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.