Friday, December 19, 2014

Beers, Breweries, and Pubs of 2014

I toyed with the idea of following the format of the Golden Pints this year, but almost pissed myself laughing at the thought of nominating an 'American Cask Beer' of the year, such is the parlous state of beer's finest, and most natural, form of presentation on these shores. So, I figured I'd stay with my tried and tested categories of pale, amber, and dark, further divided by region - Central Virginia, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the World. I am also including brewery and pub categories this year. So without further ado.....

Pale
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Grey Ghost American Pale Ale
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Cromarty Happy Chappy
  • Honorable Mentions - Timothy Taylor Landlord, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Three Notch'd 40 Mile

This year was really difficult to decide from the two front runners here, both of which I drank plenty of, though on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Three Notch'd are pretty much my go-to brewery these days, their core lineup is excellent and that always makes me sure to try their more experimental stuff, because I have trust in the quality of their beer overall. When we were in Scotland over the summer, I think I drank more Cromarty Brewing beer than any other, as they blend the hopping of the New World with the sessionability of the British tradition to make beers which are the best of both worlds. As such, the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2014 is Cromarty Happy Chappy, a simply magnificent beer that I am still working on producing a decent clone of so I don't have to wait until I next get to Scotland to enjoy more of.

Amber
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Hydraulion Irish Red
  • Rest of VA - Ardent American Mild
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Kelburn Dark Moor Mild
  • Honorable Mentions - Greene King The King's English IPA, Skye Red, Cromarty Atlantic Drift, McEwan's Scotch Ale
Much easier this year was choosing my amber beer of the year, even though it is more of a dark amber than some beers, but there we go. I polished off several pints of Kelburn Dark Moor while sat in the Bon Accord one afternoon in Glasgow. There is only one word to describe this beer, delicious.

Dark
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Schwartzbier
  • Rest of VA - Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot Russian Imperial Stout
  • Rest of US - River Rat Hazelnut Brown
  • Rest of World - Skye Black
  • Honorable Mentions - Isley Brewing Tall, Dark, and Hopsome, Black Isle Oatmeal Stout
If you are a regular Fuggled reader, I hope you are sat down. My dark beer of 2014 is something that most people I know wouldn't even consider me liking. Enlightened Despot is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels. One day in early summer, Mrs V and I went to Lickinghole Creek Brewing and sat with a large block of farmhouse Cheddar, freshly baked crusty bread, and we sat and drank this unctuous potent brew in the peace of the Virginian countryside. It was quite simply, divine.

Fuggled Champion Beer

My overall best beer of 2014 was a revelation, a beer that I just wanted pint, after pint, after pint of, and several times on my trip home to the Highlands I did exactly that. Whether sat in the Cromarty Arms, the Castle Tavern, or the Phoenix, the very site of a Cromarty Happy Chappy pump clip was enough to make up my mind.


Breweries
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd
  • Rest of VA - Port City
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada
  • Rest of World - Cromarty
  • Honorable Mentions - Hardknott, Fullers, Lickinghole Creek


This is actually pretty simple, even though there are some great breweries on that list, producing magnificent beers. It is simple because it all comes down to which brewery I trust the most to produce the kind of beers I like drinking, flavourful, balanced, moreish. That brewery is Three Notch'd.

Drinking Holes
  • Central VA - Whiskey Jar, Charlottesville
  • Rest of VA - Mad Fox, Falls Church
  • Rest of US - Flying Saucer, Columbia, SC
  • Rest of World - Bon Accord, Glasgow
  • Honorable Mentions - Tin Whistle (Charlottesville), The Brixton (Washington DC), Castle Tavern (Inverness)


I was only at the winning pub for a matter of hours, but it was love at first pint. I wrote about the Bon Accord here.

So there we go, that was the highlights of my drinking in 2014, not a bad way to mark my 900th post on Fuggled.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Return of the Mole

March seems so long ago, it's been that kind of year, busy, busy, busy.

It was back in March that I spent a day with the folks at Blue Mountain Brewery bringing a recipe for Burton Ale from 1923 back to life. A few weeks later Sensible Mole saw the light of day. I really enjoyed the beer, rippingly bitter but with enough residual sugar so as not to feel like your tongue was being savaged by coarse grain sand paper.

Given the historical aspect of the project, we were drinking Burton Ale mild, that is, young. However, a goodly proportion of the brew was stashed away in the most neutral bourbon barrels that Taylor and company had at the Blue Mountain Barrel House. There is has sat for the best part of 9 months and aged.


Where Sensible Mole was mild, the barrel aged version is old, Old Burton Extra could could call it, and if you were a Londoner drinking it in the 1920s, that's likely exactly what you would call it.

I am not entirely sure what to expect with this version of the beer. I imagine it will pick up some faint whiskey notes and a trace of vanillin from being in the barrels. The intense hoppiness must surely have lessened in the interim, though the bitter bite will, I think, still be there. Will the beer have picked up any light oxidation from the aging process? I would like to think so, especially if it lends the beer some sherry like notes. In short though, I have no idea what to expect.

Sensible Mole OBE makes its debut this Friday at the Blue Mountain brewpub in Afton, and yes I'll be making my way out there to try it and maybe get a sense of the kind of beer my great-grandfather might have drunk in the 1920s whilst telling war stories with his friends.*

* My great-grandfather was an Old Contemptible who went to France in 1914 as part of the Rifle Brigade, saw action at places including Mons and Ypres, eventually he came home in 1916 when he was wounded in action.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Session: Who Do I Think I Am?


