes? Given the success of the core ranges of Devils Backbone, Starr Hill and Blue Mountain, one thing is clear - lager has a following in this neck of the woods.

Again it would be too simple to extraoplate from that and give in to my love of Czech lagers by making my workhorse something akin to Budvar or the magnificent Kout na Šumavě desitka. I am not convinced that the majority of the American public really understand pilsner lagers, equating them with brands like Miller and Budweiser.

Dark lagers though are very much taken to, if our experience of brewing Morana and the Barclays London Dark Lager at Devils Backbone was anything to go on. Both 10 hectolitre batches sold out in less than a month if I recall. Thus I would  make my workhorse beer a Czech tmavé.

As for my flagship beer, I think this is the right venue for allowing my preferences more rein, and so this decision is easier in many ways, though my market still needs to be considered. I love history and brewing beers based on recipes from years gone by, so my flagship beer would be something from the 19th century, some from Scotland perhaps, something to confound the expectations of know it all beer bores who think Scottish beer is all about sweetness and a lack of hops. I would recreate William Younger's 140/- ale from 1868, which Ron Pattinson wrote about.

So there you go, a dark lager and a historic beer to mess with peoples preconceived notions of a nation's brewing traditions.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

This week's guest post on the theme of "my local" comes from pithy blogger, beer taster, beer retailer and one of the few people I know with a beer named after him - Zak Avery. Over to you Zak......

To me, there's a clear difference between "your local" and "your favourite".

To get to my local, I walk for about 4 minutes. To get to my favourite - depending on which favourite you mean - is anything from a 20 minute busride to a longhaul flight. Even then, I'm cheating a bit, because I walk past two pubs to get to "my local", The Black Bull in Rothwell.

The Black Bull is typical of good, suburban British pubs. Everything about it is instantly familiar, from the almost-lurid pattern of the brown and red carpet to the elbow-height, dark wooden wainscotting. True to type, there is a bit of exposed brickwork, and an area of bare floorboards that leads up to, and around, the bar. At 6.30 on a wet Thursday evening, there is already an assortment of drinkers assembled, but the pub is quiet. The gleaming chrome fonts offer familiar megabrands, the optics on the wooden barback are the usual suspects. The selection is nothing to write home about.

Of course, there's a reason that I walk past two pubs to get to this one. It's not the slightly-too-loud jukebox, the quiz machine, the Sky Sports TVs, the raised area with the pool table. It is, of course, the beer. Ordinary, beautiful, humble, dazzling British bitter. They have three handpumps, and will rotate beers through them with a decent amount of speed - tonight there are only two on, which is as it should be mid-week. It's better to offer one cask ale in perfect condition than three that are past their best, and The Black Bull knows that. I've never had a bad pint here. Tonight, I'm drinking Adnams Southwold Bitter, in an Adnams glass, at the perfect temperature. Other times, Tetley's Bitter (in a Tetley's glass), Acorn Barnsley Bitter (in an Acorn glass), Ossett Excelsior (in an Ossett glass).

The Black Bull is an ur-pub, outside of fashion and trend. This is the sort of place that any visitor to the UK should try to experience in order to get an insight into the real drinking culture of the country. While I love drinking in beer geek bars (and I use that term with love), while I love being asked "This is £9 a pint, is that OK?", while I love the current preoccupation with offering the best Scotch egg known to humanity as a humble bar snack ("This Scotch egg's a fiver, is that OK?"), I also love the brilliant simplicity of a pub that just wants to be a good, ordinary pub serving good, ordinary beer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Plea for Beer

Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, in volume 1 of his Church Dogmatics, that people are not able to "let God be God". I wonder at times if we have the same affliction in the beer loving community? Are we incapable of simply letting beer be beer?

I have written before that I think the term "craft beer" is daft and that I believe "microbrew" to be effectively meaningless. All that is truly important, at the end of the day, in the beer world is not how much beer a brewery makes, whether or not the company making the beer is foreign owned, publicly traded or a cooperative or even the form of dispense a brewer deems most suitable for his or her product. The defining aspect of any beer is the desire for more.

I have had many a beer from a "small, independent and traditional" brewery, to use the Brewers Association's definition of a "craft brewery", which sucked, just as I have enjoyed plenty of beer from the multinational corporations which form an effective Anti-Craft in the minds of some. The things which surround the liquid in the glass are just that, peripheral.

Rather than rambling on, I'll let Monty Python describe the situation far more clearly that I can....

