Friday, May 25, 2018

#MildMonthUS Special Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which of course means just one thing, other than inevitable mattress sales, the final weekend of American Mild Month!


About 20 breweries in total have officially taken part in American Mild Month and had mild ales available through their tasting rooms in May.

Three Notch'd here in Central Virginia are releasing their mild tomorrow, called Mild Marker 20 and brewed to a homebrew recipe from a brewer in Lynchburg, the beer is a thoroughly mild 3.6% and has just 18 IBUs. The beer is being released just in time for me to enjoy while watching the Champions League final, and hopefully afterwards as well.

If you go down to St Petersburg in Florida this weekend though, there is a veritable mildfest going on at Flying Boat Brewing Company.

Flying Boat are one of those wonderful brave souls of the American brewing scene that brew a mild ale year round. At 4.5% abv, Woodlawn Pub Ale is described by the brewery as:
"Irish Red meets an English Mild. Malt forward with notes of caramel and slight roast. Light and easy drinking."
That sounds like the kind of beer I would enjoy any time of the year. Not happy to just have their stock in trade mild around, they got together with some of their friends in Florida to brew a couple of collaboration milds.

With Crooked Thumb Brewery from Safety Harbor they brewed what they describe as a 4.3% 'Light American Mild', which uses rye, spelt, and oats in the grist, and is single hopped with 25 IBUs of fruity Azacca hops. Being honest, that sounds marvellous to me, perfect for barmy Florida days.

The second collaboration was with Brooksville's Marker 48 Brewing, with whom they brewed a rye dark mild that is 4.5% and hopped with East Kent Goldings, Pacific Jade, and more Azacca, to get 30 IBUs. Pacific Jade is one of my favourite hops, and the combination of that and EKG sounds really interesting.

So if you are in the St Petersburg area this weekend, get along to the Flying Boat tasting room and see just how much scope for creativity there is with mild ale.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Session 135: Roundup

A couple of Friday's ago, I jumped into the breach in order to host the 135th iteration of The Session, the monthly blogathon which encourages beer bloggers to write about a shared theme on the first Friday of the month. The theme I asked people to write about was 'Sepia Tones', a trip down your own personal beery memory lane.

Everybody's favourite beer writing couple, Jess and Ray of Boak and Bailey took the theme delightfully literally in presenting images from old school pubs 'dominated by shades of brown'.

Up in Ontario, Alan wondered if my theme was an allusion to the idea that we drink in order to "fill in the gaps", and gives us an interesting take on the being of memory and how it relates to boozing in our younger years.

Dean at The Beerverse recounts his personal beer story, starting with his dad asking for a beer from the fridge, and the 10 year old Dean duly obliging.

In my own post I recalled my local pub in Birmingham when I was a student, which is sadly no more, and also my favourite beer in my early years in Prague, which is also sadly to become no more and was the genesis of the theme.

On Instagram, KN published this image of a 'precursor to the nostalgic dominance of PBR'.

This clutch of content is everything that I am aware of with May's Session, but if there is anything else out there in the beery internet on this theme, let me know and I'll add to the list.

Oh, and please, please, please think about signing up to host a Session, go here for more.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Old Friends: Guinness Draught vs Murphy's

Stout was probably my first beer love. Guinness was my first legal beer, when the other options at the Dark Island Hotel on my 18th birthday were Tennent's Lager or Newcastle Brown Ale. I literally chose Guinness because that was what my eldest brother drank, he is also the reason I love The Smiths, Madness, and The Jam, as well as know how to read the form at a bookies for the horse racing (hot tip, if a horse has come 4th in its two previous outings it's worth an each way bet as often a pair of fourth place finished is followed by a first). He has much to answer for.


When I eventually left the Hebrides for the mainland, I found myself drinking almost exclusively in Oirish pubs, they had Guinness you see, and usually Caffrey's as well, which was my back up. I don't recall where I had my first Murphy's, but I liked it immediately, as I did Beamish, and the much lamented (in Velkyal world at least) Gillespie's - my tipple on Friday nights at the bowling alley in Inverness. Oh yes, we knew how to live large in the 1990s Highlands....


I recently bought a four pack of Murphy's on a whim, basically it was reasonably priced, a recurring theme in my beer life at the moment - seriously, prices for self consciously 'craft' beer are getting out of hand. I polished off all four cans in a single sitting, watching the most recent Star Wars film and decided to do an Old Friends post comparing it to Guinness, so here goes...


