Monday, October 31, 2011

Mor of the Same

This coming Thursday is the first International Stout Day - a celebration of that most noble of beer styles, which if I remember rightly is the most common beer style that I brew. A quick check of my brewing record confirms that, indeed it is the various iterations of stout which are among the few beers that I have brewed more than once.

My favourite winter homebrew is Machair Mor, a Foreign Extra Stout with a very healthy dose of chocolate malt. The full recipe is as follows, for an original gravity of 1.058 and 37 IBUs:
  • 71% Golden Promise Pale Malt
  • 11% Turbinado Sugar
  • 7% Caramel 80
  • 7% Chocolate Malt
  • 4% Roasted Barley
  • 17 IBU of Goldings for 90 minutes
  • 14 IBU of Goldings for 30 minutes
  • 6 IBU of Goldings for 15 minutes
  • Danstar Nottingham Yeast
I have made this beer every autumn since moving to the US, although the 2009 version was a bit stronger, and bittered with Galena rather than being a single hopped version like last year and this. So far every version of this beer has been very well received, which is just as well as Mrs Velkyal's uncle includes it in his Christmas hamper for his clients.

I brewed the latest batch of this sweet, smooth delight on Saturday, just as the temperatures crashed here in Charlottesville and I had to bring it back into the warm a bit to rouse the yeast into life. For the first time, I will be entering it into a competition, the Palmetto State Brewers Open in Columbia, SC at the beginning of December. Hopefully it will end up looking and tasting similar to the original version....


Slainte!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Thursday Drop

Mrs Velkyal had some friends round last night in order to put together their costumes for various Halloween bashes this weekend. Seeing the opportunity, I pottered off to Beer Run, book in hand, hoping for a place at the bar to sit with a fine libation, or two, and while away a couple of hours.

Eventually a space opened up at the bar and I perched myself, half pint of Samichlaus 2006 in hand and Hogwaller sandwich in tow - the Hogwaller is simply sandwich heaven, bread, ham, bacon, cheese, mustard, a finer companion for beer is hard to imagine (though maybe some caramelised onions would work in there as well?).

The half pint of Samichlaus lasted about an hour and a half, at 14% it is not something you want to be chugging, and with the minging hangover from a growler of Legend's 15.9% barleywine in mind, I wanted to savour the beer. I didn't take pictures or tasting notes, but it was deliciously boozy, sweet and smooth yet clean as all good lagers are.

This got me thinking about strong beers in general, and a thought flashed through my mind that cold fermented beers are perhaps better suited to extreme strength than their warm fermented cousins. It could of course just be my acknowledged predilection for cold fermented beers in general, but I find powerful lagers so much more pleasurable to drink than boozy ales.

Once that half pint had been supped and savoured, I ratcheted down the gears a fair bit for a pint of Left Hand's Sawtooth, which is one of my favourite British style ales being made in the States, I would love to see it on cask sometime. I rounded off with a pint of Donnybrook Stout from Victory, by now well into a discussion with a guy at the bar about the book I was reading.


A thoroughly pleasant evening finished at home with a pint of Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout from a growler, listening to the Peatbog Faeries on Spotify and with my wee Cairn Terrier at my feet. I can of no better way to spend a Thursday night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Get Horner

The other day my good friend, and much missed drinking buddy, Evan Rail, posted about the 19th century Central European brewing texts which are available on Google Books.

One of the things that was mentioned in the books was Mozart's favoured tipple, Horner Bier. From what Evan mentioned in his post, and in the comments which follow, Horner Bier was pale, sour, effervescent, and made from oats. My initial thought was that it sounded remarkably like an oat based Berliner Weisse, and thus it turned out to be.

