Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Truth of Session Culture Is Out There

There is a bar not more than 7 minutes from my flat, well, a grill that has a draft beer selection, but still, it is well within walking distance. I have to confess though that I have never gone to said bar and grill, even though I have driven by it many a time on the way to Beer Run or Court Square Tavern, or just going to the same strip mall to get Chinese take away. All I know about this bar is the name, The Lazy Parrot, it's reputation and the fact that it is opening a barbecue area in the near future. I guess they must be doing something right then.

I was mulling this over the other day when in the middle of a twitterlogue about session beer - you know the kind of thing, what is the appropriate abv level for session beer in the USA (for the record, I agree with Lew Bryson that 4.5% is acceptable, but then I am a cultural traitor extraordinaire). Suddenly it hit me, taking Lew's definition of session beer, that the USA has a vibrant, thriving session beer culture, it's just that the self-appointed arbiters of taste chose to ignore it because it doesn't fit with their narrative.

More than 50% of beer sold in the US is "light lager", along the lines of Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, all three of which have an abv of 4.2%, just 0.2% shy of Pilsner Urquell's 4.4% but streets away in terms of bitterness. Clearly then, there is a market for session beer, there are drinkers out there who want a low alcohol brew which they can enjoy several of in the pub before heading home.

This is not to suggest that I am about to start drinking mass produced light lager on a regular basis, but it does point to a fact which seems to get lost in all the macho posturing of much of the craft beer world - people like to drink beer, in pubs, with friends over a period of time. I would suggest however that if craft beer is to truly worry the big boys, then perhaps with the ever growing awareness and acceptance of craft beer, it is time to take the fight to their doorstep. Sam Adams Light is an interesting step in that direction and at 4.1% abv is ideally set to challenge the more established light lager brands (and in my opinion a darned sight tastier and I will be doing my utmost to convert my father-in-law to it). By the way, I am not convinced that the big boys are worried, after all everyone has their price and the big boys have the money to buy independent breweries.

This also got me thinking about how easily we generalise, assuming that our experiences and preferences are the norm and can thus be extrapolated out to all of the society within which we live. Coming back to the comment about there being no market for low strength beer in America, the figures clearly show otherwise. I have more time for a brewery that says something along the lines of "that's not the market we are targetting", but to claim the absence of a market at all is to misunderstand the reality of the market as a whole.

Call it what you will, I am happy with the term session beer for sub 4.5% beers, the fact remains that demand is out there for lower than average strength beers, which people want to sit in the pub and drink with their friends over a longer period of time. Clearly the likes of Samuel Adams and Devils Backbone are listening, and responding with tasty beers that are low in alcohol and insanely drinkable (if you are in the area get down to Devils Backbone and try the Ale of Fergus while it lasts), here's hoping for more to catch on.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Lingering Lager Longing

I am sure I have mentioned this before, I have been on something of a lager kick of late. I am sure this is, in part, a consequence of my continuing mission to discover well made Pilsners in America, but also partly because I just fancy nice, clean, crisp beer at the moment.

As I have no doubt mentioned, ad nauseum, my favourite beer at the moment is Devils Backbone's beautiful Vienna lager, another growler of which was happily imbibed with abandon on Saturday night. On Saturday afternoon, Mrs V and I met with Eric from Relentless Thirst and his good lady other half, for a few pints and lunch at the Legend Brewing Company in Richmond. We were in Richmond as Mrs V had spent the morning winning a gold medal at a rowing regatta and needed liquid refreshment in the afternoon. Legend have a few lagers in their range, including a decent enough Pilsner, though at 6% abv it is significantly more potent than regular pilsners. On Saturday though, I was sticking to their run of the mill lager, called in a fit of creative mania, Legend Lager, which is clean, tasty and refreshing - just what you need sat on the deck in blazing sun.

I mentioned in passing last week that I had discovered the perfect pub, in Greenville, and part of its appeal was the Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner. I had never bothered with any of their beers before, for no particular reason, but again my lager kick was being demanding. It was only later on, as in a couple of days later on, that I learnt that it is in fact a rye pilsner, and hopped with a raft of American hops that almost make me feel bad about enjoying it so much. Needless to say, I will be buying some bottles from Beer Run at some point so I can do a more thorough analysis (that's my new title for getting shedded in the comfort of my armchair "More Thorough Analysis"). Again, the thing that kept me coming back for another pint was it's crisp easy drinkability.