As expected the Guinness poured black, with deep fire ruby highlights at the edge of my dimpled mug, the classic white nitro foam cascaded its way to about three quarters of an inch and then lingered for the duration, it looked as a pint of Guinness is expected to look. Forcing it's way through that shaving foam cap on the beer were lightly roasty aromas and a bit of grainy bread character too. It sounds like a disparagement in some ways, but it's not really, it tasted like Guinness and if you don't know what Guinness tastes like then when you finish reading this, go drink some. All the elementes were there, coffee, roastiness, and a bit of a hop bite to snap you back to attention, the bitterness of the hops accentuated by the bitterness of roasted grains. I was actually quite surprised at how light bodied the beer was, not watery at all, but more medium light than medium, maybe that's a nitro thing, maybe it's the Draught in general, and maybe it's me being too used to drinking Guinness Extra Stout as my go to Guinness.


On then to the Murphy's, which poured jet black, dark brown at the edges, and this time the nitro cascade left a good three quarter inch of dense beige head. Through the foam came aromas of cocoa, a touch of graininess, and that classic stout roastiness that you just kind of expect. Tastewise we are again in classic stout territory, roasted grains, light coffee, a biscuity character, and also some subtle unsweetened cocoa. The Murphy's has the medium body I was expecting ans an almost velvety mouthfeel that makes for smooth drinking. It is a really nicely balanced, satisfying pint.

So there we go, 2 classic stouts, 2 rather different tastes. I think that the Murphy's is my preference really, say it quietly but it was just a more satisfying pint than the Guinness Draught. I am sure though that both will continue to be regular visitors to the Velkyal fridge as I indulge my love of the black stuff, which reminds me, I need to finish my keg of homebrew stout to make room for my next keg of best bitter...

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Session 135: Sepia Tones

As the host of this month's Session, I feel a tad embarrassed that having stepped in at the last minute it has taken me a few days to get my own post written and posted. Life with twins.

As I said in the initial announcement, I wanted us all to engage in a little beery nostalgia for those lost pubs and beers that were part of our formative years as beer drinkers. Melancholy and its attendant nostalgia comes easily to those of us with Highland roots, booze often just brings it into a sharper focus.

Let me tell you a story. When I was 19 I left the safety of life on the Isle of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides for the bright lights of Birmingham. It was the first weekend in October if memory serves, and I started college, studying  for a degree in theology at the Birmingham Bible Institute with a view to becoming a minister of religion. Moving from an island with a population comfortably south of 1500 to the second largest city in the UK cramming about a million people into little more than 100 square miles was, erm, interesting to say the least.

On that first Sunday in Brum all the single students went for a walk around the Edgbaston area to get our bearings, wandering from Pakenham Road, where we lived, to Calthorpe Park and back. Making our way toward the Bristol Road we passed a McDonalds, next to which stood a  fairly nondescript box of a building on which hung a sign that said 'The Trees'. I took a mental note to return when I had a moment and see what delights lay within.

A couple of afternoons later I snuck off for a pint. My memory of The Trees is that it was a run of the mill residential area boozer, and that they had Caffrey's on tap, and I loved Caffrey's at the time. A couple of afternoon pints at The Trees became my routine, I guess I should have known even then that the fact I just wanted to have a couple of jars away from people at college was a pointer that I would never really realise the aim of being a minister. Maybe then I could have gone elsewhere for my degree, and studied something that deep down I wanted to, history or German for example. In a weird twist of fate I later learnt that my older brother's then girlfriend had once been a barmaid at The Trees.

The Trees is gone know, demolished, the land awaiting redevelopment, though the McDonalds remains. A sign of the times perhaps.

Let me tell you another story. When I was 23 I again left Benbecula for a major city. This time I went to Prague, reasonably freshly minted BA (hons) in Theology in hand, recently broken up with my then fiancee, and with my parents encouragement not to get stuck in the relatively empty north west of Scotland. I was off to train as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, with a plan to spend a year in Prague and then go off to different countries every year, before heading home to become a minister, I still clung to the vaguest notion of faith then. However, now I didn't worry about heading to the pub for a bevvy, the long moralistic arm of the Free Church minister's disapproving righteous scowl couldn't make it to central Europe (I wasn't Free Church but the church I went to, while independent, had lots of connections in the Free Church on North Uist).


