Friday, September 28, 2012

Brewer of the Week

Today sees the return of the Brewer of the Week series. As you know, unless you are new or haven't been paying attention, I lived in the Czech Republic for about 10 years before moving to the US in 2009. Czech beer is thus very close to my heart and it has bothered me for some time that there hadn't been a Czech brewery in my Brewer of the Week series. Today that gets put right, and on Saint Václav's Day as well!

Name: Jakub Veselý
Brewery: Pivovar Falkon

How did you get into brewing as a career?

As a small child I was very excited of beer, its foam and interesting smell. I grew up in the town, well known by hop cultivation and people there were really proud of it. So when I was 9-10 years old, I started to collect beer labels, coasters etc., and at 12, I got the idea to brew my own beer. Of course, I knew nothing about the beer brewing. I started with malt extract and after a few batches I tried a full grain batch. When I was 15 I started studies of fermentation technology (especially beer technology) in Prague, still active in homebrewing and after graduating I’ve worked in one small commercial brewery. Now I am starting studies at the University of Chemistry.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Brewer should be careful, handy (exactly it doesn’t concern me), open to new things.

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

I was homebrewing, I am homebrewing now and I will in the future as well. I have converted to this date 2 recipes, but this number will raise.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Actually I’m developing 5 new Falkon beer recipes in homebrew.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

Every beer I brew.

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

It was non traditional beers (In Bohemia) - especially ales.

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

For Falkon I have already brewed 2 beers and I like them both.

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

Authenticity is thing, why customers decide to buy my beers. Not all materials, which I need for my “world wide concept brewing” are available, so I have to replace some of them by local ones. But not all of them of course! I always try to use original brewing method for individual beer styles. By this way traditional beers are produced with original character.

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

It’s hard to say. In the world, there are lot of excellent breweries with excellent brewmasters of course. For example Brewdog, Stone...

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

Recently i was in beer heaven of Brewdog "I Hardcore you" or Ov-ral double IPA fermented with wild yeast by To Øl.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cask vs the World

Let me get something straight right now, I like cask conditioned beer, I also love lager, oh and I love stout and porter. Thinking about it, I love beer FULL STOP. While I think the term 'craft beer' is pretty much meaningless drivel, the beers which bear that tag are some of my favourite beers to drink, whether from a bottle or, preferably, on draught in the pub. Yes sir I am a beer drinker and it is because I am a beer drinker that there are times that I despair at the collective antics of the various 'consumer organisations' and brewers on both sides of the 'cask vs craft keg' debate.

Whilst on Twitter this morning, Martyn Cornell tweeted about a page on Cask Ale Week's website, which claims that:
keg beers, smooth beers, craft beers, lagers and stouts are different from cask beers. They:-
  • Are all brewery conditioned: they undergo only one fermentation and are then pasteurised
  • Are filtered so they contain no live yeast
  • Have gas added in order to give them a fizz or a ‘smooth’ texture
  • Can be identified by the type of font or tap (they are served by switching on rather than pulling through) on the bar, and the straight sided containers in the cellar.
  • Are usually served at a chilled 6 degrees centigrade
  • May be served ‘extra-cold’ at 0 to 5 degrees centigrade
Now, you can see that a lot of this is just bullshit straight off the bat, but as someone who works, albeit part-time and only in the tasting room, in a 'craft' brewery I can confirm that Starr Hill Brewing Company does not pasteurise their beer. Thinking about it, Devils Backbone don't pasteurise either, I guess they aren't 'craft'.

But if you read the entirety of that page, you see a very snide and malicious attempt to set up cask ale as somehow natural and healthy as opposed to evil, industrial "keg beers, smooth beers, craft beers, lagers and stouts", especially as cask ale is made from "4 wholesome ingredients: water, malted barley, hops and yeast". Can we assume therefore that no cask ales have brewing sugars in them, or is this simply misinformation?