A somewhat surprising addition to the "lagers I rather like" has been Sam Adams Light, a beer that I thought was pretty crap when I first arrived on these shores, perhaps as a result of being a fan of their Boston Lager and post-Czech life lager expectations. Sam Adams Light is one of the selections in the summer variety pack and being loathe to let beer go to waste, unless absolutely necessary, I popped open both bottles while bottling my Virginian Best Bitter (gravity fell a bit short for an APA, so I invented a new style). Again something easy to knock back that doesn't taste like gnat's piss when it gets slightly above 0 degrees Kelvin - I can see me buying a case of it for beachside drinking when I head to Florida for a week next month.

It is plain to see that I like my lagers, as any beer lover should, long may it linger.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Can't Have a Session with no Session Beer

Sometimes when I am writing my blog, the chorus to this song, covered by Simply Red, comes to mind. I guess most of my regular readers, let's call you punters as this is beer and pub blog, have a pretty good idea of my thinking about beer.

As I mentioned in Monday's post, I spent a very enjoyable night in the pubs of Greenville. Excellent company, fine beer, wide ranging conversation, a really excellent way to spend time in my opinion. An almost constant thread throughout the evening's conversation was the importance of session beer to a good pub culture, and the challenges that poses.

While I agree that in an ideal beer and pub culture, session beers would be those below 4% abv, I can see that the American context would limit the drinker to next to nothing, and so Lew Bryson's 4.5% is a good compromise. On the occasions when I go out for a major night on the sauce, over here I try to limit myself to beers that are under 5%, purely out of necessity rather than trying to change the definition of session beer.

Until recently South Carolina had a cap on what could be brewed and labelled as "beer". That limit was 5% alcohol by weight, which equates to 6.25% by volume, and is now 14% abw, or 17.5% abv. Now, while I agree in principle that a brewery should have the right to brew whatever beers they want to, I wonder if this is creating a short sightedness that has pushed session beers to the margins of South Carolinian beer culture?

Just a cursory look at the regular line up of three of the more well known breweries in South Carolina shows me that most have no beer in their lineup below 4.5% abv, from about 40 beers looked at, just 3 were at 4.5%. One of the breweries has 2 beers in the 4.6% - 5% range. A quick averaging of abv across the breweries lines came up with two breweries averaging 6.3% and the third 6.9%.

I have heard several times from respected brewers that there "isn't a market" for low alcohol beers, and yet I constantly hear in the pubs and bars of America a sizable segment of beer drinkers wishing there was more choice of low alcohol beers. So where has this disconnect come from? In my more cynical moments, I wonder if brewers are losing touch with drinkers in the pubs and bars up and down the country, in favour of great ratings on websites that advocate beer?

I have said it many times on here that it is excellence with classic styles that convinces me of the quality of a brewer, and not the barrel aged gorilla snot infused imperial India Pale Stout. Perhaps this is being harsh, but if a brewer cannot make a sub 4.5% abv beer which is tasty and makes me want me to drink a lot of it, then is that brewer really all that good at brewing?

The market is out there, sure the majority of session beer drinkers might not be blogging about it, but they are talking about it in the pub. The question I guess though is, who is listening?

Well as it is Friday, here's some classic tunes to head into the weekend with.....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Greenville Odds and Ends

Last Thursday, sorry for the poor chronology, I got to do something I had not done in nearly 2 years. I ordered a pint of draft Budvar, Czechvar, whatever you want to call it. Mrs V and I had been in Greenville a matter of hours and already we had enjoyed several beer experiences.

It started off with our friends telling us that we were going to the Greenville Beer Exchange so that I could get some beer. I love friends like that, they don't ask if I want to go get beer, they assume that I do and plan to take to the place with a good selection. The Greenville Beer Exchange has one of the best beer selections I have ever seen in the US. The basic premise of the shop is what we in Blighty call an "off-licence", however, they also do growler fills, having 11 taps I think. They also doing tasting sessions. On Thursday they were showcasing some beers from New Zealand, all of which were excellent, but my favourite was a rye porter which apparently had a lacto infection and was all the better for it.

While we were tasting, I popped the bottles I had already chosen on the desk. On noticing the gueuze, the guy running the tasting pointed me in the direction of a Berliner Weisse made with brettanomyces by the Bayerische Bahnhof in Leipzig. I also picked up bottles of Hook Norton's Hooky Gold and a 1996 Gale's Prize Old Ale.

