Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beers of the Year

In years past I have written multiple 'Review of the Year' posts, across various beer styles, and then colours. This year, I am feeling somewhat lazy and am writing just the one long post highlighting what I think have been the best pale, amber, and dark beers from Central Virginia, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world. So without further ado....
Pale Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Blue Mountain Classic Lager
  • Rest VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest US - Samuel Adams Alpine Spring
  • Rest World - Oakham Citra
Overall Pale Beer of the Year: Oakham Citra, which I wrote about here.

Amber Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  • Rest VA - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest US - Highland Gaelic Ale
  • Rest World - Timothy Taylor Landlord (bottled)
Overall Amber Beer of the Year: Timothy Taylor Landlord, one of the best beers in the world. End of.

Dark Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd No Veto Brown Ale
  • Rest VA - Mad Fox Mason's Mild
  • Rest US - Green Flash Double Stout
  • Rest World - Fullers London Porter
Overall Dark Beer of the Year: Three Notch'd No Veto, probably the beer I drink most of, when not bashing Session 42.

From those three Beers of the Year, this year's Fuggled Champion Beer of the Year is...

Timothy Taylor Landlord. 

I have come to the conclusion that there are insufficient superlatives to describe the bottled version of Landlord. Simply one of the best beers on the planet in my opinion and one which is so insanely difficult to get hold of on this side of the Pond that it astounds me that it never makes the 'Best Beers in the World' lists (oh wait, it's not a boozy hop bomb and/or Belgian). I never tire of drinking it, and in many ways, Session 42 is something of an homage to it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#Cville Beer and Pizza

Beer and pizza, the staple of many a Friday night in, it really is a classic combination. Obviously it helps when the pizza is better than your bog standard Pizza Hut fare, and when the beer is better than a couple of cans of Tennent's Super.

In Charlottesville there is a pizza place called Brixx, which boasts wood-fired pizza and an extensive beer list. Mrs V and I have been a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed both, as well as the live music that was playing on the patio that afternoon.

Tonight Brixx is hosting a tap takeover for my friends over at Three Notch'd Brewing (yes, I know I talk about them alot, and no I am not on a stipend), and one of the beers that will be available is Session 42, the beer I brewed on my birthday.

The official launch of Session 42, as I have mentioned before, is this Friday at the brewery tasting room, but those that make it down to Brixx tonight will get a preview of what I hope is an on the money bitter that would grace any pub back in Blighty.

Yes I know I am biased.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Time for Burton

As the year draws to its close, there are several beery things on my mind. Deciding the Fuggled beers of the year for my categories of pale, amber, and dark. Choosing the beers that will make up most of my drinking on Christmas Day. Looking forward to January and my month of total booze abstinence. Working out what the theme will be for the International Homebrew Project in the coming Spring.

Thus it was at this time last year, unemployed and finally with the time to read Martn Cornell's magnificent Amber, Gold, and Black, the essential guide to British beers, that an idea started to form in my head. I knew as I read that I wanted to bring a neglected beer style back to life for the homebrewers from around the world that partake in the project. Thankfully one particular beer style jumped from the pages of Martyn's book (seriously, if you haven't yet bought it from Amazon you should do, thinking about it, Christmas is coming so treat yourself, or persuade someone to treat you), a beer with a story rooted in the imperial history of Great Britain, and tied inextricably to some of the most famous names in British brewing history; Bass, Allsopp, Ind Coope.

For those who don't follow Fuggled all that regularly, the International Homebrew Project will running for the 5th time this spring, and I very much imagine that we will continue our burgeoning tradition of bringing a piece of brewing history back to life. The project started out with just myself and one other homebrewer here in Virginia. Last year, brewers from several US states, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, and a clutch of other countries took part.

Last year's International Homebrew Project revived a strong Scottish mild from 1853 that single handedly smashed many a homebrew/craft brew myth about Scottish ales. You know the kind of bullshit, hops don't grow in Scotland so the brewers there had to import hops from England, and in an act of national 'living up to stereotype' were too cheap to do so in any great volume, all the while shipping peat infused water from the west to the breweries in the east. So, I didn't really have the heart to mess too much with people's heads, after all wouldn't a 10.5% abv, north of 100 IBU, pale mild be enough of a mind bend? Well, in the end, no, not really.

If there is a beer style that defines the microbrewing world, then surely India Pale Ale would be the forerunner, in a race of one pretty much. As such, given the sometimes woeful understanding of beer history and development that seems to abound, a pale beer with a shit ton of hops chucked into the boil, originally made in Burton upon Trent, has to have been the original India Pale Ale right? Well, no, beer history is, like most of human history, far more complex, and interesting, than the simple pronouncements that might one day make it into an Oxford University Press ultimate guide.

While Burton may be most famous in the modern age as the spiritual home of India Pale Ale, it is a beer which stayed much closer to home to which the city lent its name. At the same time as the likes of Bass and Allsop were shipping barrels of pale ale with plenty of hops to the sub-continent, they were making a pale ale with plenty of hops for the home market. By the middle of the 20th Century, Burton Ale was being listed as one of four principal ales being made by British brewers, the other three being pale ale, mild ale, and stout.

At the end of the 1940s, Burton Ale was described as being:

'a draught beer darker and sweeter than bitter...common to all breweries wherever they are. Burton is also known as 'old' '.

One hundred years previously though, Burton Ale had been a strong beer, made exclusively from pale malt, and with generous amounts of hops. An anonymous writer in the early 19th Century had Burton Ale with an original gravity of 1.140, 4.5 lbs of hops per barrel (in comparison, an IPA of the time would have had about 6lbs per barrel), and needed a year and a half maturation. This was clearly a beer which demanded respect.

Go back a further hundred years. From the 1740s until the Russian Imperial government introduced tariffs on beer imports in 1822, Burton Ale was a thick, sweet, brown ale, which was 'so rich and luscious that if a little were spilled on the table the glass would stick to it'. As an interesting historical side note, there was an exception made on the tariff for porter, which eventually led to the creation of Russian Imperial Stout.

What to do then with a beer which has evolved and meandered through the various colours, strengths, and bitterness levels associated with the drink. The answer is really rather obvious, ask the people that take part in the project. Thus it was that I suggested the following options:
  • 1860s Scottish version of Burton
  • 1870s English recipe, originally brewed in Burton itself
  • 1900s American Burton
  • 1910s English 'Mild' Burton
  • 1930s English Old Burton Extra
  • 1990s English recreation of 1840s pale Burton
The eventual winner was the 1870s variant, which was originally brewed by the legendary Truman's brewing company. Despite being most closely related with the East End of London, Truman's owned a brewery in Burton as well during the 19th Century, and it was there in 1877 that they brewed Number 4, a pale ale brewed with American and English hops, to almost the same levels as an IPA.

From the recipe provided by Ron Pattinson, the beer chosen would have an Original Gravity of 1.079, 125 International Bitterness Units, and an alcohol content of 7.3% by volume. Clearly a sweet, powerfully 'hoppy' brew, but not a n IPA. It was this fact that annoyed me something rotten when I read the feedback sheets from this years Dominion Cup, in which I entered my Burton Ale in the dreaded Category 23, listed as simply a 'Burton Ale'. The judges clearly weren't au fait with 19 century beer knowledge, and judged the beer as a 'historical IPA'.

