Friday, December 28, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blogs

I am making a slight change for my review of this year's best blogs. Rather than being best in Virginia, the US and the World, it will be the best from North America, UK/Ireland and the World, mainly because the blogs I read are pretty evenly split between the three categories. The regional top blogs in my world this year are:
  • North America - A Good Beer Blog
  • UK/Ireland - Boak and Bailey's Beer Blog
  • Rest of the World - Beer Culture


Whether it's researching Albany Ale or hosting an annual photography competition, Alan's blog is always an interesting read and often rather enlightening.


Boak and Bailey have always been interesting, and they are wonderful pub crawl company into the bargain, but this year they really seem to have 'upped their game'. Lots of fascinating posts about the milieu that eventually led to the creation of CAMRA as well as an ode to the working man's club have raised many a smile for me and brought back a fair few memories...


There are very, very few people in the beer world that I look up to, whose friendship I value and whose opinions I regard in the very highest of terms, one such person is Evan Rail. Evan doesn't perhaps blog as often as some of us, but each and every post this year has been worth reading, absorbing and sharing with friends, colleagues and others who love beer. The only downer is that I haven't shared a pint with him in Pivovarský klub for far too damned long now.

Difficult though it is to single out one blog from some very excellent writers, but it must be done. Earlier this year the winner wrote a series of posts about the origins of Pilsner Urquell which I consider to be essential reading for anyone with an interest in beer history, as such the winner is:
  • Evan Rail - Beer Culture
If you have never read Beer Culture, head on over and then go buy his extended essays on Amazon, Why Beer Matters and In Praise of Hangovers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

I guess I probably drink more dark beers than anything else, whether they be milds, brown ales, stouts, porters or one of the various dark lagers, the only exception is Black IPA generally speaking. Of the many dark brews to have crossed my lips this year, the highlights are:
  • Virginia - Champion Brewing Pacecar Porter
  • Rest of US - Oliver Breweries Ape Must Never Kill Ape
  • Rest of World - Sinebrychoff Porter


Champion have been open for a grand total of about 9 and half weeks, indeed their official grand opening was last Friday night. Mrs V and I popped over on the first night of the soft opening and I loved the Pacecar Porter at first taste. Roasty, nutty, chocolatey and deliciously smooth. The Charlottesville area has a seriously encouraging new brewery to add to the existing clutch doing great stuff. Pacecar is, in my opinion, Champion's best brew and I look forward to drinking a lot more of it.


In May I went to DC to attend a conference for my previous employer, when a colleague and I got bumped from the meet and greet networking dinner as more potential clients decided to come than expected. With a sudden free night, my colleague and I jumped into a taxi and headed to the legendary ChurchKey, positioned ourselves at the bar and I ordered the 3.3% abv 'Belgian' Mild they had on tap, polished it off and ordered another, and so on for a good 6 hours. That beer was Oliver Breweries' Ape Must Never Kill Ape Belgian Mild, described as:
"English pale malt, dark crystal, chocolate, carafa 3, Belgian biscuit and caramel vienna. Bittered with Kent Goldings and Czech Saaz, finished with Fuggles and German Tettnanger then fermented with Belgian DeKonick yeast and cold conditioned with vanilla beans"
Or as I put it, bloody marvellous.


The bottle had sat in my cellar for three years before I finally decided to open it and try the first warm fermented Baltic Porter I had ever tried. As I said about it on Ratebeer:
Pours an inky black with a steady schmeer of light brown foam. The aroma is rich dark chocolate, with traces of spice and a very faint sherry note. Tastewise, rich malty sweetness and a riot of chocolate and coffee fight it out and yet find balance with a subtle but firm hop bite.

As ever I have to pick just one of the lascivious dark beauties, and the winner is the one I want to spend another night with...
  • Oliver Breweries' Ape Must Never Kill Ape
What more could you want from a beer than to spend an entire night drinking it, pulled through a beer engine, and then be able to function the next morning?

Picture credits: Ale Must Never Kill Ape label taken from Untappd, Sinebrychoff from this All About Beer article.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber

Continuing my traipse through a year's worth of drinking brings me to the amber category, or to define it more tightly, anything darker than a pilsner but lighter than a brown ale - how's that for obfuscation? Having set out my rather liberal criteria there, here are the year's highlights:
  • Virginia - Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  • Rest of US - Oliver Breweries' Best Bitter
  • Rest of World - Timothy Taylor Bottled Landlord


There really is no getting away from the fact that I drink a lot of Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, it is essentially my go to beer. If a pub has it on tap there is a very good chance that I will drink nothing else for the rest of the night. When I went to Baltimore and stumbled across the Union Pub in DC, it was Vienna Lager that encouraged me to stay a while. When my mate Mark and I went for our pub crawl on Saturday, it was Vienna that made me consider staying for more than a solitary pint at Trinity Irish Pub, though the pub's charms soon got to me as well. Now that it is available in bottles, you can find said bottles in my fridge fairly regularly.


Back in September I went to Baltimore with my best friend and we drank a lot of beer from Oliver Breweries, whether at the Pratt Street Ale House homebase or at the Wharf Rat. Most of the beer that I drank was Stephen Jones' simply flawless, moreish best bitter. The only sad thing with this beer is that I can't get it in Central Virginia, yet - hopefully something that will change. Failing that, I can see another weekend in Baltimore before my mate heads off on his next assignment with work. At least this time I will know exactly what I want to drink.


What can I say about Landlord that hasn't been said already? Except that whenever I see it over here and can get hold of it then it is a complete no-brainer. Simple yet complex, clean yet flavourful, bottled Landlord could easily be the finest beer ever made, anywhere on the planet.

Three beers that share a characteristic that I prize highly in the beers I drink, simplicity married with tons of flavour. Of these three my amber beer of the year, largely because of how excited I get when I have the chance to drink it, is:
  • Timothy Taylor Bottled Landlord
A classic, simple as.

The pictures for Oliver Breweries' Best Bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord are taken from their websites respectively.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

It's that time of year...piles of food, booze and pressies all wait their turn for opening, the Doctor Who Christmas Special on the tele, accompanied by a large slab of Stilton and a bottle of port...and yes it's time for the annual Fuggled Review of the Year. As in years past I will choose my favourite pale, amber and dark beer of the year, from a list of the best beer I have drunk this year from Virginia, the rest of the US and the rest of the World. I will as ever also hail the blog I consider to have been the most interesting this year, and in adding a 'p' to review I will take a quick look forward to 2013.

Let's start then with the Fuggled Pale Beers of 2012:
  • Virginia - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Highland Brewing St Terese's Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale


Port City is one of my favourite breweries in Virginia all round, especially their porter, but when I saw they had bought out a pilsner as a seasonal brew my interest was piqued. I love pilsner, it is probably my favourite style of beer (competing regularly with stout for that accolade) and so a brewer that makes a good pilsner is a brewer I like. Downright Pilsner has everything going for it, 43 IBUs of pure Saaz goodness, 100% pilsner malt, unfiltered and simply gorgeous. The first 6 pack I bought went in an evening (is it just me or does '6 pack' sound more impressive that the reality of 3 and bit half litres?). When Mrs V and I had our Czech-Slovak party, it went down a storm. Hopefully this will see the light of day again next summer, and with advance warning I will be buying plenty this time round.


This may be something of a surprise for those that follow Fuggled regularly and/or have the dubious pleasure of going to the pub with me. You see, I am known to grumble about the amount of pale ale taking up taps at the bars I drink in, so for my favourite pale beer from the rest of the US to be a straight up Pale Ale might shock. St Terese's Pale Ale from Highland Brewing was originally picked up whilst in South Carolina, I had never noticed it before and curiosity got the better of me. It was a revelation, not some insane hop bomb but a nicely drinkable pale ale that refreshed and kept me interested to come back for more, which I did several times. Strangely I have yet to see St Terese's in Virginia, so when Mrs V's uncle and partner came up from North Carolina earlier this month, I made sure to stock up...