This month's Session is being hosted by Ding, and is based around the theme of who are we in our beer 'scene', or to put in in Ding's own words:
"So, where do you see yourself? Are you simply a cog in the commercial machine if you work for a brewery, store or distributor? Are you nothing more than an interested consumer? Are you JUST a consumer? Are you a beer evangelist? Are you a wannabe, beer ‘professional’? Are you a beer writer? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Where do you fit, and how do you see your own role in the beer landscape?"
I am not really a fan of excessive introspection, which is perhaps odd for an introvert, but when I look at the beer milieu in which I find myself, it becomes clear that I have irons in plenty of fires.

Obviously I have this blog, which I have been writing since 2008, when I still lived in Prague and was delving into the wonderful world of Czech beer beyond the confines of Gambrinus. Writing this blog has afforded me lots of opportunities which I doubt I would have had without it; being invited to brewdays at breweries; working on recipes for breweries; being trusted to design and brew a beer for a local brewery. Would I have met as many interesting, informed, and knowledgeable people if it weren't for Fuggled? Some of the people I have met since I started Fuggled I am sure I would have met and become friends with anyway, but would I have had experiences like hearing people I had never met talk about how they went to that particular pub because of this blog they love called 'Fuggled', obviously not. Would I call myself a beer writer? I am not sure really, it is true I write about beer, and not just in this forum and medium, but it is something I do just because I enjoy writing, not something I do for a living, so I'll let others make that distinction.

If you've followed Fuggled for any length of time, you'll know that I also work for a brewery, Starr Hill Brewing in Crozet, just down the road from Charlottesville. I work in the tasting room, pouring flights, giving tours, talking about beer. It's work that I very much enjoy, especially when people comment about the 'gregarious Scotsman with a wry wit' who gives a great brewery tour. Working behind the bar often makes me wish I had my own pub, where I could have total freedom to run my bar as I saw fit (though I'd likely go bust pretty quick because I would probably serve almost exclusively real ale, which is a tricky sell over here).

Even a cursory following of Fuggled will tell you that I am a homebrewer, involved in my local homebrew club, and all that entails.

I am not someone who 'loves' beer or is 'passionate' about hops/malt/yeast. I have got over the ridiculous notion of youth that I need to go about bashing people over the head with a beer Bible and evangelise them into drinking 'craft beer'. Random side note, my favourite quote from the original Fever Pitch film is that football fans are 'like bloody missionaries, they bore you to death until you give in then they fuck off' - which actually sounds a lot like many a self proclaimed 'beer evangelist'.

So yes I brew, serve, and write about beer, but the most important thing in my opinion when it comes to my 'place' in the beer world is that I am a pubcentric beer drinker. I am a man who can think of nothing he would rather do than sit in a good pub, with a pint of something that meets my standards for good beer, with or without friends, and just enjoying the taste of well made, flavourful beer. I will do flights and samples mainly so I can find something I want a pint of, ticking and its online equivalents is not something I really understand.

So that's who I say I am, first and foremost I am a beer drinker. That I am an opinionated gobshite of a beer drinker is kind of secondary.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Things I Wish For

A quote from Jeff's latest post over at Stonch's Beer Blog:
There are quality breweries in London that produce beer that's reasonably priced, presents well in the glass and tastes not only good but is also consistent.
In that one sentence Jeff has set the bar for beer in every locale as far as I am concerned:
  • reasonably priced
  • looks good
  • tastes good
  • consistent
Not too much to ask for is it?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh Really?

Czech beer and brewing maestro Honza Kočka posted a link on his Facebook account about pioneers in the British 'craft' beer scene, which you can see here. Most of it is the usual innocuous waffly bollocks, but one particular sentence caught my attention, a quote from the CEO of Majestic Wine:
“Craft beers bridge the gap between wine and beer. People want something specialist and more interesting so we are moving away from sales of mass-produced beers."
Again this association of 'craft' beer with wine is presented, and as ever it misses the point.

Craft beer is not a 'bridge between wine and beer', craft beer is just beer. Pure and simple.

If you want your beer to be more like wine then I would suggest that you don't have a 'passion for beer' or whatever vacuous pile of shite you want to spout this week. Craft beer, micro beer, macro beer, mass-produced beer. It's all fucking beer, so stop with the 'it's like wine' nonsense.

This isn't to say that beer doesn't 'deserve the same respect' as wine (whatever that daft shite means), but can we stop with the comparisons for fuck sake and actually be proud of, and celebrate, beer on it's own terms.

Repeat after me:
Beer is beer, wine is wine.
Beer is not wine, wine is not beer.
Let beer be beer, let wine be wine.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More 'Innovative' Shit

Checking through my Facebook news feed this morning, I came across a story on All About Beer concerning Stone Brewing's latest 'innovative' offering as part of their Stochasticity Project, an 8.8% Imperial Golden Stout.

My immediate thought was 'great, more marketing driven bullshit', though perhaps not for the reasons you think.

I have no problem with the concept of a golden stout, for the simple reason that my understanding of beer and its history stretches back beyond the 1970s and the 'craft beer revolution'. You see, the word 'stout' as pertains to beer originally meant 'strong', it didn't necessary mean 'dark, Irish, with nasty nitro cream head'. As such, you could drink stout ales that were pale in the 17th Century, and while they may not have been as pale as we understand them, they were sufficiently pale so as not to be dark.

I noticed in some of the comments on the Facebook post a claim that the term 'imperial stout' was itself a tautology, and again I lament to myself that the word 'imperial', much like the word 'India', has been co-opted to mean something that it didn't originally mean in the context of beer. Imperial stout was those strong dark beers shipped to the Russian Imperial court by English brewers, imperial didn't mean 'strong', stout did.

On the All About Beer story itself, is the following line, which is the one that really got my goat:
One of the great things about American brewers is their willingness to experiment. This is a perfect example of that ingenuity and determination.
A more accurate version of that would be:
One of the great things about American brewers is their willingness to take old forgotten styles, tweak slightly, and flog at a premium price. This is a perfect example of that.
Sure it might be a tasty beer, but let's not imagine that it is actually innovative, or anything new, or that adding cocoa and coffee to a strong pale ale makes it in any way a stout as we understand them today.

