Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hail to the Goddess!

Yesterday, as I went about my business, I got a notification on my phone to tell me that someone had left a message on my Facebook timeline. Said someone was Jason Oliver, head brewer of Devils Backbone, one of my favourite brewing folks in this neck of the woods and overseer of one of Virginia's best breweries (I am biased but I think central VA has a far higher concentration of quality breweries than anywhere else in this commonwealth). Said notification was to let me know that they had re-brewed Morana and that it would be available sometime in May.

A quick reminder. Morana is a Czech style dark lager, or tmavé pivo, inspired by the magnificent 14° tmavé from Kout na Šumavě. Jason and I first brewed back Morana in 2010, and again in 2012. She, for the numbers geeks, has about 25 IBUs of good old Saaz hoppiness, and packs a 5.3% abv punch, lagers for between 45 and 60 days, and tastes simply wonderful, as my notes from the second batch attest:
Still there is the deep mahogany colour, the bready grains and grassy Saaz goodness, the sweet juicy caramel of the CaraBohemian malt and the lingering crisp finish you expect from a lager, but new to the mix was a lovely nuttiness, like chestnuts roasted on a open fire.

To say I looking forward to seeing her again would be an understatement, I am positively thrilled at the thought of heading down to Roseland for an afternoon of drinking, and filling growlers to bring home.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Many Have Copied, None Have Bettered

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Charlottesville branch of World of Beer put unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell on tap yesterday. Though I am not one for crossing hill and dale for beer, I knew, the moment I heard about this rare, momentous, occasion where I would be last night, once the chickens had decided they had scratched around the garden enough and headed up to their coop (Mrs V is away at a conference so I am looking after the animals).

With the chickens locked up for the night I headed into town, parked the car and went straight to the bar to meet a colleague from work, having picked up a former colleague from my Starr Hill days on the way. The sight of a Pilsner Urquell tap was a joy to behold in it's own right, not just a tap handle, a proper Pilsner Urquell tap, as in the kind that you turn to dispense the beer. Moments later, this was placed in front of me...

A bit hazier than I expected for sure, but I am not going to quibble over a tad bit more haze, it wasn't murky, but oh the head, a lovely shaving cream head, just as I remember from places like Bruska back in Prague. The beer itself was sheer delight.

There is something about unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell that you just don't get with the regular bottled version, a softer, almost biscuity malt flavour rather than an almost harsh cracker like taste, rounder perhaps? It's difficult to explain, but it doesn't snap to attention, it's more laid back, you could call it Švejk-like.

Now this might sound faintly ridiculous to the lovers of enamel trashing lupulin delivery vehicles who think Miller Lite is a pilsner, but the magnficent Saaz hops are front and centre in this beer, firmly, almost bracingly, bitter, and simply redolent with freshly mown hay, lemon grass, and orange blossom aromas. Without the, ahem, 'benefit' of filtering and pasteurisation the hops sing, hitting all the right high notes.

So, easy to drink, not because it is bland and devoid of flavour, but because each mouthful is a delight (which when you think about it should be the definition of 'easy drinking'). Before I knew it, my glass was empty, but the tap was still there...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Rare Treat

'Legend' is a word far too easily bandied around these days, as is the eternal hyperbole of 'awesome', 'mind-blowing', and 'world rocking'. It seems sometimes that there are a vocal minority of beer drinkers out there for whom every beer needs to be awesomely mind blowing whilst rocking their world to even be mentioned.

Then there are true legends, beers that changed the beer world, that became archetypes to be copied endlessly, though rarely, if at all, bettered. One such legend is Pilsner Urquell.

Since moving to the US I have seen the Pilsner Urquell available here improve immeasurably, firstly with the refrigerated shipping, then the switch to brown bottles, on Saturday I enjoyed two pints of draft Pilsner at my local Whole Foods, and took a growler home, and almost it was like drinking back in the Czech Republic.

But for all these improvements it still hasn't  quite scratched my Pilsner itch. I am hoping that Thursday will change all that.

Thursday, at the Charlottesville branch of World of Beer, will be a day I honestly thought I would never see. Pilsner Urquell will be on tap, no great shock there I suppose, but the version they will be putting on tap is unfiltered and unpasteurised. Pilsner Urquell as urquell as you can damn well get, without drinking it out of wooden barrels in the brewery.