Another beer that I picked up on the strength of having enjoyed a brewer's other wares, in this case being a fan of Fraoch and William's Brothers 80/-. There really is no better way to sum up this beer than how I described it when I wrote about a Wiliams Brothers jag I was on earlier this year:

if I hadn't read the label I would have thought is was a lager, pale golden topped off with a firm white head. The nose has lots of spice, earth, hay and a touch of grain in the background. The taste is a riot of malty complexity with a very firm hop bite and lots of fruity flavours, the finish is clean, crisp and distinctly lageresque. Suffice to say I loved this beer straight off the bat, and was back at Wine Warehouse a week later to get more.

From this veritable bevvy of hot blondes, I can choose but one to crown Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year, and it is:
  • Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale
At 3.9% this pale golden ale is simply irresistible and the more we see of this kind of beer in the world the better.

Picture credits: St Terese's Pale Ale pic taken from the Highland Brewing website, and the Scottish Session Ale pic from BeerMelodies.com

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Happy Discovery

Coming soon will be the 2013 Fuggled Calendar - yes I am that confident that crazies claiming that the Mayan Calendar points to the end of the world later this week are wrong. This year's calendar, as in previous years, will feature the photography of my good friend Mark Stewart, of Black Gecko Photography, and the theme is Charlottesville pubs. With that in mind, Mark and I headed off on something of a pub crawl on Saturday afternoon and evening to get the requisite pictures and generally hang out as we don't see each other nearly often enough.

I have mentioned many times, whether or not you were listening, that I don't believe that a pub needs to have great beer to be a great pub. Pubs are about people, about socialising, meeting old friends and maybe new folks along the way - most of my friends I have met as a result of going to a pub for some reason. One of the pubs that we visited on our trawl through the seedy underbelly of Charlottesville, or at least The Corner over by the University where students of all ages hang out, was Trinity Irish Pub.


I had only been to Trinity once before and while I knew it had the look we were aiming at for the pictures, I was a little worried about the beer selection as all I remember my wanting to drink the last time I was there was Guinness - pretty much my fall back beer if the rest of the selection is comically bad or just another bank of endless pale ale in varying stages of Indianess.


Things seem to have changed a little since my previous visit, sure they still had beer from the big boys, Guinness, Stella Artois and Natty Light (think Bud Light then remove flavour, aroma and drinking enjoyment), but also on tap were a couple of local brews, Starr Hill's Jomo and Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, there were another couple of 'small and independent' taps as well but I don't recall what they were. I started off with the Vienna but soon migrated to Guinness and have to say it was pretty decent.


Trinity was fairly buzzing, with a good crowd, a healthy mix of students and older folks, I assume plenty of them were getting their drinky on before heading to the Dave Matthews concert. Despite all that, the service was excellent, efficient and friendly, basically all I ask for in a bar staff. I am sure this is heretical but you don't need to be able to spout prosaically about hop varieties and decoction mashing to be able to pour a good pint.


Having polished off a few pints, taken an unhealthy number of pictures - the ones in this post are mine and won't be appearing in any calendar for obvious reasons - we moved on, happy in the knowledge that there was another decent pub to sit and enjoy beers with friends in.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Craftitis

Craftitis is a malady that makes it hard to:
  • separate beer quality from corporate structure
  • appreciate the qualities of things not meeting the patient's definition of real beer
  • believe that large corporations are not actually malevolent forces focused on global domination
  • consider the possibility that fewer hops is sometimes better
  • understand that the only test of 'good beer' is how it tastes

Causes, incidence and risk factors

Craftitis is a complex malady. Experts are not sure what causes it. However, some experts believe genes may play a role.

Craftitis is extremely contagious, patients often have friends and family who are likewise afflicted.

Craftitis affects both men and women, usually beginning in the mid 20s. Women as a rule are less likely to be affected by Craftitis.

Symptoms

Craftitis symptoms usually develop slowly over a long period of time, usually months or even years. The number of symptoms varies from patient to patient.

People with Craftitis can show many of the symptoms listed below, or only a few symptoms.

Early symptoms:
  • Heightened sense of taste
  • Enthusiasm for new beer
  • Sudden interest in photography and note taking

As the illness progresses, patients often begin a course of self-medication, which involves the procuring and use of 'craft beer' in a domestic setting. Self-medication of Craftitis also involves excessive reading and interest in agriculture, botany and biochemisty.

In the latter stages of Craftitis, the patient may have problems with thinking, emotions and behaviour, including:
  • a near paranoid belief that large brewing corporations are intent on harming the patient, or their loved ones - usually 'loved ones' is interpreted as 'small and independent'
  • a loss of sense of humour and the inability to appreciate irony
  • an inability to accept that corporate structure has no bearing on the taste of a beer
  • describing a new beer experience as 'awesome' or 'out of this world' (see delusions for more details)
  • patient may be prone to crying after several drinks (a symptom shared with the disease Craftyitis)
  • Tourette's like exclamations in public settings about the perceived qualities, or otherwise, of a beer currently being drunk
  • the ability to taste passion (some experts believe this to be a misinterpretation of Diacetyl)
Signs and Tests

There is no medical test to diagnose Craftitis, diagnosis is achieved by interviewing the patient, as well as the patient's friends and family.

Treatment

During an episode of Craftitis the patient should stay in the pub for safety reasons.

MEDICATIONS

There is no known medication for Craftitis.

SUPPORT PROGRAMS

Craftitis patients are encouraged to engage in social situations, preferably in establishments such as Public Houses, with patients of the related malady Craftyitis. Note though that some experts believe Craftyitis to be a purely psychosomatic imitation of Craftitis, as such, patients showing symptoms of Craftyitis might have Craftitis without realising it.

Expectations (Prognosis)

The outlook for Craftitis is hard predict. Many patients seem to find relief from their symptoms simply by getting older.

Craftitis patients often lead normal lives in terms of work, housing and other social actitivies, though experience Craftitis episodes when in a 'Craft Beer Bar' or similar location.

Complications

Having Craftitis increases the patient's risk for:
  • Poverty - spending excessive amounts of money on limited releases of beers, trips to beer festivals, once in a lifetime six packs with promotional glassware
Prevention

There is no known way to prevent Craftitis.

Always talk to your barman first if you are considering trying a new beer style or brand - this also unwittingly opens the door to Craftyitis.

References

Craft is Daft, Dr Velky Al, Fuggled Publishing, February 2011

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Get It While It's Cold!

Yesterday I took an afternoon trip to Devils Backbone on a mission of mercy, to pick up a sixtel of Morana for a chap called Lyle who was part of the brewing day of the aforementioned libation. A quick refresh, Morana is a 14° Czech style dark lager, or Tmavé, which packs a perfectly respectable 5.8% abv punch. One thing I wasn't expecting was to get a growler of it in to the bargain, and so when I got home I opened it up and tucked straight on in...


While I was at the brewery, Jason mentioned that he thought this batch was actually better than the original, and I am inclined to agree with him. Still there is the deep mahogany colour, the bready grains and grassy Saaz goodness, the sweet juicy caramel of the CaraBohemian malt and the lingering crisp finish you expect from a lager, but new to the mix was a lovely nuttiness, like chestnuts roasted on a open fire, all you need is Jack Frost nipping at your toes, better yet while sitting next to the fire in the Devils Backbone brewpub.


This magnificence will be available at Devils Backbone tomorrow or Saturday and given the fact that the last batch was devoured in about 2 weeks, it will be gone fairly quickly I imagine. Also on tap at the brewpub, as of yesterday afternoon that is, are another couple of excellent lagers, a German Helles hopped exclusively with Hersbrucker and a red lager, brewed with English ingredients and fermented with Jason's preferred Augustiner lager yeast strain, both are delicious and very much recommended.

Monday, December 10, 2012

To the Bathtub

For no reason, other than I felt it necessary, I took a quick inventory of my homebrewing ingredient stocks the other day and realised that I have a fair amount of hops and grains that I rarely use or even think about using. For example, I have packets of New Zealand hops, Pacific Jade and Motueka, various fermentables such as rauchmalz and D2 Belgian Candi syrup, and of course a few packets of lager yeast waiting for an inevitable cold snap and impromptu lager brewing session.