I have since brewed an amended version of Burton Ale which was very well received by all who tried it at the recent Homebrew for Hunger, and I can see it becoming something a regular brew. As you can see though from the list above, I have another 5 recipes to brew, all of which claim their heritage from Burton Ale from different points in its timeline.

The next one I plan to make is the 1930s Old Burton Ale from Fullers. Just 58 years after Truman's made their pale brew, Fullers were making a slightly darker ale with an Original Gravity of 1.067, and somewhat paired back hopping, with 'just' 69 IBUs of Goldings. Gone though is the 100% pale malt, replaced with 41% each of English 2 row and American 6 row, 14.5% flaked maize, 3% white sugar, and 0.5% caramel colouring, resulting in a rich cooper beer.

The thing though that confuses me when it comes to Burton Ale is why so few 'craft' breweries seem to be interested in making the style, regardless of era. As a reasonably strong, certainly well hopped, beer, Burton Ale would seem to tick all the right boxes for a revival in the 'craft' brewing world. Like it's better known cousin that got to travel to exotic climes, perhaps the time has come to Burton to make a more concerted come back?

Sure, there are beers being made by various breweries that would be recognised as a Burton Ale at differing points in history. Fuller's 1845 is perhaps the most obvious example, though Young's Winter Warmer, and Timothy Taylor's Ram Tam have both been cited as valid examples of the style. There is a strong argument for saying that many of the modern 'Scotch' ales have plenty in common with 19th century Burton Ales being made in the large Scottish breweries, yet so few lay claim to the Burton Ale moniker.

Having gone through various, frankly ridiculous, shades of IPA, an age of discovery when it comes to the brewing of sour ales, the recent interest in beers from Eastern Europe, especially Grodziskie, perhaps the next big thing in the brewing world should be Burton Ale. A beer with a wealth of history, a great story to tell, as well as all the booze, and hops, so beloved of many a craft beer drinker.

Thus it is that I want to make a plea to the brewers out there looking to do something a little different. Put down the weird ingredients, the herbs, spices, and flavourings, pick up a book, Martyn's is a good place to start, and bring back to life the beers which have fallen by the wayside. Whether it is the Burton Ale which so piqued my interest or something yet more obscure, the past is as rich a resource for your imagination as the spice rack, and you might just find something more palatable there.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tis The Session

Today is the beginning of 'the Holidays', five and a bit weeks of parties, soirees, over-eating, and, best of all, plenty of free flowing booze.

Seasonal beers, as the nights shorten and the mercury plummets tend toward the boozy. Barleywine, Imperial Stout, and many a Belgian over 8% abv. While they are all wonderful styles to drink ensconced in the warmth and comfort of your home, I sometimes wonder if they are the best thing to drink at the company Chrimble bash, the homebrew club festivities, or just your annual meet up with friends to do a pub crawl (note to self: organise a crawl with Mark).

You likely know that I am a fan, and even perhaps an advocate, for session beers. Those wonderful pints, proper pints naturally, of complex, flavourful brew that weigh in under 4.5% abv (no 6% is not sessionable). Sadly many relegate session beers to the warmer months, disparaging them with terms like 'lawnmower beer', but I am convinced that with so many parties to go to, this is the time of year when session beers should come into their own.

With several hours of socialising to get through, why not a nice dry stout, a best bitter, or even a well made mild (other than the fact that the latter two are rarer than hen's teeth)?

Forgive the shameless plug, but I get the feeling that I will be drinking lots of Session 42 in the coming months. I tried it the other day from the fermenter, where it is conditioning beautifully, and to be honest, and in no way objective, it is lovely. As I said to Dave at Three Notch'd, if I were served that in a pub back home I would not be disappointed. As I sniffed, swished, and sampled, I started to realise that a best bitter is actually a great winter beer.

Think about what a best bitter is. A beer where hops are the very heart of it, though not the grapefruit, pine resin thing of Cascade and it's C-brothers, but the orange and spice of something like Goldings. I don't know about you, but growing up, Advent and Christmas were redolent with the aroma of spice studded oranges. In terms of malts, the highest quality pale malt lays down a base for amber and/or caramel malts to shine through, adding complexity so the hops don't have it all their own way. So take that spicy orange thing from the hops and smear it on top of the warm toast of great amber malt, and at between 4-4.5% abv you have a beer you can drink all night, or even indulge in a quick pint with lunch - and all food tastes better with a beer than an insipid ice tea or post-mix fizzy drink.

Session 42 ticks every box for me when it comes to best bitters. 4%, a beautiful orange colour, 38 IBUs of pure Goldings, and a drinkability that is, quite simply, moreish. As with any British style beer being served in an American pub, give it time to warm up...

For people reading this in the Charlottesville area, Session 42 is being released on December 6th at the Three Notch'd tasting room, with a sneak peek at Brixx when they have a Three Notch's Tap Takeover on the 3rd. If you run a pub in the area, it will be available in distribution from the 9th....just in time for Christmas drinking!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Barrels of Best

Yesterday was my birthday, and I spent the day at Three Notch'd Brewing here in Charlottesville, making the biggest batch of beer I have ever been involved in. I arrived at the brewery at 7am expecting to be brewing 10 barrels of Session 42, an English style pale ale, hopped exclusively with US Goldings, only to be told that we would be brewing 20 barrels instead.

As I mentioned in my last post, Session 42 is a best bitter, but with a slight difference, we used only US ingredients. No Maris Otter, no Kent Goldings, the ingredients were as follows:
  • 89% Rahr 2 Row Malt
  • 11% Briess Victory Malt
  • 38 IBUs of US Goldings
We are using the brewery's standard yeast, the Edinburgh ale strain which is derived from McEwan's back in Scotland.

The grain bill of just 2 Row and Victory malt will give the beer a sweet, bready, almost toasty base. Usually I would add some crystal malt, but I wanted to avoid the caramel sweetness that seems to be a defining element of the English Pale Ale in some people's minds.

If everything goes well the beer will finish at about 4.2% abv, just a touch above the finest best bitter on the planet, Timothy Taylor's wonderful bottled Landlord.

All the hops in the beer are US Goldings, which is basically Kent Goldings without the Kent. Packed with a Seville orange citrus character, as well as the spicy earthiness you expect from this classic hop. With the toastiness of the Victory malt, think marmelade on warm toast and you're pretty much there...

To say I am looking forward to drinking the beer when it comes out in early December would be an understatement...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pale and Bitter Ale

If rarity were truly an indicator of the world's best beers, then in the American context, the top 100 would have a decent smattering of beers from the bitter family. Getting a well made, or even a made most of the time, ordinary, best, or extra special is almost as difficult as convincing some people that there is more to the United Kingdom than just the bit south of the Tweed.

The bitter beer family constitutes some of my favourite beers to drink, and to brew, indeed I think this year I have brewed more bitter than anything else combined. Bitter, if you have been keeping up with your beer history classes from Ron and Martyn, is also known as Pale Ale. The former being the name given to this type of beer by the 19th century consumer, the latter by the brewer.

