Tuesday, November 28, 2017

In Praise of Sierra Nevada

There are times when the MO of much of the craft beer industry, whether producers or consumers, seems to be an obsessive compulsion toward the new, the varied, and the never to be repeated. In times such as these it feels as though any brewery that is more than a couple of years old has become passé, and god help them if they have the temerity not to completely revamp their lineup at the whim of an Untappd Beer Rating Advocate. In such a milieu, thank goodness is all I have to say for a brewery like Sierra Nevada.

I still remember vividly my first Sierra Nevada beer. I was in Galway, sat next to the peat fire in a pub called Sheridan's On The Docks, watching Ireland play New Zealand in the Autumn Internationals, it was the great way to round off what had been a grand day out drinking. Having reacquainted myself with Bishop's Finger and Spitfire from Shepherd Neame I spied the green label of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and texted Evan Rail back in Prague to ask if it was worth trying, at €6 a pop,...a few moments later came the resounding recommendation, thus I duly ordered a bottle and poured it into my glass. It was love at first mouthful, and sat in that bar on the very edge of Europe I knew that it was going to be a regular beer in my fridge.


Since moving to the US, beers from Sierra Nevada have probably been the most common in my fridge. Cans of Pale Ale and Nooner Pilsner are staples at the moment. Every August has taken on a near religious ecstasy as I wait for the latest iteration of their Oktoberfest collaborations.



Whenever I see their Stout and Porter in the shops I have to buy some.


Kellerweis and Summerfest remind me of many a drinking session in Pivovarský klub. Narwhal is as good an imperial stout as you could imagine.


The fact that Sierra Nevada do so many classic beer styles so damned consistently well is something that needs to be lauded by beer lovers across the land. It's isn't boring to make a German style pilsner that would hold it's own in the Black Forest. It isn't playing it safe by being the archtype of the American Pale Ale. Quality and consistency don't get enough praise among beer lovers in this country at times, though maybe I am just a grumpy old man who wants his SNPA to taste the same every time I drink it. That trust is an important part of my willingness to splash out for Sierra Nevada beer more often than not, shit I even tried (and loved) Otra Vez simply because I trust them to do a good job.

I think I only have one gripe about Sierra Nevada really, that they don't have a best bitter as part of their regular range of beers. I am sure they would knock that so far out of the park, Timothy Taylor's would be looking over their shoulders.

So here's to the Grossman family that own and run Sierra Nevada, long may you continue and prosper doing what you do best, making quality classic beers.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Session 129 - Whither the Session?


How exactly is it the first Friday of November already? Rhetorical questions aside, as it is so, that means it is time for The Session, hosted this month by Eoghan of Brussels Beer City. Eoghan's theme for the month is "Missing Local Beer Styles", which he boils down to being:
"what beer style would you like to see being brewed in your local market that is not yet being brewed?"
As Eoghan points out, beer choice can often seem to be an exercise in choosing from endless variations on the theme of IPA, which is incredibly boring after a while. While I consider myself very lucky to live in a part of Virginia with plenty of breweries who make beers beyond the confines of a modern interpretation of India Pale Ale (does the modern concept of IPA even relate to India Pale Ale in anything other than name any more?), I naturally have beer styles that I miss.

If you have read more that 2 or 3 of my blog posts you will likely know well by now that my favourite beer styles are (not necessarily in order):
  • Bitter
  • Pilsner
  • Dry Stout
  • Mild
Of those 4 styles, the only one brewed in this area that I can get with any regularity is Pilsner, Champion Brewing's lovely Shower Beer.


Once upon a time Starr Hill Brewing, where for the sake of full disclosure I used to work, brewed a dry Irish stout called Dark Starr, it was sublime, it is still the most award winning dry Irish stout in America, it hasn't been brewed for about 3 years if memory serves. When I worked behind the bar of the taproom I would pour Dark Starr early so it could get to the right temperature to unlock the flavours, and many people discovered they actually did like stout after all.