That first Sunday afternoon in Prague, having arrived that morning on the 24 hour bus from London (I hate flying), I sat in a pub/pizzeria in Černý Most with a 4 cheese pizza on my plate and a half litre of Velkopopovický Kozel in my glass. Kozel was still independent back then, before merging with Pilsner Urquell in 2002, and the beer was like nothing I had drunk before. A lager that was packed with hop flavour, finishing with a clean bite, and so moreish it would have been remiss not to have at least one more, no wonder the first phrases I mastered in Czech were 'pivo prosím' and 'ještě jedno'. While most of my friends stuck to the ubiquitous Gambrinus, I hunted out Kozel wherever I could, and happily one of the main expat brunch hangouts, Jama, had it on tap.

Kozel was the genesis of our theme for this Session, as this week they announced they are getting rid of the Kozel Premium, the 12° lager in their range, and sepia toned memories of those first years in the Mother of Cities came flooding back. Much like the beer, it was bittersweet.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Session 135 Announcement: Sepia Tones

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. (You can find more information on The Session on Brookston Beer Bulletin).

This morning I went looking for the theme for this month's Session, and discovered there was none, so I am stepping into the breach.

As the title of this post suggests, today I want you to put on your sepia tinted glasses and indulge in a little beer nostalgia, a bit of personal beer history you might say.

What kind of things would be suitable topics for today? Well, here's some suggestions:
  • Discontinued beers that you miss.
  • Breweries you once loved that are no longer around.
  • Beers that are simply not what they once were.
  • Your early steps in the world of beer drinking, whether craft or just in general.
There you have it, get melancholy, drag up memories of good times gone by, and join us in this month's Session (I'll be posting mine later today).

Cheers!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

American Mild Month is Here

May 1st is a day laden with with significance. Beltane in the Northern Hemisphere, Samhainn in the Southern. International Workers Day. International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day. The Feast Day of St James the Less in the Anglican Communion.

Strangely not included in this list of august events that happen on this day (thanks Wikipedia!) is that today sees the beginning of the 4th annual American Mild Month.


Believe it or not there are brewers in the land of extreme beer for whom Mild, whether pale, dark, ruby, or even American, holds a special place in their heart and so they make them available in May for discerning drinkers to imbible.

This year's participating brewers are, in no particular order:
Of course there are other breweries in American that regularly make a mild ale, but these are the guys that are officially participating in American Mild Month.

If in your drinking this month you come across a mild, I encourage you to order a pint and give it a whirl, then use the hashtag #MildMonthUS in your social media and let folks know, you could also tag the official American Mild Month Twitter account, @MildMonthUS.

Happy drinking people.



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hail to the König!

There are times when I peruse the beer aisles in the various supermarkets and bottle shops I frequent that I wonder how some prices for 6 packs are justifiable. Most locally brewed beers are north of $10 a six pack when you include sales tax. it is one of the reasons I am an unashamed fan of Trader Joe's and their contract brewing program that puts well made beer on the shelf for about 30% less than name brands. I am sorry all you awesome craft brewers out there, most of your products are simply not worth the money when Traders has something I can rely on for far less, add to that list König Pilsener.

Brewed in Duisburg-Beeck in Nordrhein-Westfalen (the part of Germany that one collection of my ancestors came to the UK from), the König brewery is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bitburger, a family owned brewing group that according to their website produces a little over 6 million barrels of beer a year. König themselves make about 950,000 of those barrels, and thus the entire Bitburger group would qualify as craft beer according to the Brewers Association's eminently maleable definition. König Pilsener retails at my local Wegman's for about $7 for four half litre cans and really it would be remiss of me not to buy a four pack and see if it is only 70% as good as the more expensive local beer that hasn't crossed an ocean to get here.

Enough with the snidery about meaningless definitions of who gets to be in the gang and who doesn't, what about the liquid in the can....the classy can that tells us in suitably curly fonts that the beer is brewed to the strictures of the defunct Reinheitsgebot.


Well it pours a rather fetching straw colour, it is a pilsner after all, topped off with a healthy 2.5 centimetres of bright white foam that gently recedes to leave a 1cm cap that just kind of sits there for the duration, streaking itself down the glass.


Breaking their way through the lovely head of foam were aromas that are just classic pilsner; that crackery malt character, floral hops, touches of hay in the background, and even the occasional wisp of honey. In the drinking again we are in solid German pilsner territory, water biscuits, that light honey sweetness floating around, and a lemony citric bite from the hops that cuts the malt leaving the mouth refreshed and ready for more...more...more.