Monday, November 14, 2011

Necessary Session Brewing

When I started brewing my own beer, in admittedly miniscule amounts, back in 2009 it was to fill a gap in my beer drinking life. As you probably know, my first beer love was stout, and given the paucity of warm fermented beers being brewed in the Czech Republic at the time, I decided to take things into my own hands. That first batch of beer was a dark mild kit that I added some rauchmalt to and used a different yeast to the one in that came with it. I would like to think that I am a better brewer today than I was then, but that core reason for making beer is still part of my reason for doing so, I want to make the beers that are not readily available in the shops.

I try to be proactive and brew my own bitters, milds, alts and anything else that can be tricky to find commercially. However, I do spend quite a bit of time wondering why more craft brewers aren't making these styles? I tend to think there are two possible answers to that question. Firstly that there genuinely is no market for sessionable beers and secondly that the only way to be recognised in the bigger picture is to do something more extreme than the last brewer, a beery keeping up with the Joneses if you will.

I have posted before that I am not convinced that there is no market for sessionable beers in the US, after all, the vast majority of beer drunk in this country is below the 4.5% abv threshold for session beer. Admittedly there is a very vocal minority of beer drinkers who deride anything that doesn't rape your tongue and leave you on your arse after half a pint, but they, like most blinkered fundamentalists, are unrepresentative of the wider beer drinking community. Of course, it is much easier to drink a six pack of some 10% abv monster beer sat at your kitchen table because negotiating your way to bed doesn't involve being in control of motorised transport. Being a pub-goer then becomes difficult because you have to keep in mind that too much of a big hitter can get you into trouble, but then the pubs don't help by having banks of taps with nothing under 6.5% - a quick aside, I did a little study on the average strength of brewers' wares over here and 6.7% abv seems to be a fairly consistent average.

Another point that seems to mitigate against session beer is price, and people's attitude to getting the biggest bang for their buck. For many, given the choice of paying $6 for a pint of a 7% IPA over a 4% stout, they will go for the IPA because it will get them to where they want to be, quicker. On the basis of paying a consistent price for each percentage of alcohol by volume, the 4% stout would be about $3.50 per pint. Personally I believe that beer prices in the States are artificially high as a result of the three tier system in place, whereby a brewery sells to a distributor, who in turn sells to the retailer. Each company has to make a profit, and so the mark up gets shifted down to the consumer. Interestingly though, it is not unusual to see higher pricing for higher gravity or special beers, and yet no lower pricing for session beers. I suppose then, there is an element of truth to the claim that "there is no market" for more sessionable beers, simply because that market has been stifled by ridiculous pricing conventions, not to mention that the brewing industry does not enjoy the benefits of being a free market.

That then is one of the contributing factors to my ongoing desire to make low alcohol beers that taste good, because the options in the commercial beer world are, at the moment, quite limited. Admittedly it is getting better, thanks to the work of Lew Bryson, and those brewers prepared to stick their necks out and make something which is unextreme, perhaps unsexy but most definitely very drinkable, which is after all the main point of beer, the drinking.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Blog - My Local

This week's guest blog is by Leslie from Texas, the person behind Lushtastic and one of Houston's leading bloggers, so rather me wittering on, I hand you over to her:

When I first discovered an old gas station turned coffee shop, turned amazing craft beer bar, nestled in the quiet Garden Oaks neighborhood of Houston, I was in love. The Petrol Station*, with their laid back atmosphere, 2 huge patios, rumors of expansion and possible brewpub dreams, great food menu (get the garlic-parmesan fries with everything), and ever evolving and changing craft beer selection, I knew there wouldn’t be another place I loved in this town more to get my craft beer fix.

I started frequenting Petrol after a visit with my dear friends, Christine and Jordan, and now I feel like family. Troy, the best beertender ever, knows the styles I like to drink and always has a recommendation for me when I can’t decide (which is often, as I am quite indecisive with their list). He even made a Chocolate Yeti “Beeramisu”, with homemade marscapone, for my friend Cathy’s birthday party we had there.

Not only is Petrol a perfect place to drink a delicious craft beer and eat yummy tacos (the special on Tuesdays), owner Ben Fullelove goes out of his way to acquire seriously awesome beers for other events, like the Dogfish Head Scavenger Hunt he hosted in October of 2010, that featured a different rare, vintage Dogfish beer at a different bar each day, some to take home, some to drink on premise (Texas law says if an establishment has a mixed-liquor license, no beers are available to-go). I participated in the hunt every day for 10 days, figured out the clues, knew the password and had all the beers. I got a sweet t-shirt and a 4pack of beer out of it too.