The Budvar came a couple of pubs on in the evening, at the Carolina Ale House, and it was good. Though I have a minor gripe, (don't I always?), whoever is training barstaff to pour a beer with no head whatsoever needs taken out back and shot. I know I bang on about this ad nauseum but come on people, beer must have head, if it means oversized glasses then so be it, stop making my beer look like a fizzy soft drink. On ordering my second pint the keg blew and the barman told me he was going to put a new one on, only to come back and tell me we had enjoyed the last 3 pints. Being a good barman, he asked me what beers I like - you should know the answers to that question by now. He came back with a concoction of Highland Oatmeal Porter, something else that was dark, and proceeded to pour a shot of Jameson's into it. It was delicious.

The other bar of note that we visited over the weekend was Hans and Franz, a German themed bar and beer garden. We were there on a quiet Saturday afternoon in the blazing heat - so blazing we gave up and went inside eventually. Apparently the building was once a bakery, and before that made uniforms for Confederate soldiers, so if you like old brick buildings with character, you're on to a winner. Did I mention that I like old brick buildings with character? All the beers are European, mostly German, and we had the pleasure of introducing our friend to Gaffel Kölsch, and Mrs V impressing the barman straight off the bat by ordering said beer without even umming and ahhing. Kölsch is becoming something of a favourite beer style in the world of Mrs V, and as such a brewing project for me. Most of the beers are bottled, but they had Weihenstephan Weissbier on tap, and thankfully it came with a head, and no silly sod slice of something citrusy - hurray for barmen who know their craft.

So that was Greenville, and on Sunday afternoon, when the hangover had withered somewhat, we headed back up the road to Charlottesville and a week of penitential healthy living.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pubs of Downtown Greenville

Mrs Velkyal and I spent the weekend in Greenville, South Carolina. It was Mrs V's best friend's 30th birthday and so naturally we jumped in the car and drove 6 hours to hang out with her and her husband for a few days. It had been planned for Mrs V and friend to have a girl's night out on Saturday, and so I arranged to meet up with a chap called Dan who follows Fuggled and shares many of the same passions as myself, unrepentant Germanophilia and a love of lager to start with. It would also be an opportunity to see some a sample of Greenville's pub life, and so a pub crawl of sorts was planned.

We started off at a place called The Velo Fellow, which advertises itself as a "Publick House" and claims on their website that they aim to "pay homage to the ongoing British publick house tradition". Given my experience of "British" pubs on this side of the Atlantic I was a little wary - the usual approach is to put fish n'chips on the menu, give yourself a pseudo-British pub name, often involving dogs and horses and hey presto, you have a bog standard American bar posing as British. We walked in and it was almost love at first sight. A ramshackle collection of wooden tables and chairs, a leather sofa with unmatching high backed armchairs and a bare wooden floor, we took a table right in the middle. The five beers they had on tap spanned a range of styles (side cynical note, it isn't impressive to have dozens of taps all flowing with variations of pale ale), including the Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner. A sample was tried and a pint soon followed, in an American sized pint nonic glass. I was enjoying myself, and several more pints followed. If we hadn't had a plan, I would have happily not moved all night.

We had a plan however, and so we wandered off to pub number 2, Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria. When we arrived in Greenville on Thursday we had gone to Barley's for dinner, and their 18" pizzas are delicious. Very much a beer bar with a good selection of brews, we found a perch at the bar and got a couple of Sierra Nevada Summerfest in, and took in the busy vibe. The two trips to Barley's has by and large convinced me that American lagers are better on draft than in the can or the bottle. While I like bottled Summerfest, on draft it really steps up a notch. My one gripe though was that it was one of only a handful of lagers on the menu. A couple of pints downed, and conversation ranging from political theory, football and why proper German bratwurst is wonderful, we moved next door.

Owned by the same people as Barley's, I believe, is The Trappe Door, a basement bar that focuses on Belgian beer, was the name a give away? Again taking a couple of seats at the bar, I decided to change the tack on the beer a little bit. Now, I know I am a heretic when I say this, but I have never been a fan of Belgian beer, or at least the sweet, funky, fruity weirdness that passes for Belgian beer. What I do like though is sour beers. Ever since Evan Rail introduced me to gueuze back in Prague, I have loved the tart sharp tang of sour beer. On the menu was Petrus Oud Bruin, and so I introduced Dan to the delights of sour beer. I should point out that when I go to the pub I rarely bother with tasting notes any more, a pub is for socialising, not using your smart phone to ponce about on anti-social media. In some ways Trappe Door reminded me of the basement at Pivovarský klub, I liked it muchly.

