Monday, February 22, 2016

Hail Bitter!

This Thursday sees one of my favourite events of my beer drinking year, the release of the best bitter I designed for Three Notch'd Brewing. This tapping is a little different than usual because the beer has a new name. No longer will the name Session 42 grace the tap lists of Virginian bars and restaurants as it is being replaced by the name 'Bitter 42'.

The name change is being forced on the brewery partly by the famed litigious nature of the craft brewing scene, and I now have another brewery whose beer I will never drink as a result. However, Three Notch'd decided to take the opportunity presented by the new name for a little bit of beer education for the masses.


It is perhaps a sign of very effective advertising that the very word 'bitter' seems to cause consternation among marketing folks, raising the spectre of Keystone Light, the mass produced, low grade swill whose slogan on the 1990s was 'Never Bitter Beer'. Running alongside the slogan were pictures of old men gurning because their beer was bitter.

Well, and forgive my French here, fuck that.

Bitterness is an essential part of beer, balancing out the sweetness of the malt. The family of beers called 'bitter', whether ordinary, best, or extra special, are the backbone of an entire nation's drinking culture. That's what the new name for Session 42 is about, reclaiming the idea that bitterness is a good thing in beer, and paying homage to the family of beers that are the inspiration for the beer itself.


Bitter 42 is proudly a best bitter, one that would stand up favourably to the finest bitters in England. I am very much looking forward to that first pint on Thursday at the Three Notch'd tasting room and being able to utter the words of benediction....'pinta bitter please'.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Iconic Craft?

It's been one of those weeks where the best intentions get flung out of the window as a result of circumstances. Nothing drastic, just a demanding week at the day job, and so a couple of pints of an evening at home has been the ideal way to smooth away the wrinkles of the day. I'll get back on the not drinking during the week wagon next week.

Not wanting to buy in more beer I've been raiding the cellar and fridge, both of which were thankfully well stocked with my kind of beers - key word there 'were', they're a tad barren now. Most of the beers I thoroughly enjoyed in the past few days have been from what I would regard as 'iconic' breweries, Guinness and Samuel Smith's, coming hot on the heels of drinking beer Schlenkerla at the weekend.

This got me thinking, a dangerous habit for sure, about how many American beers and/or breweries that have sprung up in the last 30 old years will go on to achieve the same kind of legendary status as the folks at St James' Gate, Tadcaster, or Bamberg?

To be blunt, the list is fairly small.


Top of that list for me would be Sierra Nevada, and in particular their Pale Ale, the very archetype of the American Pale Ale style, and still the benchmark for any beer in that style. I think it would be rather obvious to point to a West Coast IPA as some kind of iconic beer, but without SNPA I am convinced there would never have been the taste for American hops that drives the continuing IPA obsession. It also helps that Sierra Nevada for all their innovation have always struck me as delightfully respectful of tradition. How many US craft breweries bottle condition their beer, let alone recreate bottle conditioning in their canned lineup?  The sight of the pale green 12 pack in the store in such decent beer wastelands as Daytona Beach is an infinite source of comfort, and its acceptance in the mainstream a sign of it becoming an iconic American beer.

The other iconic US craft beer, and for similar reasons, is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Sure it may be brewed in several different breweries, and the brewing company itself is branching out into cider, hard tea, and whatever else will sell, but Boston Lager itself was the beer that broke the mould. Think of the American lager scene in 1985, dominated by pale lager megabrands and their light cousins. People that wanted something different drank Heineken, Beck's, and other German imports. In to that milieu stepped Jim Koch and Boston Lager, the first non-BMC American made lager I ever drank, and I loved it at first mouthful - and remember at this point I was living in the Czech Republic, a land that makes a decent lager or two. Just as with SNPA, the sight of a Boston Lager tap in a franchise restaurant is welcome to anyone that likes a decent beer instead of post-mix soda.

After that though, who is there that are still out there making the beers that made them famous rather than ditching them to satisfy the fickle winds of change? From among the ranks of craft brewers currently riding the crest of a wave, who among them will my children drink, or their children, and even their children?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Idyllic Pubcentricity

The Pub Curmudgeon posted yesterday about the elements of a perfect pub, itself a commentary on an article in the Sunday Telegraph, and so I decided to think a bit more about what the perfect Velky Al boozer would look/be like.