I am getting to the point with my brewing where I have to start thinking about February and beyond. I don't drink during January and so the next batch of beer to be made will be something for the dying days of winter before I brew my annual lime witbier, which next year will have some oats in it for the first time. The question then is what to brew for the end of winter?

I want to use the New Zealand hops, that's a given at the moment. Also, I have some Briess Special Roast malt knocking about, which I find gives a beer a lovely tangy, sourdough kind of thing, and I will likely get myself a packet of Wyeast 1028 London Ale (the Worthington White Shield strain from what I have read) to do the business on the fermentables.

Will the beer have a definite style? Probably not, but I think a little playing around and using up ingredients is in order...

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Gift of Guinness

Pottering around the shops a week or so ago with Mrs V, I saw a Guinness Holiday mix pack, with the rather natty slogan 'Be Generous, Give Guinness'. Making sure that purchasing said box of beer wouldn't send us into a poverty ridden experience, toiling in a work house and wretchedly asking the Beadle for more, I put it in the trolley (that's 'cart' for my Americans friends and readers). Sadly, disaster was just around the corner, the handle gave way as I was putting it in the car, sending a shower of beer across the asphalt of the car park.


Only 2 bottles had gone to meet their Maker, and after being good citizens of planet Earth, cleaning up the mess, informing the customer service people in the shop and in the case of Mrs V picking glass up by hand while some man sat in his car watching, not bothering to offer help until his own wife turned up, and apparently proffering nothing more than a cursory 'mind you don't cut yourself' - they drove off just as I returned to scene of carnage with a customer service bod - we went home. If you have ever had the pleasure of listening Mrs V venting at the sheer lack of manners and gentlemanly conduct that seems par for the course these days, you can imagine the ride home.

What about the beer though? Well, there would have been 3 bottles of the following:
  • Guinness Draught
  • Guinness Black Lager
  • Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
  • Guinness Generous Ale
As it was, only 1 bottle of the Generous Ale made it safely to the cellar, to fight another day. That other day was last night, while Mrs V watched American Horror Story I went up to the kitchen to prepare the starter for my sourdough bread and drink some booze.


For reasons best known only to my subconscience, I started with the Black Lager and it was pretty decent really. Very dark, with notes of cola, some coffee, a reasonably subdued roastiness and a nice dry, clean, lager like finish. Definitely not something I would turn my nose up at in the future, sure it's not something worthy of leaping in the car and driving across hill and dale for, but it reminded me of some Czech dark lagers I have tried, and for some reason put me in mind of the Guinness Extra Cold that was all the rage back in the 90s.


In a vain attempt to create some semblance of order, I opened the Guinness Draught next. Unless you have never drunk Guinness in your life, you know exactly how it was, dark, roasty, smoky but thin and watery, with a vague hint of something artificial about it. It was also the only bottle not proudly boasting being 'Brewed and Bottled in.....Dublin' and being a 'Product of Ireland'.


On to the one I had never seen before, Generous Ale, a holiday special that apparently celebrates the legendary generosity of Arthur Guinness to his workers and the wider community. Again a pretty decent beer, a beautiful deep red and lots of sweet caramel, a touch of honey and a little hop bite at the end to give it some balance. I was kind of bummed that the 2 broken bottles hadn't been the Guinness Draught to be honest.


In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I am a paid up fan of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and its inky, silky delights, it's sachertort sweetness and burnt sugar bitterness, I just think it is downright delish - though after the Extra Stout I drank with Reuben of Tale of the Ale fame in Paris last year, it might not be my favourite Irish FES, but we can't get that other beer over here so I am ignoring it.


Overall then, a couple of decent beers, one of my favourites and then the Guinness Draught made this a reasonable choice of mix pack. I am looking forward to the rest of the Black Lager and FES, and perhaps hoping to find a six pack of Generous Ale somewhere. The Guinness Draught will likely be used to marinade a ham for Christmas! Sure Guinness might be part of the evil multinational corporation that is Diageo, but the guys at St James' Gate make some pretty tasty beers, just make sure they are actually a 'Product of Ireland'.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Missing Something?

Pubs, you know I love them. Pretty much any time of any day of the week is the perfect time to address oneself to the bar and have a pint. While my affection for, and patronage of, pubs is pretty well known to you, my dear readers, something has been bothering me of late. I have come to realise that something is missing from many a watering hole that I go to.

The majority of hostelries of which I avail myself, whether here in central Virginia or further afield (aka Columbia, SC) have at least 15 taps and often the selection ranges from pretty reasonable to good, but still there is often something awry, amiss or even just simply overlooked. A 'session tap'.

I realise that session beer is still something of a specialist niche interest in the beer drinking milieu in which I find myself, but I think it is one which pub owners are missing a trick with. Just a single tap dedicated to the fine art of making beer that is sub 4.5% abv and sufficiently moreish to warrant a few post work drinkies with friends would make going to the pub an even more pleasurable experience.

I guess I shouldn't really be all that surprised at the absence of a specifically session beer tap in many a pub, given the average strength of an non-BMC beer over here seems to be in the 6.5-6.9% range - based on my thoroughly unscientific calculations, where I looked at a brewery website and worked out their average ABV.

This makes me wonder what many American breweries are afraid of when it comes to dabbling in the fine arts of session brewing? Do they worry that there is no market for such beers (something I believe to be utter nonsense)? Do they worry that the advocates of beer rating websites will pan the beer because they really have no idea what a Best Bitter, Mild or Výčepní pivo is supposed to taste like? Have they bought into the crazy notion that the more hops and weirdness you put into your beer the more 'craft' you are? Who knows? The one thing I do know is I wish there were more independent session beers on the taps of America.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bitterly Gold

On Saturday, while I was working at the Starr Hill tasting room, the homebrew club to which I belong was storming the barricades of the 6th Annual Virginia Beer Blitz. Only one of our number got down to the St George Brewing company (makers of one of my favourite IPAs, a 100% Fuggles hopped affair which is rather moreish) to take part in the judging, but we had 25 entries from 6 brewers, of which, 10 entries from 5 of us brought some bling back from the coast, and we were overall 2nd in the club of the year part of the competition.


My contribution to our success was a gold and a bronze, for a best bitter and mild respectively, as some of you likely know if you follow my Twitter feed for are Facebook friends of mine. I was particularly pleased with the gold for the bitter because, as I wrote about a few posts back, I am working on creating my ideal bitter to become my house ale. As well as winning a medal, this first batch of bitter has had good reviews from other members of CAMRA and a couple of professional brewers who have tried it, so I think I am going in the right direction.

The bronze for mild was, if I am honest, entirely unexpected because it was an experiment and I used the Belgian witbier yeast strain and hopped it with Styrian Goldings and Saaz rather than 'traditional' English hops. That it came out far more 'English' in character than 'Belgian' has turned out to be a good thing really, but not an experiment I will be trying again as I have a more 'classic' mild recipe I am working on and may well be brewing this Friday.

Having blown my own trumpet a touch, I was thinking about the various medals I have won with my homebrew since moving to the States and something is becoming apparent, I have the most 'success' with traditionally British styles of beer. I have won gold for porter, bitter (twice) and Old Ale, silver for English Barleywine and Mild, and now a bronze for a Mild. For sure this is hardly surprising given that a lot of my brewing is more in the British tradition than American, Belgian or anything else, as is much of my drinking. Anyway, a touch of pointless navel gazing never hurt anyone.

The next big thing for my homebrew calendar is the National Homebrew Competition in the spring, when I hope to finally have a beer advance to the second round. Perhaps I will enter another bitter....

Note: I have to admit that part of me was pleased to note that the spelling on the medals has still not been corrected, 'Virgina Beer Blitz' it is!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Law of Unintended Consequences

For those of us who live in Virginia and love beer, July 1st will likely go down as one of the best days of 2012. It was on that date that law SB 604 came into effect, allowing breweries to sell pints of their products in their tasting rooms. If you come to the Starr Hill tasting room this Saturday I will, as a result of this law, be able to sell you a pint and, speaking from the point of view of someone behind the bar, I much prefer pouring pints than samples.