On Monday I will be brewing even more Pale Ale. It is my birthday on Monday, and one of the benefits of the place I work is that employees can take their birthday off. However, rather being ensconced in my garage, brewing up one of my standard 2 and a half gallon brews, I will be at recently opened Three Notch'd Brewing Company. By the end of the day, or at least around mid afternoon given our starting time of 6am, we will have brewed 10 barrels of an English Pale Ale, more specifically a Best Bitter.

The beer is called Session 42, and will be the first locally brewed best bitter that I know of since moving to the US in 2009. I will share more technical details next week, when I write a bit more about the brewday itself. The beer in the picture above is of the trial batch, which other than a couple of minor fermentation issues turned out pretty close to what I was looking for...

Update: as you can read in the comments, my memory failed me, probably as I don't recall drinking it, but Blue Mountain Brewery made a Best Bitter last summer, called Straight Outta Chiswick.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Homebrew for Hunger

One of our local homebrew shops here in the Charlottesville, Fifth Season, is hosting the second annual Homebrew for Hunger tomorrow. Basically the event is a fund raiser for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which provides food to those in financial straits.

I am taking part in the event as one of the homebrewers whose beer you can try, as are several other Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale members, and also at least one person I work with. Myself and Mrs V will be behind the table, pouring the following beers:
  • Dark Island Weizenbock
  • Dark Island Burton Ale
The weizenbock is essentially a stronger version of a regular weizen, but stomping around at 8.4% abv. Made with a combination of 50% white wheat malt, 25 Pilsner malt, and 25% Vienna malt, then hopped exclusively with Tettnang, it's a lovely (in my unhumble opinion), chewy, wintery kind of beer. Naturally it has the slight banana and clove thing going on, and maybe a hint of lemon from the Tettnang, but for me the malt complexity is the star.

Dark Island Burton Ale is a variant on the Truman's Number 4 that was this year's International Homebrew Project. I have toned down the hopping a little, coming down from something north of 100 to about 80 IBUs, and I switched out the Maris Otter malt in favour of Golden Promise, oh and used Safale 04. The beer itself finished at 7.8% and packs a hefty punch of hop and malt playing off against each other (say it quietly but I am becoming a fan of Cluster hops...).

If you are around the Charlottesville area, make it over to try somewhere in the region of 70 homebrews, as well as beer from the local breweries. For more information see the Homebrew for Hunger website.

UPDATE: the event is officially sold out and there will not be any ticket sales at the door! If you are one of the people who has bought tickets, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Craft Isn't

A couple of weeks ago, in light of BrewDog's attempt to define a 'craft' brewery, I set up a little survey on SurveyMonkey, basically asking if consumers regard certain beers as 'craft' or otherwise.

The beers on the list were as follows:
  • Fullers 1845
  • BrewDog Punk IPA
  • Worthington White Shield
  • Becks
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Yeungling Lager
  • Anchor Steam
  • Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale
  • Budvar/Czechvar
  • Tipopils
  • Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
  • Franziskaner
  • Hoegaarden
  • Magic Hat 9
  • Staropramen
  • Stella Artois
  • Samuel Adams Boston Lager
The first, and main, question was simplicity itself, pick the beers you consider to be craft. Broken down by ten percent segments:
  • 91-100: None
  • 81-90: BrewDog Punk IPA
  • 71-80: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Steam
  • 61-70: None
  • 51-60: Magic Hat #9
  • 41-50: Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Fullers 1845, Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale
  • 31-40: Worthington White Shield
  • 21-30: Tipopils, Pilsner Urquell, Budvar
  • 11-20: Yeungling Lager, Hoegaarden, Franziskaner, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Staropramen
  • 00-10: Stella Artois, Becks
Some interesting points come from these numbers. Firstly, less than a quarter of the brands in the list were pretty much unanimously regarded as 'craft', while exactly half of the beers were regarded as definitely 'not-craft' with less that 25% of respondents regarding them as so. Secondly, the split of styles, 'craft' beer would seem to be inherently, according to these numbers, warm fermented.

Perhaps most interesting to me is the group of beers right in the middle of the list, partly because they are the beers that I expected to divide opinion. When it comes to the group of beers which are neither pale hop forward and warm fermented, nor yet pale and bottom fermented, opinion is sharply divided.

In terms of the people who responded to the survey, only 13% work for a brewery or a related trade, and 92% drink at least a few times a week.

I am sure there is plenty more to unpack from the survey, but I think the thing which is clear is that more people agree on what 'craft' isn't.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Know A Craft Beer?

In the right rail, just there beneath the section about my other couple of blogs (pop over and have a read of them sometime - though they aren't updated as often as here) is a link to a survey that I created yesterday (and fixed several times).

It's very quick, probably less than 2 minutes, and I will write something about the results in a week or so.

I would be thrilled if you clicked the link and completely the survey, right

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Craft - A Consumer's Perspective?

Ah 'craft' beer, the gift that just keeps on giving. What is it? What is it not? How to define it? Can it even be defined? So far this week I have read many a post, tweet, and Facebook status about the latest attempts to define 'craft' beer. Or, at least, how to define it from a British perspective.

Not content with copying paying homage to the language used on Stone Brewing's labels, those iconclasts of suburban wannabe rebellion, BrewDog have now copied paid homage to the Brewers Association by lifting their text for a definition of a craft brewery practically verbatim and are attempting to apply it to a British and European context. For thoughts very close to my own on this issue, see Martyn and Max's excellent pieces regarding this latest utterly manufactured furore.

One thing that never seems to come up in these somewhat tedious arguments (as someone that studied the minutiae of medieval theology that is saying something) and dick waving contests is what the consumer thinks? By consumer here I mean your average bloke/lady that drinks beer in the shop or goes to the pub with his/her mates.

I am sure I am being presumptuous here, but I am fairly sure that the average beer drinking consumer gives not a shit about a definition of 'craft' beer, they only care about the stuff in their bottle or glass and how it tastes. The average consumer, I am also rather sure, neither knows nor cares whether Blue Moon is made by MolsonCoors, they only care that in their opinion it is a nice beer, perhaps a bit different from what they usually drink.

'Craft' beer, if it is to be defined, really needs the consumer to be in the driving seat, not those with a vested interest in aligning themselves with the fastest growing sector of the industry, as well as the one which is currently riding the wave of popularity. This is why I think an organisation like the Campaign for Real Ale has greater legitimacy when it comes to defining a product, it is the creation of consumers. If the consumer, as a general rule, doesn't particularly give much of a toss, then perhaps people need to spend more time brewing the beer they are so passionate about and less time trying to convince us that 'craft beer' matters beyond a tasty way to get a hangover.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Praise of Subtlety

If you have been reading Fuggled for a while now, you will likely know that I am a fan of certain beer styles. For me there are few greater beers to drink than a properly made Czech style pale lager, any of the bitter family, or a dry stout. Beers that in their basic ingredients are painfully simple, usually not much more than a couple of malts, maybe a couple of hop varieties, yeast, and water. They are beers that when well put together seem to be made for the best way to drink beer, in the pub with your mates.

There are times in the craft beer world that these kind of beers don't get the attention they deserve, seemingly because they don't have the latest hipster hop variety that tastes like stewed lychee and dill, or perhaps they haven't been aged in bourbon barrels, or worse yet, they are simply not extreme enough for the people that want every drop beer that passes their lips to be an experience that blows them away. Simply put, they are probably too subtle.