As I said at the top of this post, I am a beer drinker, not a cask drinker, keg drinker or craft drinker. I have drunk some absolutely cracking cask ales as much as some which were downright awful, just as I have had both great and undrinkable 'craft' beer. The method of dispense and market positioning of a brewery are irrelevant, it is what is in the glass that is important, how it tastes and whether I enjoy it.

Surely this sniping and attempts at point scoring against other parts of the industry has got to stop and people need to realise that at the end of the day we are all on the same side - the side of good beer.

Without it we are in danger of becoming the zythophilic version of this:

UPDATE: The text above has been changed to the following:
Keg beers, smooth beers, craft beers, lagers and stouts are different from cask beers. They:-
  • The vast majority are brewery conditioned, undergoing only one fermentation and then pasteurisation
  • Nearly all are filtered so they contain no live yeast
  • Most have gas added in order to give them a fizz or a ‘smooth’ texture
  • Can usually be identified by the type of font or tap (they are served by switching on rather than pulling through) on the bar, and the straight sided containers in the cellar.
  • Are usually served at a chilled 6 degrees centigrade
  • May be served ‘extra-cold’ at 0 to 5 degrees centigrade

I would still question the veracity of the claim that the vast majority of craft beers are pasteurised, I can't think of a single one off the top of my head, but at least it is no longer a blanket claim.

UPDATE 2 - the above text has been amended again so that only "Keg beers, smooth beers, lagers and stouts..." do through these evil processes. Better not mention that Bernard lagers are all unpasteurised or I fear heads will explode.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Notions Challenged

I am perfectly happy to admit that I am somewhat opinionated, one thing I do hope though is that when someone or something contradicts my opinion then I am open to listen and change my viewpoint.  On Saturday, whilst working in the Starr Hill tasting room, I had two of my preconceived notions given a good battering.

If you have followed Fuggled for more than a few posts, you will know that I have a problem with the whole "black" IPA thing - originally on the basis that the concepts of 'black' and 'pale ale' are mutually exclusive, but mainly because several versions of the 'style' I have tried have overwhelmingly been dreck. In general, my experience of beers where dark malts have been added to a traditionally pale beer have been negative, but given that hope springs eternal I will try most things when I have the opportunity. On Saturday such an opportunity presented itself.

One of the delights of this part of Virginia is that it is an alcoholics paradise, vineyards, cideries, distilleries and of course for the beer lovers there is the Brew Ridge Trail, which consists of 6 local breweries, Devils' Backbone, Wild Wolf, Blue Mountain, Blue Mountain Barrel House, Starr Hill and South Street. Every now and again the brewers get together to make a collaboration beer and the latest iteration of said brew was on tap at the tasting room on Saturday, it was a 'black' tripel. It really had the potential to be the perfect shit storm of things I am not a fan off (say it quietly, but I don't really dig tripel as a regular tipple, unless it actually comes from Belgium, or Canada for that matter). Dutifully I poured myself a sample so I would be able to explain the beer to visitors, and low and behold I liked it. The dark malt lends the beer a light roastiness which roughens up the sugary sweetness that you expect from tripels and judicious use of Saaz hops gives it slightly spicy edge. It is a very nice beer, though quite how it differs from a Belgian Dark Strong Ale is beyond me. If you are at any of the breweries on the Brew Ridge Trail and they have it on tap, then look it out and give it a bash, it's good.

About half way through a somewhat quiet shift, it was also the Top of the Hops beer festival on Saturday, one of my other notions was thoroughly debased. A little back story first, in 2006 I worked as the Tour Manager for a stag party organising company in Prague for a few months. One thing that always filled me with dread was when we would have a hen party, that's 'bachelorette' party for my American readers. My experience of large groups of girls together is that they were uniformly louder, more drunken and more of a nuisance than a similar sized group of men, I am not entirely sure why. We didn't have a hen party come into the tasting room on Saturday, we had a bunch of girls from a sorority at Longwood University - about 20 or so in total, with 12 doing the tasting. The tasters ended up on my side of the bar, and were good fun, with plenty of laughs and frivolity all round - and I stand by my comment to one of them that the Soviet Union would have won World War 2 eventually without the Normandy invasions. I also enjoyed the ego stroke of most of them thinking I was in my late 20s, early 30s (I am 36, nearly 37).