I manage to get my mild kick in the pub for a single month each year as several of the local breweries support my American Mild Month project, but outside of May, mild is as rare as hen's teeth. The same could be said for bitter. Unless Three Notch'd Brewing has put out my Bitter 42 Best Bitter recipe, fresh bitter is basically unicorn shit in these parts.



Thankfully there is a place where I can semi-regularly get my fix of all three styles, guaranteed fresh, and at the generally reasonable price of less than $1 for an imperial pint. That place is of course my kitchen, and the beers are my homebrew renditions of the styles.

Even though I like to think that I am a pretty decent brewer, there are times when I would like nothing more than to be sat in the pub nursing a pint some tasty, session beer while reading a book or hanging out with friends. Given that reality, the one beer "style" that is grossly underrepresented in Central Virginia is just that, session beers.

I recently did some research into the state of core beers being produced by the various breweries within 35 miles of my house and discovered that the average ABV is 6.7%, and found not a single core beer that would satisfy the definition of session beer as laid out by Lew Bryson.

I realise this has the potential of making me sound like a total druth, but I actively enjoy drinking. In common with most people from those mad islands on the west of Europe, the pub is the place I am happiest, and I can think of few things I would prefer to do than spend an afternoon drinking pints with friends, or alone just reading a good book. Were I to have such a session on 6.7% ABV beer, I would be in no fit state to get myself home.

So come on brewers of Central Virginia, try introducing session beers to your core ranges, bitters, stouts, milds, as well as pilsners! Given that they are cheaper to make, it'll help your bottom line as well!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

17° Perfection

Goodness me it's been a while since I posted.

Mitigating circumstance is that just 5 days after my previous post, Mrs V gave birth to our twin sons, the malé Aličky as they have been nicknamed, and we are getting to grips with this whole parenthood thing.

On Saturday, we introduced the malé Aličky to that most august of establishments, the pub. I fear that in the rampantly puritanical mind of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (for those unaware, a front organisation feigning academic respectability for the heirs of the Temperance League and their prohibitionist cohorts) the boys are already scarred for life as I have had several beers right in front of them already.

Said introductory pub was the original Devils Backbone brewpub down in Nelson County, and the occasion was the tapping of the beer I brewed with them back in August, a Czech style Polotmavý Speciál. Polotmavý because it is neither light nor dark, but a deep red kind of in between, and Speciál because it has an original gravity of about 17° Plato. In keeping with Czech tradition the name of the beer is Granát, which is "garnet" in Czech, a reference to the famous gemstones from Central Bohemia.


"But how did the beer turn out?" I hear you say....

Well, it pours a really rich deep auburn, that the picture above maybe doesn't capture fully, and yes I am biased but I think all my children are gorgeous. The head is a healthy inch of ivory foam that lingers for the duration and leaves some lovely lacing down the glass. Aroma wise, there are some traces of a lightly herbal hop character, but given the beer is more balanced toward the malt, the classic Central European smells of fresh bread and a sweet malt aroma (I can't think of a better description honestly, when you smell CaraBohemian malt you get what I mean). In terms of taste, there is lots of breadiness, and a healthy dollop of sweetness, think dulce de leche and you're close, all backed up by a firm hop bite that stops the beer from being sickly - is there anything worse than a sickly sweet beer? Having lagered for a nearly 10 weeks, the finish is clean, crisp, and despite the malt forward nature of the beer, refreshing.

You know, the more I think about it, the more it reminds me of a 14° Polotmavý Speciál from Minipivovar Hukvaldy that I relished back in 2008 over lunch with Max in Prague.

So yes it turned out exactly as I wanted it to, and my only regret is that it won't ever see the light of day at Pivovarský klub. Given the volume of the batch, I expect it will only be on at Devils Backbone for a few weeks, so if you are in the area get along and try the first recorded authentic Czech style Polotmavý in Virginian history.