Subtley in beer is something that I greatly appreciate, delicate flavours, refined aromas, and the mysterious communion of such simple ingredients being made complex at the hand of the master brewer. The problem with subtle beers, as I talked about briefly in my previous post, is that a couple of ounces in a shot glass will simply tell you nothing about the beer, other than the dominant characteristics. I would argue that even a full pint is not enough to really get to grips with a subtle beer. Subtle beers need to be drank many times because there are many facets to pick up, it's just that they are delicate and not likely to charge down the doorway of your tastebuds.

I am lucky in many ways though that several of my local breweries, and some of the not so local but still Virginian, make wonderfully subtle beers. Devils Backbone's lagers immediately spring to mind, whether the Vienna, which is a perennial favourite of mine, or even the Gold Leaf, and how I long for the day they re-brew the Trukker Ur-Pils. Likewise Starr Hill's Dark Starr Stout, a beer that I am convinced would do well in Ireland, it is that good a stout, and of course there is the magnificent Downright Pilsner from Port City Brewing.

Subtle beers, the ones you drink pint after pint of with your mates, are, in my unhumble opinion, the very height of brewing. They are the ones that are so painfully simple in terms of ingredients, but so wretchedly difficult to do well and avoid the trap of blandness or the pitfall of an absence of balance.

Let's celebrate them.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


It's something that has been pottering around my mind for a while now, and with Boak and Bailey's post this week about the indicators of a 'healthy beer culture', perhaps this is as good a time as any to spout forth.

First let me say that I think the brewing scene in this part of Virginia is fantastic, and vibrant. In the last year and a bit we have seen several new breweries open, already established breweries expand, and seemingly not a week goes by when there are whispers of a new brewing operation in the area. Taking a broader perspective, the sheer number of breweries, and types of beer, being brewed in the US means that it is difficult to not find something worth drinking, even for those of us whose beer of choice is a properly made Czech style pale lager.

There is however something that bothers me, and I speak here purely for myself and not for any particular caucus. I wish there was more of a drinking culture.

You see, I like a drink. I rarely go somewhere with a view to sampling as many beers as possible to then write up notes on websites that advocate the rating of beers. I find myself in full agreement with Mr Swiveller in Dickens' 'The Old Curiosity Shop' when he cries that beer 'can't be tasted in a sip!'. This may also explain why my idea of a beer festival worth going to is the kind of festival where the drinking of half pints and pints is the norm. Not for me standing in a queue for a couple of ounces.

You can have the palette of Oz Clarke, BJCP certifications aplenty, and the vocabulary of Chaucer, you simply cannot get a full handle on a beer from a few ounces. The best you can get is whether you want a full pint in order to explore further. Rating a beer on the basis of a couple of ounces is the equivalent of landing in the Caribbean and declaring to have discovered India and jumping straight back to Spain on one of your remaining ships.

I suppose this is really at the heart of my love of, and encouragement for, session beers. I love sitting in the pub, with friends, maybe playing pool, inflicting my choice of music on the jukebox (I love pubs with jukeboxes, a fact I realise that puts me in a minority in certain circles). You simply can't have a good session with some 8% double IPA, here I am defining a session as being at least 5 pints of beer, less than 3 is called lunch.

Perhaps I am an outlier, adverse to the hype of special releases, cynical of the craze for putting random shit in mash tun or kettle, and never more happy than when sat with a pint of some classic beer, in a pub, with friends. That really is the sign of a healthy drinking culture. Friends, with beer the social lubricant, but very much in a supporting role.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Brewer of the Week

Charlottesville is booming. Breweries are popping up left, right, and centre it would seem. The first of the new breweries in the area to pop up after the introduction of law SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints in their tasting rooms, was Champion Brewing, close to the centre of town, and winner, after just a few weeks, of the Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year for Virginia. Today, we speak to their brewer and founder, Hunter Smith...

Name: Hunter Smith
Brewery: Champion Brewing Company

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I started as a homebrewer, like many commercial brewers. As my beers improved, my confidence grew, and I took courses from the local community college, taught by local brewers. As my knowledge increased, I felt confident I could handle the curriculum of the Siebel Institute. After a few years on the management side of the wine business, I jumped in here.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I think the most important characteristic of brewers is the level of expectation for themselves. Not necessarily to be a perfectionist but to be demanding of one’s adherence to sanitation, to quality, and to safety standards. It’s not always rocket science, but having adherence to protocol and a lack of laziness. And without a clear understanding of ingredients, the recipes won’t matter.

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

I did! Our IPA and brown ales aren’t far off of where I got started, particularly our Melee Session IPA. Same with our No Retreat Wheat. Everything’s been a little tweaked in the scale-up.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Truthfully, I don’t, but for a few reasons, primarily that with our 3-bbl system we aren’t married to a ton of inventory and I still have the ability to be constantly creative with recipes the same way I could at home, but with the efficiencies of a pro rig. Also as both owner and brewer, my time at home is scarce and for my kids.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

I think my favorite brewday belongs to our Olde Salt Oyster Stout, not only because it’s such a cool beer and fun process, but I also get to sneak in a few of the best oysters on the East Coast.

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

I haven’t as an employee, but I have enjoyed brewdays at both Devil’s Backbone and Hardywood Park, and we brewed a collaboration Rye IPA at Blue Mountain.

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

I have probably drank the highest number of our Tart Berliner Weisse, via its drinkability and low alcohol, but I most like to slowly drink our ICBM Double IPA; I really love it.

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

In my opinion, entirely. I think it’s important to play true to style, and modify if desired, but always keeping the original in mind. I like to wander outside of boundaries but it’s important to have a style compass. I feel the most strongly about this in regard to ingredients. I hate hearing that ‘new’ beers are other existing beers tweaked with malt coloring and canned puree and the like.

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

We have done collabs with Devil’s Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Breckenridge. I really admire all of their beers and brewers, truly. If I were to cherry pick another to do tomorrow, it would be Three Floyds. I love their beers and share their inspiration of heavy metal and hardcore.

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

Man, that’s a great question. There are so many great beers out there, there are plenty I wish I could take credit for. I’ll admit my most frustration with Jason’s Danzig Coffee Baltic Porter from Devil’s Backbone, because I want to do a coffee Baltic Porter, but it kinda feels like ‘seat’s taken.’ I’ve even got a Misfits tattoo, I feel like I got robbed! But Jason’s old enough to have seen them when they were still together, so he gets dibs, haha.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Retail Juxtaposition Fail

When Mrs V lived in Charlottesville we usually shopped at the local Giant, at Pantops. Now that we live something like 15 miles from town we still often shop at the same store as it is on the way home. Yesterday I popped in after work as we needed some bits and bobs, and as ever I wandered down the beer aisle, which has recently undergone something of a transformation and expansion.

As part of this expansion, there are a series of information boards above the large coolers. The boards describe some beer styles and give an explanation of what 'craft' beer is, in the minds of some. Here is a picture I took yesterday of one such board.

Somewhat incongruous, no?

