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.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Going for Gold

There is perhaps no higher expression of beer as the working man's refreshment than session beer. Sure you can have your gorilla snot infused, bourbon barrel aged, imperial pale Belgo-India stout porter, but giving me several pints of something with an ABV well south of 4.5%, and hopping to match, makes me a happy camper.

One such tradition of the working man's refreshment can be found in the mountains of Bohemia. In a town called Harrachov, tucked away on the Czech-Polish border, is a brewery and glass works called Novosad and Sons. The brewery makes a beer called Huťské světlé výčepní, which is an 8° Plato lager made as hydration for the glass blowers.

Sadly I never made it up to the brewery in Harrachov, though I visited the town before I discovered the beery joys of Bohemia beyond the generic Gambrinus and Staropramen. You can imagine then my intrigue and delight when Jason Oliver down at Devils Backbone told me they were coming out with an 8° Plato beer, made with just floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt and hopped exclusively with Saaz. The beer though would be warm fermented using a Kölsch yeast strain, and earned the nickname 'Pilsch', though the actual name is Old Virginia Gold.

When I popped into Beer Run on Tuesday night to have dinner with Mrs V and some friends, I saw it on the menu and knew I needed a pint, a proper pint that is. Old Virginia Gold is what you can see in the picture, beautiful golden, cracker dry and crisp, delicate Saaz grassiness, hints of lemon and a body that belies it's 'meagre' 3.1% abv.

Old Virginia Gold could quite easily be the best session beer I will drink this year, and one that I wish would be regular part of the Devils Backbone lineup, though I'd be happy enough with it being available every summer.

Who needs gimmicks, flavours, and funky shit when beer can be this good?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Stuff of Life

For almost as long as I can remember I have enjoyed drinking beer.

When my father turned 40, my little brother and I helped serve his homebrew on our patio at his part, surreptitiously sneaking the occasional glass for ourselves. As teenager I liked the odd can of Tennent's Lager, though whether it was the beer or the alluringly attired women on the cans is something of a moot point, in the original sense of the phrase. When I was finally old enough to go to the bar and order my own drink it was Guinness that I chose, and I have a continuing love affair with stout as a result.

Yesterday evening I got home from work and spent a couple of hours in garden planting our autumn veg; swede, carrots, and chard. With a couple of beds filled with seed, only one drink could possibly go with dinner, beer.

Beer is always there, whether celebrating, commiserating, or just plain hanging out with mates. It is refreshment, comfort, or a well earned treat. Regardless of season, there is a beer for every day of the year.

Beer, you just have to love it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Break Time is Over

I seem to have inadvertently taken a month off.

It's not that I haven't been drinking, I have had some wonderful beers in July, not least the simply magnificent Downright Pilsner from Port City in Alexandria. Why, oh why, don't more breweries do what it takes to make a pilsner in the proper, Czech, style? Masses of Saaz hops, lagered at length, and then as an added bonus unfiltered, as I said, simply magnificent.

It's also not as if I haven't been brewing. I recently bottled another version of my ongoing bitter project, as well as a rarity for me, an American IPA, which I am actually rather pleased with. In a couple of weeks it is the Dominion Cup, Virginia's largest homebrew competition, and I will be judging as well as having entered a slew of beers.

It's not that I haven't been hanging out pubs, talking with friends and colleagues about whatever stuff is going on in life. I have had some fantastic nights out, drinking good beer, with good people, in good places such as McGrady's.

Nope, I just fancied an inadvertent break.

Best Beer Ever!

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