Friday, July 29, 2011

Heading North

Well, my week in Florida is coming to an end today, and we will be driving north to Columbia in South Carolina to spend the weekend there before continuing on to Charlottesville on Sunday. While we have been here, I have mainly been drinking Samuel Adams Boston Lager and there's not really much that can be said about such a good, consistent and tasty beer.

So, I guess, ahead of a weekend in the car, I'll leave you for the next couple of days with some good driving music.....

America - A Horse with No Name

Starflyer 59 - Minor Keys

Starflyer 59 - Please, Please, Please (as it is referenced in the last song)

Fleetwood Mac - Gypsy

Have a good weekend people!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Original Budweiser?

Regular followers of this blog will know that I love Czech beer, in fact I think Czech lager is the best on the planet by a long, long way. Even stuff that I wouldn't normally drink when I lived in Prague, such as Gambrinus or Staropramen, is better than many a lager from the rest of the world. From the ranks of the mass produced Czech lagers, Budvar has long been my favourite, so it may come as something of a surprise that I think the latest Budvar vs Budweiser stunt to be utterly pointless.

In case you haven't seen their tweets or Facebook page, Budvar in the UK are organising a taste test between "The Original" and "The Other", kind of like the Pepsi vs Coke challenge from the 1980s. I don't know why they feel the need to do a taste test, given the appalling nature of a palate that would be required not to be able to tell the difference.

My problem with the whole shenanigans isn't with trying to show that Budvar tastes far superior to Budweiser, that's pretty much a given. Rather, it is the use of the term "the Original" to describe Budvar, because it simply isn't true.

The dictionary definition of "original" includes the following:
  • belonging or pertaining to the origin or beginning of something, or to a thing at its beginning
  • arising or proceeding independently of anything else
  • created, undertaken, or presented for the first time
  • being something from which a copy, a translation, or the like is made
  • a primary form or type from which varieties are derived
I guess Budvar have definitions 4 and 5 primarily in mind with their claims to be the "Original", though they also claim an element of the first definition, as the term "Budweiser" pertains the place of origin. However, the claim to be the "Original" is entirely spurious.

A quick history lesson, the year is 1795 in the Bohemian town called Budweis and there is a new brewery in town, the "Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis", which translates as the Budweis Citziens Brewery. The sign above, which I have posted many times on here, reads "Budweiser from the Original Source", made by the Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis. I have also posted a sign for Budweiser Porter, suggesting that "Budweiser" is not a description of any given beer style, but rather than appellation (I have no problem with Budvar claiming the appellation, after all they brew in Budweis - different argument). Today, the Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis is known by it's Czech name Budějovický měšťanský pivovar, and sells most of it beers under the brand name Samson, though in the USA it is known as "B.B. Bürgerbrau".

In 1875, the Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis started exporting its beer to the USA using the name Budweiser. In 1876, Anheuser-Busch started producing their own pale lager in St Louis, apparently based on Bohemian brewing techniques and sold under the name Budweiser.

Skipping back to Bohemia about 20 years later, to 1895, and a group of mainly Czech brewers in Budweis decide to establish their own brewery, Budějovický Budvar was the result. A brewery that is 19 years younger than Anheuser-Busch and 110 years younger than the first organised brewery in Budweis.

I think it is a safe bet, given the post Pilsner Urquell brewing revolution that swept Central Europe, that Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis were brewing a pale lager a few decades before Budvar even got in on the act. As such, Budvar, while being superior to Budweiser, is far from being the "Original" beer from Budweis, that honour belongs to Budějovický měšťanský pivovar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

When Mrs V and I head down to Florida for our annual holiday in the sun, and boy has it been hot the last few days, I usually prepare myself for a week of drinking Samuel Adams at the resort and hoping the places we go our for dinner have something other than BMC on draft. On many an occasion I have asked "what beers do you have?" and subsequently ordered a diet Coke.