Horner Bier was described in 1816 as being "a white, unhoppy beer, similar to Hanoverian  Broyhan". That description is my own translation of the German text, and as with any translation there is room for debate, in particular around the German word "hopfenloses", which I have translated as "unhoppy" but might equally be translated as "hopless". Given that hops had achieved widespread acceptance in German brewing by the 14th century, I am assuming that hops were present, but not an important flavour factor, in this Viennese speciality. According to various guidelines, Berliner Weisse has an IBU rating in the single digits, which may attest to Horner Bier being unhoppy rather than hopless.

Being somewhat prone to experimenting with my homebrew, I have decided to attempt to create a Horner Bier. I do though have a major point that I need to resolve, was the beer made with 100% malted oats, or was there a portion of barley in there as well? Once that is decided, I am basically planning to take Berliner Weisse as my model, and create an oaten version thereof, with the follow characteristics:
  • OG - 1.032
  • FG - 1.004
  • ABV - 3.7%
  • IBU - 8
I am thinking at the moment to use a German Ale yeast for the primary fermentation and then inoculate it with lactobacillus delbrukii in secondary to get the sourness. But as I say, the only question I really have at the moment is the grist - any thoughts?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Learning to Parti Properly

You may remember that a while back I did a little experiment, which I thought was parti-gyling but in fact turned out to be medieval style parti-gyling. I brewed two beers, one porter and one mild, from a single batch of grain, taking the first runnings for a small batch of porter and the second and third runnings for the mild.

While both beers turned out rather drinkable, it was brought to my attention that the process I had followed was a long rejected method. One thing I hope I never have a problem with is being told that I was wrong and then being corrected (how else does one learn?), so firstly I want to thank Ron Pattinson for putting me straight on parti-gyling and then putting up with my stupid questions so that I could get a clear picture of the process.

Having been a technical writer when I lived in Prague, I thought I would take the information from Ron and break the process into simple steps for people to understand so they can have a bash at parti-gyle for themselves, and hopefully I have understood this all properly.
  1. Mash the grist as you would do normally
  2. Drain the mash tun
  3. Re-mash the grist
  4. Drain again
  5. Sparge
  6. Boil the worts
  7. Blend to achieve desired gravities
  8. Ferment
  9. Bottle
  10. Drink
Ron mentioned to me that sometimes the grist would be mashed as many as 4 times in order to get as much extract out of the grain as possible. Given this corrected information, I will be doing another parti-gyle experiment at some point in the future, probably using a grist of 95% Pale Malt and 5% Dark Crystal, to make a strong pale ale and a pale mild. For a more thorough exploration of parti-gyling, see Ron's post here.

Just a quick aside, I think the greatest example of user documentation I have ever seen was in Prague, and I present this picture in evidence.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Enough with the Oxymoronic Beer

One of the things that is guaranteed to set me off in an apoplexy of rage, or at least a muttered "oh god, not again", is fannying about beer style descriptors in an attempt to describe a beer. There is one word which is pretty much the source of all this annoyance, the word "black", as in "black" IPA, "black" Pils, "black" Kölsch and so on and so forth, and I say this as a devoted drinker of black beers.


Let's get this straight, a black ale can in no way, shape or form be an India Pale Ale - there is a hint in the name there, perhaps you can spot it? Now of course it can be an Export India Porter, as it would have been during the era of the British Raj. I have no problem with it being a Cascadian Dark Ale or even an American Black Ale, but Black IPA? Please.

Then there is the notion of the Black Pils. Could someone please explain to me how a "black" pils differs from a schwarzbier or a dunkel? Perhaps it falls somewhere between the two and would qualify as a tmavé (that really would mess up the stylistas at certain advocating rating sites)? If it is, in fact, a schwarzbier then please just bloody well call it a schwarzbier. My cynical side (what's that, you didn't realise I have one?) wouldn't be too surprised if "black pils" is a schwarzbier but hopped to proper pilsner levels, in which case why not Indisches Schwarzbier? Alternatively you could make it stronger and call it Imperiales Indisches Schwarzbier (or would that be a Baltic Porter by this point?).

