Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Old Friends: Left Hand Milk Stout

Back in October 2012 I was laid off by the company I worked for at the time. It was 10 o'clock in the morning when I got the news that it was happening, about 30 of us were laid off that day, and so I did what any sensible person does on such an occasion, I went to the pub. OK, maybe that's a British response, but by 11am I was on pint number 3 or 4. Said pints were all Left Hand's majestic Milk Stout, one of the few beers for which I will give up my animus against nitro. In a pleasing piece of circularity, I believe the nitro version is on tap at the same pub at the moment.

Anyway, this is not about the nitro version, this is about the non-nitro version that I picked up in the store last weekend, I guess at some point I should do a side by side comparison as I believe Left Hand also do a bottled version of the nitro. Before launching in to the tasting itself, look at this from the label:


I was thrilled to see a suggested serving temperature on the label, and while I won't be buying a 'stout glass' any time soon, my pint pot being more than adequate, I am glad that Left Hand encourage drinkers to take the temperature of their beer seriously. As I mentioned in a recent post I have taken to keeping my darker ales in the wine cooler, which is set at 54°F (12°C), so this was perfect as it poured....


Beautiful, perhaps I am odd finding beauty in an inky jet black liquid, but I found this absolutely entrancing in the glass. That thinnish half inch of mocha head clunk around doggedly. From that thing of beauty came a gentle roast aroma, a toffeeish thing that reminded me of dulce de leche, or creme caramel, all backed up by a lovely spicy hop note. In terms of flavours, lots of smooth chocolate and coffee (think Gervalia brand) going on, lovely stuff. Add to the mix some toast and biscuits with a really clean hop bitterness and you have a veritable smorgasbord of happiness to deal with.


Beauty is a word that ran through this beer like words trough a stick of rock, beautiful to look at, beautiful aromas, tastes, and so beautifully balanced that even at 6% abv this is a beautiful beer to just drink and drink and drink. Even though I will happily drink the nitro version, this is much more in my wheelhouse, and that wheelhouse may just be seeing more of it this winter.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Old Friends: Samuel Adams Boston Lager

What could be a more appropriate way to mark my 1000th post on Fuggled, than to write about one of the earliest American craft beers that I remember drinking? I say 1000th post with some qualification however, as there have been 1066 posts prior to this, it's just that 67 of them were guest posts or Brewer of the Week interviews where most of the content was provided by someone else, so I am not counting them.

There was a time when Samuel Adams Boston Lager was a reliable go to beer when the place I was in had nothing better on offer, whether that be a store or a restaurant. Given the changes that having 12 month old twin sons have wrought, I hadn't drunk it in an age, we rarely go to restaurants any more, and I am brewing more of my own beer than buying stuff at the moment. Still, Boston Lager would sit on the shelves like an old flame winking seductively, and this weekend I succumbed to the temptation and bought a couple of bottles.


Pouring the two bottles into my Purkmistr half litre mug, one of my favourite glasses, it was a delightful shade of light copper or amber, with a firmish white head that lingered for a while, and no visible carbonation. Definitely still looked the part. The aroma was mainly a bready malt quality, with a bit of light toffee sweetness, balanced with grassy hops that danced merrily into floral territory as well.


Leaving behind the olfactory delights, tastewise the bready thing was there in the drinking, with a toasty edge, toast that had been schmeered with dulce de leche that is, and then there was something you hadn't noticed before, a bitterness that seemed out of place, like singed sugar, acrid, distracting, not something you remember, absence may have made the heart grow fonder.


The sugary sweetness definitely dominated here, and given the fact that I am very regular lager drinker a couple of things were missing, bitterness and the clean snap of a well lagered beer. So entirely absent were they that the beer was basically unpalatably sweet and syrupy. I don't remember Boston Lager being so entirely meh, perhaps my tastes have changed? Perhaps the beer was been "re-formulated" to make it "smoother" (brewery code for making a beer bland as all hell by ditching the bittering hops)? Whatever it was, the daliance was a disappointment, and not one I plan to repeat again any time in the near future.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Faux Boozers for the Instagram Generation

This may come as something of a surprise, but I really don't mind folks who don't drink, horses for courses and all that jazz. I have even been known to go on extended booze free stints, beyond my annual January break - for the record, I find advocates  for both "Dryanuary" and "Tryanuary" tedious and smug in equal measure - if I fancy a break from the booze it is none of their business, in support or otherwise.

One thing though that is really guaranteed to get my goat is people who claim their don't go to the pub because of some particular thing, and if that thing wasn't there, they would go. Take smoking for example, now I am not, never have been, and never will be, a smoker, but I think the smoking ban is a piece of officious nonsense handed down from a government pandering to puritans. If we believe in the free market, then businesses should have been free to decide if they wanted to ban smoking in their establishments, or to introduce a smoking room. There are solutions that don't require total bans, though campaigners are rarely likely to opt for sensible compromise in this extremist day and age. From a purely anecdotal standpoint, many of the people I know who said they would go to the pub more if smoking were not allowed don't actually go to the pub any more than they used to. I should also point out that I don't hanker for the days of having to air out my coat from an open window after a night in a smoky pub, but I think the ban is heavy handed and a contributing factor to the crisis of the pub trade.