In lots of ways König Pilsener reminded me of probably my favourite American made pilsner, Sierra Nevada Nooner. It is sufficiently complex so as not to be dull, but deeply uncomplicated, the kind of beer that demands at least a half litre rather than a mere 12oz. The kind of beer that conjures images of spring time in beer gardens, scoffing bratwurst with mustard, and hanging out with good friends as the sunlight dapples through the leaves. As it is, my back porch will have to suffice, but thankfully good friends are available, as are bratwurst similar to the ones I grew up on in Germany, and good quality senf from Düsseldorf. At $7 for 2 litres the beer will be König Pilsener.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

2 Years Later....

I realised the other day that it has been two years since the announcement was made that Devils Backbone Brewing had been purchased by the craft division of Anheuser-Busch, The High End. What followed on social media was the fairly predictable caterwauling and butt hurt statements about selling out and people never spending another penny on Devils Backbone beer, and even disgraceful abuse of Devils Backbone employees.


With it being two years out from the sale, I thought it would be good to reflect on how Devils Backbone is today. For the sake of full disclosure let me say that I am friends with several people that work at Devils Backbone, including Jason Oliver, and I have worked with them on a number of brewing projects to bring Czech style lagers to the drinkers of central Virginia.


I will admit that I don't get down to the brewpub location nearly as often as I would like, it is about an hour's drive from my house and since the birth of Mrs V and I's twin sons going anywhere much further than Charlottesville is an exercise in logistics. However, the times that we have gone down recently have been as they always were, superb. The beer has been excellent, the service on the ball, friendly, efficient, and it is great to see so many of the same faces as before the sale. I don't know how much airtime this got, but Devils Backbone have always believed in creating full time jobs, with benefits, and one plus of the sale was that DB immediately doubled the match for employee 401(k) pension plans from 3% of earnings to 6%.


This is though a beer blog and in my experience in the past 2 years I have not had a single bad beer. Have I had beers that were not my thing? Sure. Did that beer display poor brewing or quality traits? Nope, not once. Devils Backbone have, by virtue of the purchase, been able to invest in their equipment at the brewpub, and at the production facility, so that they can further explore the craft of making great beer, including getting in horizontal lagering tanks. That investment is paying off in the quality of the beer being made.

Every summer I produce a thoroughly subjective list of the best Virginia made beers that I have drunk in the previous year, and Devils Backbone are regulars because Jason and co know how to make great beer. As I said in my initial reaction to the sale "as long as the beer remains good, then I will remain a happy Devils Backbone drinker", 2 years later and I am still a happy Devils Backbone drinker.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Desítka

Ten years ago I decided that I wanted to brew my own beer. I was living in the Czech Republic and top fermented beers were rarer than unicorn shit. I can only recall 1 regularly available ale at the time, Primátor English Pale Ale.

To document my journey into homebrewing I decided to start a blog and thus Fuggled was born, 10 years ago today. I honestly never imagined that ten years on I'd still be blogging about beer, and while I don't post as much as I once did I still enjoy it, so I might try to inflict another decade on you poor folks that read this.

Rather that wax lyrical about what craft beer drinking and homebrewing has taught me (beyond the wonders of NSAIDs), I'll give you some of my favourite posts to revisit.

Cheers!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Old Friends: Bell's Two Hearted Ale

When Mrs V and I do our weekly shop we generally go to the local Wegman's, which conveniently also has a pub, imaginatively called 'The Pub'. Often, with the groceries in the car, and the twins in need of a feed, we'll decide to have food and a pint there while we're in the vicinity. It was sitting in The Pub, and feeling thoroughly uninspired by the beer selection, that I plumped for the least uninspiring option, a beer I hadn't drunk in many, many years, Bell's Two Hearted Ale.

Once upon a time, in my early days of living in Virginia, it was one of my favourite beers, indeed I had four pints of it at Court Square Tavern the night before I was due in hospital to have a huge deep vein thrombosis removed from my leg (it was almost the length of my leg!). Being something of a non-IPA drinker these days, I expected to struggle my way through and be reminded of why IPAs are not my thing. I was wrong, I loved it, and so resolved to get a couple of bottles to include in my ongoing Old Friends series.