Moving on, we headed up to the Blue Ridge Brewing Company, a brewpub that I have written about before, and which I think does a decent job. We paid the fleetest of flying visits, downing a pint of Curli Blonde before heading to last pub on the list, Nose Dive - a clean, modern bar with decent beer and a young clientele. After a short while at Nose Dive, word came that we should meet up with Mrs V and friends at a wine bar down the street called On The Roxx, where a collective decision was taken to head back to the rough comforts of The Velo Fellow for more laughter, pilsner and good times.

We had an excellent night out, drank inordinate amounts of beer, and discovered at least one very serious contender for the Fuggled Best Pub in America 2011. If there were more pubs like The Velo Fellow in the States, it would be a very good thing. We will be back for more!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Let's Not Get Carried Away

I like to think that I am a fairly simple soul, not a simpleton mind. It is the simple pleasures of life that I enjoy the most, a nice dinner with Mrs V, a well made pilsner fresh from the tap, conversation that ranges far and wide like some interlocutory wildebeest. Yes, simple pleasures are my kind of thing.

I am not much of one for fads and fashions, I can't be bothered with getting a smart phone, I have never downloaded music from Amazon instead of buying the CD and poring over the booklet. I don't buy things because they are trendy or because they make some kind of comment about my lifestyle.

Beer is, at its very essence, simple, though not simplistic. The every man drink, enjoyed across continents and social strata, from Prince Philip to President Obama to some bloke called Honza drinking in his village pub near Prague. 

Beer transcends class and status, which is why people who attempt to claim some elevated status for beer are, in my as ever unhumble opinion, missing the point.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

5 Worst Craft Beers I Have Ever Had

Over on Zythophile today, Martyn has written about the worst 5 beers he has ever had, and so in the spirit of blatant theft of ideas, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do likewise. I did actually have a post in my head already, but that can wait for Friday.

In compiling my list, one thing I really wanted to avoid was to slag off beer from the multinationals purely on the basis of them being big mean nasty companies, and so to add a little twist to Martyn's theme I am adding the word "craft", the 5 worst craft beers I have ever had. In order to avoid confusion, my definition of craft is anything not made by a multinational, and also this list is in not particular order.

Pražský most u Valšů tmavé

It is very rare that I pour beer down the sink, though it has become more common of late. During one of Mrs Velkyal and I's epic walks through the streets of Prague's beautiful Old Town we stumbled upon a little brewpub. Their pale lager was acceptable, but as we were just having a quick pit stop before continuing our walk along the Vltava and eventually up into Vinohrady, I didn't have a pint of the dark and so bought a bottle for later. When later arrived that evening I settled down to try the dark, it stank. Not just figuratively but literally, it stank of detergent and tasted distinctly of metal, a truly awful beer. In fairness though, the last time I went to the brewpub, with Evan Rail, it was a damned sight better.

Samuel Adams Noble Pils

Another victim of the dreaded Velkyal Pilsner Fundamentalism. Strangely acrid and with flavours all over the place, definitely not a Bohemian Pilsner as I would recognise it. I bought a six pack of it when it first hit the shelves last year, and despite the promising start in the aroma department, it tasted like burnt toast and then became flabby as it warmed up. I am not sure if "flabby" is an accepted term in beer tasting circles, but I am sure you know what I mean. Toward the end it became dull and lifeless, like so many other American made pilsners. In some vain effort to believe that perhaps it would be better this year, I tried it on draft one night in February, and no I won't be doing that again.

Great Divide Belgica

Some things I simply do not understand, astrophysics, the enduring appeal of EastEnders, baseball and the idea of Belgian IPA. I am not a big fan of American IPA in general, liking my beer to have balance rather than subjecting my tongue to grievous bodily harm, and likewise I am not overly keen on the funky weirdness that seems to be par for the course for a "Belgian" style anything. Put them together and you have a beer which I found simply too grim to drink.

Ybor Gold Light

I don't have a picture of this one, but the awfulness of the beer itself has etched itself on to my memory. None of the Ybor Gold beers are even mediocre, but the Light is particularly foul. I am not one of those people to degrade all "Light" beers, having something of a growing soft spot for Sam Adams Light, but Ybor Gold Light is thin, watery, insipid and just plain crap. So crap in fact that sat by the pool in Daytona Beach two summers ago, even my father-in-law, who tends to buy Milwaukee's Best when on holiday, refused to drink more than a mouthful of his bottle.