The one though that raised my hackles this week is the concept of a "black Kölsch". According to the Kölsch Convention, for a beer to be able to use the appellation "kölsch" it must be brewed in Cologne, and "pale, well attenuated, hop accented, bright, top fermented". There's that tricky word "pale" again. Sure, a brewery might have got 4 out of 5 of the beer's characteristics right, but it is not a Kölsch because it is not pale. Interestingly, the only major difference between between Kölsch and Scottish 80/- in terms of the style parameters is the colour. Is "black" Kölsch therefore a Scottish 80/- by another name?

I am fairly sure I am not the only one that finds this idea that by adding a dash of dark malt to a pale beer style you have somehow created a fusion of traditions, innovated in new and sexy ways, annoying, especially when similar styles already exist. It was said of the great Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon that he had a talent for "calling a spade a spade", it would be nice if breweries would do likewise.

* the full quote about Lewis Grassic Gibbon, author of A Scots Quair, is that Gibbon was ""for ever calling a spade a spade, when there is no need whatever to refer to the implement at all".

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prague's Old Spring

I haven't drunk Staropramen in a very long time. Well OK then, not since I had a bottle of their dark lager with Evan Rail in U Rotundy (a pub beloved of Ron Pattinson) back in 2009, just before leaving the Czech Republic. In October of the same year, the former owners, InBev, decided to sell off their Central European operations to raise some cash in the wake of buying Anheuser-Busch, included in this package was Staropramen.


I remember when Staropramen, at the turn of the millennium brought out the beer which eventually became known as Granát, though originally it was Staropramen Millenium, and revived the old Bohemian style of "polotmavé". Polotmavé is another of those Bohemian beer styles which, while similar to Vienna lager, is actually not the same as Vienna lager. The defining ingredient of the latter being Vienna malt, whereas the former usually has the same malts as a tmavé, just less of the dark ones, hence being a "half-dark".

Anyway, today as a result of a tweet from a friend, I decided to have a look at the Staropramen website, and I have to admit to being impressed by their use of video content, which I can't quite work out how to embed here, but pop along to their site and have a look for yourself. Interestingly, Staropramen apparently do a double decoction mash, and there is no mention of the corn syrup which allegedly made up about a third of the fermentables in the InBev days.

Given that Budvar, Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen are all available over here, I am tempted to do a blind tasting of commercial Czech lagers and see which one I prefer these days.

* strangely enough I don't have any pictures of Staropramen (gasp, shock, horror!), hence the sepia pic of St Vitus Cathedral that I took one early morning while wandering round the city.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Drink Local?

I like to support local business. I like local beer, local wine, local cheeses, local cider, locally made bread, local meat. Supporting local food producers is a good thing in my book. Living in Central Virginia means there are lots of local food producers to support.

Friday was the 6th anniversary since that fateful night at Pivovarský klub when I met Mrs V for the very first time, and so we decided to go out for a nice meal. The meal was nice, if a touch on the skimpy side portion wise, you don't get to be velky by eating maly portions. The wine was pricey, the beer was not unduly. I left the restaurant with mixed feelings, basically if the portions had been about 35% bigger it would have been better, as would a warning about the presence of nuts in a starter. My overwhelming sense though was one of wondering what beer has to do to be taken seriously in the restaurant world?


The restaurant in question, trumpets its support for local farmers on its menu, has a couple of local wines on their list, and precisely zero local beer. Apparently the Octoberfest lager being made and sold by Blue Mountain isn't good enough for this place, but the Erdinger Oktoberfest is. While the Erdinger was decent enough, I'd happily paid the same amount of money for a bottle of something that hadn't come all the way from Germany. One of the reasons I was quite happy to go to this particular restaurant was that they had listed a couple of Blue Mountain beers on their website menu, including the 151 Kölsch which I very much enjoy, but the real menu didn't have anything local.


