Friday, December 30, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blogs

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

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

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


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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber

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

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


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

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


Monday, December 19, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

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


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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To The Dearly Departed

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


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


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


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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dashed Expectations

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


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

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


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

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Last Chance Saloon?

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Backwards and Forwards

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


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


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


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


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

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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