South Street Brewery Liberation Lager

I wonder on occasion if I am, in reality, a sucker for punishment. I keep wanting to believe that things can't be as bad as my initial impression and so I go and try beers again that disappointed me, usually with the same outcome. South Street is right opposite my office, it opens just at knocking off time, it's beautiful inside, and I very, very rarely darken the door. Their ales are decent enough, and in fact they do a good solid stout, but Liberation Lager is pretty much undrinkable, it starts out ok but about a third of the way down the glass it just goes to shit, lifeless, tasting like wet cardboard and completely unfinishable.

So there we go, craft beer can suck, and there are times when a Michleob or Pilsner Urquell is simply streets ahead of the "competition".

Monday, June 13, 2011

My First All Grain

Goodness me, that title sounds like I spent the weekend playing with Fisher Price toys! Alas such happy abandon was not on my schedule over the last couple of days, rather as I noted on Friday, I did my first all grain homebrew this weekend, the recipe for which you can read here.

I am going to assume that you don't need a blow by blow account of my brewing activities, but I thought I'd share (what a lovely post-modern touchy feely concept that is, I think I might puke) some pictures and a few notes about the stuff I learnt.

First up, allow me to introduce my little mash tun (oh good god, more kiddy toy references).

Because I only brew small batches, and have limited space, the cooler has a capacity of 2 gallons - I figure that when I want to make bigger beers, I will do partial mash and make up the gravity with extract. I also plan to replace the tap with something that doesn't need constant pressing to get the wort out. As you can see from the picture, I did a variation on the Brew In A Bag method, where I also sparged the grains. While talking about sparging, I only sparged once and my OG was a touch short of my minimum target, so I checked the gravity of the second runnings and it was 1.030. I was concerned that I would have too much wort in my pot (I do high gravity brewing, with ice cold water waiting in the carboy to make up the volume) and so I skipped the second sparge. You live you learn, and as Jamey from my homebrew club told me, going all grain is akin to learning to brew all over again.

A quick before and after, the grains, 80% American 2 row and 20% Caramel 10.

I did a 90 minute boil, adding Amarillo hops at 60, 15 and 5 minutes.

Everything was going swimmingly, until I put the boiled wort in the carboy of waiting water. I came up about half a gallon short on my volume. What to do, stick with 2 gallons or nip to the shop for an extra gallon of water? I nipped. and on measuring my now 2.5 gallon batch, it had an OG of 1.040 or 10º Plato, which gave me an efficiency, I believe of 57% and a conviction to sparge more next time. Regardless of the numbers, I like the look of the wort that will soon be and American Pale Ale (though the gravity is a touch short, so perhaps an American Best Bitter is better?).

If you follow my Twitter feed, you will also know that I bottled the three batches of witbier that I brewed a couple of weeks back. All three beers have an abv of 5.1%, which means that the only differences between the three beers is the yeast used to ferment them, and any flavours coming from the yeast strains. The picture below are the American strain (Wyeast 1010), a German strain (Wyeast 3068) and a Belgian (Wyeast 3944) respectively.

A homebrew packed weekend for sure.....

Friday, June 10, 2011

Copperhead Redux

It is nearly 2 years now since Mrs Velkyal and I left the winding streets and plentiful pubs of Prague for a life in Virginia. It was this time 2 years ago that I spent many a day travelling around the city writing notes for the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague and looking forward to doing my first homebrew session once I got to our new flat.

That first homebrew Stateside was a Transatlantic Pale Ale, hopped with Amarillo and East Kent Goldings and using White Labs Burton yeast for the fermentation, a fermentation that went nastily awry. It simply didn't ferment and I ended up chucking 5 gallons of beer down the drain. It was, however, that experience which forced me to reconsider how I was going to brew in the circumstances I found myself in. Firstly, I ditched the white plastic bucket and got some clear 3 gallon carboys, it had been such a pain in the arse brewing 5 gallons in a small flat that I decided to make my standard batch size 2.5 gallons instead. Secondly, I vowed never to use White Labs tubes of yeast again, I have never had a case of dried yeast or Wyeast not fermenting on me, though I have had a couple of overactive fermentations that needed a bit of cleaning. I also learnt that just because the tube say it will ferment 5 gallons without a starter doesn't mean it actually will, but 1 smackpack/pack of dry yeast will happily do 2.5 gallons with no starter.