So there we go, one shift, two preconceived notions thoroughly challenged and by the time I got home, to the blaring tunes of The Jam, The Clash and The Doors it was time to hang with friends on the deck and booze the evening away. A pleasing prospect that pleased immensely.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Please Sir, I Want Some (Balti)More

As I mentioned in Monday's post, I spent last weekend in Baltimore being shown the delights of that city by my best friend.

My friend and I have spent many, many hours in pubs in various countries in the thirteen years we have known each other. We have enjoyed beer in dives, expat hangouts, brewpubs and basically anywhere that sells alcohol, there was a time when we would buy a case of beer on a Friday afternoon to drink on our balcony in Prague before hitting the town. We have drunk in Czech cities, towns and villages, Slovak cities, towns and villages and now American cities, towns and villages.

In the weeks before our trip I did plenty of research on places that I wanted to go to while in Baltimore, even though, as I admitted on Twitter the other day, I am a useless beer tourist. I am not much of one for visiting breweries and doing tours, there are only so many mash tuns that I am interested in seeing, my interest in beer is primarily based on the fact that I like drinking it. Having arrived in the city in the early evening our plan was simple, get checked in and get checking out the pub scene, starting with a place to eat as well as drink.

That place ended up being in Fells Point, a pub called The Wharf Rat, which I had only learnt about on Tuesday or Wednesday last week, courtesy of Joe's post on cask beer in the USA. Having walked in, the first thing I noticed was a bank of five handpumps and made a beeline for that part of the bar. I could almost have whooped for joy when I saw the magic words "Best Bitter" on one of the pump clips. The bitter was from Oliver Breweries, whose head brewer follows my Twitter account and had warned me that he didn't think the bitter would be available at Pratt Street Ale House over the weekend. Moments later a proper pint of rich copper liquid with a nicely sparkled head was nestling in my grubby mitt, and what a delight it was, a perfect example of one of the most criminally underrated styles of beer.

Oliver Breweries was to become something of a theme of our weekend. Nursing hangovers on the Saturday morning after a somewhat boisterous crawl of pubs and bars, we wandered from our hotel to Pratt Street and the eponymous Ale House, home base of Oliver Breweries. I was hoping that they would, by some happy fate, have more of the bitter to act as a hair of the dog that bit us, though in all honesty the dog that bit us was more rye sized than bitter. Let me take this moment to thank the inventor of ibuprofen for his sterling service to the drinking classes, a handful of pills and my headache was on the wane.

With places at the bar duly taken, the bar itself being my preferred location to drink, I ordered a pint of Dark Horse, Oliver Breweries' mild - what a weekend, bitter and mild in the same city! Dark Horse was the ideal pick me up after the excesses of Friday, a subtly malty beer with just enough hop bite to give some balance and an superb moreishness. Our barmaid soon learnt that when we had two fingers worth of beer in the glass, it was time for a fresh one. It was almost like being back in Central Europe with an endless conveyor belt of beer deposited in front of us. When her shift came to an end, we decided to move on and try some other places, one of which I will talk more about on Friday. Eventually though we ended up back at the Wharf Rat for more best bitter, more banter and more just being a proper pub, eventually kicking the cask.

Pratt Street Ale House and The Wharf Rat appeal to two different sides of my love for beer and the drinking of it. The former has a classic American sports bar environment, good beer and good food, a place to sit and watch the game with plenty of tasty beer, but thankfully lacking pretension. The latter what I regard as a "proper" pub, a place where socialising is at the very heart of your visit, lubricated with quality session beer, a place that is unfalteringly down to earth. These are the kind of places where, in my unhumble opinion, beer and beer drinkers are most naturally at home, I loved them and whenever I am in Baltimore again, I will most certainly be stopping by for more.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Union Drinking

Some time back in the Spring I had a Skype chat with my best friend. At the time he was living in Kyiv, Ukraine and during the conversation he was drinking his homebrew pale lager which reminded him of Staropramen. Eventually it transpired that he would be back in the States for a few months, he being American, and that we should get together for a lads' weekend in his hometown of Baltimore.