As a result of the law coming into effect there have been a veritable slew of breweries opening up with tasting rooms that are effectively pubs. Unencumbered with the requirement to have 45% of their on-premise business come from food sales, I can see more and more breweries turning their tasting rooms into bars. On a personal level I very much welcome such a move, anything that means there are more pub-esque places in the Commonwealth is a good thing in my book.

However, this does raise a question in my head. Given that the legal requirement for pubs and bars to have food is now effectively redundant, why is it still on the statute book? Wouldn't it make sense for the Governor to take a pro-free market stance and reduce the daft regulation and red tape around starting a pub, thus allowing pubs to focus on what pubs are for? Good beer, maybe some snacks and being a social centre for the community, oh and making a viable living for those who want to run a pub without the hassle of being a restaurant as well?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Encouraging Beginnings

Last Friday saw the soft opening of Charlottesville's latest brewery, Champion Brewing Company.


Champion is the brainchild of Hunter Smith, whose parents own and operate the Afton Mountain Vineyards, one of the few vineyards in that part of the area whose wines I consistently like.

Naturally, wanting to support Hunter, Mrs V and I made our way over there on Friday evening, after I was done with brewing my latest best bitter. When we arrived, we snagged ourselves a couple of seats at the bar and had a look at the beer list.

Champion had four beers on tap:
The moment I saw that Pace Car was a respectable 5%, I knew what I wanted. Pitch black, roasty, nutty and very moreish, it was just the ticket and I polished off a couple pretty quickly. Mrs V tried the Killer Kolsch and was suitably impressed.

Usually I have a rule of thumb that it takes a new brewery a few months to really hit their stride, and so I will go back to places where the beer was merely ok and try again. With Champion, if the beer improves in the next six months as Hunter really gets to grips with his operation then Charlottesville will have an excellent small brewery to enjoy.

As some point I will go over with a camera and notebook to do the geeky stuff, but Friday night definitely showed the immense promise that Champion has.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bitter Two

I am sure I have mentioned this many times before, but getting a good bitter in the US is pretty bloody difficult. Few of British bitters make it to these shores, I am glad that I have found a supplier of Timothy Taylor Landlord, and even fewer American brewers seem interested in brewing the style. I can only think of one brewery in the Mid-Atlantic region that has a classic, English, Bitter as part of its core range - Oliver's Ales in Baltimore. Sadly, Oliver's don't bottle their beer and their casks are not distributed in this part of Virginia.

What is a chap to do then? The answer is pretty obvious, brew my own. Crafting a good bitter recipe has become something of an obsession for me, and today I will continue my efforts. When I changed the name of my brewing operation from Green Dragon Brewing to Dark Island Brewing, I also identified several beer styles that I planned to brew repeatedly until I had a recipe that I was really happy with, thus my first Bitter was composed of the following:
  • 77% Maris Otter Pale Malt
  • 13% Crisp Amber Malt
  • 10% Briess Caramel 20 Malt
  • 15 IBU Kent Goldings for 60 minutes
  • 7.5 IBU Kent Goldings for 15 minutes
  • 1 IBU First Gold for 1 minute
  • Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale Yeast
What I ended up with was reasonably tasty, 4.1% bitter that looked like this.


While I was happy with the end product, I didn't want to just settle for that recipe being my bitter. I wanted to play around with yeast strains and maybe the hopping a little bit, and see if I can improve on a very encouraging start. As such, batch 2 of Dark Island Bitter, which is being brewed today, has a couple of changes. Firstly, and mainly because my local homebrew shop didn't have any First Gold hops, I will be using Styrian Goldings for the last hop addition, as well as bumping the flavour hops to get 15IBU of Goldings goodness. Secondly, and this change was planned, I am using Danstar's Windsor Ale Yeast, which I have used a couple of times before to good effect, including my gold medal winning bitter from last year's Dominion Cup.

If everything goes to plan, batch 2 will be ready in time for New Year's Eve, when I will be hanging out in the mountains of West Virginia and comparing it with my best mate, with whom I polished off most of batch 1 a few weeks back, not to mention vast quantities of Oliver's Bitter in Baltimore. A prospect which pleases me muchly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Give Thanks for Beer

On Thursday, in households across America, as well as in expat hangouts around the world, Thanksgiving will be celebrated. According to tradition, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the immigrants of the Plymouth Colony in 1621, though the first harvest festival is likely to have been marked by the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1607.

According to Mourt's Relation, the first Plymouth harvest Thanksgiving was an occasion of great celebration:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labour. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
One thing that is perhaps often overlooked in the modern Thanksgiving celebration is the role that beer played in the early days of English settlement in the New World. Indeed, were it not for their beer supplies running low, the Plymouth Colony might well have ended up some where else. The writer of Mourt's Relation, Edward Winslow, commented that:
after we had called on God for direction, we came to this resolution, to go presently ashore again, and to take a better view of two places, which we thought most fitting for us, for we could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially, our beer, and it being now the 19 of December.
Throughout the Colonial era, and beyond, beer was central to life in the New World. People simply didn't trust water, mainly because the water supplies back in Europe were so tainted and polluted that you would die from drinking it, whereas the boiling required for beer killed off potentially harmful microbes. Often one of the first buildings the immigrants would erect was a brewery so they could get their life sustaining libation as soon as possible.

One thing I find interesting about Winslow's account is the use of the word 'beer', which in 17th century England was a hopped malt liquor as opposed to ale, which was unhopped. Only in the 18th Century did ale come to mean a malt liquor which was less hopped than beer. I wonder what the beer that they brought with them from the Old World to the New would have been like? What kind of beer was being brewed on the south coast of England, where the Pilgrims restocked the Mayflower after selling the Speedwell?

Clearly for a journey across the Altantic, the Pilgrims would have brought with them 'Keeping Beer' rather than 'Small Beer', the latter being for immediate consumption rather than storing. The Pilgrims finally left England's shores in mid September 1620, which would suggest to me, assuming that the Keeping Beers listed on Ron Pattison's blog from the early 18th century were broadly similar to those from a century prior, that their beer was likely March Beer, brewed at the end of the 1619-20 brewing season.

As for the beer itself, it was either pale or brown, though pale here would be more akin to an amber than modern pale. Assuming they stocked up on March Beer, it would have had a starting gravity north of 1.100, giving it a healthy ABV in excess of 10%, and being an English beer the hops would have been, well I have to admit I don't know. Goldings are first grown commercially in the 1780s and Fuggles only comes into the picture in 1875, though I would hazard a guess that they would have been fairly similar.

I think the closest to this kind of brew in my cellar is North Coast's wonderful Old Stock Ale, which might just get a comparative tasting this year as I have bottles of the 2010 and 2012 knocking about.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get Off My Kilt!

There are times, when I am in my more grumpy and sarcastic moments admittedly, that I get annoyed by some of the naming choices and subsequent marketing efforts that breweries put in to promoting their beer.

One of my favourite websites highlighting the horrors of sub-par naming and branding is the magnificent Pump Clip Parade, a veritable litany of the ribald, obscene and downright offensive. Were a visitor from outer space to visit that website to get an idea of British drinking culture, they would likely conclude that British drinkers are only interested in third rate puns, naked women and frequent references to World War 2.

Sadly, the American craft brewing industry is not averse to indulging in national stereotyping in order to sell beer. As you quite possibly are aware, I am Scottish and happily so, though I feel no compulsion to run around in a Tam o'Shanter with bits of ginger hair sticking out the side, whilst swinging a Claymore and yelling 'Wha's likes us?' at all and sundry. Forgive me then if I am being a tad touchy at the number of beers sold in this country which have some form of kilt elevation in their name; Kilt Lifter, Kilt Flasher, Kilt Raiser, Naked Under Me Kilt, Lift Your Kilt and so on and so forth. It simply bugs my head that many brewers of 'Scottish' ales have decided that the one part of Scottish culture to focus on for their naming conventions is the kilt, and I say that as someone who loves wearing his kilt, often just around the house when trousers simply don't go the job.

There is far more to Scotland than a few metres of worsted wool and the legendary absence of undies, so brewery marketing departments, how about engaging in some innovative thought (rather than just thinking that chucking the word 'innovative' in your marketing copy makes you beer 'awesome') when branding your 'Scottish' ales? How about making reference to the many aspects of the modern world that have their roots in Scotland? How about referring to eras of Scottish history other than William Wallace?