While I like my beers from around the world, I would like to see more support for our local beers in Charlottesville restaurants. Sure, places like Outback and Applebee's have stuff from Starr Hill, but you have ask what local brews they have. Thankfully, unlike a certain place in Florida, their staff also happen to know that Miller Lite is not a local beer. I can think of places here that have an, admittedly delicious, IPA from Eastern Virginia on tap, but nothing local other than in bottles.


It seems as though every year I have lived in Charlottesville multiple bits of bling have made their way from the Great American Beer Festival to this area. Yet getting a pint of draft local beer in many of the pubs here is a serious pain in the arse, unless of course you go to one of the brewpubs themselves. Perhaps too many places are trying to be sexy and trendy rather than supporting their excellent local brewers?

Friday, October 14, 2011

International Stout Day

If you know me, you know I love stout. Whether it is dry stout, extra, foreign extra, oatmeal, milk or imperial, I love them all. I am admittedly somewhat ambivalent about coffee infused, bourbon barrel aged and all the other shenanigans that seems to be de rigeur for beer in general these days. But offer me a pint of stout and I am a happy man.


At heart it is such a simple beer to brew, 90% pale malt, 10% roasted barley to get 1.048, 40 IBUs of hops, Goldings is a good one, yeast. Simple. Classic. Sure you can play with caramel malt, chocolate malt, black patent, Carafa and add extra layers of "complexity", but many a Friday afternoons are ended with a desire for a pint of stout.


To celebrate this most magnificent of beer styles some people got together and started International Stout Day, which is November 3rd.


As a committed lover of the black stuff, I will be dedicating ever post that week to stout. Brewing it, drinking it and all the associations that go with it.


Yes, sir, I am stout man.


I guess you know what I'll drinking tonight, assuming there is something good available.


Stout. Simple.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

600 Not Out

Back in November 2009 I marked the 300th post of Fuggled. At that point I had been in the States a matter of months, and so, obviously, it was a somewhat reflective piece about the fine people I had met as a result of this blog and was heavily Prague centred.

Almost 2 years have passed since that post, and this post is my 600th. In that time I have drunk a lot of beer, brewed and fair bit of beer and learnt a hell of a lot more about beer. From having deep discussions on the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing with Tom Cizauskas and Eric of Relentless Thirst fame, to being sat on the terrace at Devils Backbone on a breezy yet sunny spring day, beer has been the focal point of so many of the good times since moving the States. It is through my homebrewing that I have come to know the many fine people at the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale homebrew club, and through their advice and opinion I like to believe that I have become a better brewer myself. One thing I can say that seems to be a transnational fact, beer people are by and large good people.



My brewing highlights of the last two years have all taken place in the very same building, again Devils Backbone. The first time, Jason was brewing a pilsner based on research into the original recipe and done properly - triple decoction mash, 100% Saaz hops to get 40IBU and water softer than ice cream with sun stroke. We had a great day, and Jason brewed a great Pilsner, I can give no higher accolade than to say if I had been served it in Pivovarský klub it would not have been out of place with the great Czech lagers of this world.

The second time I brewed at Devils Backbone was probably the highlight of my beer life so far. During the pilsner brewday Jason and I kept coming back to the topic of Tmavé pivo, or Czech dark lager. Neither a dunkel nor a schwarzbier and descended from warm fermented beers made in Bohemia as late as the 1890s, tmavé is one of the unique beer styles of Bohemia that I believe is misunderstood outside the Czech lands. We agreed then to brew our own version of the beer, and it was up to me to do the research and eventually formulate a recipe. So I trawled through websites in Czech, Slovak and German, looking for clues to the makeup of the grist - the hops were something of a no-brainer really, 100% Saaz. I contacted brewmasters in the Czech Republic who were very helpful and eventually Jason and I finalised the recipe. Brewing my own recipe on professional equipment, with a master of lager brewing was an awesome day, and when some 2 months later I went down to the brewpub to try the beer I was blown away, and about 3 weeks later all 2000 half litres of Morana were gone.