Recently I have been experimenting with partial mash beers, brought on by the International Homebrew Project milk stout that was brewed back in March, and that piqued my interest in going to all grain brewing. However, the same limitations in terms of apartment size and storage space still exist and so I didn't want to get some insane setup that would sit in the corner intimidating me in to not brewing, so I decided to stay small and learn my new setup with some simple beers.

The key component of the new setup is my 2 gallon Igloo cooler which in the short term will be used as a "brew in a bag" mash tun. It has a tap on the front which will eventually be replaced with something that doesn't need pressing continuously when sparging. But I digress. I calculated that said cooler has the capacity to hold about 5lbs of grain, with a water to grain ratio of 1.3 quarts per pound. In trying to decide what beer would be my first all grain, I thought to myself that keeping it as simple as possible would be the way to go. So I decided to revisit the recipe for the original Copperhead Pale Ale, and modify it a bit. This is the recipe I will be brewing this weekend:
  • 4lbs American 2-row Pale
  • 1lb American Caramel 10
  • 0.5oz 8.2% Amarillo @ 60 minutes
  • 0.3oz 8.2% Amarillo @ 15 minutes
  • 0.2oz 8.2% Amarillo @ 1 minutes
  • 1 packet Safale US-05 dry yeast
I decided to shoot low on my expected efficiency, and so if I get 65% my OG will be 1.047, or 11.7º Plato. At that OG, I expect some 35 IBUs from the Amarillo. Also this weekend I will be bottling the three witbier variants that I brewed a couple of weeks back, which have been sat happily at 68ºF and should be ready for drinking in time for July 4th, a most important date, my wedding anniversary.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pilsner on the Horizon

I am in the middle of my summer beer fast. Unlike my post Hogmanay month of denial, a.k.a. "January", this one only lasts a couple of weeks - though given that I generally don't drink during the week, it often turns into the best part of three weeks. In order to aid my detox/vain, and vague, stab at healthiness, I decided to start walking to work, a 2.5 mile jaunt which is pretty easy apart from a rather steep 10 minute section right in the middle. Trust me to start walking when a heatwave decides to plop itself over the region - apparently we are expecting a high of 99ºF today (which is about 37ºC for the metric world).

You can imagine then that the absence of a nice cooling pint or two is driving me somewhat nuts, but being a stubborn git I will see this through. Thankfully though next Tuesday is the monthly meeting of the fine group of chaps and chapettes that is the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale homebrew club, which is held at the Timberwood Grill. I fully expect myself to roll up, well, driven up by the wife as she is on the way to her rowing session, and order a pint of the Oskar Blues Little Yella Pils, assuming it is still on tap and that Timberwood don't have a Devils Backbone lager available instead.

Given that I have been unstinting in my moaning about the standard of pilsners made in the US, especially the ones that get erroneously labeled a "Bohemian Pilsner", you might be somewhat taken aback that I am looking forward to a 25 fluid ounce glass of cold, golden lager. If you have been following Fuggled for any length of time you will know that I will try anything calling itself a pilsner. The reason is quite simple, a good pilsner is, in my unhumble opinion the height of brewing excellence. If I could but find a top quality pilsner constantly available on tap in Charlottesville, that pub would have my almost undivided loyalty and attention. Even in the depths of winter when everyone is drinking stouts, barleywines, old ales and winter warmers, while beers that I enjoy, it is pilsner that I would drink first without hesitation.

I first ordered a pint of Little Yella Pils on draft at Timberwood Grill during one of the homebrew club meetings mainly because everything else on the menu was either extreme, Belgian, Imperial or Samuel Adams Noble Pils, which is downright disgusting. I wasn't expecting much, given my thoughts on the canned version, but I was pleasantly surprised, and very soon the 25 ounces had to be refreshed with a further 25. This got me thinking again that draft beer is somehow better than bottled or canned, a common way of thinking in pubcentric Prague. I wish I could explain why a reasonable beer from a can becomes a delicious delight when on draft but I am really not all that sure, perhaps some of the brewers that read this blog can enlighten me?

Anyway, 6 more days of denial and then a pint shall be mine.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Is Your Beer Local?