If you want a proper Stout Pale Ale, you should try Durham Brewery's White Stout, which I drank in the UK over the summer, it was delicious.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crafting A Double Standard

In a piece of news strangely reminiscent of last week's, Green Flash Brewing have purchased a small brewery called Alpine Beer.

The press release punches all the right buzz phrase necessities, respecting culture, values, integrity of the beer, blah, blah, blah.

What we have here is a successful business buying another successful business because they think it will benefit their business.

Thus has it ever been, thus will it ever be.

The reaction though among the beer drinking and commenting masses? Crickets, other than a few comments about looking forward to being able to get Alpine Beer outside their heartland market.

Now, if someone could explain to me the difference, in anything other than scale, between Green Flash's purchase of Alpine and A-B's buying out 10 Barrel, or even Duvel Moortgat buying Boulevard Brewing, without resorting to stock in craft trade phraseology (you know the kind of thing, they are buying it because they are passionate about beer, or some such vacuous tripe), I would be seriously impressed.

What we are now seeing is the consolidation of the brewing market, as Big Craft cherry pick small breweries, and industrial scale brewers do likewise with regional brewers. As such, can we please get past the romantic notions and simply accept that the brewing business is exactly that, a business, and businesses will do what is best for them to survive and thrive.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Session 93 - Of Trips and Travels


One of my rare incursions into the world of The Session today, this month hosted by The Roaming Pint, on the theme of beer tourism.

If you take a quick look at my label list, down there to the bottom of this page, you'll notice that 'trips' is the 7th most commonly used on Fuggled, totalling 52 posts, well 53 now I guess. It would therefore be thoroughly reasonable to assume that I go on plenty of 'beer trips'. However, looks can be deceiving, and deceived you would be if you thought that beer trips were something I engage in regularly. I simply do not travel for beer. Heck, I don't even go pubs in Charlottesville just because they happen to have the latest, greatest, imperial black IPA randalised on gorilla snot.

A dig into those other 52 posts would reveal stories about the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, parts of the Czech Republic, and other places that escape my recall at the moment. Practically none of those trips were taken with beer as the driving factor.


Mrs V and I went to Ireland in 2008 because I had always wanted to visit the country, and Mrs V is good friends with Tale of the Ale Reuben's wife (this trip was in his pre-Tale days). We drank excellent beers, in excellent pubs, but beer wasn't the aim of the trip. There are still some of my friends who find it inconceivable that we didn't go to St James' Gate while in Dublin.

When Mrs V and I travel it is to discover a place, and yes that often involves pubs and beer, but they are not the focus. I can't think of any brewery I am interested in visiting, when you work in one and give tours of the stainless steel, you get to point where a mash tun is a mash tun, and a kettle a kettle. Meeting the people that make the beer is a different question altogether, I would love to meet the guys at Kout for example.


Next year Mrs V and I are hoping to get to Prague for the Christmas holidays, which nicely coincides with my turning some daft age. I look forward to sitting around tables in pubs with my friends, the likes of Evan, Max, and Rob, and drinking lots of good local beer. But one thing that will be very unlikely is my having a session on a Czech made American style IPA, simply because I can have that style of beer any time I want, and what is the point of travelling across the globe to drink the stuff I can find in my own back yard? One thing for sure though, that first mouthful of proper Czech pale lager will be worth the cost of the air tickets alone.

Travel for beer? Nah, never going to happen. Enjoying local beer on my travels, yup, all the time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Revolution Will Be Purchased

According to news coming out of the Pacific Northwest, Bend's 10 Barrel Brewing has been purchased by Anheuser-Busch.

Now, don't worry, this won't be some hand wringing diatribe on a brewery selling out to the evil corporations. Neither yet is it a lament about another well respected, award winning, brewery going from craft to crafty in the ledgers of the Brewers Association. You see, it really isn't all that important, unless of course you buy into the faux-revolutionary bollocks which is much of craft beer marketing. What we have here is a very successful business buying another successful business because they think it will benefit their business.

Thus has it ever been, and thus will it ever be.

A couple of things though that stood out to me in the press release included the following statement from the CEO, Craft, at Anheuser-Busch, who said:
"10 Barrel, its brewers, and their high-quality beers are an exciting addition to our high-end portfolio"
In that one sentence you have the perception of much of the 'craft beer world', upmarket, high-end, aspirational.

The other was 10 Barrel being excited to benefit from the 'operational and distribution expertise of Anheuser-Busch'. Essentially saying that they are looking forward benefitting from AB's expertise in quality control processes and getting consistently quality beer into the hands of drinkers, which can only be good for drinkers in the long run.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Session Fizz

When I was home in the summer I drank almost exclusively cask conditioned ales, as well as a fair few bottled conditioned ales. If I recall correctly, I may have had fewer non-real ales than I have digits on my hands. I am utterly biased I admit, but cask conditioned ale is, for me, one of the heights of the brewer's, and cellarman's, craft.


When we landed back in Philadelphia after our holiday, we grabbed a couple of seats at a bar and ordered food and beer. My beer was Yard's Philadelphia Pale Ale, a beer that I actually quite enjoy, but after 3 weeks of Happy Chappy, Skye Black, and Kelburn Dark Moor, it was just too fizzy for me.


On Sunday afternoon some friends of mine came into the bar at Starr Hill, having just returned from a few weeks touring round the south of England. Taking in the delights of London, the New Forest, and the Cotswolds, and reveling in the pleasures of....cask conditioned ales in the pub. As we chatted, my friend commented on how much more beer she drank while in the UK than she would normally, and while part of that is likely to have been a result of the lower gravity of many of the beers, she also said that the lack of excessive fizz meant she didn't feel bloated after a few pints, which got me wondering about session beer.