Last Saturday was a gloriously sunny day in central Virginia, the trees are starting to blossom, there are birds making their migratory way through the Commonwealth, and it was actually warm enough to sit outside on the deck with a beer. The brightness shone through the orange copper of the beer, the half inch of white foam seemed to glint in the sunlight.


The aroma was everything you would expect from an American IPA, pine resin and grapefruit up front and central, but there is also some spiciness in there too, with just enough malt character to remind you that you are smelling beer rather than industrial cleaning products. That upfront piney tang is right there in the drinking as well, coupled with a bracing pithy bitterness that scrapes away what toffee sweetness the malt lends the beer, leaving you wanting another mouthful.


Drinking Two Hearted is almost like time travel (and there is a such an obvious Whovian tie-in there), back to an era when beer tasted like beer. I know some folks don't like that phrase, but I have found that regardless of style, there is an almost meta flavour that is the essential interplay of malt and hops that is beer. This is an old school American style IPA, and it is all the better for it. No fripperies like fruit juice, no daft shit like only late hopping, this is a classic from the days when craft beer was actually about beer rather than envelope pushing and putting silly shit into mash tun, kettle, or fermentation vessel. That reason alone is why Two Hearted stands, and will continue to stand, the test of time, it is a proper beer.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Old Friends: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

I am going to make an assumption with this post, namely that you have been reading Fuggled for a while and thus it will come as no surprise to you that I am a devotee of lager. There is just something about most lager styles that I find appealing, given a choice between some trendy glitter bomb juicy IPA and a pint of Miller Lite, I am likely to take the Miller Lite more often than not.

When Mrs V and I made the move from Prague to central Virginia we knew that finding a good local lager was high on our list of priorities. For a while we bounced around Blue Mountain's Classic Lager, Starr Hill's Jomo Lager, and the beer that is today's Old Friend, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager. Eventually Vienna Lager won the day and became my standard lager in the fridge. I really can't think why I stopped keeping a six pack of it in the fridge, probably something to do with the well made contract brewed lagers that I could buy at Trader Joe's.

Being a central European style lager, it seemed only right to pour it into my half litre mug from the lovely Purkmistr in Plzeň that I got at the first Slunce ve Skle festival a decade ago. What a glorious deep copper beer with orange edges and half inch of off-white head that leaves a fine tracery of lacing down the glass.


I had forgotten just how much I loved the aroma of Vienna Lager, laden with a smell that I can only describe as like large amounts of honey spread on freshly toasted bread. Floating around in the background is a lovely floral hoppiness that reminded me of walking in the Czech mountains in the height of summer, side note I have always loved the Czech word for flowers, 'kytičky'.


Anyway, before I lapse into a Bohemian revelry, we should actually drink the beer, that is after all the whole point of this most wonderful of liquids. Teacakes, that's what I get, teacakes freshly taken out of the oven, spread with more honey, and then snaffled with all the delight of an illicit, though simple, pleasure. There is a light citrusy bitterness to the beer that gives the beer a balance that makes it thoroughly moreish.


That thing I mentioned earlier about there being something about most lagers that I find appealing, it is the clean bite that comes with a well made, properly lagered beer. The best way I can think of to describe the perception I am thinking of is that it is a tight snap that leaves the palate waiting for more. Drinkability, that is ultimately what love about lager styles, I find them more drinkable than many of their top fermented cousins.

With it being Friday, I might just swing by the shop and pick up a 6 pack of Vienna Lager to enjoy this evening once the boys have gone down for the night...every prospect pleases.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Hardknott Decision

There was sad news this morning when I opened Facebook. Dave Bailey, once of the Woolpack Inn and more recently of Hardknott Brewing has decided to call it a day with the brewery.

In Dave's post he cites the saturation of the craft beer market in the UK as one reason for deciding to close down. By the sound of it, the market is exceptionally tight for small brewers without their own tied estate to guarantee a route to market. That coupled with the parsimony of some real ale drinkers can only make life very challenging.

I am not sure if Dave's beers made it to this side of the Pond but I am confident they would have been well received here. When I was home in 2014, I made a point to try as many as I could lay hands on, and thoroughly enjoyed them all.