Mismatched Furniture

Generally speaking I like the furniture in a pub to be wooden, preferably a bit battered, somewhat rickety, and occasionally wobbly. I don't want to feel like I am drinking in an IKEA showroom, unless said drinking hole has just undergone a renovation of course, if it still feels like IKEA a few months later something is wrong. I don't want every table to look the same, have the same chairs, and be entirely interchangeable. I want to pick a table, and even a chair, because I just happen to like that combination in it's location. I may be odd on this front, but that's ok.

Newspapers

This may be a tad controversial, but I like pubs that have newspapers available. They should be today's papers obviously, and there needs to be a selection from across the political spectrum and formats. If my ideal pub is back home in Scotland I want to see, at least, The Guardian, The Scotsman, The Daily Record, The Daily Telegraph, and whatever the local paper is. The only paper I would object to is The S*n, for obvious reasons. I don't want a pub to be a place where people of only one political persuasion go, I love pubs for the random conversations with different people that you have, if I wanted a focal point for homogeneous thought I'd sit at home and surf Facebook.

Outside Seating

Whether it's a beer garden, a patio, or a balcony I am a big fan of outdoor seating, mainly because when the weather is nice that's where the pub equivalent of day trippers go, leaving the rickety furniture and the bar safe for me. Sure there are times when I brave the bright lights of the outdoor seating area, usually when I am part of a group and the general consensus is to sit outside, but I am more often than not a creature of habit, and I like my seat at the bar.

Fireplace

Few things are as comforting in any room as a fireplace, the bigger the better. In the depths of winter, having trudged through cold and snow to get to a hostelry, the twin delights of a roaring fire and a pint of something dark and roasty just can't be beaten. If there are a couple of tables near the fire then the bar seat might even be sacrificed for the delights of scanning the papers whilst bathing in the warming glow of a well stoked fire.

5-7 Taps

I am not a fan of the rage for pubs to have banks of taps hanging out on the back wall, neither yet an endless bronzed barricade of handles on the front of the bar. I actually like brass fonts and tap gantries, just don't want then consuming the length of the bar. I don't go to the pub to be intimidated by endless tap handles for breweries I have barely even heard of, and whose brewing ability is entirely unknown to me. The first thing that goes through my mind when I enter a pub with dozens of taps is do they actually have the custom to keep the stock rotating at a reasonable rate?

Genuine Choice

It may seem a little strange to not want infinite taps and then ask for a good choice of beer, but what choice is there in 50 taps of IPA, a solitary mass produced lager, and Guinness? Give me a pub with 7 taps and 7 different styles on those taps each and every day of the week. At least 3 of those taps should be permanently filled with excellent examples of, preferably locally brewed, best bitter, dry Irish stout, and Bohemian Pilsner. This is my ideal pub after all.

Rooms

I love pubs with a range of rooms to chose from, each with it's own character and regulars. A common feature of many a hotel in the Highlands is the public bar, a rougher environment than the lounge. Sometimes you want a quiet drink, sometimes you want to be somewhere a bit rowdier, if you can do both in the same pub then all the better. If a pub doesn't have multiple rooms then nooks and crannies can serve a similar purpose.

More than Beer

I am an unabashed beer drinker, it is rare than I choose wine, cider, mead, or any other alcoholic drink over beer, but not all my friends are enthusiastic takers of the malt and hops. Mrs V prefers wine these days, some of my friends don't drink at all, but I still enjoy hanging out with them, and so a pub needs to cater for a range of drinking options. Many pubs do a decent enough line in wine, cider, and spirits, but are lamentably piss poor when it comes to soft drinks, invariably the usual mass produced post mix swill of Coca-Cola or PepsiCo products. Stocking Fentiman's range of sodas would be infinitely preferable.

I'd like to think this such a pub would be fairly well liked by a wide swathe of folks, heck there may even be a business plan in there somewhere...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Kindling Old Flames

I am sure all of us have beers that the first pint of are etched in our memories, and in some small way changed our beer drinking lives forever. I remember well my first pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord, my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and my first Wrasslers XXXX. Another beer permanently inscribed on my tastebuds is Schlenkerla Märzen.


Back in 2008 I found myself, as was my wont, in Pivovarský klub. It was my local at the time, my Cheers. I had a fairly regular perch at both the upstairs and downstairs bar, everybody knew my name, and I in return knew everybody's name. I could ask one of the bar staff to just pick something for me confident that they would bring something good, and when they saw Mrs V coming through the door, her Primátor English Pale Ale was poured and ready before she had her coat off. Up to that point I had never touched a rauchbier, but they had got some in from Bamberg and I was eager to try...