While driving to our resort, we spotted a couple of new restaurants close to the beach, including one called The Black Sheep, which describes itself as a "pub and eating house". On checking their website it turns out that it is a stab at a vaguely British/Irish theme pub, so naturally we paid it a visit on Saturday night.

The menu was pretty standard British/Irish theme pub in America fare - chicken wings, burgers, fish and chips, Shepherd's Pie (inexplicably made with beef), although the starters did include Scotch eggs, which were delicious. According to Mrs V and her parents, the fish and chips was excellent - for once I resisted temptation, but only because they had liver, bacon and onions on the menu! Yes, finally an American restaurant with calf's liver on the menu, joy of joy! I love offal in general and liver in particular, and it too was excellent.

On the beer front, 30 taps, 40 bottles is the numbers, and the selection is decent. Of course there are the standards, Budweiser, Bud Light, that kind of thing, as well as the usual British/Irish suspects, Newcastle Brown Ale, Old Speckled Hen and Guinness. But they have some good British craft offerings, Fullers in particular, London Pride and London Porter on draft - I soon discovered that London Porter is as delicious in the heat of summer as in the chill of winter. I polished off 3 American pints in the 45 minutes we were there, and it was happy hour, so it cost pretty much 3 for 2.

It is nice to see this kind of place in Daytona Beach, and we had a really nice meal in a place with a relaxed yet busy vibe. I always say that the staff is what makes a good place great, and our waitress on Saturday was excellent, if the rest of the staff are up to her standards, then The Black Sheep is doing well, and is a very welcome addition to the restaurant scene here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Into the Desert

After last week's minor mishap with holiday dates, we are finally on our way to Florida for the week. Mrs V and I drove down from Virginia to South Carolina yesterday, and will continue down to Daytona Beach today for the annual week at the beach.

Florida has been something of a disaster for me when it comes to finding decent artisan beer to refresh myself with next to the pool, and often I end up with a case of Samuel Adams Boston Lager or some such reliable tipple.

Thankfully a new bottle shop recently opened in Daytona Beach, so a quick visit there should hopefully yield some good stuff!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CAMRA - doing exactly what they say on their tin

I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, though I was aware of its existence long before I started drinking artisanal beer, whether lager or ale. Indeed, I vaguely recall my initial love affair with Velkopopovický Kozel having much to do with CAMRA having made positive noises about the beer, how the mighty have fallen.

Inevitably, learning more about traditionally made beer, and being British, albeit a Brit Abroad, CAMRA has become a point of reference. It is through the sterling work of CAMRA that I have learnt much about cask conditioning, stillage and even whether or not to use a sparkler (I am from north of the Watford gap, so they should give you an idea). It is also through learning about natural carbonation methods used in brewing that I discovered that there are still some breweries using the German "spunding" method of carbonation - which in terms of mouth feel and body is far closer to cask conditioning than force carbonation, and something I appreciate very much.

When I am drinking traditional British ales, I like to drink them cask conditioned, I think they taste better than their force carbonated peers. That is of course pure personal preference, it is not something I am adamant or fundamentalist about. Having said that, I generally believe that methods of dispense are secondary to the quality of flavour in the beer itself. I have had plenty of bad cask ale, and plenty of good kegged beer, just as I have had my fill of bad keg and great cask. In my experience, the brewery that does a good job in keg will do a good job in cask, simply because they do a good job all round. Also from experience, breweries that force carbonate the majority of their beer simply have no clue when it comes to cask.

I am fairly sure that I am in the majority in feeling this way about the whole keg vs cask thing, all I want is flavourful beer, regardless of how it is dispensed. However, and I think this is important, CAMRA have every right to say that at their festival they want the beer on show to conform to its opinion on the correct way to pour British ale. In the CAMRA way of thinking, great British beer is served from a cask, and you have to be very mean spirited not to be impressed with the level of attention and care that goes into organising a huge cask ale festival, especially when using kegs would no doubt be quicker, easier, and cheaper. If you believe that something is worth doing right, then the Great British Beer Festival is a prime example of dedication to a belief system.