I want to wish Dave all the best in whatever comes next and sincerely hope he remains involved in beer as it would be a shame to lose his knowledge, passion, and drive from the industry.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Old Friends: Starr Hill Northern Lights

Many moons ago, when Fuggled was in its infancy, Mrs Velkyal and I were still living in Prague, and a night out on the lash didn't cost me an arm and leg, a friend brought me a bottle of beer from a brewery called Starr Hill. The beer in question was simply called Pale Ale, and I wrote about it here. Fast forward a few months and Mrs V and I had made the transition across the Pond, a night out on the lash cost me an arm and a leg, and I was working for the very same Starr Hill Brewery, spending my weekends behind the bar at their tasting room.

Back then in the dim and distant days of the late noughties, I actually quite liked the occasional IPA, and given the employee perk of a pay day case of beer, I quite often drank Starr Hill's IPA, Northern Lights, and I quite liked it. Sure, I preferred Dark Starr Stout, but a pint of Northern Lights was a regular sight.Come the beginning of 2015 I decided to move on from Starr Hill and start enjoying 2 day weekends without any work, and as a result I drank less and less of their beer. When thinking about beers to include in my Old Friends series, it made sense to include some Starr Hill stuff, and Northern Lights seemed the obvious choice, so I bought a couple of 12oz bottles as part of a build your own six pack, and poured them into my imperial pint dimpled mug...


I have to admit to almost reveling in an IPA that poured as beautifully clear as Northern Lights, a light copper liquid topped with a good half inch of white foam that lingered resolutely and left a delicate lacing down the sides of the glass.


The aroma was classic American style IPA, redolent with pine resin, positively dripping with grapefruit, and just a hint of herbal dankness in the background, it was like time travel. Tastewise the citrus and pine flavours from the hops where upfront and centre, but being an East Coast IPA there was a sweet toffee note that lent an element of balance. Being a more old school IPA, the bitterness was very much there, firm, bracing, and everything a bitter beer should be, lovers of NEIPA need not apply here for sure.


With each mouthful, and a quick 4oz top up on the 20oz pint glass, the bitterness built, like the layers of hand dipped candles. With an ABV of 5.3%, Northern Lights isn't going to knock you on your arse, but the booze is well integrated and doesn't detract from the interplay of hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Northern Lights is an old school East Coast IPA, but in a good way, a bracingly bitter beer that deserves revisiting by many.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Old Friends: Fuller's ESB

Wandering around the shop yesterday getting the weekly necessaries, I got thinking about what beer I wanted to buy. I have plenty of beer in the cellar at the moment, but most of it is dark, porters, stouts, that kind of stuff, there was very little pale beer, and no lager (purely because lager gets drunk pretty quickly in my house as I love the stuff). Usually when we go to our preferred supermarket we do our booze shopping last as the wine and beer sections are in the back corner. I have a confession to make, I am really bad about trying new beers and breweries at the moment, mainly because it is difficult to place any faith in the consistency and quality of many of the start up breweries flooding the shelves. Anyway, looking at the shelves of British beer available there were so many familiar names, but beers that I had not tried in goodness knows how long, and thus is the genesis of this new series on Fuggled, "Old Friends".

I almost picked up a four pack of London Pride, a beer I know well and enjoy drinking reasonably often. Between the stash of Pride and London Porter were a pair of ESB four packs, so I checked the best before date (a sad necessity in these parts) and took home the one pack that was still within the freshness range. It had been years since I had last indulged in a pint of Fuller's ESB, and that was on draft one homebrew club night many moons ago. Extra Special Bitter, as a style rather than the Fuller's brand in particular here, is one that gets brewed relatively often by American breweries, and even though it is part of the bitter family, I am much more of a best bitter drinker, and quite often leave the ESBs I see alone. Anyway, on to the ur-ESB...


As I said, it had been a long time since my last pint of Fuller's ESB, so for some reason best known only to the recesses of my memory I was mildly surprised at the beautiful copper colour of the beer as it sat in my freshly cleaned nonic imperial pint glass. I remember having a similar feeling when I had a few pints of cask London Pride in Inverness a couple of years back, why did I think they would be darker than that? I loved the colour, especially in the late winter sunlight streaming through the doors to our deck, with a schmeer of off white foam, every prospect pleased.

There are some breweries whose beer have a distinctive smell and Fullers is one of them. For some folks the familiarity of that aroma and taste has bred contempt, I find it deeply comforting as I know when I smell a Fullers beer it will be a good beer. The aroma is that of marmelade made with Seville oranges, citrusy, lightly floral and with traces of crystalised sugar. Tastewise, again that marmelade character is evident, though it is not overly sweet, being balanced with pithy hop bite that cleans the palate and leaves you ready for more.