Petrol sells growlers too, a few times a year they offer a limited number of these to-go containers and they always feature an entertaining graphic. It has become almost a cult following of Houston beer nerds, everyone trying their hardest to collect all of the Petrol growlers. The last round involved selling them out of the trunk of Ben's classic Lincoln across the street from the bar in their parking lot, and sold out in something like 15 minutes.

Then there are Ben’s beer dinners. Coming up for Houston Beer Week in November, he is collaborating with Jonathan Jones of Xuco Xicana to face-off in a beer dinner vs. beer dinner against Kevin Floyd of Anvil and forthcoming Hay Merchant, who is teamed up with Chris Shepherd of the upcoming Underbelly. It will include 10 courses and 10 beers, and it is sure to be epic. Previously, he has worked with Chef Jones on two beer dinners, I attended both and they were fabulous. The first one took place during Houston Beer Week in 2010 and the second was earlier this year in March. Both of them paired rare beers (to our market) with fabulous creations from Chef Jones. I have been to some great beer dinners in my time of enjoying craft beers, but these take the cake, by far.

When someone asks me where to go in Houston for good beer, good food, or a good patio, I always recommend Petrol. Hell, I recommend Petrol for almost anything, I have all of my blog interviews there and any meetings I can possibly schedule there as well. The only downside, if you aren't a regular and used to it, may be the wait time for food when they are busy. Their small kitchen seriously limits how much food they can make quickly during busy times. These guys take their time, but I have never seen that as a bad thing, only an indication that the food is fresh, made-to-order and always stellar.

*Petrol Station, 985 Wakefield Drive, Houston, Texas, 77018

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Getting Old

One of my most precious beer memories comes not from the hospody of Prague, the brewpubs of Nelson County or even the pubs of Kent on a sunny day. Rather, it comes from an arts festival in Berlin in 2008, when wandering around eating various types of wurst I spied the name Schumacher Alt and made a bee line for it. What followed was a revelation, a beer with the flavours that I love in a warm fermented beer with the crisp dry  finish and prominent hop bite that I love in a Pilsner.

The manly brew of which I speak is of course altbier, which as everybody and his uncle knows translates as "old beer", as opposed to the pale lager which was in the mid 19th century, new. I could argue here that 19th century pale lager was the craft beer of the day, but that would be too much fun.

Ever since I started homebrewing, I have wanted to make an altbier. As I am prone to do, I spent hours poring over style descriptions, the websites of alt luminaries such as Schumacher and Zum Uerige and various other media in order to get a real handle on how my project would shape up. From the outset I knew that I wanted to brew a straight up alt, not a sticke, doppelsticke or any other derivation thereon. I wanted a reasonably sessionable beer, call me crazy but I actively like drinking.

The one sticking point though has been the absence of a refrigeration chamber for lagering the beer in. Recently though I had a idea, and yes it hurt. I quite often buy 2.5 gallon bottles of water for brewing with, and so I wondered if I would be able to fit the 2.2 gallons of beer that I get out of a batch, once it is off the trub, into one such bottle.

As you can see, the hole in the bottle is in a slightly awkward place, so with a measured 1 gallon jug, I poured 2.3 gallons of water into a used bottle and hey presto, it comes to about half an inch below the hole. Suddenly I found myself with a surplus of lagering vessels, but still no refrigeration chamber. Then again the power of the mind fell upon me, with excruciating vehemence this time, I have a fridge! Any spare water in the bottles after brewing, I would store in the fridge, simply turn the bottle upside down and it should work fine, so I put the bottle in the fridge, and as you can see, I have a viable lagering system! Well, viable for doing altbier and kölsch, which is just as well as they are styles I really like.

Having solved my little lagering issue, I finally got round to designing a recipe for the beer itself, and here it is:
  • 50% Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 49% Munich Malt
  • 1% Carafa III
  • 31 IBU of Spalt Select for 90 minutes
  • 4 IBU of Spalt Select for 20 minutes
  • Wyeast 1007 German Ale liquid yeast
Apparently, this will give me the following details with my system
  • OG - 1.048
  • FG - 1.012
  • SRM - 13 (copper to red)
  • ABV - 4.8%
I will be brewing this beer, which I am calling Old Cobbler's, on Saturday, and then lagering it for all of December. When we get back from our Christmas trip to France, I will bottle it in preparation for being able to drink again after my annual beer fast, which many people call "January".