Some of course claim that CAMRA needs to change with the times and accept kegged craft beer at its events, and while for some that may be a persuasive argument, it doesn't really wash for me. CAMRA has been successful by doing what it says on the tin, campaigning for real ale. The Great British Beer Festival, as a CAMRA event, is thus a reflection of their beliefs as to what constitutes great British beer, and that for CAMRA is cask conditioned ales.

BrewDog's latest CAMRA-baiting antics smacks of kids saying they want to join your game, but only if they can play by their own rules and then getting stroppy because the rules of the game have already been decided. The most ridiculous thing here is that BrewDog already have a range of cask ales, so why deliberately seek confrontation over something like method of dispense? I used to like BrewDog, but now they are as annoying as fundamentalist missionaries insisting that they alone have the gospel truth.

If, as we seem to hear on a fairly regular basis, there are bigger things to worry about than the method of dispense, why then are BrewDog being deliberately confrontational and contrary, if not for the oxygen of publicity? Ultimately the whole cask vs keg thing is a sideshow, what is important is that great beer is being brewed and made available to consumers. Thank goodness then for British brewers like Fullers, Lovibonds, Thornbridge and Meantime, whose beers are consistently good and representative of the best of British brewing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Pint of the Past Please

It went on tap on Friday, and if experience of dark lager made at Devils Backbone is anything to go by, it will last about a month. Yesterday afternoon I drove out to Roseland with two aims in mind, meet up with my good friend and photographic genius Mark Stewart, and to try the Barclay's London Dark Lager which was brewed with Ron Pattinson of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins fame.

Recently they had a Bavarian Dunkel on at Devils Backbone which was delicious, so it was interesting to see and taste the difference from using British malts rather than German. For example, adding roast barley to the mash late, to get the colour without flavour, rather than using one of the Carafa malts.

I am not sure the picture really illustrates the beer very well, but it pours a rich mahogany tinged with auburn, topped off with a light beige head. The nose was grassy, with touches of lemon and spice, in the background, the merest hint of lightly roasted coffee. As for the flavours, the smooth sweetness of English toffee dominates, with some toastiness and nuts in the mix as well. The sweetness is cut through by a firm, assertive, but not brash, bitterness. This beer is insanely drinkable for a 5.8% abv lager and while it most definitely isn't a session beer, 5 pints of it does slip down with inordinate ease.

Yesterday afternoon felt like the culmination of a project I have enjoyed immensely. Brewing with Jason is always a pleasure, meeting Ron was likewise a delight - beer people are such good company, especially when you combine a passion for beer with a love of history. Sometimes I think it such a pity that more brewers aren't doing this kind of project instead of running after the latest trendiest hop variety (remember when Amarillo was all the rage?). On my own homebrew front, I think more of Ron's Let's Brew Wednesday recipes will be making appearances in the coming months.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Barclay's London Dark Lager - come forth!

1934 was a momentous year.

The British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) were held in London, despite originally being awarded to South Africa, with Hong Kong, Jamaica and India making their debuts at the event. British composer Edward Elgar died, as did King Albert of the Belgians, to be succeeded by Prince Leopold. The British Industries Fair is held in both London and Birmingham, featuring a 200 year old weaver's loom from the Isle of Lewis. For 4 days in February, Austria was at war with itself. In a foreshadowing of what would come, Hitler became President of Germany on the death of Paul von Hindenburg, and ordered the Night of Long Knives to eliminate his rivals.

Meanwhile, in the Anchor Brewery of Southwark, Danish brewer Arthur Henius was at work brewing Barclay Perkin's Dark Lager, a London take on the dunkel style from Bavaria. Unusually for a Barclay Perkin's beer, nothing was done to the water to change the minerals, no Burtonising, no boiling, nothing. Using British malts and Bohemian hops Mr Henius set about making a German lager for the London market.