To say I am excited at the prospect would be an understatement for sure.

For non-Czech speakers, the phrase at the top of the beer mat there is 'perfection need not be changed'.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#MildMonthUS is on!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the possibility of having a US based equivalent of CAMRA's May is Mild Month. A couple of days later Tom Cizauskas from Yours for Good Fermentables got in touch to tell me that he and Lew Bryson thought the idea was a good one and that he would be on board, so I decided to test the waters and see if any of my local breweries would be interested in brewing mild ales for May, and overwhelmingly they were.

Thus American Mild Month was born, the domain registered, the Facebook page created, the Twitter account created, and the hashtag #MildMonthUS started.

The website and Facebook pages are very much works in progress, and I hope to be unveiling the project logo in the very near future.

So far the following breweries have committed to having mild ales available in May:
  • Three Notch'd Brewing, VA
  • Blue Mountain Brewery, VA
  • Champion Brewing, VA
  • South Street Brewery, VA
  • Mad Fox Brewing, VA
  • Williamsburg Alewerks, VA
  • Oliver Ales, MD
  • Brewers Union Local 180, OR
  • Jester King Brewing, TX
  • Freetail Brewing, TX
  • Pour Decisions/Brewstillery, MN
The following breweries are possibly taking part:
  • Fortnight Brewing, NC
  • Twin Leaf Brewing, NC
  • Devils Backbone Brewing, VA
As more breweries come on board I'll be adding them to the list over on the American Mild Month website, and I'll be adding details of the milds being brewed as I get them.

If you know of any breweries that would be interested in joining the project, let me know, and let them know about American Mild Month. Other than that, like the Facebook page, follow the Twitter account, and get set for drinking Mild ale in May!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Of Renovation and Restoration

When Mrs V and I first landed in Charlottesville back in 2009 there was a single, solitary, brewery in the city itself. Back before there was Three Notch'd Brewing, before there was Champion Brewing, there was South Street. A place I so desperately wanted to love, but which so painfully let me down time after time. Every time I went, whether with the wife or with friends, I left wondering why I had bothered to put cash in their coffers for beer that to my mind was all too often either bland, unbalanced, or in the case of Liberation Lager, simply undrinkable. I much preferred to drive for an hour or so to do to Blue Mountain or Devils Backbone.

Then the guys behind Blue Mountain bought South Street and started a renovation process that closed the brewpub for a few months. In the weeks leading up to the official re-opening I had a new lager from South Street, firstly at the local Whole Foods and then at a countryside cafe just up the road from where I live. Virginia Lager was the first inkling that things might be better at the new South Street, clean, crisp, and nicely balanced, here was a South Street beer that I liked drinking.

For reasons that escape me right now, Mrs V and I didn't make it to South Street itself until a couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday where the temperature reached a positively balmy 21°C/70°F, and in short sleeves we went into town for brunch.

One thing I always loved about South Street was the architecture, bricks and brass being order of the day, and the renovations have lightened that up a bit,but not so much that it feels like a characterless dorm room. The old copper bar is no longer there, which is kind of a shame, but the new wooden bar is beautiful in its own right, and there are bits of the old bar hanging from the walls as mementos.

Presented with the menu, we decided to do the full flight of 12 beers, which you can see below.

I didn't take notes, but each of them was perfectly drinkable, well made, and nothing to turn one's nose up at. Virginia Lager was the highlight for me, though the shandy was also excellent, as was the Anastasia's Chocolate Fantasy, a nod to one of the more notorious of Cville's former residents, Franziska Schanzkowska, better known as Anna Anderson.

The sun was shining brightly, the sky that wonderful shade of blue that winter seems to specialise in, the windows were open, and the beer was good. So we ate our brunches, can't remember what Mrs V had, but I had biscuits and gravy, which were very nice (biscuits and gravy is becoming something of an obsession), and ordered drink without regret.

The new South Street is pretty much everything you could wish for from a town centre brewpub, great location, good food, good beer, and at long last reasonable opening hours, being open from 11am now rather than the old 4pm. I get the feeling that I might be popping over more often, safe in the knowledge that disappointment is a thing of the past.

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, ...