Wow, just wow. None of your faint traces of smoke that bring bacon to mind, this was like being smacked upside the head with an entire side of pig. I loved it. Poured from a bottle with a label that just screamed Germany to this utter Germanophile, the colour was a shocking deep mahogany, it was beautiful. If I remember rightly myself and my friends drank the vast majority of their stock, and I was hooked on Schlenkerla beer for life.

As yesterday was St Valentine's Day, I martyred Mrs V by beheading her. No wait, no I didn't, we went to a delightful harpsichord concert in Staunton, had a couple of drinks at a wine bar, and then headed into the gathering snowstorm to try out Edelweiss German Restaurant. I have mentioned my own Germanophilia, thankfully Mrs V is also a devotee of Mitteleuropa life so it was an easy choice really, even though previous visits to German restaurants have had us wondering why the sauerkraut was more süß than sauer.

Sat on a log cabin, with snow falling outside, the accordianist and guitarist playing their greatest hits, including Ring of Fire (somewhat apt after Liverpool spanked Villa 6-0), everything was looking good and then I looked at the beer list. There was Schlenkerla Märzen, Weizen, and Helles - the good became great. I knew immediately what I was drinking, and it was everything I have always loved about this beer. It left me wondering why I don't drink it more often.

What a great way to spend the evening, plates of wurst, kraut, and spätzle, washed down with mugs of rauchbier, then rounded off with a hulking great slice of käse tort, all in the company of the inestimable Mrs V.

If you should find yourself on the I-81 near Staunton and in need of a feed, head to junction 213A, find Edelweiss, and just enjoy. Mrs V and I will be back there soon for more.

Friday, February 12, 2016

#IHP2016 - Recipe Thoughts and Schedule

Usually around this time of the year I am posting the recipe for the forthcoming International Homebrew Project and a schedule for the brewing and reporting there on. This year though is different because there is no single recipe for the project.

As I noted the last time I wrote about the International Homebrew Project, this year participants are being asked to create their iteration on a style, in this case the 'American Mild'. Using the guidelines laid out in a previous post, I want homebrewers to get creative, and if they are also bloggers to write about their recipes ahead of brewing them.

Before laying out my probable recipe, a quick word about schedule. American Mild Month starts on International Workers Day, also known as May 1st, so the aim is for brewers to have their beers ready for consumption on that day. Given a fairly standard schedule of 4 weeks from boil to glass, that would mean brewing no later than the first weekend in April, and I guess it also means folks have time to do a trial batch and make adjustments ahead of then.

For my own recipe, I am planning to take the 'American' bit to mainly refer to the ingredients I use, so I will be eschewing my usual Golden Promise base malt for 2-row from this side of the Pond. English crystal malts will not make an appearance, neither will English roasted malts, even though both are easily available at my local homebrew store. In will come specialty malts such as Victory and Special Roast. The most instantly definable 'American' element of the American Mild is likely to be the hopping, though trying to stay within the given definitions of a mild may prove tricky, but as I pointed out on the American Mild Month post there is a world of difference between 'low' and 'none'. Low to me means perceptible but not dominant, and that's what I will be aiming for.

Here then is my first sketch of my recipe, and I would appreciate any thoughts folks have about the recipe...
  • 74% 2-Row
  • 12% Victory
  • 12% Special Roast
  • 2% Black Malt
  • 17 IBU Calypso for 60 minutes
  • 6 IBU Calypso for 15 minutes
  • 1 IBU Calypso for 1 minute
  • Wyeast 1272 American Ale II yeast
My target numbers for this are:
  • OG - 1.043
  • FG - 1.011
  • ABV - 4.3%
  • SRM - 15 (deep amber)
  • IBU - 24
Numbers are really only a guideline, flavour and aroma are clearly way more important than whether I hit my targets perfectly. Given the malt bill here, I am expecting a lot of bready flavours, a combination of the toastiness of Victory and the sourdough tang of Special Roast is something I am very intrigued by, add in the strawberry characteristic of Calypso hops and the more fruity notes that American II yeast can bring to the party and I have a good feeling that this will be a tasty, sessionable, drop of beer.