Come forward 77 years, skip across the ocean to Virginia and you find Jason Oliver, Ron Pattinson, myself and a few others, gathered round the copper recreating Mr Henius' beer. As I mentioned a little while ago, some of the lager is making its way home to London, to be enjoyed by beer lovers at the Great British Beer Festival. However, this weekend will see the tapping of the beer in the place of its resurrection, Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Due to a huge mess with my holiday dates, going next Friday rather than today, I will be around to try it.

If you are in the Charlottesville area, I might suggest you get along to try it yourself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Substitute Post

I have something else on my mind right now, but I am struggling to find the words to properly explain how I feel about things in the beer world of late.

Tomorrow, Mrs Velkyal and I head down south for our annual holiday on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and my head is ready for a break.

I may post, I may not, I really haven't decided yet. Will I be going on a journey to find well regarded craft beer curios while I am away? I honestly don't know, more likely I will buy a case of Sam Adams Light and just switch off.

The best thing about beer isn't writing about it, tweeting about what I am drinking or even organising events, but rather just sitting with a beer and letting it be. The closest I can get to how I feel right now is this article from Chicago.

I particularly like this quote:

"Beer doesn’t have to be fussy, elitist and overcomplicated. That’s what wine is for. Beer should be for the rest of us: affordable, easy to enjoy, thirst slaking and confidence restoring".

I need a beer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gateway Beers?

Mull. A Hebridean island. Mull. The process of heating, sweetening and flavouring wine or ale with spices. Mull. The activity of pondering or thinking about something. I have spent quite a bit of time mulling this weekend, mulling in the third of those three possibilities that is. What is it that I have been mulling? The term "gateway beer".

Like many words and terms that getting bandied about, we all have an idea of what it means - loosely speaking a "gateway beer" is the type of beer that gets people started with drinking something other than the ubiquitous pale lagers produced by multinational corporations. I have seen pretty much every kind of beer described as a "gateway beer", whether it be a craft pale lager, an IPA or even a stout which isn't Guinness.

Being me though, I am intrigued by the imagery behind the very concept of a "gateway". According to the World English Dictionary, there are 5 definitions of the term "gateway":
  1. an entrance that may be closed by or as by a gate
  2. a means of entry or access: Mumbai, gateway to India
  3. ( modifier ) allowing entry, access, or progress to a more extreme form: gateway drug ; gateway drink
  4. computing hardware and software that connect incompatible computer networks, allowing information to be passed from one to another
  5. a software utility that enables text messages to be sent and received over digital cellular telephone networks
I am sure that most of us, when using the term, have definitions 2 and 3 in mind, a gateway beer being the access point to the wider world of craft beer. Perhaps, if you are of such mind, you could use definition 4 so as to infer that big beer and craft beer are mutually exclusive and thus people need a gateway beer to make the transition from one to the other. Personally I think it is arrogance of the highest form to believe BMC drinkers are in some way in need of beer salvation just because they choose to drink something other than I would.

The thing that bothers me about the idea of the gateway beer is that in can appear at times to reinforce the image of craft beer being a higher form of beer existence, something that you have to "get", rather than a drink in a pub with mates. It seems as though the craft beer world is building a wall around itself, a ghetto if you will, so as to keep the nasty big boys out, but at the same time to keep the devoted in.

I know I say this a lot, but beer is just beer. It is not some spiritual movement offering enlightenment, world salvation or even meaning to life. Let's not be having gateway beers as a method for snaring the unexpecting into our craft beer ghetto. Rather let's tear down the beer wall, dispense with the self-appointed guardians of taste and just enjoy beer for its own sake.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Choice Brewer of the Week Quotes

I am in the process of lining up some more Brewer of the Week interviews, but in the meantime I was reading some of the interviews that have already taken place and wanted to share some choice quotes from them:

"When you combine that [the smell of hand smoked malt] with the other malts in the mash tun on a cold winter morning, it’s pretty easy to understand why brewers do what they do."