I am not saying that there is a deliberate attempt by either the large corporation that retails food, drink, and other necessary items, or the large multinational corporation that makes, and through its distributors, controls the entire beer industry in the US, to mislead consumers. It is however, an interesting case of product placement. Surely this board would have been better suited on the opposite cooler, rather than the board describing, loosely, a few beer styles? After all that was where all the 'craft' beer is kept.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

British Brewer Doing American Hops

One of my habits when off on trips is to find a bottle shop in the hopes that I can pick up something unavailable in this part of Virginia. As such, whenever Mrs V and I head south to Greenville, to see her best friend and husband, I love to pop into Greenville Beer Exchange. This year's Labor Day long weekend was no exception and hidden amongst the beers from around the world were a few from a brewery I had heard much of but never seen on the shelves.

Oakham Ales, from Peterborough in England, do a range of mostly sub 5% ales which have started to find their way over the States - their importer is a company in North Carolina - and so when I saw Inferno and Citra on the shelf, well it didn't really take much thought now did it.

First up was Inferno, which according to the label uses 5 types of hop from the Yakima Valley and pours a wonderfully, almost proper pilsneresque, rich gold topped off with a white head that lingers for the duration. There was definitely the whole citrus thing you would expect from American hops, but I thought it more bitter orange that grapefruit, balanced with a very light toastiness, it almost made me think of breakfast. Tastewise lots of juicy malt sweetness, a touch of toffee and some pear flavours, all balanced out with a good citric tang of a hop bite. Certainly a very nicely balanced beer, which almost reminded me of Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale.

It must be practically impossible to have a Twitter account, an interest in beer, and not to have heard of Oakham Citra. I will admit I was expecting an entirely different beast. It terms of the looks, it is pretty much the same as the Inferno, but the nose is a riot of funky weediness, with very definite tropical fruit aromas, in particular mango. Tastewise, straight off the bat I got lots of mango and passionfruit, followed by the comforting sweetness of malt, all leading to a lingering lemon finish. As I tweeted about while drinking this beer, where has it been all my life? So balanced, so moreish, so magnficent.

Thank goodness Oakham Ales are available in parts of the US now, and thank goodness Mrs V's friend is coming to see us before Christmas, I see some stocking up in my future...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brewer of the Week

It has been slightly more than 4 years since Mrs V and I pitched our tent in central Virginia. In that time we have seen the beer industry in this area grow and grow. When we moved here there were 4 breweries within easy reach of us, today there are 8 in the immediate area and another couple just beyond that. Within weeks of moving here our good friend Jay came to visit, and we stopped into Blue Mountain Brewing, and I found a pale lager that I could enjoy on a regular basis, and to this day I do so. The gang at Blue Mountain also make plenty of other beers that I enjoy. Today's brewer of the week is Blue Mountain's founder and head brewer, Taylor Smack, a man that does something that worries me, makes a great pale lager without decoction...

Name: Taylor Smack
Brewery: Blue Mountain Brewery and Blue Mountain Barrel House

How did you get into brewing as a career?

Just as almost every single brewer in my generation, I too was a homebrewer first. I homebrewed after college in the mid-late 90s. But the detailed story is so much better; grab a beer while I spin my yarn:

After college and travelling about in Australia and New Zealand, I landed a job at an up and coming internet company in Charlottesville, where I chose to live, putting my English degree to use as a copy editor and then ad writer. The company, Value America, ended up employing 600+ people, going public with their IPO shooting from $18 to $76 on opening day (I was rich!), and then going to $0.10 and then off the Nasdaq within 6 months (I was poor again!). They laid off over half the company two days after Christmas and most of my friends got sweet severance packages. Sadly, I was left on. I begged for release and the severance but didn’t get it. So, essentially, I went all “Office Space” and started playing golf every day, blowing off work, etc. One of the things I did was begin skipping work to go work for free at South Street Brewery under Jacque Landry, the guy who became my mentor and to whom I owe all the good fortunes of my brewing career.
Eventually, I tired of coming in even occasionally to the ad-writing job, enrolled in Seibel Institute (brewing school) and headed off to Chicago. After Seibel, I landed an interview at Goose Island, thanks to my friend Matt Robbins (who became the first brewer for Southern tier and also owns part of Revolution Brewing in Chicago). Matt also set me up on a blind date with this stunning blonde with a ridiculously sweet Midwestern accent with whom he had gone to Marquette University. After this girl drank me under the table (don’t mess with Wisconsin girls) and we had chatted about opening a brewery together, I knew Mandi was the one for me. Meanwhile, I somehow talked my way into the Head Brewing position for both Goose Island brewpubs. I had just turned 25 and my beer was available inside Wrigley Field and I made beer for the Chicago Blackhawks. I was pretty high on life. But eventually the -36 degree winters and the call of the South were too strong, so Mandi and I moved to North Carolina, and eventually back to Virginia, where I brewed at South Street for almost 6 years before opening Blue Mountain Brewery.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Physically, the ability to problem solve. Mentally, the artistic spirit tempered with science, and humility in the face of all the brewers for thousands of years before you who have mastered this trade and left their knowledge for all of us to build on.

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

Yes, and none!

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Well, my home is practically joined to the brewery, so yes? But no, not really.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

Stouts and Porters for the smell, Lagers and Kolschbiers for the care you have to take.

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

All my beers are like my children, but being the first brewer to brew Matilda at Goose Island was very special. Even when you consider I was left behind to mind the shops as the “new guy” when all the other GI brewers took the trip to Belgium that inspired the beer. Greg Hall (former Brewmaster for GI) was like, “Taylor, we had the most amazing time in Belgium, especially at Orval! I want you to brew this idea I have for an Orval clone!” And I was like, “Yeah. Thanks, Greg. Awesome consolation prize. How about next time I go to Belgium and YOU brew the cool clone!” In reality it really was a great consolation prize. And also, I never would have said that to Greg or he may have smacked me upside the head.

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

It changes with the seasons. My favorite today will change tomorrow. It’s my curse that I find something great to appreciate in every beer style under the sun.

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

Well, there’s a time for it, and there’s a time to break tradition. Depends what you’re going for, I guess. Translating your vision to the drinker is what’s key.

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

We’ve become friends with Jamie and T.L. at Foothills and have a collaboration slated for sometime in 2014. I’m psyched about that. Those guys are really fantastic, as is their beer. Also, we got a kind pre cease and desist email from Sam at Dogfish (it really was kind…no lawyers) about changing our Local Species trout artwork as he’d heard some confusion with the DFH shark logo. I pushed him to do a collab with us, but he didn’t bite. Then I told him we were going to throw a Groucho Marx-style disguise on the trout, a la 75 Minute IPA’s “Johnny Cask”, but his lawyers didn’t think that was too funny. So DFH is on my list to harass until they collaborate with us!

Also on the slate, a ubiquitous feature of Charlottesville Beer, Brian Martin, convinced Jason Oliver and me to do a collab Belgian Quad, so we’ve got that slated to brew late October/early November. Looking forward to that one.

