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!