I always enjoy those days when I get to brew with Jason. Brewing with Jason and Ron Pattinson when we recreated a London dark lager from the 1930s was just as immense. Talking with Ron about beer history and beer styles is like having a walking encyclopaedia with you. I learnt shed loads of stuff that day, and we drank some great beers made as a result of his work. You can imagine then that a cask of the Barclays London Dark Lager going off to the Great British Beer Festival and getting good feedback was something that had me buzzing for days.

Another of the highlights in the life of Fuggled is the Brewer of the Week series, and I want to thank every brewer that has agreed to take part, and perhaps a gentle reminder to those who said they would and have yet to get their answers back to me.

So here I am, 600 not out and with no intention to declare for a while to come....

BTW - it seems today is a day for marking the longevity of blogs as Mark over at Pencil and Spoon is celebrating 3 years of his blog, as is Dave from Hardknott Brewery two guys whose blogs are always worth reading!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Very Beery Weekend

If you follow my Twitter feed, you will know that the weekend just gone was full of brewing and bottling my homebrew.

Mrs Velkyal's uncle has again asked me for some of my beers for his clients. Every year he makes a gift basket for them with organic and homemade foodstuffs. Last year I provided Machair Mor, an export stout with a hefty dose of chocolate malt, and Biere d'épices, an amber ale spiced with clove, cinnamon, ginger and dried sweet orange peel, hopped with French Strisselspalt and fermented with a Belgian Abbey yeast strain. This year I am providing more of the Machair Mor, but switching out the Biere d'épices for a new beer called Winter Gold, which is kind of my take on Fuller's magnificent 1845, but with a hop dose which would put it in the same ball park as Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale.

On Saturday morning I brewed the first batch of Machair Mor and but for having to change the recipe slightly at the last minute - I forgot to buy the dark brown sugar I use and so had to dig around the cupboard and thankfully there was enough turbinado sugar to do the trick - everything went swimmingly. I ended up with a batch of 1.056 (14 Plato) of pitch black wort, which the Nottingham yeast I used munched on with much delight, when I checked the cellar this morning the krausen had all but died down. I am expecting about 5.9% abv for this one, and if it tastes as good as the gravity sample then Mrs V's uncle's clients are in for a treat.

I wasn't planning to bottle the first batch of Winter Gold until yesterday, but while changing the blow off tube to an airlock on Saturday morning, I managed to push the bung into the beer. Well, sort of. The airlock sat on the neck of the carboy, with the bung dangling above the beer, so it only went into the beer itself just before I starting siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket. Hopefully nothing drastic has happened, but retrieving the bung from the empty carboy was far easier than I anticipated. Winter Gold started off at 1.062 (15.5 Plato) and finished at 1.010 (2.5 Plato), giving it a very respectable 6.9% abv, which should go nicely with the 38 IBUs of First Gold and Fuggles, the gravity sample certainly suggests it will be a nice beer.

Having walked the dog at the crack of dawn as usual, I brewed again yesterday morning, this time as part of a project for the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale. We are starting an internal Iron Brewer, where those in the club that wish to do so will brew any beer style they want, but must use 3 ingredients chosen in advance. The plan is to present the beers at our November meeting, and our 3 must use ingredients were chocolate malt, raw blue agave syrup and Palisade hops. My plan was to make a brown ale, my plan went wrong. I say "wrong" but nothing went awry with the actually brewing process, it was more a case of not putting the right chocolate malt into Beer Calculus. I put just generic "American Chocolate" in the calculator, which has a Lovibond rating of about 125 but used Simpson's Chocolate Malt, with a rating of about 420. So my brown ale became a porter, a very dark porter at that. The actual recipe was:
  • 81% Vienna Malt
  • 10% Chocolate Malt
  • 9% Raw Blue Agave Syrup
  • 19.5 IBU of 7.8% Palisade for 60 minutes
  • 19.5 IBU of 7.8% Palisade for 15 minutes
  • 1 IBU of 7.8% Palisade for 1 minute
  • 1 packet Safale US-05
All that gave me an original gravity of 1.048 (12 Plato), and the yeast was happily doing it's thing within a couple of hours.