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

Hmmm…I love the Duvel story, with mutated McEwan’s yeast. Also wouldn’t have minded being the brewer to have come up with Bohemian Pilsner!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Brewer of the Week

A couple of weeks ago, Charlottesville newest brewery opened. Last Friday I finally got round to the tasting room to try their first slew of offerings, and very impressed I was as well - to give you an idea of how much I enjoyed the beers, I had 4 pints of their IPA - yes you read that correctly, this distinctly unfussed about IPA beer drinker enjoyed 4 pints of IPA. This Friday, sees a return of the Fuggled Brewer of the Week series, and may I introduce Dave, the man behind the beers I enjoyed so much last week.

Name: Dave Warwick
Brewery: Three Notch’d Brewing Co.

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I’ve always been attracted to beer and the beer industry. It witnesses friendship, community, and many celebrations. During some of the greatest times of our lives, beer was right beside us. Oh yeah, and it tastes GREAT and every style tells a story. After two years of a cut-throat sales rep position with Coors in Western Pennsylvania, I disregarded my degree in marketing and gave up the aggressive, high stress job to be a part-time assistant brewer making $8/hour shoveling grain and shining tanks at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Pittsburgh, PA. I met a lot of nice bill collectors that year, but I loved being a part of something special and I was happy.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Having an open mind. The craft beer scene is ever changing in the US these days. It’s important to be in touch with the beer drinking community, acknowledge what they want and adjust your recipes accordingly. Brew what the people want, not what you want. I need to keep telling myself this. I am not a fan of Black IPA’s at all, but I can’t deny the current popularity of it. I plan on breaking down and brewing one this winter.

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

Unfortunately, I have never homebrewed. I jumped right into the pro sector. I always wanted to, but after brewing all week and getting the weekend off, I just couldn’t get the motivation to brew more at home. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to homebrew at work, on a large scale, for a living.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

I’d have to say my favorite beer to brew is my pumpkin ale. I love the fall, and over the years, brewing a pumpkin ale has represented the festive beginnings of my favorite season. In years past, I always enjoyed chopping and baking the pumpkins at home the night before the brew with my fiancée, Michelle. There’s extra work to do the next day with the pumpkins in the mash and the puree and spices in the boil so it breaks up the daily routine of the other brews. This year, though, I felt the market’s pressure to brew a pumpkin ale before pumpkins were even harvested. The pumpkin puree/pumpkin pie filling is what you really taste in the final product anyway, it’s just more fun with the fresh pumpkins in the mash.

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

In 2009, I was in an apprenticeship program at Rock Bottom in Westminster, CO under Brewmaster Scott O’Hearn. I was given the opportunity to brew my very first recipe, “Tiny’s” Smoked Porter. (Tiny was my nickname.) THAT was my very favorite brewday. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep the night before.

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

Such a hard question to answer…My pilsner, my Kolsch? I can’t decide, I’ll come back to it after answering the other questions. Okay, I’m back. Maybe my Kolsch, or no, my Double IPA, English brown, depending on the season and other things. Belgian Tripel? Hmm, still not sure. I’m going to sleep on it. Good night. Good morning, yeah, still have no idea. I like so many of them and they all are special to me.

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

It depends on the style and how open it is to interpretation. For a lot of beers I like to stay within the confines of the style guidelines and keep it simple, pure and delicious. A Kolsch, for example, has no room for authenticity. It has specific flavors and other qualities that must be met out of respect to the history of the style. Then there are beers that lengthen my leash and let me be more creative. I’ve had some fun trying to make our “40 Mile” IPA as authentic as I can. It’s light, crisp and bright with mild bitterness, (a humble 50IBU’s) and highlights a peachy, tropical hop complexity from El Dorados, but finishes with an array of staple West Coast citrus “C’s”.

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

So many great brewers and breweries out there, all that I would love to brew with, especially right here in the Charlottesville area. Champion, Blue Mountain, Devils Backbone, James River all come to mind. In a perfect world, I would brew on every system with every Brewmaster. To pick on, though, I do plan on reaching out soon to Evolution Brewing Co. in Salisbury, MD. I grew up in the Salisbury area, during a time when there was no craft beer scene and Natural Light reigned king. Evolution is the pioneer of the craft beer movement going on today in Salisbury. It would be special to brew with Geoff DeBisschop as that would be a sort of homecoming for me.

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

This is an easy one. Rye Barchetta, brewed by Champion and Blue Mountain. Not only is it an amazing beer that I wish I would’ve come up with, but I’m a huuuuge fan of the band Rush that this beer is a nod to. I would’ve loved to be a part of that collaboration. Maybe next year for an anniversary, (hint, hint). I might’ve just answered the previous question with a different answer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Mysterium

If you happen to be in Nelson County in the coming days, and happen to have a sudden craving for good food and beer to warm and cheer the heart, be sure to stop by Devils Backbone.

Of course, dropping by Devils Backbone for good food and fine beer is an excellent idea at any time of the year when in the Nelson County area, when then do I mention the next few days?

Last night I got an email from Jason telling me that the last keg of the batch of Morana we brewed back in the winter is now on the mystery tap.

Unfortunately I won't be getting out that way in the next little while, and due to some medical stuff I can't drink for 10 days. But what I can do is to encourage you, dear reader to venture forth and enjoy.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Czech It Out!

Think rare beers.

Think legendary beers.

Think Budvar.

Now rename it Czechvar, and if you go to Beer Run on Sunday, you can get it on draught.

Yes, you read that correctly, on tap. As in fresh, not bottled. None of those dodgy green vessels here.

Nope, Budvar, sorry Czechvar, from a keg.

Not only that, but if you are a fan of dark beers, they also have have Budvar Dark available (in bottles). Yes you read that correctly, a genuine Czech tmavé is available for purchase in Central Virginia.

Beer Run is open right now, I think, so what are you waiting for? You know you need Czech dark lager in your life to tide you over until Sunday?

Sorry for the lame pun, but it had to be done.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

To The Heart of Beer

I am sat here in Central Virginia. On the table in front of me is a glass of beer which could very well be a microcosm of my worldview on the amber nectar, though it is more golden than amber.

The beer in question is quite possibly the Virginian beer that I presently derive more pleasure from than any other. The glass is from a legendary British brewery that makes some of my go-to beers when the mood for well made classic British styles hits. The style of beer in the glass is the one that I talk about most, and quite happily believe to be the very height of the brewer’s craft. I am drinking a Port City Brewing Downright Pilsner, from a Samuel Smith’s tulip imperial pint glass. It is the very image of perfection in my world right now.

Something though is missing. That something is probably the most important element of beer in many ways, because without that something, the beer in my glass would never exist. People. That’s what is missing. People are the true heart of beer.

We can talk long and loud about the beer in our glass being a natural product, made from agricultural ingredients, but the fact remains that the beer in my glass will never be a natural product. Malt does not exist in nature, it is man-made. Wort does not spontaneously boil, nor hops of their own volition leap from bine to pot, or even decide to reside in post fermentation beer to add more aroma. Neither yet do hops so prized in Bohemia simply up sticks and cross oceans to land themselves in an American wort.

Everything in my glass is the product of man. A man, one whose hand I would heartily love to shake, who decided to make a Czech style pale lager, and hop it exclusively with Saaz hops, and chuck some more in for a wonderful dry hopped aroma. Said man also decided to lager the resultant brew for an adequate amount of time, and then to forego the filtering process so as to leave a slight haze to the beer. A man made this beer which I delight in, which I come home from work and ignore all other brews in the fridge for.