I love session beers, as pretty much anyone that knows me will tell you. I can think of no better way to while away several hours than being sat in the pub, drinking low alcohol, flavoursome beers. For me though, a session starts after the fourth pint, which can be tricky when the beer is north of 6% and much fizzier than something properly cask conditioned, and no, putting still fermenting beer in a firkin with a slew of weird shit doesn't count, you could call it 'casky' in juxtaposition to the real thing.


My thought then is this, are cask conditioned ales more conducive a session, because they don't fill you up with excessive CO2 to burp and fart out along the way? Perhaps an extra, admittedly optional, criteria is required for the definition of session beer? Less fizzy than standard beers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hand Made Tale

One of the most common marketing memes amongst brewing companies is that their beers are 'handmade', 'handcrafted', 'made by hand', or some such term, often phrased in juxtaposition to something along the lines of 'not by machines'. This zythophilic ludditism plays very well with people looking for a more 'authentic' or even folksy view of beer, but it really doesn't fit very well with the everyday realities of working life in many a brewery.

Beer is, by its very nature, an industrial product, something that would never occur in nature, and the processes that go into making your pint, whether that pint comes from SABMiller or your local microbrewery, are heavily mechanised.


Let's start at the beginning. The mill, which crushes the malt so that the sugars and enzymes can do their thing in the mash tun, is a machine. I don't know of any brewery, regardless of size, out there that has its brewers use a pestle and mortar to crush their malt. Perhaps there are nanobreweries using the hand cranked barley crushers that many a homebrewer would use, but they still just hand cranking a machine.

Let's head then to the mash tun, where the grain will sit in warm water while alpha and beta amalayse do their thing to the starches in the grain. Here again machines come to the aid of the brewer in the form of mash rakes, which admittedly not all brewers have the luxury of. With mashing done, it's time to lauter and sparge the grains, pumping more water over the grains to extract more wort from the mash, pumps being machines.


I think you see my point, and I don't need to go through the entire brewing process pointing out where mechanisation is part and parcel of modern brewing. Ultimately the use of machines is an every day reality is the vast majority of breweries. Sure some may have more advanced systems involving hop chargers to automatically dose the boiling wort, but these tools don't impact whether or not the beer is actually worth drinking.

If transparency is really all that important in beer marketing then there are plenty in the craft segment of the industry whose marketing is guilty of deceiving the consumer. Claims that their beer is 'handmade/handcrafted' ring hollow when the truth is they use many of the same machines and technologies as industrial scale breweries.

I don't believe that the use of machines in a brewery impacts the flavour of a beer as much as the choice of ingredients, recipe, quality control processes, or the skill of the brewers themselves, but they do make a lovely straw man as a replacement for faceless corporations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Homebrew for Hunger

Once again this year, our local homebrew shop, Fifth Season, is hosting a charity event called Homebrew for Hunger, which raises money for our local food bank. This year's event will be bigger than last year's, with 40 local homebrewers participating, as well as several of the local breweries.


Along with a healthy clutch of brewers from the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale, I'll be pouring a couple of my beers.
  • Genius 1883
  • Red Coat East India Porter
Genius 1883 is basically the recipe for Guinness Extra Stout that is in Ron Pattinson's magnificent book of historical recipes scaled for homebrewers. My version ended up being 7.5% abv, a deep inky black (obviously), and if the sample was anything to go by dangerously moreish, I think I will have to brew this one again for my own consumption over the winter.

Red Coat East India Porter is a variation on a beer I brewed a few years ago, just when Black IPA was starting to become all the rage. Basically it was a snarky project where I took the grain bill from Widmer's W-10, as it appeared in Brew Your Own magazine, and ditched the American hops for British ones to get the same numbers of IBUs at each addition. I then entered said beer in a homebrew competition and it took gold in the robust porter category, scoring 42/50 in the process. This time the hops are slightly different, gone is the Admiral, and in come Fuggles and First Gold, to play with the East Kent Goldings. This beer is a bit lighter than the Genius 1883 at 7.3%, but is just as dark. In terms of calculated IBUs it sits at around 67, and most of the hop flavour and aroma will be coming from the First Gold and Goldings.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a slew of brewers from CAMRA taking part including Jamey with a couple of variants of his Foreign Extra Stout and Kölsch available. Tom will be there with a chocolate milk stout, Patrick with a cocoa, chipotle milk stout and Double IPA, and Noelle, who brewed the fabulous Raucous IPA, with a breakfast stout and an IPA, as well as several other brewers, and the club's resident cidermaker, Kevin.

As you can see from the banner above, the even takes place on Sunday October 26th, and runs from 1pm to 5pm. Tickets are still available either online or at the shop itself. So, if you're in the Charlottesville area that Sunday, I would encourage you to come along, support the food bank, and drink some good homebrew beer!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Greene King IPA

Quite some time ago, just a few months after I started this blog, I found myself sat in a pub in England. It was Christmas day, the last time myself and my three brothers were all together, dinner was done, and things were winding down toward the evening. My eldest brother and I took a stroll to the pub at the end of his then street for a pint or two. Stood at the bar, the options were somewhat limited, so I ordered a pint of Greene King IPA. Said pint didn't last but a mouthful or two, the smell of rubber carpet underlay was so strong that I gave it up for a pint of Guinness.

A couple of weekends ago, bimbling around our local Trader Joe's, I came across bottles of The King's English IPA, which according to the label is brewed and bottled by the very same Greene King. I hadn't bothered with the back label until Mrs V and I had got home, decided we were in for the day, and I figured it was time for a pint. I had bought two bottles, and polished them off with gusto, so when Mrs V and I were at our weekly shop yesterday I got another pair to see if it would become a regular in the cellar.