- Jeff Rosenmeier, Lovibonds Brewery, England

"Authenticity isn't important, its about being innovative and creating something that people want to drink."

- Mark Tetlow, Everards Brewery, England

"Authenticity is extremely important! When I make a beer and put it out into the world with a label on it, it has to be right! Craft brewers are held to strong guidelines set forth by the brewing community. I want to mirror those guidelines as best I can."

- Tom Davis, Thomas Creek Brewing, USA

"choosing which beer to drink at any particular moment is intuitive, so as long as you let that happen it’ll always be your favourite beer because if it’s hitting the spot there’s no room to think of any other."

- Eddie Gadd, Gadd's, England

"I think it is very important for a brewer to drink their beer in the pub with their friends. This will enable them to understand what it is that people like about their beer, it will lead to great satisfaction that other people enjoy your beer and that will drive you on to produce even better beers."

- John Keeling, Fullers, England

"We were in a bible study and started brewing beer four years ago as a way to get to know each other better."

- Jonathan Baker, Monday Night Brewing, USA

"I always had an interest in beer ever since visiting Germany as a school boy and seeing the variety available there."

- Aidan Murphy, Galway Hooker, Ireland

"the brew system was made with scrap metal and old milk tanks."

- Kjetil Jikiun, Nøgne Ø, Norway

"I find a great many porters are nothing more than feeble stouts. Fuller's porter doesn't try to do that. It gives a dark beer flavour without any sharp roasted notes. It's mellow with a unique brown malt smokiness."

- Thomas Prior, Trouble Brewing, Ireland

"I think craft beer is largely about enjoying the local flavor, originality and creativity of your neighborhood brewers."

- Jeffrey Stuffings, Jester King, USA

"What else can a person with a history degree and a minor in philosophy do?"

- Jason Oliver, Devils Backbone Brewing Company, USA

"What is a non-authentic beer? If the result is delicious then I'm more than happy!"

- Kasper Larsen, Nørrebro Bryghus, Denmark

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homecoming Lager

There are not that many beer festivals that I have plans to visit at some point during my life. I would love to get to Slunce ve Skle again sometime, being in Munich during Starkbierzeit would also be good and the Copenhagen Beer Festival would be a blast too, as well as an opportunity to catch up with some friends. The one that I would love to get to though at some point is the Great British Beer Festival, which this year runs from August 2nd to the 6th.

Beyond the generic desire to go to the GBBF one year, if finances and time would allow, I would love to be at this year's festival, for one very simple reason - a beer that I had a hand in brewing will be available in the Bières Sans Frontières area.

The beer in question is the recreation of Barclay Perkins' Dark Lager from the 1930s, which was brewed at Devils Backbone with myself and Ron Pattinson. Last week Jason from Devils Backbone told me that he has registered the beer and it will soon be on its way to the festival, hopefully surviving the journey in good condition.

The beer is called Barclays London Dark Lager, so take the opportunity to taste some history and celebrate the coming home of dark lager to London.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Americans CAN Make Pilsner (can't spell it mind)!

Today is a very special day, it is now 3 years since the then Soon To Be Mrs Velkyal became Mrs Velkyal in a wonderful Czech civil ceremony in the New Town Hall in Prague. Of course "new" in Prague is an entirely relative term as it dates from 1419 and was the site of the first of the three defenestrations for which Prague is famed (minor political aside - the sooner the Czechs defenestrate Vaclav Klaus, the better). Tomorrow is then Mrs V's birthday - no chance of ever forgetting either event really - and so her best friend came up for the weekend from Greenville and being a top human being all round, she agreed to bring me a selection of brews which as far as I know are not available in Virginia, or at least not in Charlottesville.