Thus on Friday morning I took my first train ride in the US, to get from Charlottesville to Washington DC, where once he was finished with work for the day we would meet to make our way up to Baltimore and perhaps have a pint or two over the coming days. With several hours to kill in DC before meeting up, I hopped on the Metro (btw - I love public transport, civilised places have public transport) with the intention of going to Churchkey and sitting with my book for a few hours. Having walked for about 20 minutes from the nearest Metro station, I discovered that Churchkey doesn't open until 4pm. It being only 12.30 I headed back to Union Station to see if I could find one of the pubs I had read about. Just an aside, I know far too many pubs that don't open at a reasonable hour like 11am, I am yet to work out why such places are adverse to the capitalist notion of making money.

Having made it back to the Union Station area, I headed in the vague direction that I remembered there being somewhere to drink from Google Maps. I don't have smart phone and so the idea of navigating by phone is something I don't do. Anyway, half an hour of concerted bimbling lead me to The Union Pub, where I sat gazing in wonder at the Devils Backbone Vienna Lager tap in front of me, I had found my place. There I sat, reading the occasional snippet of David Hume's 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' and feeding money into the juke box - if anyone reading this was assaulted by my choice in music - The Smiths, Rammstein, Die Toten Hosen and Gerry and the Pacemakers, then let me apologise.

Spending a few hours sat a bar, with good beer and a good book really is one of my favourite things to do, and I think whenever I head up to DC again, The Union Pub will be my first choice place to go. They have a really good selection of beer, a nice atmosphere and from my experience of one afternoon, excellent staff. I was almost tempted to get my friend to meet me there rather than at Union Station, but as he had said to me earlier in the day, if we met in a pub we would probably never get to Baltimore...

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Touch O' Ginger

When I was a kid, my mother seemed to always have a bottle of Crabbie's Ginger Wine in the household bar, and from time to time we would be allowed to have a glass of said libation, liberally topped up with lemonade and served with ice. Alcohol in our family has never been something taboo, as such myself and my three brothers all grew up with a healthy respect for drink. Sure, such a way of raising kids might not go down well with the po-faced do gooders who think childhood should last into your twenties, but it doesn't seem to have done us any harm.

Anyway, back to Crabbie's, Saturday was a friend's birthday and Mrs V and I joined our friend, her husband and a few other souls at Beer Run to celebrate. When the time came to leave and drive home to watch Doctor Who, I picked up a 6 pack of Pilsner Urquell, and out of pure whimsy a couple of bottles of Crabbie's Ginger Beer. Yesterday afternoon Mrs V and I sat on our porch and surveyed the freshly mown lawn, kindly mown by a neighbour as we don't have a mower yet, the only thing missing to complete the scene was a glass of something cold, not fancying beer I popped open a Crabbie's, spritzed with a dash of lemon juice.

Having taken my seat, I drank long from the glass and memories of childhood flooded back. Sure it wasn't the Crabbie's Ginger Wine and lemonade that I remembered, but it was pretty damned close and so refreshing. Simply put, it was delightful, and I think I'll be back at Beer Run in the near future for more, especially at only $2.75 a bottle.

To just top off the nostalgia, here are The Corries singing The Portree Kid, which mentions Crabbie's Ginger Wine...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Oh FFS!!!

Here I was having a happily non-spleen venting Friday when my good friend Max, aka Pivní Filosof, sends me this link.

Hoping that I was about to read that another brewery in the US has seen the light about brewing great Czech style beers I read this sentence, attributed to the president of Susquehanna Brewing Company, Fred Maier:
“It’s an innovative black pilsner”
Oh please no! Not again! How many times will we have to bang this drum? Let me say this one more time, and forgive the caps lock and bold, but it seems clear that some of the trendy kids at the back of the classroom are simply not listening:


Now, that's not to say there isn't a tradition of dark lagers in the Czech lands, there is, they are called tmavé or sometimes Černé, but tmavé is the legal term.