So while beer is supposed to be fun, resorting to lazy national stereotyping is the mark of ultimately crap marketing and detracts from the beer itself.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Of Worts and Boils

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent Friday brewing. It feels great to be back in the swing of it and having carboys fermenting away with much abandon in the cellar. I am still getting to grips with my new(ish) setup and equipment though and I have missed my target gravity in 2 out of the last three brews, the third being an extract beer, which is pretty easy to get within a few gravity points of the target.

For the first time in a while, I had an assistant brewer for the day, one of my colleagues from the Starr Hill tasting room who wanted to learn more about brewing. She also took the pictures in this post, as well as performing vital tasks like holding the grain bag while I tried not to give her third degree burns with the strike water. Having an assistant certainly made the process a lot easier and made me realise that when I return from my exile to the mythical land of 47% I really need to get my setup sorted in the garage, preferably with as much gravity involvement as possible.


The beer itself turned out to be an Export strength Oatmeal Milk Stout, rather than the Imperial Oatmeal Milk Stout I initially wanted to brew. However, with a starting gravity of 1.062 (15.2° Plato) and projected ABV of 6% it should have enough oomph to keep the darkness at bay during the winter.


As I said earlier, I have missed my target gravity on the last couple of brews I have done, a fact that I put down to a couple of things. Firstly I am now doing whole wort boils rather than diluting a smaller boil, and also I have a new 5 gallon cooler mash tun rather than the small 2.5 gallon affair I used previously. Part of me wonders if I am getting a good enough mix in my mash, so I plan to buy a new, longer handled spoon for stirring the mash to get an even blend of grain and water. Secondly, I think I am simply not sparging enough, and thus leaving a fair whack of sugar in the mash rather than in the wort.


On Friday I had about 4 gallons of wort for my 2.5 gallon batch and after a 90 minute boil, just barely had the required volume left, so maybe an extra gallon or so of wort and a 2 hour boil would make all the difference?

So, my fellow brewers, any thoughts and/or input as to how to get back to the world of 75% efficiency in my setup?

Friday, November 9, 2012

On The Decks

I am brewing again today, for the third time in the last seven days. Ok, last Friday was trying not to get in the way at Devils' Backbone during the second brewing of Morana, but it counts. Earlier this week I made use of the last of my extract to make an Oatmeal Milk Stout, made with oat malt, hopped exclusively with Kazbek (thanks Evan!) and is now being fermented by that trusty 1728 Scottish Ale yeast.

Today though I am brewing the second of the big winter hitters for Mrs V's uncle in North Carolina, this time an Export Oatmeal Milk Stout, I am aiming for about 1.083 according to my Hopville recipe, though given the last time I brewed I missed my gravity target, I am reticent to call it an Imperial Oatmeal Milk Stout at this point (see, I can make up styles as well!).

When I woke up this morning, I knew that it definitely wasn't a 'brewing while listening to Morning Classics on NPR' kind of brewday, so here is a selection of tunes that will feature today:

You can't go wrong with ELO really can you?



If you have never heard of Cecile Corbel, I suggest you do so...



Louis Armstrong. Nuff said.



Have a good weekend people!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lost In Details

I love reading. Whether it be blogs, magazines, or books, I love indulging in the written word, getting different perspectives on things and learning more about a given subject. I will books time and time again because with each reading you notice something that perhaps you glossed over before. I read a fair bit about beer in particular, in between bouts of David Hume, Umberto Eco or Douglas Coupland, and this morning I picked up Stan Hieronymous' 'Brew Like A Monk' to remind myself what he said about Orval.


I have half a mind to try and brew my own version of Orval at some point in the future, when I have restored my complement of carboys back to 4, so I am working through a recipe in my mind. As I read, a comment from legendary brewer Jean-Marie Rock leapt off the page:
"It is impossible to produce a good beer with details"
I sometimes wonder, especially when listening to beer geeks waffle on about IBUs and alcohol by volume, whether we lose the wood for looking at the trees?

I really couldn't give a shit if your Imperial IPA has sufficient IBUs to strip the tastebuds from my tongue, stamp them into submission and leave them screaming for mercy. I am not impressed that you have managed to freeze distil your beer to the strength of a whisky. All I care about is how your beer tastes. IBUs, ABV, SRM and all the other numbers used in brewing are just that, numbers, details. They tell me little about the flavour, aroma and complexity of a beer.

Rock's adage could quite easily be extended to:
"It is impossible to appreciate good beer by focusing on details"
I am sure I am just as guilty when it comes to getting hung up on certain details, such as the 'black' in Black IPA or Black Pils, so I remind myself here as much as anyone, it is only beer and appreciating the aromas and flavours involved is what it is really all about, preferably with mates, and preferably in a pub.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Downright Demanding

Over the last couple of weekends, Mrs Velkyal and I have hosted a couple of parties at our house. The first, on the 27th October, was to mark Czechoslovak Independence Day, which is on the 28th but we felt a Saturday night would be better, and the second was our house warming.

In the last year or so we have found a group of Czechs and Slovaks living here in the Charlottesville area, as well as people descended from those most august nations, and we will meet up once in a while. Although Mrs V and I are neither Czech nor Slovak, neither do either of us have the required ancestry, we have become kind of adopted Czechs by virtue of our years living in the country, and we love the opportunity to break out our rusty language skills.

My best friend, whose wife is Slovak, came down from DC for the weekend, bringing with him all the essentials to cook guláš - basically a cast iron pot, tripod to go over the cobbled together fire pit, copious amounts of pork and beef and a few hours to stand around, beer in hand watching my favourite central European food being made.


Obviously no Czechoslovak party would be complete without beer, and there was plenty. Just the day before I was laid off, I put in an order with Market St Wine in Charlottesville to get a couple of the remaining 80 cases of Port City's Downright Pilsner especially for this party. People also brought Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Lagunitas Pils, and my best friend brought a bottle of 5 year old Kosher Slivovice - that's damned fine plum brandy!

The Downright Pilsner went down an absolute treat with the assorted Czechs, Slovaks and fellow travellers, as it should do given that it is pretty much spot on for a Czech style pale lager, 4.8%, 43 IBUs of Saaz, unfiltered and just downright good. It is very much a contender for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year - an award unencumbered with value, monetary or otherwise - and as such I really hope, nay I plead, that Port City don't let this just be a one off, but brew it again. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the best of the Port City beers I have had, just edging ahead of their amazing Porter, and I would love to see it as part of their core range of beers.

Yes, it is that good.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Again She Rises!

It gets dark reasonably early these days, I say 'reasonably' because as a child growing up in the Outer Hebrides the sun would set at about half past three in the depths of winter. I am a big fan of winter, I love the cold, the dark and the opportunity to wear my lambswool sweaters and tweed cap every day, I also love, as if you needed telling, the dark beers that seem to be required drinking at this time of the year.

A couple of years ago I went to Devils Backbone for a day to brew a tmavý, or dark lager, which we named for an old Slavic goddess called Morana.

Morana, just one of several spellings, is the goddess of death and and winter in the pre-Christian Slavic traditions, though traces of her cult linger on in modern day Czech Republic through the annual tradition of Čarodějnice, or Witch Burning Night. Each spring, on April 30th, effigies of witches are burnt in the Czech Republic to symbolise the defeat of winter, prior to the coming of Christianity with Saints Cyril and Methodius, those effigies were of Morana.