Monday, November 7, 2011

Utter Bollocks

I read an article this morning about why the writer has never drunk Budweiser. As I skimmed through, admittedly at the point of giving up with the rest of the article as it bashed all things Anheuser-Busch, it offered a description of the origins of Bud. Apparently Bud was created to satisfy the desire for the new pale lager style that was sweeping the world, the style in question was

"watery Pilsner, a style that originated in Czechoslovakia as a ladies’ beer; a wimpy alternative for the delicate palates of proper Czech ladies who couldn’t stand the big German Alts and Lagers or the muscular Belgian ales."

Now, I have read over the years an awful lot of shit about Pilsner, but this one takes the sušenka (that's Czech for biscuit by the way). Where to start? At the beginning is always good. In the late 1830s, fed up with the inconsistent quality of their warm fermented brews, the good people of Pilsen, to use the city's name at the time, smashed open barrels of beer in protest. The Burgers of the city, with an eye for opportunity, started the Bürgerbrauerei, and hired a Bavarian lager brewer by the name of Josef Groll to come and make a new Pilsner Bier. Are you with me so far?

With the brewery built and ready to start production in 1842, Josef Groll set to work with the local ingredients, pale Moravian malt, hops from the nearby Saaz region, Pilsen's incredibly soft water and a Bavarian yeast - either brought by a dodgy monk a la mythology, or more likely brought from his dad's brewery in Vilshofen. All this took place in a country that no longer exists, Austria, or at least the Austrian Empire (which only became the Austro-Hungarian Empire some 20 years later). The Czechoslovakia in which Pilsen would become Plzeň would not exist for another 77 years, and it would gone in fewer years than that to become the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

169 years ago this Friday, Josef Groll's beer was first tapped in Pilsen, and it caused a sensation because the colour was much paler than any lager the Austrian Empire had seen up to that point, the previous palest lager was Anton Dreher's Vienna lager, which was a touch darker. Thus Pilsner Urquell was born, not as a ladies beer, but as the new beer for a city entering the industrial revolution, a drink for the workers.

But what about the altbiers, the German lagers and Belgian ales that were available for them to drink in their beer geek cafes on the back streets of Pilsen? Why didn't they just drink those instead? Well, you are a smart, intelligent person, so you know I am taking the piss a bit there. The term "altbier" has a very young provenance, around the same time as Pilsner in fact - and only came about as a result of the new craze for pale lager sweeping the German speaking world. But altbier is manly and tough don't you know? Well, kind of I guess, if you like beers that are 4.6% abv, about 40 IBUs of noble hops and lagered for a couple of months, because everyone knows that the extra 0.2% abv between Pilsner Uruqell and Schumacher Alt makes all the difference in gender specificity for beer. Perhaps manliness is defined by the colour of the beer you drink, good to be a stout drinker I guess!

Anyway, you get the point. If you are going to make ridiculous claims about beer styles from far away lands about which you know nothing, at least do a modicum of research in advance rather than repeating your nonsensical, unlearned drivel. Unless of course you are planning to work on the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Beer.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Finding A Local - Guest Blog

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest blogs here on Fuggled. Taking on the theme of "My Local" the bloggers I have invited will be talking about the pub scene where they live. So rather than me wittering on much longer, I will hand over to the first guest bloggers of the series, Boak and Bailey:

We've just moved to Penzance which is a really, really long way from London -- a short bus ride from Land's End, in fact; in the Atlantic; near America.

With all of our friends hundreds of miles away, as the nights draw in, and the sea starts to crash over the promenade, we're beginning to realise just how much we're going to need a friendly local pub.

But which will it be?

Our actual local -- the nearest pub geographically -- is described online as "grubby inside, grubby outside, and with a hostile atmosphere". It certainly doesn't look welcoming. We're going to give it a miss.

So, downright rough pubs aside, based on what we've seen so far, we've got a choice of lovely pubs with bad beer, or soulless pubs with good beer.

The long-term project is to drink in the lovely pubs often enough that we get to know the landlords and then explain why we only ever drink Budvar from bottles. If that goes well and we "do a Barm", our problem might be solved.

As it is, we've more-or-less decided that, spiritually speaking, our local is a 20 minute bus ride away in a village on the way to St Ives. The beer is great, the regulars are chatty, and the landlord, who brews out back, is happy to geek out about hops with us.

If only it were nearer... As it is, we'll probably never be able to go often enough to earn the sacred right to hang our own glass behind the bar, or be greeted by name when we walk through the door.

Best Beer Ever!

Shock, horror, a new post at Fuggled! Yes, it has been a while, but mitigating circumstances, I have been heads down writing my first book, ...