Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seriously Gorgeous Blonde

I went drinking on Saturday afternoon.

Mrs V was in South Carolina delivering our wee Cairn Terrier called Honza to her parents to look after while we spend the next 3 and a half weeks in the Highlands of Scotland, hiking the West Highland Way, climbing Ben Nevis, and then hanging out in the pubs of Inverness and area. If you read Fuggled regularly you won't be surprised to hear that I wound up in Three Notch'd Brewing watching the Euro 2016 footie on the tele.

At Three Notch'd I met an absolutely stunning blonde, so I took a picture....

Said blonde is the brewery's latest offering, Road Soda, a dry hopped blonde ale that packs an eminently pintable 4.9% ABV and is laden with the flavours of Simcoe and Amarillo. It would definitely be a contender for my beer of the summer, if I wasn't going to be, you know, elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On #Brexit

It's pretty rare that I deviate from the kind of scheduled programming here on Fuggled, you know the stuff about homebrew, beer, and pubs, to discuss something that is actually important. By 'actually important' I don't mean which overpaid athletes Jürgen Klopp wants to bring to Anfield to rocket Liverpool back to glory, though Mario Götze would be most welcome. No, today I want to talk about the referendum happening back home in the UK on Thursday to decide whether to stay in the European Union or not.

I am going to say right from the outset that I am a firm believer in the benefits of the EU, and think it would be a monumentally dumb thing if Britain were to walk away. It may sound strange coming from someone who has lived the best part of the last 17 years outside the UK, and the last 7 outside of Europe entirely, but that experience has made me appreciate the burgundy passport with the words 'European Union' embossed on the front more than ever.

When I first moved to the Czech Republic, in 1999, that country was going through the accession process to eventual membership in 2004, and as a foreigner going to work there it was a nightmare getting through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy to get a work permit and visa. Like many EFL teachers intending to stay for a year it was easier to go for day trips to Germany or Poland and have the 3 month tourist visa renewed. I decided though that I wanted to stay for more years and so the work permit became a necessity, one that involved early morning drives to Dresden or Vienna and endless queuing at the old Foreign Police headquarters to get the necessary stamps in passports and documents.

On May 1 2004 that became a distant memory. As an citizen of the European Union in the now member Czech Republic, I had the same rights as my Czech friends and no longer needed a work permit, just proof of employment and hey presto a 10 year residence permit was stamped into my passport. Also there was no more queuing at the new Foreign Police headquarters, getting to stroll past the assembled mass of people from further east looking for a better life, and be seen within half an hour usually. Those magic golden words on the front of my passport meant that I was able to live and work without hassle. I could, had I so wanted, have owned property or started a business without having to deal with the onerous processes inflicted on non-EU people living in the Czech Republic.

That freedom to live and work anywhere in the 28 member nations of the EU is by itself the main reason that if I could vote in the referendum (apparently those of us who have lived abroad for more than 15 years are ineligible to vote on whether our lifestyle can be wrenched away from us) I would vote to remain in the EU. Not a single argument in favour of Brexit holds any water as far as I am concerned, and while I am not an expert (which I guess in the mind of Michael Gove means the British people might actually listen to me), I can't see anything other than economic hardship in the event of leaving, as tariffs and the additional costs of being outside the single market take effect and drive prices up for the consumer, not to mention the complete lack of suitably qualified workers to take the place of immigrant plumbers, nurses, firemen, etc, etc should they decide to move to an EU country and continue enjoying the benefits of the greatest source of European peace since the Pax Romana*.

So please, if I may make a plea to my British readers, don't turn this into a referendum on the Tories or David Cameron for that matter, because it is more important than that. Should Britain decide to leave the EU, the country will still be subject to the rules of the European single market, exports to the EU will still have to meet EU standards. If we want to trade with the EU then we will still have to meet the conditions of the EU, and no we won't be able to have trade deals just with Germany, France, or any other individual country within the single market since trading with a single EU country means trading with all of the EU, it's just how it works.

A vote to remain in the EU is a vote that acknowledges, to steal a line from a previous referendum, that we are 'better together' with our EU partners, and that working together can make life better for all European citizens.

* - this may be slightly hyperbolic but given the history of Europe tearing itself to shreds ad nauseum for the couple of centuries prior to the EU, it is only slightly hyperbolic.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Session: The Backbone

This month's iteration of The Session is being hosted by Carla, a.k.a. The Beer Babe, who encourages us to:
talk about those businesses in the beer world that aren’t breweries. What are the roles that they can play? What opportunities still exist for new niche roles to be developed? What can local/state/regional governments do to encourage this kind of diversity of businesses around an industry?
Here in Central Virginia he have a plethora of beer allied industries that seem to have popped up from nowhere with the continued increase in brewery numbers (of the 30 odd breweries within 50 miles of my house, only 6 existed when I moved here in 2009), but I want to focus on one in particular, and forgive me if this is an overly obvious allied industies to look at.

Virginia is at heart an agrarian state, once upon a time it was the Kent of the Colonies, a veritable Eden of Humulus Lupulus, but eventually that industry headed out west. Slowly though hop gardens are again becoming a thing in Virginia, with about 25 acres planted in 2014. Much of the renaissance can be put down to small brewpubs planting a half acre or so of hops in the vicinity of their facility - if you have ever been to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton you'll know exactly what I have in mind.

As I said though, hop growing is, well, um, growing again here in Virginia. The Old Dominion Hops Co-op is a group of 185 farmers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland growing varieties like Cascade, Chinook, Brewers Gold, and Goldings for use by small breweries. Some members of the co-op grow on as little of a third of an acre (that's 1375m2 for the metric folks) while at the bigger end of things there are those with 2.5 acres and multiple varieties.

As I said, Virginia is an agrarian state, despite the urban sprawl of Northern Virginia, and while we don't have the expanses of the Mid West flowing with waves of grain, barley is an important crop in the Commonwealth. In 2014, about 20000 acres were planted with barley, producing somewhere in the region of 72 million pounds of grain. Admittedly much of this production goes to cattle feed, but with the growth of beer has come a growth in local artisan malting companies, such as Wood's Mill Malt House, Big Trouble, and even Copper Fox Distillery, who malt their own grain for their whiskey and sell small amounts on to brewers.

I am sure there are sexier allied industries, the tour givers, the distributors, the conference organisers, the other assorted hangers on, but it is the farmers and maltsters providing the raw ingredients to the teams doing the work for the rock star brewers, who are the unsung heroes of the brewing world. I for one am glad to see these industries coming back to life in Virginia, so that one day we may actually be able to buy a distinctively Virginian local beer.

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, ...