A busy but satisfying weekend was rounded off last night with drinking a fair amount of homebrewed cider at a fellow CAMRA member's party and hearing plenty of positive feedback about the brews that I bought to the party.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Session - Thanks to the Big Boys


Like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, the stepmother in Cinderella or Captain Hook from Peter Pan, the multinational brewing companies have been cast as the pantomime villain in our little slice of all the world's a stage. In the finest traditions of the pantomime the blogosphere regale the stage with cries of "boo, hiss!" whenever the villains of the piece take centre stage, "he's behind you!" we cry when the evil doer approaches our hero. As good theatre goers we hope that, like pantomime, there will be a happy ending, with the villain vanquished and our dashing hero getting the girl.

Of course the world of commerce and business (and anyone who thinks making beer for a living, regardless of scale, is anything other than a business is naive in the extreme), things are never as clear cut as in pantomime. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have beers from the big boys that we like. Mine are Guinness, Murphy's, Boddington's, the occasional Michelob lager and of course Pilsner Urquell. Two of those are AB-InBev brands, one each for SABMiller and Heineken, and then there is Guinness, which belongs to Diageo.


Let me start with Guinness. I have said many a time on here that Guinness was my first legal beer, standing at the bar, having only drunk my dad's homebrew, Tennent's lager or cider, I really had no idea what I was doing. I ordered a pint of Guinness because that was what my eldest brother drank when I was a kid and he was still living at home. I also blame the same brother for my taste in music, but that is a different discussion. Still today, half a lifetime later, Guinness is a beer that I go to when my regular haunts have nothing else I feel like drinking. Guinness was also the fuel to the fire which is my love of stout, and one of my drinking highlights of life will always be standing in Garavan's in Galway, drinking pints of Guinness while watching Liverpool administer a clinical spanking to Bolton Wanderers.


Guinness was a treat for the decade I lived in Prague, simply because it was 4 or 5 times the price of a pint of insanely good Czech lager. It was though through the archetypal Bohemian lager that I overcame my ridiculous youthful prejudice that ale was better than lager, and that all lagers are gnat's piss. If you have only ever drunk Pilsner Urquell from a pasteurised bottle or keg, you really have no idea what you are missing. Unpasteurised and served from a "tankove" system, Pilsner Urquell is one of the great beers of the world, unpasteurised and kvasnicove it is quite possibly the greatest beer on the planet. Without wanting to sound like an old fogey, it was actually better in 1999 than it is in 2011, and yet it is still wonderful.

The big boys of the beer world can, and do, make magnificent beers, and even the beers that we deride as flavourless, boring and bland, are superb examples of consistency and process. Given that it is the beer in the bottle, or in the glass, which is a important rather than the manufacturer, a more honest appraisal of the brands from multinational brewers is in order instead of simply assuming any from AB-InBev and the like must be rubbish. Hopefully this will also lead to less comments along the lines of "it's not bad, for an 'insert multinational brewery here' product".

Today's Session is being hosted by my very good friend Reuben other at The Tale of the Ale.

*Picture Credit - the picture of the Pilsner Urquell was taken by Mark Stewart of Black Gecko Photography, during one of our research tours for the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Brewheart

Scottish beer. You know all about Scottish beer I am sure. Sweet, malty and not very hoppy because it was so expensive to ship hops from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. You know that Scottish beer has a peaty element because of the water, although using peated malt is something of a no-no, but then you also know that an awful lot of craft brewers add a dash, just in case. Oh, and of course, Scottish beer has to involve kilts in the name, Kilt Lifters abound - you could say kilt lifting is the American craft brewing scene's equivalent of the abominations to be found on Pumpclip Parade.


The last few weeks have been a pleasure seeing these daft stereotypes ripped to pieces by the double team of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins! and I Might Have A Glass of Beer. Through a series of maps and analyses, the myth of Scottish brewing has been laid bare and savaged.