In Poland the effigy of Morana, known there as Marzanna, is burnt and then drowned, there the effigy is:
a large figure of a woman made from various rags and bits of clothing which is thrown into a river on the first day of the spring calendar. Along the way, she is dipped into every puddle and pond ... Very often she is burned along with herbs before being drowned and a twin custom is to decorate a pine tree with flowers and colored baubles to be carried through the village by the girls. There are of course many superstitions associated with the ceremony: you can't touch Marzanna once she's in the water, you can't look back at her, and if you fall on your way home you're in big trouble. One, or a combination of any of these can bring the usual dose of sickness and plague.
—Tom Galvin, "Drowning Your Sorrows in Spring", Warsaw Voice 13.544, March 28, 1999
Yesterday I was down at Devils Backbone again, to perform the ancient rite of brewing in order to resurrect Morana, she should be back in time for the Winter Solstice, get your growlers ready!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Once You Go Black

Thankfully in this part of Virginia, Hurricane Sandy was something of a damp squib, with damp being the operative word. It rained for the best part of 36 hours but the winds never really got much above strong breeze (that's force 6 to those of us used to the Beaufort scale). Either through design or luck we didn't lose our electricity (unlike many, it seems, our power lines are underground and not prone to trees falling on them). All in all, I am grateful to have been spared the brutality experienced further north, and I hope all my readers in that part of the world are OK.

On a whim last night Mrs Velkyal and I decided that it was about time we used our wood fire in anger, rather than just being a mildly diverting centrepiece to the main room upstairs. Having traipsed out to the shops, after discovering my car battery to be flat as I had left the headlamps on over the weekend, we lit our first fire using some compressed sawdust, nut shell and wax thing called a '2 Hour Fire Log'. With a fire burning in the hearth, I was overcome with an urge for something dark, a porter or stout perhaps, and just so happened to have this in the fridge:


I was introduced to this beer a few weeks ago by our fantastic next door neighbours, who have a small farm called Ted's Last Stand, and it was love at first sip. At 8.8% this is something of a bruising stout, but I love it (say it quietly but Guinness FES may have some competition for my affections), great dollops of chocolate, as if some perverse Willy Wonka had blended Dairy Milk with 85% cocoa dark chocolate from Ecuador and a trace of roasted coffee to just take away any excessive sweetness. As much as I love this beer, and it will make fairly regular appearances in the cellar over the course of the winter, it is definitely not a 'drink ten pints and stumble home' affair, but one, sat next to the fire, reading a book? Perfect.


However, me being me, having let the last lascivious drops of Double Stout find their way down my throat, had the urge for another beer....what to bring up from the cellar...? How about this?


Yes, that would do the trick. Unlike the Double Stout, this is a beer I know well and love to break out when it is colder than an polar bear's bum. There is something about Old Engine Oil that is deeply entrancing, whether it is the deep darkness or the lingering dry roastiness of the beer or the fact that 6% you can justify a full pint and then drink it slowly and enjoy the beer as it warms, both literally and figuratively. The only regret I had was that the fire in the background was not in some fine drinking establishment, preferably with one of the autumn rugby matches on the tele...


I can't remember what actually was on the tele, not being a big watcher thereof, but eventually Mrs V and I adjourned to the downstairs living room of our house, turned on the oil radiator and I cracked open a Southern Tier 2X Stout, no pictures, no notes, just a lovely, strong milk stout.

Drink enough of these beers and my favourite line from White Chicks becomes gospel truth...



...because you'll be legless.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mmmmm.....Lager.

You know me by now, unless this is your first visit to Fuggled, in which case welcome, I am a lager drinker, nay a lover of lager. Whether it is a Bohemian Pilsner, Schwarzbier, Vienna or Baltic Porter, the lager 'family' of beers is the one I like to spend as much drinking time as possible with. That's not to say that warm fermented beers aren't wonderful as well, but just that beer that takes its own sweet time to be ready is my preferred tipple. Given a bank of taps pouring pale ales in various states of Indianess, stouts, porters, brown ales and wheat beers, if there is a solitary good lager available then I will gladly ignore everything else, even if it is super rare, super strong and aged in gorilla snot barrels.

Without being mean, any brewer can chuck more hops into the kettle, or add spices to secondary and get something that is at least drinkable, but it takes a master brewer to have the confidence to brew a great lager, such as Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Victory Prima Pils, or Kout na Šumavě 18° (it also takes a master brewer to do the whole extra hops and spice thing well without turning the beer into a flavour mess). We can argue all day about the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing, for the record I think it makes a better beer though I know at least one of my favourite lagers is done with infusion mashing, but one thing is clear, lager is a labour of love, and if a brewery does it properly then it ties up capital and equipment for a very long time.


Take Budvar for example. I remember reading that each batch of their flagship 12° lager takes 102 days to make, from start to finish. Primary fermentation lasts 12 days and then the beer sits in the lagering tanks for 90 days, that's three months, 12 weeks (1 week for each degree of Plato as used to be the norm), just sitting around. Would most people recognise a difference if they brought it out after 60 days? Probably not, but some traditions are worth keeping regardless of what science tells us with numbers.

Brewing, any brewing, is not just about the numbers. Sure your pilsner might have a starting gravity of 1.048 (12° Plato), you might even have gone crazy and hopped it to 40 IBUs but it might still suck because there is too much alcohol from the yeast over attenuating and making it thin in the body (more alcohol is not always a good thing). Perhaps you used some high alpha hops for bittering rather than Saaz all the way through. Perhaps you didn't wait for the lager to tell you when it was ready and just pulled it from the tanks after 28 days regardless. Lager, in  my thoroughly unhumble opinion is not something to be taken lightly, and one of the reasons I brew them so infrequently is simply because I want to do them justice and I don't really have the equipment to do so.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy living in this part of Virginia, I have access to great local lager whenever I want it, made by brewers who do it properly and rightly win awards as a result.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There's A Gale Coming

Today, assuming no lapse in common sense, will be my first bash at using some of my new brewing equipment. I decided to get myself a bigger cooler for mashing in, going from 2.5 gallons to 5, though I am keeping my batch size the same. This basically means that I can do any strength beer I want without resorting to using malt extract to bump up the gravity.

With a bigger mash tun comes more wort, so I have temporarily borrowed a friend's flat bottomed brewpot until I am employed again and can get one of my own. With more wort comes the need to finally break out my wort chiller, which has sat in its box since I bought it about 18 months ago. All in all, I am looking forward to getting some brewing done, especially as this batch is destined for Mrs V's uncle and his annual gift baskets for his clients.

The beer I plan to brew today is a strong ale, though not barleywine strong, essentially it is an 'old ale' in BJCP parlance (although there is no real difference between old ale and barleywine), but I like to think of it as just a Strong Ale. The recipe is:
  • 86% Golden Promise Pale Malt
  • 5% Munich Malt
  • 4% Malted Oats
  • 4% Pale Chocolate Malt
  • 1% Peated Malt
  • 21 IBU Kent Goldings for 90 minutes
  • 9 IBU Kent Goldings for 15 minutes
  • Wyeast 1028 London Ale (Worthington White Shield apparently)
You can see a couple of twists in there, the use of malted oats and peated malt, which are intended to give the beer a warmth and smoky background ideal for sitting in front of the fire during the dark days of winter. According to Beer Calculus, that little lot should give me the following numbers:
  • O.G. 1.073, 17.7° Plato
  • F.G. 1.018, 4.6° Plato
  • ABV 7.5%
  • SRM 16, light to medium brown
  • IBU 30
The name for this brew? Dark Island Winter Gale.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Too Many Hops?

There are times when I get the feeling that I come across as being something of an anti-hop crusader. However, I prefer to think of it as being sick of the apparent notion that seems to float around the indie beer drinker world that the more hops there are in a beer, the better. The reality though is that I like beers with a firm hop bite, a nice hop flavour and a pleasing hop aroma, I like the hopping to be a distinct element of the beer, not the sole focus of the beer - and no, IPA is NOT 'all about the hops'.

Having said that, and for fear of completely contradicting myself, there are times when I think beers have, to bastardise the Emperor's line from Amadeus, 'too many hops'. By this I don't mean that a beer is 'too hoppy', whatever the hell 'hoppy' actually means anyway, but rather that some beers have such a melange of hop varieties as to effectively become a mess.

Often, though not always, such beers are in the generic world of 'pale ale' or a 'black india' version of something. When I read a list of 7 or 8 hop varieties, usually, though again not always, the high alpha varieties, I can't help but wonder at times if the beer that results would benefit from fewer hop varieties and more attention being paid to the effects of the remaining hops so they are more distinct and pleasurable when drinking.