As for the beer itself, it pours a deep amber, bordering on red, topped off with a firm ivory head which lingered for the duration. The dominant aroma was toffee, laced with traces of cocoa, and just a hint of spicy hop aroma floating around in the background. Tastewise, the beer is a complex balance of bready malts, which come straight to the fore, only to give way to a sweet orange bite of hops. Balance really is the key word here, balance and a drinkability that belies the 6% abv.


As I savoured the last half pint of the latest pair of bottles I wondered at that pint of Greene King IPA in the English pub, as well as the Guinness that replaced it, and thought about the fantastic beers that bigger brewers are more than able of making. This Greene King IPA is like the Foreign Extra Stout to regular Guinness, something that makes you wonder why they bother with their uninspiring flagship.


Needless to say, The King's English will indeed be something of a regular in my cellar.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Viennese Whirl

I was running early for work, and by work I mean a shift behind the bar at Starr Hill, so I pottered into a supermarket near the brewery to peruse the beer selection, you know, just in case. In many ways it was a fairly standard Harris Teeter beer aisle, and fair play to them they generally have some good beer. In with the cases was Sierra Nevada's 'Fall Pack' mix case, a selection of 4 beers, 3 bottles of the Pale Ale, Tumbler, Oktoberfest, and Vienna. Having not had the Oktoberfest at all  or the Vienna in quite some time, I got myself one and drove off to work.

As I drove home after work, I decided that a blind tasting was in order. I recalled Sierra Nevada's Vienna Lager being rather nice when I had it on draft a few years back at a Beer Run tap takeover (they also had Torpedo on cask, and it is much better than the kegged product), so I decided to compare Viennas. To that end I got another couple of representations of the style, and with the aid of my beautiful assistant, Mrs V, set to comparing the following:
Here are my notes, in the style of Cyclops as usual.


Beer A
  • Sight - amber, large fluffy head, lots of carbonation
  • Smell - dominated by bready malts, light honey notes, some earthiness
  • Taste - juicy cereal/graininess, soft caramel like sweetness, gentle hop bite, clean
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Notes - slightly slick mouthfeel, bit on the watery side but nicely refreshing

Beer B
  • Sight - orange/copper, large slightly off white head, no noticeable bubbles
  • Smell - grain, general sweet aroma, light toast, grass
  • Taste - clean malt flavour, bready, slight syrup, undertones of earthy hops
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Slightly on the sweet side, medium bodied, nice carbonation, easy drinking

Beer C
  • Sight - rich copper, medium sized ivory head
  • Smell - some toast, juicy sweet honey
  • Taste - richly malty, honey/maple syrup, fresh scones, clean crisp hop bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Complex array of malt flavours, balanced really well with a clean hop bitterness, refreshing and moreish, slightly slick mothfeel
Rather than try to identify the beers, I decided to just note the order in which I preferred them, and was as backward as C, B, A, which turned to be as follows:
  1. Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  2. Starr Hill Jomo Vienna Lager
  3. Sierra Nevada Vienna

All three beers are perfectly drinkable, but Devils Backbone's Vienna, as befits a multiple award winning beer just stands out with its complexity. It really is one of the best lagers in general in the US in my utterly unhumble opinion.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Get Your Smokey On!

Tomorrow sees the release of a very exclusive beer at the Starr Hill tasting room, where, I am sure you are aware if you've been reading Fuggled or a while, I occasionally work behind the bar and give tours of the brewery. The beer in question is hopefully the first in a series of brews designed and brewed by the tasting room staff, and available only in the tasting room.

This first beer is a smoked altbier, brewed with Pilsner, Munich, and Carafa II malts, as well as mesquite smoked malt from the Copper Fox distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. In terms of hops we used Perle as a first wort hop, and for the bittering addition, with Hallertau for flavour and aroma. Rather than using Starr Hill's standard top fermenting yeast, we used the Wyeast German Ale strain, which is from Düsseldorf's Uerige brewery.

A few weeks ago at the monthly tasting room team drinkies we got to sample the beer before it sat in cold conditioning, and it was everything we wanted it to be. The smoked malt is evident, without overpowering the rest of the beer. The Munich malt adds body and a malt richness, and the hops balance everything delightfully. At 5.6% and a deep brown colour, this really is a fine beer for an autumnal Friday evening. It's only a shame there is no fire place in the Starr Hill tasting room.

The name of this august brew? Smokey Das Bier, and it will only be available tomorrow from 5pm at the tasting room in Crozet.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Let's Make Some Beer

I have homebrewed now since 2008, when my started with a very homely, cobbled together, 'brew  kit', back in Prague. As is in my nature, I have read, and read, and read books on homebrewing, from introductory texts to tomes of technical data about the various stages of the mashing process. I never tire of reading about brewing and gleaning new ideas, thus I got a copy of 'Make Some Beer' by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, the founders of the Brooklyn Brew Shop.


Subtitled 'Small-batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamberg' the book has about 35 recipes, inspired by breweries around the world, as well as ideas for food to pair with the beers. The recipes themselves are designed to make a single gallon of homebrew, and there are scaled up versions for those doing 5 gallon batches. The recipes are clearly written out, with clear instructions for performing the various stages of the brewing process. However, there are no technical details such as original gravity, calculated IBUs, and other useful numbers.

Rather than being a dry collection of homebrew recipes, anecdotes are littered throughout the book, providing back stories to each of the recipes, and giving the reader a sense of the writers' personality.

Overall, 'Make Some Beer' is a well written, diverse collection of interesting recipes and stories. While it may lack some of the technical details of other homebrew books, it is an easy resource to dip into when looking for an idea for a recipe, and I look forward to scaling some of the recipes up to my own small batch size of 2.5 gallons.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Few More Drops

On Saturday afternoon, Mrs V and I went to Three Notch'd Brewing Company. Nothing unusual there in the slightest, though we did have Mrs V's best friend, visiting from South Carolina, in tow and it was her first time to Three Notch'd.