The eagle eyed among you will see a can in that selection. The can is a Czech Pilsener from the Bohemian Brewery in Utah.

I was very much looking forward to continuing my search for the perfect American made Bohemian style pilsner, especially when I read through the information on their website. The website says that they do a double decoction mash, lager their beers for 5 weeks and don't pasteurise their beers. The details on the Pilsener (sorry, using their nomenclature) were also encouraging, just 4% abv, so I am assuming desítka territory, using only Saaz hops and fermented with the same yeast as the old Braník beers.

So how was it?
  • Sight - golden, topped with the firm white head, looks the part
  • Smell - floral, orange blossom, touch of hay
  • Taste - lightly grainy, biscuity and with a good dose of bitterness, tastes the part
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 4/5
The body was medium, perhaps being ever so slightly thin in the finish, otherwise I really, really enjoyed this. That is pretty much my only issue with the beer, but given my experience of American pilsners, I really want to try this on tap as opposed to in the can.

Unfortunately it isn't available in Virginia yet, so when Mrs V and I head down to South Carolina, I will be buying more to put in the fridge, and when we go to Florida in a couple of weeks, taking plenty of cans for the beach. An excellent beer, and I will now have to try the rest of their range!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brewer of the Week

A return today of the Brewer of the Week series. One of the things I like to do with this series is to highlight new breweries and give them a little of the oxygen of publicity. This week we are heading up to Chicago for a few questions with the USA's first brewery focussed on the Latin community, 5 Rabbit.

Name: Isaac Showaki
Brewery: 5 Rabbit Cerveceria

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I discovered the brewing industry working as a strategy consultant six years ago. I worked at Bain & Co and that’s where I met my partner Andres Araya. Before joining Bain, Andres worked for the only brewery in Costa Rica on the production side. We were paired together and worked on a number of brewery projects in Mexico, Central America and Europe. My first project was for Cerveceria Baru in Panama. I fell in love with everything that was involved in the business: the people, the product, the work, etc. I loved working at the brewery and having the smell of malt in the morning. I knew six years ago that I wanted to do something in this industry. About two years ago I moved to New York and was amazed by the craft movement. One night at a bar drinking Brooklyn Brewery’s Brown Ale it hit me and that’s when I started thinking about opening a brewery.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?
Patience, passion and creativity. You have to patient and passionate about your work and have to be creative when creating new recipes. I’ve met outstanding brewers but some lacked the patience to see their work grow. Others lacked the passion in their brewing and simply others lacked the creativity to produce something different.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Usually people become homebrewers and then they decide to open a brewery. We started in the opposite side; we loved the business side first and then became passionate about brewing. When we were thinking about 5 Rabbit we knew we needed someone that could teach us and guide us through the brewing. In 2010 at Chicago Craft Beer Week we met Randy Mosher. Randy was the missing piece to our vision and he has been instrumental in creating our beers. Our three beers that are on the market came from home brewing recipes.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Yes, we try to homebrew at least once a month.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

We love playing with our 5 Vulture recipe. 5 Vulture is a Oaxacan-style dark ale with piloncillo sugar and ancho chile. It is a beer that you can add a lot of flavors and toy with the amount of sugar and chili used.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

My personal favorite in 5 Lizard, a Latin-style witbier brewed with passionfruit, lime peel and spices. Andres loves 5 Rabbit, an all malt Golden Ale hat shows hints of light caramel and honeyed malt notes, carefully balanced with a sophisticated European noble hop aroma.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

Authenticity is everything, you always want to create something that people taste and say, “I’ve never had anything like this before!” You don’t want to brew beer that people have had before, we are always looking to create new flavor profiles in our beers.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

Any Chicago brewery. We’ve met all the brewers in the Chicago Craft beer community and love what each and everyone is bringing to the scene. We’d be honored to work with any Chicago brewery.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Pierre Celis’ Celis White

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, ...