Buy Fresh, Buy Local. A nice slogan for an idea which I have a lot of sympathy for. I like to support local brewers, Mrs Velkyal and I enjoy days out fruit picking in the counties surrounding Charlottesville, and then making jams, chutneys and booze with the produce, we sometimes wander up to the farmers markets in the area and see if there is anything of interest (cynical aside, I really didn't know that bead jewellery grew on a farm!). So yes, in a perfect world, I would be happy to buy most of the stuff I eat and drink from local suppliers.

I have said many times that one of the things that Mrs V and I both love about this part of Virginia is that it is so booze friendly, wineries aplenty, a slew of good breweries, cider makers and even distillers. Yes, it is good to be a drinker in central Virginia. Even so, my overactive brain has been getting the better of me of late with regards to buying fresh and local, and wondering if there isn't an element of hypocrisy within the beer world in promoting such an idea?

I find it a little disingenuous for brewers to support the "buy local" concept when it comes to consumers going to the pub or supermarket and making their choice for the evening, but then not supporting local suppliers when it comes to buying their own ingredients. I think this is particularly pertinent here in Virginia, where during the Colonial Era, the Commonwealth was essentially the Kent of the Colonies. By the middle of the 19th century, Virginia alone was producing nearly 700 imperial tons of hops a year (that's 750 US tons or 680 metric tons). Hops were once an integral part of Virginia agriculture, just like tobacco. Unfortunately I couldn't find any figures on commercial hop farms, but I do know that Blue Mountain Brewery has a small hop farm, as do Devils Backbone, and both support a local hop farmer.

This kind of thinking is something that should be encouraged. If brewers are going to jump on the buy local bandwagon as a way of inducing people to buy their beer, then they should likewise make a commitment to buying locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Obviously brewers need to source their ingredients from wherever they can in the absence of local providers, but encouraging small businesses by buying up their crops is one way that could encourage greater localisation of the beer that we buy. It might also serve as an antidote to the increasing blandness of many a brewery's lineup of beer, which, let's face it, is becoming as boringly dominated by IPA and other assorted hop bombs as the macro brewing industry is dominated by pale lager.

Who knows, if brewers were to source their ingredients locally, we might end up with the situation were a Virginia IPA becomes as distinct from a West Coast IPA as it would be from an English IPA. The alternative would be admitting that none of the ingredients are locally sourced and the carbon footprint of the beer in your hand is far higher than you would like to think about.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Session - Breweriana and Collectables

I must admit to being somewhat slack on taking part in The Session. What normally happens is that I completely forget about it being the first Friday of the month until the day in question actually arrives. I wish I could say that this month is any different, but I would be lying, however, the theme of Breweriana and Collectables as given by All Over Beer is something I have meaning to blog about for a while, so why not today?

As The Beer Nut has pointed out on his post, many a post today will no doubt be about glassware, but given that I posted about my glass collection a while back I won't go down that avenue, though the collection has grown and now includes a beautiful hand blown glass from Williamsburg. Rather, I thought I would share some thoughts about breweriana shows.

Back in February my photographic collaborator, Mark Stewart, and I started the research phase for our next book, research naturally being the visiting of breweries, brewpubs and pubs, not to mention the imbibing of the brews on offer. The first town we visited was Fredericksburg. It was the weekend of the Blue Gray Breweriana show, which we stopped in at because some of the Morana Dark Lager I brewed with Devils Backbone was supposed to be on tap that weekend. We duly paid our $10 to gain access to the unlimited beer supply and had a wander around the exhibition.

I will say straight off the bat that I almost felt as though I had landed in an episode of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends. It was bizarre. Grown adults, I thought about saying "grown men" but there were plenty of ladies about as well, with vast collections of cans, trays, brewery signs, more cans, bottles and yet more cans. Mark and I set ourselves the task of finding a Budweiser can, as in Budweiser Budvar, which we did in due course.

All around me were people beaming with pride at their collections, collectors moving through the stalls with devout awe and the occasional audible gasp at the sight of a rusty tin can from a long lost brewery (cans are nothing new you see, but I guess they didn't have "craft beer" in the old days, just beer made with malt, hops, yeast and water). I have never felt more like a fish out of water than for that hour or so as we wandered about. I even wondered if I were a mere beer interloper rather than one of the hardcore fans. The last time I saw so many tin cans in a single place was at a landfill.