Having ascertained that both ladies wanted pints of Session 42, I wandered to the bar and ordered 3. While I had been standing waiting to order, I got chatting to a bloke from the North West of England who was planning to fill a growler of Session 42, as he had, apparently, every day of each weekend that the beer was available. Not revealing my role in the creation of the beer, I was thrilled to hear people raving about the beer.

I have drunk very little other than Session 42 for a while now, yes I am biased, but it is a magnificent best bitter that would more than grace the bars of Yorkshire. As pint 3 was being poured, the keg kicked, and much to my chagrin that was the last keg in the building. So I had my half pint topped off with Oats McGoats to make a lovely black and tan, and lamented the passing of my favourite beer.

Thankfully though it is available in a few of my preferred bars in Charlottesville, so next stop was the Whiskey Jar so I could get my fill. We returned on Monday at their opening time, a very civilised 11am, and another 4 pints were reveled in before midday. Nothing like marking Labor Day with the working man's drink. Each mouthful was a melancholy delight as I wasn't sure when I would be able to have more, given the fact I rarely drink during the week these days.


This morning though I had a text message waiting for me on my phone, from the brewmaster at Three Notch'd, Dave, telling me that they had brought a few kegs from their satellite brewery in Harrisonburg back to Charlottesville. Suddenly this weekend looks as though it will have more Session 42 in it, which makes it a much brighter prospect.

Note: Mrs V keeps mentioning that I can always brew Session 42 at home, which is true, but I get the sense my favourite pubs would be rather miffed at me for trying to drink a homebrew version in their establishment.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where Good Fellowship Reigns

It was a glorious day, as many of the preceding 20 had been. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and we were sat on the early morning bus from Inverness to Glasgow. It was time to make the long trek back to our little corner of Virginia, and after 4 hours of beautiful Scottish countryside drifting past the window we were in Glasgow. Minor side note, while the A9 has an atrocious, and thoroughly deserved, reputation as something of a death trap, it is also one of the most stunningly beautiful roads I have ever travelled on.

I have always had something of a soft spot for Glasgow, I love the architecture, the vibrant city centre, and I have loads of Glaswegian friends. Although I have never spent more than a few days in the city at a time, I have enjoyed many an excellent drinking session in the city's pubs. When we were planning our few hours in Glasgow city centre, I tweeted for advice on the best places near Buchanan Street bus station for a feed and a drink. I had originally wanted to make it out to WEST, but decided that I would rather spend the time downing pints of real ale. Several answers came back, but I knew pretty much straight off where we would be spending our afternoon. We wandered to the edge of the city centre, through the crowds for the Commonwealth Games, under the M8, and having proven again that navigation by pub is a universal, into pub heaven.


The  Bon Accord is unassuming, unpretentious, wood laden, and clearly a place for serious drinkers, who know their onions when it comes to the delights of malted barley, whether as beer or whisky. Mrs V and I found a couple of seats at the bar, and got our first drinks in, Cromarty's Hit the Lip for me, and Kronenburg 1664 for her, in her defense she hadn't noticed the Budvar in the fridge, once the Kronenburg was done she was Czech for the afternoon. I would have stuck quite happily with Hit the Lip had I not polished off the last of the cask, did I mention yet that there we 10 hand pulls arrayed on the bar? With no more Cromarty beer to keep me company, a Caledonian Brewery Summer Valley filled the gap while I pondered what to have next.


One of the things I love about pubs is the people you meet, the random conversations with folk you are unlikely to ever meet again, whether the older gent doing the crossword next to Mrs V, the Patrick Thistle fan with whom I discussed the upcoming independence referendum (a conversation I pointedly avoided with my family), and most of all, with Paul, the owner. It's difficult, if not impossible, to describe Paul as anything other than a man of the world, urbane, sophisticated, and a mine of knowledge of whisky and beer. It was fantastic to just sit and chat the many pleasures of the demon drink. It was Paul that recommended I try the Kelburn Dark Moor. Oh. My. Goodness. What a beer Dark Moor is, served in tip top condition, a wonderfully complex, irresistible mild.


We ended up spending the best part of 5 hours at the Bon Accord before heading back to the bus station to pick up our bags and head out to Renfrew and our hotel for the night. 5 hours of superb, well kept, beer, supreme service, stimulating conversation, and an all day breakfast to die for. The Bon Accord is a must visit when in Glasgow, and the kind of pub that if I ever had my own, would be the role model.

Friday, August 15, 2014

To The Castle!

After our little sojourn in the realms of Virginia beer, time to head back to Scotland, and wandering along the banks of the River Ness. If you've never been to Inverness, and I thoroughly recommend you do, spending a Sunday morning strolling along the Ness toward Bught Park, through the Ness Islands, and back up the other bank, culminating in reaching the pub at opening time, is pretty much as good as it gets. Especially when the pub in question is the Castle Tavern.


Located behind Inverness Castle, the Castle Tavern was one of the places that I had researched before our trip. The primary attraction was simple, real ale. While I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, you could happily describe me as a fellow traveller. The time we went by, it was still an hour to opening time, and we had to be elsewhere. So the next time, we got there right at opening time.



Walking past the rather fetching collection of tables and benches outside, Mrs V and I decided to grab a seat at the bar and I ordered a pint of Cromarty Atlantic Drift, a 3.5% pale ale which was moreish beyond words, and Mrs V had a cider. As you can see from the pictures, the bar is in many ways, classic British pub, it was love at first sight as far as I was concerned, especially as the beer was in fine fettle. One thing I particularly appreciated was the option to have three thirds of a pint, to try multiple beers, for the price of a pint. I took the offer, but decided to stick with the Cromarty, which was a theme in many a pub we went to on our trip.