Still, something is missing. The thing that is still missing is probably the most important element of beer in many ways. Without this something, the beer in my glass is just another beer in the glass. People. That’s what is missing. People are the true heart of beer.

I enjoy the fact that I can pour a glass of this golden delight at home and sit, with the TV on the background, Mrs V on the sofa doing some first aid training course for her job, and each and every taste of my beer is wonderful. The people element though is still missing, because there is a place, and there are people, that I would rather be enjoying this pint of beer with.

Were I back in Prague I would want to be sat in Pivovarský klub, with Klara, Ambroz, or Karel behind the bar, and perched on barstools beside me would be any of Evan, Max, Rob, Mark, or a cast of dozens whose company I value, and very deeply miss. Here in Virginia you would likely find me at McGrady’s, with the guys from Three Notch’d, or my colleagues from Starr Hill, or people from my homebrew club. Where there is beer, there are people. Fine people. Good people. Fun people. I could tell the same story about people in Ireland that I would love to drink with more often, people at home in the UK that I haven’t seen for many, many years, people from Uist that randomly come into Starr Hill the one day of the month that I am working there. These people, my people, are the very heart of beer.

I often have this feeling that we lose the humanity of beer in all over hoopla about barrel aging, souring, randalizing, and adding cocoa nibs. As though there is something un-craft about a simple, perfectly brewed, Pilsner enjoyed in good company in a pub with no frills, no banks of taps arrayed like howitzers attacking the Vimy Ridge. It is also as though in our striving for the next great high, we fail to realize that life really doesn’t get any better than this. Perhaps I am a strange chap, and it has been commented on before, but I would rather drink a constant stream of golden lager in great company than have all the great craft beers of the world with a bore of a human being.

It is often commented on how beer people are good people, and something I have found to be generally true is that beer people have an ability that many seem to lack in our ever more polarized world. The majority of people I have met through our attachment to the demon drink have the ability to rise above the petty squabbles of religion, politics, and culture, to see into the heart of honest people and recognize a kindred spirit. Yes I know many people whose beliefs I find baffling, and who I will debate with over pints of beer, both warm and cold fermented, but they are sincere, honest, and willing to listen even if never the twain shall meet.

I have said many times on this blog that many of the best people I know have been met over a pint or several of beer, and that is a truth that I hold on to regardless of the quality of the beer being consumed in many a session (in my world sessions begin at the fifth pint, the first four being proof only that a beer is pintable). Given the essential humanity of beer, beer must ultimately take second place to the quality of the humanity one is imbibing with. Many of my favourite, and most memorable, nights out have been whilst drinking beer which would be considered by many a geek as mere swill, Gambrinus in particular springs to mind.

So, in bringing this vaguely rambling, and longer than normal piece, to a close let us remember one simple truth, beer is really nothing more than a vehicle to a raging headache the morning after without the people in whose company you choose to spend your time drinking. Whether you see those people most weekends, a couple of times a year, or just once every half decade or so, treasure them more so than you treasure the beer itself, because it is they that bring real joy to the experience of drinking.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Opening Time

This story started, for me at least, in the pub, McGrady's to be precise.

I had finished at my previous job and had a couple of days off before starting my first stint at the company I now work for, and had arranged to meet my mate, and fellow islander, Darren for a few pints.

Darren and I were perched at the bar when a guy came in with a child in one hand and a growler in the other. Picking up on non-American accents, we got talking, and it turned out that he was Irish, and also worked for the company I was starting with in a couple of days, at the time as a contractor. Since that meeting we've become friends, even if he does support Everton.

Today my friend is opening a brewery.

Three Notch'd Brewing are having their soft opening this afternoon, with the doors being opened at 4pm - what a great way to start a holiday weekend. I would be there myself but for the fact that I will be on US-29 heading south. They will have 2 beers available

Hydraulion Red:
In 1828, the University of Virginia created their own fire company made up of students, professors and servants. Their sole fire engine was called the Hydraulion, a pump wagon with the waterpower of 16 men. The UVA Fire Company left their mark for almost 100 years before giving way to the town of Charlottesville’s Fire Department. Our Hydraulion Red is a nod to not only UVA’s firefighters, but the brave men and women everywhere who risk their lives every day, while saving ours.

This Irish-Style Red is a perfectly balanced beer with a great caramel sweetness alongside a tangy, citrusy hop profile.

Trader: Crystal Hopped Saison:
We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit. The Saison style of beer originates from farmers in French-Belgium regions that would brew during the winter months for refreshment during the busier, hotter months of the summer. Virginia’s history is rich in the farm trade and Three Notch’d Road was a central thoroughfare that facilitated this trade. The Trader is our tribute to the mark this hard work left for all of us to benefit from.

This Farmhouse Ale, originating from the Northern France/Southern Belgium region, encompasses the flavors of many herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables that were historically added by the farmhands after harvest each year. The special Belgian yeast is the highlight of this beer, complemented with the single-hop of Crystal and it’s complex herbal/spice/pepper profile.

The brewery is right next door to McGrady's Irish Pub, has a grand looking tasting room, and if the beers live up to the samples I tried, some great additions to the local scene.

If you're in the Charlottesville area this afternoon, swing on by and welcome the town's newest brewery (in Cville itself there are 3 breweries for about 50000 people!).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tradition Ale

There are some things that I assume lovers of beer are aware of. I assume that people know that pilsner is more than shorthand for pale lager, whether figuratively or literally, for example. I would love to be able to assume that people know that the word 'ale' does not mean 'top-fermented beer', or at least, that it didn't many moons ago.

If you are, like me, an avid reader of Martyn Cornell's wonderful blog, Zythophile, you will know that that the word 'ale' originally signified an unhopped malt liquor, as opposed to that foreign 'beer' muck that had hops in it. Eventually hops made their way into every form of malt liquor that warmed the cockles of the native English speaker, but only to the degree that ale was less hopped than beer.

Recently, as I pottered around a local bottle shop, I decided to get myself some ales that are light on the hops, but heavy on other bittering agents. Thus is was that I ended up with bottles of Williams Bros Grozet, Fraoch, Alba, and Kelpie in my fridge, and last night I polished them off.

First up of the four ales was Grozet, brewed with probably my favourite fruit, gooseberries. As you can see from the picture, the glass is a hand blown affair that I bought in Williamsburg a few years ago, pours a pale yellow though you can't see the firm white head. In terms of aroma, we're talking a light breadiness, some honeyed notes and a noticeable fruitiness which reminds me of gooseberry fool. The aromas blend on into the taste side of things as well. While the ale does have hops in it, there are really not that noticeable, but the bogmyrtle helps to balance the sweetness of the malt, making it a nice, easy drinking brew.

Fraoch heather ale is legendary, and was one of the first non-macro ales to cross my lips. I remember it well, I was home in Uist after my first year in Prague and after a year of drinking Czech lager for come reason Caffreys didn't do it for me anymore. Fraoch pours a slightly hazy dark straw, topped with a fluffy white head that sits and sits. Aroma wise we're talking a hefty earthy, floral smell, backed up with a sweetness which reminds me of my mother's tablet. In tasting,  we're back on familiar malty ground, think a fresh scone from the over, smeared with honey and you're somewhere close, but then with a long, dry, crisp finish. Did I mention yet that this is one of my favourite beers?