Some of the collections were actually the kind of things that I would buy if I had my own bar, signs, lights, trays, towels, all branded with long forgotten beer makers who probably had an army of loyal drinkers in the days before Prohibition. Most of it though was, let's be frank, junk, beer junk for sure, but junk nonetheless, several times during the visit I expected Steptoe and Son to come through and buy stuff for recycling.

I guess my take on collectables is really rather simple, if you can't use it, what's the point? Glassware, sure. Branded clothing, sure. Barware, sure. Most other things? Erm, no, I just don't see the attraction.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fuggled Facts and Figures

A year ago today I put the Google Analytics tracking code into Fuggled, having something of a lay interest in statistics. At school I was ok at maths, but never geeky about it, same with computing science really, I was generally top of my class but found history, and human beings in general, more interesting. I have to admit that I doubt I would ever have learned about Google Analytics but for my job in a web design company, but it does throw up a lot of interesting numbers and information that, if you are inclined to make money from a website, would give you ideas and pointers.

According to the dashboard of my Analytics account, Fuggled has received about 21,000 visits and 33,000 page views in the last 12 months - a few days are missing because I changed the template and forgot to put the code into the new HTML, d'oh. Of those visits, 37% come from referring sites (thank you all!), 34% come directly to the site (more thanks!), while the other 29% come through search engines or other sources. Those visits have come from at least 97 countries, the top five being the USA, UK, Norway, Czech Republic and Ireland respectively. Some of the countries with a single visit include Andorra, Zimbabwe and Nepal. Those numbers are all good and well, but they really only tell me that people from all parts of the world have read Fuggled in the last 12 months. The numbers that really interest me are the ones that give me some idea about the people that visit Fuggled, see I told you people are more interesting than numbers or machines.

Of the 21,000 visits, which represents nearly 9000 unique visitors to the site, about 58% are return visitors, who spend on average 2 and a half minutes of their time reading my wafflings, rants and other various thoughts. That tells me that most of my returning readers have an attention span longer that a tweet - which is hugely encouraging as most of my posts would require about 25 tweets, which I doubt I would have the patience to write. As an unrelated aside, while I like Twitter in general, I much prefer blogging and reading people's blogs, oh and if you are like me and sick to death of anything relating to Justin Bieber, just change the country you follow for trending to Germany.

Possibly the most interesting collection of stats that Google Analytics puts together has to do with the browsers and operating systems that people use to come and visit Fuggled. According to Netmarketshare, the most commonly used browsers are Internet Explorer (54.27%), Firefox (21.71%), Chrome (12.52%) and Safari (7.28%). My Google Analytics tells me though that the most common browsers from which Fuggled is viewed are Firefox (34.34%), Chrome (23.11%), Internet Explorer (20.23%) and Safari (18.52%). This suggests to me that most of my readers are reasonably tech savvy (I am yet to meet anyone in the tech world who admits to using IE in any form unless they absolutely have to) and independently minded, preferring open source tools. Apparently only 23% of my readers though use the Macintosh or Linux operating systems, but again that is is much higher percentage than you would expect if Fuggled readers were in line with market expectations, where Mac and Linux combined equate for only 6.5%.

As I said earlier 37% of Fuggled readers come to the site through referrals from other sources, when I take out the generic stuff like Google, Blogger and Twitter, the top sites referring their readers to Fuggled are Relentless Thirst, Are You Tasting the Pith, Pivni Filosof, Tandleman's Beer Blog and Beer Sagas - thank you guys for driving people my way,  and if anyone reading this hasn't visiting their sites, pop on over when you are done with this.

Of course not everyone that comes to Fuggled does so through the good (I hope) graces of other bloggers recommending or linking to my site. People do in fact find Fuggled through search engines, Google being the overwhelmingly most frequent, followed by Yahoo and Bing. The keywords though that they find Fuggled with are quite interesting, of course "fuggled" and "velky al" are the most common, but then "fuggled limelight" and "hopped mead" feature prominently. Quite why "onion and garlic jam" is still the 5th most common search term to bring people to the site, some 3 years after I wrote that post is a mystery to me.

I am not entirely sure what any of this proves, but I find these numbers interesting, but as ever with me, it is the people behind the numbers that I find infinitely more fascinating. Those numbers suggest to me that Fuggled readers are, by and large, free thinking, experimental, independent and tech savvy, the kind of people I like to spend time with in the pub, as long as they put their smart phones down and actually talk to people rather than tweet about the beers they are drinking.

Get Your Coat Love

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