A few days later we were back, this time with my nephew in tow, and to my consternation the Atlantic Drift had kicked, as had all the casks from the previous visit. Ah well, Windswept Blonde more than filled the gap, and I discovered that a double dark rum and ginger ale is rather nice, strange things these youngsters drink.


With a good selection of real ales, staff that clearly knew their stuff, and an atmosphere that was friendly, laid back, and generally welcoming, the Castle Tavern would be a regular haunt if I lived in the Invernes area, and probably my local in Inverness itself. A great place.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2014

This Saturday is the first round of judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, the finals for which will be decided a week later at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, down at Devils Backbone. The first round judging takes place at Mad Fox up in Falls Church, so nice and early on Saturday morning I'll be jumping in my car for the drive north. This time last year I presented the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers for 2013, so I present this year's list....
  1. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). Oats is the base beer for Three Notch'd's espresso stout. Take out the coffee and you have a wonderfully silky, moreish stout that just screams to drunk whilst sat in a comfy chair, in front of the fire, with the dog stretched out at your feet. Idyllic.
  2. Blue Mountain Brewing - English Pale Mild (4.6%). On the day I went to brew a Burton Ale with the guys at Blue Mountain, they were pouring an English pale mild, a brew so rare these days that people likely saw the words 'pale mild' and thought it was some modern twist on mild. With a generous smattering of English hops, it was a great beer to have a few pints of, or as we call it in the UK, lunch.
  3. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). The perfect Czech style pilsner, a love song to Saaz. Magnificent.
  4. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery - Enlightened Despot (11.3%). A Russian Imperial Stout, aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels, balanced, seductive, and superb with a well matured cheddar cheese make this beer something of a rarity in Fuggled-world, a big barrel aged beer that was actually worth drinking. I bought the last bottle from batch 1 when I went to the brewery, and it sits in my cellar awaiting a suitable occasion.
  5. Three Notch'd Brewing - 40 Mile IPA (6.1%). Don't look now but there is an American style IPA on this list. Absolutely redolent with the tropical fruit flavours of El Dorado hops, this has become my go-to IPA, there simply is no better IPA being made in Virginia right now in my opinion. If you see it in the massed ranks of IPA in a bar, forget the rest.
  6. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.6%). There have been some tweaks to this beer recently, specifically a change in the chocolate malt being used in the brew, and it has elevated an already magnificent dry Irish stout to higher standards. I honestly can't think of a dry stout I would rather drink.
  7. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). A well established go-to lager which never disappoints. It is great to see that as Devils Backbone continues to grow Vienna Lager doesn't seem to suffer, testament to the superb work that Jason, Aaron, and the DB brewing crew are doing.
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Of, By, For Pilsner (5.6%). Yes, yes, yes, I know, another Three Notch'd beer, but seriously, these guys are consistently making the best beer in central Virginia at the moment, and across a range of styles. Of, By, For is a solid Bohemian style pilsner, though at an estimated 14° Plato it is more in the speciání range than a ležák. Showcasing the Saaz-derived Sterling hop, it is dangerously moreish, and returns to the tasting room this week!!
  9. Ardent Craft Ales - American Mild (5.5%). More a brown ale that a mild, as understood these days, but a lovely combination of nutty malts, spicy hops and a rich mouthfeel. Probably the highlight of my Saturday drinking in Richmond recently.
  10. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Bohemian Pils (5%). What is happening to Virginia brewing? Czech style lagers seem to be popping up all over the place, and this one reminded me very much of beers I drank in the Czech Republic, mainly Budvar. Well worth seeking out.

So there we have it, my favourite Virginian beers since last year's list. Naturally the list is purely subjective, but that part of the joy of beer.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Westering Home...

Going home, in the most literal sense, is a path well travelled. Whether coming from Inverness, Birmingham, Prague, or Charlottesville, all roads lead to Uig. From Uig the ferry sails to Lochmaddy, and from there a car to Benbecula. Inevitably there is about an hour and a half of time killing to be done in Uig, and usually said time is killed at the Pub At The Pier, or as it is known these days, the Bakur Bar.


The last time I had darkened the door of this particular building was when it was called the Pub At The Pier, and I spent time chatting with an American tourist, from Joshua Tree, playing pool, and drinking something or other. This time I walked in, saw hand pulls bearing the logo of nearby Skye Brewery, and did something that happens rather infrequently, ordered an IPA, hopped with Sorachi Ace no less. A few mouthfuls later, I ordered another, delicious it was. It was actually my first draft beer since arriving in Scotland (these posts are in not particular order) and thus began my three week reverie of cask ale.


Not wanting to get stuck in a rut, I followed pint 2 of IPA with Skye Red. Once upon a time known as Red Cuillin, it was everything I expected from a red ale, plenty of sweet malt juiciness, toffee, caramel, some light cocoa, with just enough spicy hops to make it interesting...by now the ferry was turning in the bay, ready to let people off before loading those of us heading west.


In days of yore you could always tell the locals from the tourists on the ferry. Tourists went to the observation deck to bird watch, or attempt to see marine wildlife, while the locals generally headed for the bar. CalMac had renovated the ferry since last I sailed on it, so I got right royally lost, where the hell was the bar? Turns out that the bar was now part of the general gift shop area, and only had bottled beer, one of which was Skye Black, formerly Black Cuillin. Skye Black is a wonderfully smooth porter, brewed with honey and oatmeal, yum, yum, yum...