Anyway, this morning on Twitter The Pub Curmudgeon tweeted a article from the Morning Advertiser about people looking for a booze free pub like environment. I find myself asking the question, what is the point of having a "pub" that doesn't serve alcohol? After all, the dictionary definition of a pub is:
a building with a bar and one or more public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals
The English language does have several perfectly good words, and the occasional one nicked from French, for places that sell non-intoxicating drinks, and maybe even light meals, but for which a license to sell booze is not required, here is a select sample:
  • teashop
  • tearoom
  • coffee shop
  • coffeehouse (though somewhat sketchy places in the 18th century, what with the political intrigue and gambling that went on)
  • café (I guess for those cosmopolitan types for whom a solid English word isn't good enough)
For the non-drinker there are plenty of options of places to go, is it the pub's fault that they don't stay open until 11pm? Is it the pub's fault that they don't have an atmosphere to rival the local boozer on a Friday night? Nope, and so the pub need not be impacted because people who have no desire to do what happens in pubs by virtue of them being pubs want to go elsewhere.

Rather than lobbying pub owners to make spaces more appealing to them, how about frequenting the types of places already available and advocate for them to open later, have a broader range of drinks suitable for non-drinkers, and encourage a kind of pub like atmosphere to make them slightly less joyless holes of puritanical face pinching?

Coming back to the original Morning Advertiser article, I think this quote from perhaps the most puritanically named sober bar imaginable is very telling:
"Young people don't want to get drunk anymore...They care about how they look on Instagram"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Question of Locality

Everyone and his mate, it seems, loves to bang on about "local beer", even though as I have written before the whole concept of "local" beer is fraught with problems:
"so often the ingredients being used by "local breweries" are anything but local. Malts come from Canada, the UK, Belgium and sometimes Germany, hops likewise come from a raft of countries, including the latest craze for Antipodean hops. Yeast is sourced from multinational companies with libraries of strains again spanning the globe. Want to brew a witbier? No problem, order a Belgian yeast specifically for use in witbiers, use the Weihenstephan strain for making a German hefeweizen, Nottingham for an English ale, or even Prague's Staropramen for making that Bohemian pilsner you've been dreaming about.

That pretty much leaves the water as the only genuinely local element of a beer, but how many breweries strip their water of all the minerals and salts which make regional water a driving force in the history of developing beer styles and then add back the required minerals for a particular style? Imagine London and Dublin had soft water instead of hard, porter and it's offspring, stout, would likely be very different beers."
That may sound like a strange comment to make given that I am someone that drinks far more beer from the area in which I live than stuff brought in from the wider world. It just so happens that I live in a part of Virginia with plenty of good breweries. If my choices were a third rate local craft brewery and buying Sam Adams in the store, I'd be on the Sam Adams all day long. Drinking local only really works when the drinking is a pleasurable experience rather than an industry induced guilt trip. In all the industry's posturing and waffle about supporting and drinking local (and no doubt some people will say that you should drink local shit so the brewery has funds to improve, as if shiny toys make better beer for a brewer with no sense of taste), it feels as though the locals themselves get forgotten about.

Can a brewery for example truly call itself "local" if it relies on daytrippers and tourists for a large bulk of its revenue, or if the price of a pint excludes its nearest neighbours from being able to drink there? There was a story I read recently about a brewery owner looking for a new location because the expected gentrification of the neighbourhood in which he pitched his tent didn't happen and his target audience didn't feel safe enough to visit his brewery. Now, call me a miserable git, but if you expect your audience to take their lives in their own hands and come to a rough neighbourhood for a bevvy while you wait for potential gentrification then you deserve to go under. If you want "nice" people to come and drop $6+ for a 16oz pint of whatever you are selling then work that into your business plan and go to areas they frequent.

How exactly the presence of a new brewery in a rough neighbourhood benefits that neighbourhood often escapes me. Job creation is often lauded as being a benefit, but then the people that fill the jobs being created are often likewise bussed in from outisde the neighbourhood. Indirect benefits to other local businesses gets touted too, but as daytripping tourists come in their cars, drink their flight, then leave in their cars, I wonder what other neighbourhood businesses benefit? Unless there is a petrol station to hand.

For millennia beer has been the everyman drink and the pub a social leveller, but there are times when it seems as though craft beer is for white, college educated, middle class folks, and the craft beer bar/brewpub/taproom little more than a ghetto in which white, college educated, middle class folks can feel safe from the marauding hoard that is the working class of their imagination. It's almost as though there is an unspoken code that only acceptable people are worthy of craft beer, as the industry and its attendant hangers on sneer at the great unwashed and decree "let them drink Bud".