In thinking about many of my favourite beers to drink, as opposed to sample, they tend to have a maximum of three hop varieties, though in reality the vast majority use just one or two. Take my current favourite pilsner (sorry Pilsner Urquell, you've been usurped for the time being), Port City's Downright Pilsner, which gets all 43 of its IBUs from that majestic hop, Saaz, or even my favourite IPA being brewed in Virginia today, from St George down in Hampton, with its judicious, and exclusive, use of Fuggles. From further afield, take one of my favourite stouts, Wrasslers XXXX from Ireland's Porterhouse, hopped with Galena, Nugget and East Kent Golding (which reminds me, I should stock up on this beer at some point). With all three beers the hops are noticeable without intruding on the drinking, in a sense you could say that the hops know their place.

Maybe this feeling harks back to something I mentioned in my previous post about balance being an essential part of my definition of 'good' beer. For me it is not just a case of the overall beer being balanced, but that there is balance within the elements of a beer as well, and perhaps it in the hopping that this balance is most important and most easily disrupted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Defining 'Good'

Yesterday my good friend, and once upon a time drinking buddy, Pivní Filosof, tweeted the following:
"Too many people trying to define what "craft beer" is or isn't, not enough talking about what makes a beer good..."
So, I thought that what would be a better way to mark the 750th post on Fuggled than to finally try and define 'good' beer? I am perfectly aware that I might be on a hiding to nothing here, but here goes.

Firstly let's think about words for a moment, what does 'good' mean? Well, if you do a search on Dictionary.com, you will see that it lists many possible meanings as both a noun and an adjective. I won't list all the options here, but if you click the link then you can check them all out for yourself. One thing I will reference here though is the etymology of the word, which apparently comes from Old English:
"god (with a long "o") "having the right or desirable quality,"
Apparently the Old English is itself derived from the Proto-Germanic 'gothaz' meaning "fit, adequate, belonging together".

Using the definition of 'good' as something which has the 'right or desirable quality' brings us rather quickly to the sticking point in trying to define 'good beer', what is the quality in your beer that is 'right or desirable'? Ultimately 'good beer' is a very personal thing, something unique to each drinker, which then raises the question, what is 'good beer' for Velky Al? Let me answer that question.

The 'right or desirable' qualities that I look for in a beer can be best summed up as:
  • flavourful
  • balanced
  • refreshing
I realise that even within that fairly short list there are any number of personal preferences as to what constitutes flavour, balance and refreshment, but as this is my definition of good beer, let me attack those one at a time.


I like beer that tastes good, again that awkward word 'good' pops up. Good tasting beer to me is one where you can taste the elements of the beer as expected for that particular style or type of beer. If I am drinking a stout for example, I want to be able to taste the roastiness, coffee and chocolate that you expect from that kind of beer. Likewise if I am drinking a Vienna lager, I want none of the roastiness of stout, but rather the toastiness that comes with using Vienna malt. You could argue that it is about 'authenticity', is this really how stout, pilsner, mild or whatever is supposed to taste like?


I sometimes wonder if 'balance' is becoming something of a dirty word in the beer word, in much the same way 'session' is interpreted by some as meaning 'insufficiently sexy'. In my definition of 'good' beer though, balance is important, mainly because I like drinking beer. I am not the kind of person who is happy to go to a beer festival and sample 10 to 15 2oz samples, I prefer beer festivals where you order a half pint, or a full pint, and you stand around drinking and talking with friends. In my experience, beers which are imbalanced are not beers that I want to drink more than a single serving of. An absence of balance normally, though not always, means that a shit ton of hops have been dumped in making the experience of the beer like sucking a grapefruit. Alternatively imbalanced beers can have too many hop varieties, and when I read the hopping list of some beers having 7 or 8 different high alpha hops I can't but wonder if the brewer is simply having a lupulin wank.


Drinking is primarily about refreshment, whether after a day of manual labour or sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen, both require refreshment and there are few feelings in the world as wonderful as that first sup on a pint at the end of a day. A refreshing pint can just as easily a stout as it can be a witbier, indeed when I was laid off last week I found the couple of pints of Left Hand Milk Stout I had at McGrady's very refreshing, especially as one definition of 'to refresh' is 'to cheer' and I certainly felt happier after the pints than before.

Thankfully with those criteria of 'good beer' there are many individual beers that I consider 'good' and am more than happy to drink, regardless of corporate structure, method of dispense or style. Good beer is really something intangible, indefinable in some ways, as it is, in the final analysis, what the individual likes to drink.

Perhaps that is why more people want to try and define 'craft beer' because that is, seemingly, an easier task, though as I have written about before, a pretty daft one.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Reason to Cellar

I got laid off last Thursday, economic problems etc, etc. Long and the short of it though is that I am looking for full time work, not something I particularly enjoying but there are bills to be paid, body and conscientiousness kept together and all that stuff. Admittedly the world didn't seem so bad after a few pints of Left Hand's lovely Milk Stout and my pre-arranged haircut.

Thankfully my cellar is pretty well stoked at the moment, and I still have my occasional gigs at Starr Hill's tasting room, not mention I make passable homebrew, so the beer front doesn't look too bleak at all, especially not as I managed to snag a couple of cases of Port City Brewing's lovely Downright Pilsner just before the axe fell.

Hopefully I won't be unemployed for too long, both from a financial perspective and the fact that I get bored beyond witless when I am not gainfully employed - you have to pity Mrs V really. In the meantime, chin up and all that British stiff upper lip malarky. Still, I guess I have some decent beers to choose from when I am celebrating my new position!

In the spirit of shameless self promotion, here is my LinkedIn profile, if anyone in the Charlottesville area would like to have a look.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Brewer of the Week

This week we head north to Minnesota. The name Kristen England is no doubt familiar to many homebrewers, he was the Education Director at the BJCP, collaborates with Ron Pattinson on his 'Let's Brew Wednesday' historic recipes, provided the recipe for this year's International Homebrew Project and so on and so forth. Well, now Kristen has his own brewery, so in the immortal phrasing of Ron, 'time to let Kristen take control'...


Name: Kristen England
Brewery: Pour Decisions

How did you get into brewing as a career?

Hmmm…well it’s still not actually a career, 2nd career I guess? It’s another form of science which got me hooked…science begets science, as it where…is. Do I have to get paid for it to be a career? If so, this is definitely not a second career.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I don’t think there is a single one. I think there are a lot of comparisons between chefs and brewers. There is definitely a set that they both share. Thick skin is a huge one. You get better by learning from your failures. Accept them and move on. Being able to ‘kill your babies’ is important. You may make the world’s best soufflé but if people don’t dig it, it doesn’t matter. Yelling at people that something is perfect when they just aren’t buying it, no matter how much you are right or love it, is a sure way to 1) alienate your peeps and 2) to fail in a giant flaming fireball. Passion is probably the most important. Wait, I mean bullocks. Yes, that’s it..big old bullocks. Passion is a tag line…or a tasty delicious fruit. That word ranks up there as one of the worst words in the history of time with me. Everyone is passionate about everything. ‘Well Jim, you have more passion than anyone we’ve ever seen but, I’m not sure that’s enough to let you drive the battleship…’ Passion says nothing about a brewer than a tag line. Ask any chef or brewer that when they’re 16 Red Bull’s in and they’ve been up 20 hours trying to fix broken the boiler/oven what passion does for them. Persistence, love and pride are vastly superior. You keep at it, no matter what, until it goes right because you have pride in what you do, in yourself and your brewery. That being said, I think if passion in beer were measured in units, I think they would have to be called Calagiones and measured on a log scale. Screw this base 6 stuff… ‘Oh, you think your beer is good, suck it buddy. Mine has 4.3 Calagiones! That destroys your meager 2.9! BRING THE PAIN!!! TASTE THE PASSSION!!!! Chicka pow!!!’ Seems Ruhlman agrees. http://ruhlman.com/2012/10/the-fallacy-of-follow-your-passion/'


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

I started home brewing about 9 years ago and like everything else I pick up as a hobby it got carried away. I’ve made well over 1000 batches of beer in various sizes over that time. As a scientist, I experimented with every technique and ingredient I could get my hands on… even weird or esoteric ones. Oh yes, from peanut butter to those little sacks that make up a piece of orange to natural red dye that, apparently, turns your pee bright red. Not something one is prepared for when waking up at 0630 to get to work after a mean pissup the night before! I’ve made so many different recipes and then versions of those recipes I have lists of beers in pretty much every style I want to make at the brewery that seems to be ever growing. The hardest part is to be calm about what I want to brew and not try make everything at once. It’s something I thought was extremely important with regards to starting a brewery. I knew at some point I would be involved in a brewery. The amateur days are the times where one can do whatever they want, learn as much as they can, compete against some of the best brewers in the world. Challenge yourself…all the while drinking beer.