After a few days on Uist, we headed back east, stopping in the brewery shop to pick up some bottles, and some swag. Other than the Black and the Red, I bought a couple of bottles of Hebridean Gold, a pale ale brewed with porridge oats, giving it a delightfully creamy mouthfeel, soft honeyed sweetness, and a drinkability that could easily get a chap in trouble.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Down the Isle

The Black Isle is neither an island, nor black, being a rather fetching shade of green most of the time, and always a peninsula. The Black Isle Brewery is on the Black Isle, and is most definitely a brewery. A long time ago now, I lived on the Black Isle, in Fortrose to be precise, and I remember seeing the signs to the then newly opened Black Isle Brewery. I don't remember ever trying their beer back then, being more of a Caffrey's drinker in those days. Thus, correcting that particular fact was very much on the cards while I was home.

I wasn't expecting to correct that fact quite as soon as I did. Mrs V and I spent the first Sunday of our trip mildly jet lagged, wandering along the banks of the River Ness while my parents went to church. We arranged to meet my parents outside the Marks and Spencer, and so I popped into to pick up some beer to see me through the afternoon and evening. One of those beers was a heather honey beer brewed at Black Isle, I enjoyed it muchly. On the day we also went to the Cromarty Brewing Company, which I wrote about last time, we swung into the Black Isle Brewery.


The brewery has free samples in the shop and does tours of the brewery, though as I work in a brewery and have access to as much stainless steel as a chap could possibly need I really didn't feel the need to go on a tour. I did though feel the need to pick up some bottles and a rather natty bottle opener, which I used in anger that very evening.


Yellowhammer poured a golden straw with an inch or so of pure white head. Having been described to us as an "ale that's like a lager" by the girl in the brewery store, I was expecting something in the realm of kölsch, which it would have been but or the Cascade derived grapefruit flavours. Either way it was a perfectly drinkable thirst slaker that I wish I had seen on cask in my pub adventures.


Goldeneye Pale Ale does exactly what it says on the tin, or bottle in this case. Pale, plenty of New World hoppy flavours and aromas, berries, tropical fruit, you know the thing. Add to that a good malty backbone to balance everything out and you have a beer that would more than pass muster on this side of the Atlantic.


Going a little darker, Red Kite pours a rich garnet, with a thin slightly off white head. This really was like drinking dessert, with aromas of caramel and creme brulee, whilst tasting of dates, toffee, and spicy hops, think sticky toffee pudding and you're pretty close. Did I mention that sticky toffee pudding is one of my favourite desserts yet?



As the evening wore on I opened a couple of heavier hitters, a porter and Scotch ale, both beers were solid examples of the style which I would be  more than happy to drink again when next I head home, though I would love to try them on draft rather than in the bottle.

There's something wonderful about sitting in the garden, as the evening sun sets slowly into the northern sky, with a glass of well made beer. Life's simple pleasures at their finest...I was beginning to realise just how well endowed in the good beer department the Highlands are.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Happy Chappy

Driving along the A9, north of Inverness, out past my parents' place in Alness, beyond Invergordon, and eventually to Nigg, there is a ferry. Having driven on to the ferry, been turned round on the turntable so you can get off again in a couple of minutes, you set off across the Cromarty Firth to reach the eponymous village on the Black Isle.

Cromarty is in many ways the archetypal small Highland town, picturesque sea front, cottages, a handsome church, the house of the local worthy, a couple of hotels with public bars. I liked it immensely, especially when strolling around I noticed magical words on a chalk board outside the Cromarty Arms Inn...'real ale', but we had a date with the cheesemonger first. Suitably stocked up with dairy delights it was time to sit away from the beautiful sunshine and enjoy a quick drink, cider for Mrs V, Irn Bru for Dad, and tonic water for Mum. The Cromarty Arms only has a single hand pull, and on that pump was Happy Chappy from the Cromarty Brewing Company.


Described on their website as a 'New Wave Pale Ale', Happy Chappy is made with a selection of New World hops, from both the US and New Zealand. I have to admit I was kind of craving some citrusy zing on the day we went to Cromarty, and Happy Chappy satisfied that need, perfectly, especially as to me it was more lemon and lime that generic New World grapefruit. So I had another. The second pint lasted slightly longer than four mouthfuls, so I enjoyed the biscuity malt base, the touch of toffee, and the long, lingering finish. So I had another. Number 3 was sheer delight, the body belying the 4.1% abv, and the hops shone through, making me almost regret that we were going on to other locales this day, I could have sat and drank Happy Chappy all afternoon.


En route to Fortrose in an abortive attempt to go to the Anderson (stupid me didn't check their opening hours), we stopped into the brewery itself, picked up some bottles, some t-shirts, some swag, you know the kind of thing you do. They only had three beers in bottles that day. Kowa Bunga, Red Rocker, and Wild Bush. Stocked up, we moved on with the rest of our road trip on the Black Isle.


That evening back at my parents, I drank a bottle of each of the three I bought. Unencumbered with a pen and notepad, I didn't take notes, but each of the beers was excellent, and thankfully lacking the dominant grapefruit thing that sometimes seems to be de rigeur with New World inspired beers.


Not normally one for Belgian inspired beers, the Wild Bush had me wishing I had bought more than just a pair of bottles. As well as more of the lime/lemon thing from the hops, there was a noticeable coconut flavour, which I assume is from the gorse flower, which worked well with the honeyed sweetness that never quite got into cloying territory.


From this point on, whenever I saw a Cromarty beer in the pub, my mind was made up, from the amazing Atlantic Drift in the Castle Tavern, to Hit The Lip in the Bon Accord, every single beer was magnificent, and all the more so for being cask conditioned. I have heard, and read, people waffle on about how hops from the US, Australia, and New Zealand are not suited to cask conditioning, and based on my experiences drinking Cromarty ales on cask, such notions are clearly bollocks. I would go so far as to say that the absence of fizz actually elevates the flavours of New World hops.


It's fair to say that I am a fan of Cromarty Brewing Company's beer. Flavourful, balanced, drinkable, and moreish....everything I look for in a pint. The only downer is that they aren't available in the US, so I guess I'll just have to go home again, and not wait 9 years to do so.