Goodness me what a lovely beer I had been neglecting all these years, perhaps in part because of the 5.9% ABV, which while not strong (the average for core range beers in Central VA is about 6.5%), is a good 20% stronger than most beers I drink regularly. I still have a couple of bottles in the fridge, but they'll be gone soon enough, and I imagine ESB will be finding it's way more often in to my drinking life again, though more as an evening indulgence, perhaps while reading or watching something on Netflix once the twins have fallen asleep and Mrs V and I have an hour or so to ourselves of adult time. It'll be a welcome addition to the routine...

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Session: Three Things

My post for this month's iteration of The Session is a tad late, something of a theme recently, but when I last looked at The Session's web page, no topic had been announced, and I only discovered the topic this morning. Our host for this month is Jay Brooks, one of the founders of The Session, and his theme is looking for answers to three questions, so let me oblige....

Jay's first question is:
what one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink. Craft beer seems to be the most agreed upon currently used term, but many people think it’s losing its usefulness or accuracy in describing it. What should we call it, do you think?
The word that immediately springs to mind is classic.

When I think about the kind of beers I like to drink they are all well established styles with widely accepted parameters. Think about a pilsner, four simple ingredients is all that it needs, malt, noble hops, lager yeast, and soft water. Consider the best bitter, again the simple interplay of good pale malt, with some crystal or toasted malts chucked in for flavour and colour, English hops, characterful yeast, and whatever water you have knocking around essentially. The third in my classic triumvirate is dry stout a la Guinness. When you drink an example of any of these styles you know what to expect and that for me is part of their appeal, I don't want to be challenged by random ingredients, twists, or new fangled ideas of what a beer style could be, I want a quality interpretation of a classic style.

Question the second is:
what two breweries do you think are very underrated? Name any two places that don’t get much attention but are quietly brewing great beer day in and day out. And not just one shining example, but everything they brew should be spot on. And ideally, they have a great tap room, good food, or other stellar amenities of some kind. But for whatever reason, they’ve been mostly overlooked. Maybe 2018 should be the year they hit it big. Who are they?
This is a very difficult question to answer, especially when you consider what is meant by 'underrated'? Rated by whom? Depending on how you answer that question, you could argue that Sierra Nevada are underrated because for the trend chasers they are insufficiently sexy, even though they simply do not make a bad beer in their range.


Assuming though that we are not talking about such ratings, my first choice would be the winners of the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year for 2017, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, NC. Olde Meck are a rarity in the American brewing scene in that all their beers are German styles and they don't brew a single IPA - fancy that, a brewery sufficiently confident in their products so as not to pander to the IPA worshippers. Whether it is their altbier, pilsner, dunkel, or Oktoberfest, every beer I have has from them has been superb, and whenever I go to South Carolina with Mrs V, I know I will be stocking up for the return trip as they are yet to be distributed in Virginia.


Sticking with the Carolina theme, my second underrated brewery is actually the oldest brewery in Columbia, South Carolina, Hunter Gatherer. I still remember my first trip there, having walked 7 miles from Mrs V's childhood home into the centre of Columbia a couple of days after Christmas in 2011. As they are currently in the latter stages of opening a production brewery, I am limiting myself here to their brewpub, which is in many ways the archetype of a brewpub that I would love to open. A fairly limited selection of only 4 beers, technically 5 but their don't brew a lager so they have Warsteiner (if memory serves) on tap, but each well made and tasty, bare brick walls, wooden furniture, and excellent food coming from the kitchen. I make a point of visiting whenever we go south, you should too.

The third and final question is:
name three kinds of beer you’d like to see more of
This one is relatively simple:
  • Best Bitter - there is only one brewed with any regularity in this part of Virginia, and it's my recipe. I am not sure if the American drinking public really get the idea of a bitter in general, perhaps confused by the notion of a bitter beer or even the idea that hoppy beers don't have to taste like grapefruit juice. Whatever the stumbling block, I wish more breweries would take the bull by the horns and make this wonderful style, and then serve it at cellar temperature, from a beer engine.
  • Dark Mild - sure there is a healthy dose of self interest here, being the founder of American Mild Month (which will be back this year for it's 4th outing), but I tend to think that any brewer worth his or her salt is well able to brew a mild and make it interesting. Sometimes all I want after work on a Friday is to down a few pints in short order, and mild is the perfect beer with which to do so.
  • Altbier - there are few better beers than fresh altbier, and while there are a few available locally, they all seem to use crystal malts to give the expected colour, but then contribute a slick sweetness that really doesn't work with the style at all. More examples like Olde Meck's Copper would be more than welcome.
All classic styles, all wonderfully well made, and all worth sitting in the pub for hours drinking, which is kind of the whole point of beer as far as I am concerned.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Beer and Breweries of 2017