The highlight for me though has been the recipes that Ron has been posting, all from the 19th century and all of them with significant IBU ratings, ranging from 47 to 113. As a reference, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has 37 IBU, Pilsner Urquell 40 and Devils Backbone's 8 Point IPA 60. At 113 IBU, the No. 3 from Wm Younger in 1868 was more potent in the hop department than Starr Hill's Double Platinum, which weighs in at 90.

You know that thing about Scottish ales being unhoppy (according to the BJCP guidelines the tops a Scottish ale can be is 35 IBU) because of the expense of moving hops from one end of the United Kingdom to the other? Well, that's also complete bollocks. 

The majority of the hopping in the recipes from the 1860s were Saaz, from Bohemia, as in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. Now, unless there was some special deal between Scotland and Bohemia on the basis of the Winter Queen, I am pretty sure import tariffs, transportation and logistics in the 19th century would have made copious amounts of Saaz hops somewhat more pricey than copious amounts of East Kent Goldings. Did we mention the copious amounts of hops going into Scottish beer in the 19th century yet? Oh, yes we did, 3rd paragraph for those that missed it.

From the work that has gone into a series of superb posts, I think it is a pretty clear that the myth of Scottish brewing seems to have been dreamed up by the same guys that did the historical research involved in Braveheart.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Farewell to Oktoberfest

Today sees the end of Oktoberfest, that most famous of cultural festivals and quite possibly the most famous thing about Munich, though I am sure Bayern Munich would be right up there as well. Meanwhile, over here in the US we are in the middle of the annual slew of autumnal beers, mostly variants on the Oktoberfest lager or pumpkin beer theme.

This has been the first autumn that I have really bothered with Oktoberfest lagers, mainly because when the temperatures finally cool off I have this urge for porters and stouts, and I generally don't bother with pumpkin beers because they all taste like soggy cardboard to me. My delving into American made Oktoberfest lager started at the monthly meeting of the homebrew club I belong to, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale. We have our meetings at the excellent Timberwood Grill, and usually they have a decent pale lager on tap, but last month that had been replaced with Bell's Octoberfest and so I polished off a pint or two of that. Thoroughly enjoying the Bell's stab at the style sufficiently piqued my interest to try other Oktoberfest lagers, and I think I have found my favourite.

Charlottesville has a nice, new shiny Whole Foods. More than that, we have a nice, new shiny Whole Foods with a bar. Yes, a bar. They have 8 beers on tap, do growler fills and most importantly have happy hour from 4 until 6. Now, tell me, can you think of a better way to finish off the work week than sitting in a bar, drinking quality craft beer at happy hour prices and having the bar strategically placed next to the cheese counter? No? Me neither. It has become one of my favourite places to go for a pint. I think it helps that Whole Foods reminds me so much of the French supermarkets round my parents' neck of the woods. You know the kind of place, where they actually like food rather than simply sell lowest common denominator shite. Any way, back to the beer.

The Highland Brewing Company from Asheville, North Carolina, make some of the best beers in the US, their Black Mocha Stout is divine, Gaelic Ale gorgeous and the Oatmeal Porter puts other oatmeal beers to shame. Clearly I like Highland Brewing's ales, but how would their lagers fare? Well, Clawhammer Oktoberfest is magnificent. Burnished orange, topped with a tight white head, the nose is bready, grainy and with a nice light spiciness from the Mittlefruh hops. The taste is that sweet malt character that is so much a key element of German style lagers, toasty, grainy but without tasting like caramel. A nice crisp, lingering finish which only gives way when the second put is placed in front of you and you get to start the process again.

I am not sure how long they will have it in our local Whole Foods, but you can bet I'll be in there on Friday for a couple of post work pints. Now a confession, I have never been to Oktoberfest, and really have very little interest in going, Starkbierzeit though is a different proposition.