According to the label, Alba is an ale brewed with pine and spruce, based on a recipe that was popular in the Highlands until the 19th century. I was expecting a very different beer to the one was poured a beautiful light copper, capped with a nice ivory head. For some reason, I expected the aroma to remind me of an American style IPA, redolent with the pine resin that goes hand in hand with grapefruit. What I got though was more of a Seville orange marmelade with just a touch of pine in the background. Tastewise the dominant flavour was one of chewy toffee and just enough bitterness to balance the malt and avoid it being cloying. Definitely the kind of beer to sit next to the fire with in the depths of winter.

There is a beach on my home island of Benbecula known as 'Stinky Bay' for the piles of rotting seaweed strewn across the bay. My dad is an avid gardener, and in continuing an old Highland tradition, would dump seaweed on his vegetable beds to add nutrients and make the thin soil fertile. Using seaweed as fertilizer would have given the ales of coastal Scotland a distinct brininess, which is really difficult to explain as anything other than the taste of sea air. Marry that aroma and flavour with the sweet, almost smokiness, of chocolate malt and you have a complex brew that would pair wonderfully with a rain driven winter's day, next to the fire, and with a side of Lagavulin...I can see Kelpie becoming a regular in the cellar this winter.

Sometimes it seems as though the beer world these days is obsessed with more, and the latest, hops, Just now and again though it is nice to take a step back in time and enjoy something a little more traditionale.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2013

Taking my lead from the wonderfully urbane company which is Boak and Bailey, and with half an eye on the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest this weekend, here is the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers...
  1. AleWerks Brewing - Caledonia (4.5%). A delightfully fragrant, hoppy, British style IPA. The combination of Fuggles, Willamette, and Styrian Goldings is a vibrant, Seville orange laced delight.
  2. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). A Czech style pale lager that wouldn't be out of place if served in the beer halls of Prague, positively pulsating with Saaz goodness, more is rarely enough.
  3. Mad Fox Brewing - Mason's Dark Mild (3.3%). Think warm toast spread with Nutella and you are not far from reality, and best of all it is served on a sparkled beer engine.
  4. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartz Bier (4.9%). Last year's Virginia Beer Cup winner, and now available in bottles, this is a roasty, clean, crisp black lager that never gets tired.
  5. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.2%). The most award winning Dry Irish Stout in the USA, coffee, chocolate, and a smooth luxuriant body makes this Starr Hill's best beer by a country mile.
  6. St George Brewing - English IPA (5.5%). A showcase for the delights of Fuggles hops, a good dollop of malt sweetness, balanced with the herby, almost tobacco like Fuggles makes it a great British IPA.
  7. Blue Mountain Brewing - ÜberPils (7.6%). 40 IBU of noble hops and a solid malt backbone make this big pale lager surprisingly easy to drink.
  8. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). Always good, and thankfully fairly widely available. One of the best ambers lagers anywhere in the US.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). Some beers have no business being so drinkable with so a potent ABV, silky, chocolatey, and to be honest crying out to be available on cask somewhere, preferably near me.
  10. AleWerks Brewing - Café Royale (8%). Take a coffee infused stout, chuck it in bourbon barrels, and then save for a special occasion.
There we have it, and I am sure Saturday's Virginia Craft Brewers Fest will bring more great Virginian beer to my attention.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Price of a Session

Come with me to the pub and let us darken the door of a hostelry. Let's take a table in the corner, normally I would sit at the bar but this is a decent sized group of people, and let's get the first round in. The menu includes such favourites as Bell's Two Hearted Ale (surely Doctor Who's beer of choice), Port City Porter, and given that autumn is a mere month away Sierra Nevada Tumbler, and Highland Brewing's Clawhammer Octoberfest lager are already on tap. In amongst the litany of smackdowns, big hitters, and other weapons of war, there is a single session beer, Troeg's Sunshine Pils for example. After a few hours of talking, laughing, and carrying on, each person's bill arrives, and while I am no more shedded than my friends, my bill is probably about 50% higher for the simple reason that I am a session beer drinker.

As a session beer drinker I value drinkability over IBUs, flavour over ABV, and the revelry of the pub over pretty much any other drinking sitz im leben. As such, I find that I drink more than many of my friends, session beers are great that way, 5 mouthfuls and you're done, ready for the next pint, safe in the knowledge that your friend opposite you trying to match you pint for pint will inevitably have his head on the desk all the next day, assuming we are drinking on a school night. I have got used to the fact that my sub 4.5% session beer is going to cost pretty much the same as my friends' IPAs and Foreign Extra Stouts, though that doesn't mean that I necessarily like it.

I speak to lots of people about beer, perhaps inevitably as I have this blog and I am known, outside my fellow beer loving friends, as 'the guy that knows about beer', and I hear the same refrain from many of them, they wish there were more lower gravity beers out there. I know several drinkers of BudMillerCoors Lighte who do so purely because it only has an abv of 4.2%. I tend to think though that pricing is also an issue, why would a consumer pay the same for a beer which has two-thirds of the alcohol? That makes me wonder if pubs, beer bars, and other assorted booze emporia aren't actually missing a trick by not having more session beer available, and  having it at a slightly lower price?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Judgement Days Cometh

The next couple of weekends promise to be awash with beer, for the very simple reason that I am judging at competitions on both upcoming Saturdays.

This coming Saturday is the Dominion Cup, Virginia's largest homebrew competition. As well as judging a couple of categories, I have entered 10 beers of my own:
  • Bitter
  • Best Bitter
  • English Pale Ale
  • Southern English Brown Ale
  • Robust Porter
  • Flanders Red
  • Belgian Dark Strong Ale
  • American IPA
  • Specialty Ale - 19th Century Burton Ale
  • Specialty Ale - 19th Century Czech Dark Beer
I am quietly confident about a few of these beers, in particular the porter, Burton Ale, and bizarrely enough the American IPA - which I have to admit I brewed mainly to avoid judging the American IPA category. If you've been following Fuggled for a while you'd know that beers hopped with the likes of Chinook, Cascade, and Centennial are not generally speaking my thing. I hopped my IPA with the classic triumvirate of Northern Brewer, Chinook, and Cascade, and I have to admit I am rather happy with the outcome, so much so that I can see me brewing it again at some point. The Burton Ale is my interpretation of the 1877 recipe which was brewed as the International Homebrew Project.

The following Saturday is the Virginia Craft Brewers Festival down at Devils Backbone, part of which is the Virginia Beer Cup. I judged the competition last year, the winner being Devils Backbone's magnificent Schwarzbier. This year's festival looks as though it will be bigger than last year, with more than 30 breweries involved and from what I have heard from the organisers, about 130 beers taking part in the competition. Looking at the list of participating breweries, that promises to be a very difficult task to decide on the beer to succeed the Schwarzbier.

Homebrew - Cheaper than the Pub?

The price of beer has been on my mind a fair bit lately. At the weekend I kicked my first keg of homebrew for the 2024, a 5.1% amber kellerb...