A bit late admittedly, though there are mitigating circumstances involving trips to the emergency room with my twin sons, but as they say, never late than never eh? I have somewhat rationalised this year's lists by having just a single 'Virginia' entry rather than splitting it into central VA and the rest of the commonwealth as in years passim. With that, let's dive on in.

Pale
  • Virginia - Devils Backbone Czech 10
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Nooner
  • Rest of World - Rothaus Tannenzäpfle
  • Honorable mentions - Pilsner Urquell, Three Notch'd The Ghost, New Belgium Dayblazer, Black Sheep Ale


Admit it, you're shocked that my three choices here are all pilsners. If you are then clearly you haven't been paying enough attention. Anyway, all three are wonderful versions of my favourite pale lager style, all crisp, clean, painfully easy to drink, and so beautifully made it makes you wonder why people bother with dumping random shit in the fermenter. Choosing just one is tricky, but when it comes down to it, having a desítka in Virginia puts DB's lovely Czech 10 ahead by a short nose.

Amber
  • Virginia - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest of US - Olde Mecklenburg Copper
  • Rest of World - Minipivovar U Medvídků Oldgott Barrique
  • Honorable mentions - Schlenkerla Märzen, Fullers 1845, O'Hara's Irish Red, Three Notch'd Hydraulion


Whenever Mrs V and I, and I guess from here on in for a few years, the twins as well, head to South Carolina I always make a point of getting some Copper from Olde Mecklenburg Brewing in Charlotte, NC. Copper is an altbier that unlike many that claim to be of that style over here isn't made with caramel malts in place of the traditional Munich malts. It is as close a genuine altbier as you will find brewed in the US, and I love the stuff.

Dark
  • Virginia - South Street Brewing Munich Dunkel
  • Rest of US - Anchor Brewing Porter
  • Rest of World - Riegele Noctus 100
  • Honorable mentions - Sierra Nevada Porter, Sierra Nevada Stout, Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, Three Notch'd Oats McGoats, Sv. Norbert Dark Lager


While in Columbia for Thanksgiving, I stocked up on beers that I rarely, if ever, see here in Virginia and it is one of those that walks off with the title of Fuggled dark beer of the year. Anchor Porter is a beer I had heard much about but never actually seen in the wild. When I popped open a bottle to go with my dinner one evening I was blown away with just how complex and beautifully made it was, especially given it's comparatively lightweight 5.6% abv - one I will be stocking up on whenever I am in SC for sure.

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Of my three category beers of the year, the one that walks away with the overall Fuggled Beer of the Year will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that knows me. I will quite openly admit to the fact that I enjoy drinking beer, I am not much of one for visiting breweries and sampling their wares before moving on to another brewery and repeating the experience. If I do flights it is to find what I want to drink for the rest of my session. When I found out that my friends down at Devils Backbone were making a 10° Czech style pale lager I was excited to try it, and it was simply one of the best examples of the style I have ever drunk, up there with the likes of Kout na Šumavě and Zlatá labuť. Being able to sit in the Devils Backbone brewpub with friends, enjoying superb food, and the perfect desítka to wash it all down with, was sublime. Well done Devils Backbone, the Fuggled Beer of the Year is Czech 10, please make it again!!

Brewery
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Guinness
  • Honorable mentions - Devils Backbone, AleWerks, Fullers, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing,
I am sure I have said this many a time, but I am a terrible beer tourist, and as such I don't tend to go off on brewery sampling trips. I am also a rather conservative drinker in the sense that I tend to find breweries that I trust to make quality beers and I stick to them. Given the price of a six pack these days, there is no way I am splashing north of $10 for a six pack without knowing that I will be enjoying every beer. There is one brewery that in my world stands heads and shoulders above all overs at the moment and I think I have drunk more of their beer this year than any other brewery. Congrats then to Sierra Nevada Brewing for being the Fuggled Brewery of the Year for 2017, keep up the great work!