If you did homebrew, do you still?

I won’t be home brewing, per se, any longer. The wife is extremely happy to hear about that as the vast majority of my stuff is still in boxes when I moved in with her 7 years ago. Now the stuff I was able to unpack will get moved to the brewery. So basically she’ll have all the room back she used to keep uncluttered (read empty). I’ll still be ‘brewing’ mead, wine and cider though. Man can’t live on beer alone…gotta combine that with all different types of liquor to keep the old liver guessing! We’ll be using my old home brew kit at the brewery to teach classes on and let some of the home brew guys have a little fun on. They’ll get to do their favorite recipes and share them with the world (branded of course). It’s one thing for your friends to say they love your beer, it’s a completely different thing to put it out there for the world to taste and comment. Bascially letting them share their favorite things with our fans. If the beers do well, we’ll definitely put them in the rotation! I also have a 2.5bbl pilot system that I can use to do some fun one-offs. Basically a nicer, larger home brew rig. Lots of cool stuff planned for the tap room.


What is your favourite beer to brew?

Wow, a favorite to brew is really hard. I would say I have two. My Berliner Weiss takes the least amount of time to make of any beer but the sour, puckering awesomeness you get out of something so simple is extremely gratifying. The other would be a traditional Czech ‘Desítka’. Triple decocted, 100% floor malted Bohemian pils malt, 2+hour boil and 100% Saaz hops. If you take most current literature into account, making a triple decocted 1.040 beer is pointless. Today’s malt is fully modified and doesn’t need it. You are wasting time, energy, blah blah blah. Rubbish. You go ahead and tell me that the numbers are same. The mash efficiency, the hop BU’s and so on. I’ll point to the Czech brew masters that have been doing it the same way for over 150 years that say they would love to quit triple decocting if they could. But they can’t. The beer suffers and the patrons complain. How do I justify making a beer for my customers I know could be better just to save myself time? The time and energy that goes into it that makes a product so thoroughly enjoyable is worth it. As it was explained to me in Jihlava by an 80+ year old bar goer (translated). “A properly made Desitka tastes like Jesus massaging your tongue.’ I would agree.


If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

None.


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

This is definitely a loaded question. Every brewer is supposed to say, ‘ALL OF THEM!!!’ I won’t say Desitka as I just lamented on it. Both the Pubstitute and Patersbier I can drink year round. A few Paters and then switch to the Pubstitute as you can have tons of them over conversation and not turn into a wonky twat…the wonky part anyway. The AK (pale mild/golden bitter) we’ll be coming out with shortly called ‘The Actress and The Bishop’ would be close as it is suicidally quaffable. That’s one beer I have to keep off tap at the brewery when we are working as both the beer nerds and ‘normies’ drink it dry. In the winter, I can murder a double stout. Something big and rich to get me started for the evening. In the summer, Berliner Weiss with fresh raspberry syrup. I mean, Berliner’s on their own, are excellent. Chuck in some raspberry and the things are sublime! Really, really bloody marvelous...

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

Authenticity is a relative term. There is so much rubbish out about beer styles and their history it depends who you talk too. Current literature is troublesome with all the circular referencing. A brewery focused on ‘tradition’ can easily get their asses handed to them for following one story when another is true. In the world of beer, you’ll find many wonderful stories ruined by fact.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in the glass. When I do something ‘traditional’ I ensure that it’s massively researched, probably overly so. A lot of beer styles are just snap shots in time. When I say IPA, what do I mean? If I put IPA on the label people are going to get angry here in the Midwest if it’s not strong and bitter. We have vernacular for a reason. If I want a bacon cheeseburger and you bring me a veggie ‘not dog’ I’m going to be pretty pissed about it. The need to preface traditional things is of vast importance. Making an authentically shitty beer for its own sake is asinine. If they filtered through a sheep’s bladder, it doesn’t mean you have to also. Make the best possible product but be open about what you are doing and changes if they matter. Meaning don’t tell me you made a ‘traditional’ Gose and just add salt to a witbier. I just think it’s a case of putting the cart before the horse. Spend more time in the brewery, less time at how to ‘spin’ the beer and everyone benefits.

I think the most important thing about authenticity in brewing is being authentic with your consumers…and I guess yourself. From gypsy brewers to ‘brands’, the world if full of ‘breweries’. A business address does not equal a brewery. If your product is made in northern California, it is not a ‘local’ product in Eastern Guatemala just because the business is based there. If someone brews your beer, puts it in cans, you are a beer company, not a brewery. If you contract someone to brew your ‘recipe’ and you have no hand in the process, you are not a brewer or a brewery. Everyone has a different idea of their business model. I personally don’t care what your plan is as long as you make a great product. That being said, I will always support local. All things being equal, I think it’s very important to spend my dollars on things around me. However I won’t put my local blinders on if the product isn’t up to par just because it’s local. I think it’s important for a company to receive honest feedback as if you keep your locals happy, you’ll be happy. The problem is in today’s brewing world, people have gotten away from this. It’s sometimes impossible to find where something was actually made. Every time I pick up a new brand, I turn that can or bottle or look at that keg collar and see where it’s really made. “Brewed and bottled by Thrusty Passion brewery, Western Kreplakistan.” Hmmm…yet the front of the bottle says, “Crotch Crescent, Oxford” (and yes, I’ve been to Crotch Crescent). I think it’s simply a matter of people not liking to be misled. Honesty, above all else = authenticity to me. On a similar vein, I love this tweet by Greg Kock of Stone Brewing, “If your beer isn't actually brewed there, why do you spend so much time, energy & money trying to convince people it is? How about #honesty”.


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

All your questions open ended aren’t they!? Collaborations to me should be about what each person brings to the table and not just about marketing or because it sounds cool. There are so very few collaborations that kick actual ass that it’s something that really needs a lot of thought put into it.

Does it have to still be in operation? I say no. I would love to have done collaborated with Guinness Park Royal. My granddad used to run their men’s club for years and the stories my mum tells would be a great tie-in. Oooooo, or the old Courage brewery…oh yes, that would be sweet! Breweries around today? Another hard one! Depends on the type of beer we’d be doing. I would love to do a historic collaboration with Fullers. Ron’s been doing them with John for a while and I’d love to add my $0.02 (US). I could drink their stuff all day. I would really enjoy doing something with Pivovar Kout na Šumavě. I think they are one of the best breweries in the world. A little place in Hungary near where my wife’s family is from called Rotburger would be really cool. If you make me choose the US, doing a historical IBSt with Russian River aged in some nice barrels would kick some major ass (hope Vinnie is listening!). Doing one of the first IPA’s with Stone’s Mitch Steele would be a great continuation from what we’ve done in the past (I helped Mitch with historic IPA recipes in his new book. IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Buy it!).

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

Invented…depends who you ask invented what. I would probably have to say something like the Czech Desitka…yes yes I’ve talked about it before. You don’t really see them in the US so people don’t know how awesome they are and what they are missing!! It’s such a simple beer that started with suboptimal ingredients. You have water that lacks so many minerals it’s nearly distilled, malt that was of low quality and hops with little bittering ability. The amount of time and energy into making a beer so wonderful is staggering. Coming up with so many rests, how to get there, what to do, what to add, its massively difficult when you have the roadmap, inventing it, that’s just bloody brilliant. Rain man brilliant. Oh, and I guess the second would be malt liquor. Billy Dee and I would have been best friends and I would be been luckier than Nigella Lawson’s knickers with more street cred than Grand Master Flash! That would’ve been sweet…