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 about.......now.

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

Drink?

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.