As for being innovative, well done "craft" brewers for joining 19th Century Bohemia in brewing dark lagers which don't have the roastiness of a schwarzbier and enjoy a healthy respect for Saaz hops.

Spleen vented, carry on.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beer is NOT Wine, Deal With It!

Yesterday I tweeted the following:
"winos jumping on the beer bandwagon is a bad thing for the industry...discuss".
In response to a few requests for further elaboration, here goes. First though let me say that I quite enjoy wine from time to time, indeed I spent much of Saturday in vineyard tasting rooms in our local area sampling some very nice wines, and some bloody awful ones, so don't go getting it into your head that this is some kind of anti-wine rant, it isn't. Having said that though, I do think beer is an infinitely more interesting drink, but that for another post sometime.

The genesis of my tweet came from some comments I overheard in one of the vineyards on Saturday. The bar area at the final vineyard we visited, Barboursville Vineyards to be precise, was fairly crowded, so rather than adding to the mêlée with four extra bodies, Mrs V and our friends waited on the periphery whilst I went back and forth getting samples. During one such trip, a couple just in front of me was discussing how "craft beer is the new wine" whilst simultaneously complaining that brewery tasting rooms were "too industrial" and that they couldn't take beer seriously until it "became like wine".

Now, I don't want to tar all wine lovers with the same brush as these pseuds, but as I have posted about plenty of times before, I am not convinced that wine people are capable of appreciating beer on its own terms. Yes they may have refined palettes able to detect strawberries dressed in rubber gimp suits or some such bizarre combination, if you have never heard Jilly Goolden waffle on then count yourself fortunate, but trying to force beer into the wine frame of reference is pointless, and does a disservice to beer.

There are times, and I accept that I may be oversensitive about this, that I get the feeling that there are too many people trying to gentrify beer, to take it away from being the drink of the everyman and make it a niche product for those with pockets deep enough to pay for it. That's not say to that beer is the lowest common denominator drink, but rather that is transcends class and status, and it infuriates me when some people try to intellectualise beer by comparing it to wine.

As I said in a post a couple of weeks ago:
"I often find myself rolling my eyes at the seemingly endless attempts to turn the drink of the everyman into something antithetical to its very nature, something fancy. We often read and hear about beer "achieving the status of wine", as though middle class respectability with its chunky knit sweaters, Volvos and wine and cheese parties is something worth aping."
There are times when my sincerest wish is that the people trying to "raise" beer to the level of wine would just spit the dummy, throw their toys out of the pram and bugger off.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Cheaper Option

There are times when I simply fail to understand the pricing of beer. Take this weekend for example, Mrs Velkyal and I had guests from South Carolina, Mrs V's best friend and husband, so we went into Charlottesville to do some shopping at Whole Foods.

We had decided to splash out on some good steaks and we took our traditional detour to the beer and wine aisle. I was thrilled that they were now stocking the "express shipped cold" Pilsner Urquell in bottles though not in cans, so naturally in the interests of blogging science I bought a six pack.

Next to the Pilsner Urquell was another major Czech beer brand, Staropramen - the MolsonCoors owned brewing behemoth in Prague. Staropramen in the Czech Republic is cheaper than Pilsner Urquell, usually about two-thirds of the price, but in Whole Foods in Charlottesville the Pilsner Urquell was $7.99 for a six pack and Staropramen was $9.49.

I just couldn't get my head around the idea of Staropramen being more expensive that Pilsner Urquell, unless of course the fact that Plzeň is about 60km closer to the US than Prague is important - strangely though I rather doubt that.

So what would make Pilsner Urquell the cheaper, and infinitely superior, option?

btw - express shipped cold Pilsner Urquell is lovely, only one step down from tankove - so go and buy some  and enjoy.

Best Beer Ever!

Shock, horror, a new post at Fuggled! Yes, it has been a while, but mitigating circumstances, I have been heads down writing my first book, ...