Friday, October 12, 2018

Favourite Watering Holes

The inestimable pairing that is Boak and Bailey have a list of what look like wonderful pubs over on their blog today, and so in the spirit of shameless plagiarism I figured I would make a similar list. My list, by virtue of bouncing round the world for the last couple of decades needs to have the addition of dates for some places, as they have either closed down, or gone to shit from what friends have told me. In no particular order then, in we dive...


Pivovarský klub, Křižíkova 17, Prague

It really is inevitable that Pivovarský klub is on this list, it was there that 13 years ago on Sunday I met Mrs V after all, and for the next four years before moving to the US it was our local. We lived about a 5 minute walk from the place, got to know the staff really well, had our wedding reception there, and still recommend friends that are visiting Prague to pop in. I remember how revolutionary the idea of 6 taps, 5 of which rotated, and at least 200 bottled beers seemed at the time, opening up a whole new world of Czech beer to me. Most of the time I drank in the cellar bar, sorry my American friends "basement" just doesn't cut it as a description for their subterranean space, sat at the bar, in the corner under the spiral staircase. From my perch I could happily engage in my favourite, well second favourite, pub pastime - people watching. I often tell this story, but one of the things we loved about PK was that we were such regulars that the staff knew exactly what Mrs V wanted to drink without having to ask (Primátor English Pale Ale), and usually had it ready as she sat down. In many ways the feel of the place was Craft™ before it became a thing, you know, stripped brick and shiny metal, with paler wooden furniture than many a traditional boozer.


Zlatá hvězda, Prague, 1999-2009

Comically poor beer, toilets that would disgrace a refugee camp, and an owner that was known to physically throw people out of his pub that were being arseholes shouldn't really make for a place that I loved and frequented regularly, but love Zlatá I did. It was the place that for all 10 years of my stay in Prague I watched football, mostly Liverpool obviously, but not exclusively. With a group of fellow Liverpool fans, as well as a revolving cast of English teachers, teachers at one of Prague's international schools, Finnish chefs on disability who supported Chelsea, this place could generate an atmosphere unlike any other sports bar I have known. Similar to PK, I lived just a 5 minute walk from the place for the last four years of my stay in Prague, and was known to pop in even when there was no football, the cavernous, cool, dark space being perfect for reading the international edition of the Guardian. Shame they never learnt to spell my name for my reservations, but I got used to being "All" instead of "Al".


The Bon Accord, 153 North Street, Glasgow

Only been here a couple of times, but both have been fantastic. A good range of well kept real ales, 25 year old Talisker just one of the superb whiskies available, and an all day breakfast that will keep you going for several days. Both of our visits have ended up with us sitting with owner getting bevvied, and remarkably he remembered us the second time we turned up, some 2 years after the first, so gets additional kudos points for that. During that second trip, on a Friday night, I mentioned to Mrs V that one of the things I miss about British life was Friday nights in the pub, without the need to worry about driving home, sadly in central Virginia regional public transport is non-existant and taxis cost several appendages.


Devils Backbone Basecamp, 200 Mosbys Run, Roseland, Virginia

Some places are worth the hour it takes to drive there, said places are often also a factor in deciding where to go hiking of a weekend, the original Devils Backbone brewpub is one such place. When we landed in Virginia back in 2009, Devils Backbone was just coming up to its first birthday, and our first visit was on a tour of local brewpubs with a friend from the Prague days who was now living in Pittsburgh. That first visit was a bit underwhelming, mainly because the server got our flight all mixed up and let's just say expectations went all awry until we worked out the correct order from the menu notes. In those early years we would pretty often jump in the car to spend Sunday afternoon sat at the bar, surrounded by the taxidermy, reclaimed wood, and superb lagers. It was that commitment to quality lager that pulled me into Devils Backbone's orbit, and I have been a happy lager drinker because of them ever since. Some might baulk at spending money at an AB-InBev owned brewery, but Devils Backbone really looks after their people well, many of the wait staff having been there for almost ten years, and the fact that the beer keep improving as they invest in new shiny toys means I will always be able to get my lager kick satisfied at what I still think of as Virginia's best craft brewery.


Kardinal Hall, 722 Preston Avenue, Charlottesville, Virginia

As close to a German style beer hall as we are likely to get in this part of Virginia, and a pretty damned good stab it is too. Any place where I can get a litre of Rothaus Pils on draft has got to be a good place, add to that the excellent food, and this is somewhere my friends and I pretty often end up after a morning of hiking in the mountains. Admittedly I have to get used to the fact that "bratwurst" in America means something different than in Nuremburg or Thuringia, and so I avoid them so as to not be disappointed, but their Belgian fries are phenomenal. One of the great things about Kardinal is they actually have a decent sized and pleasant outdoor space that when the trees grow to maturity is going to make a really nice beer garden.


The Castle Tavern, 1 View Place, Inverness

The first time Mrs V and I wandered into the Castle Tavern was in 2014 when I took her for her first trip to Scotland, and the first time I had been home in almost a decade. It was Sunday lunchtime and my parents were at church, being good heathen folks my wife and I had wandered along the River Ness and decided it was time for a pint. Said pint was Cromarty Brewing's majestic Atlantic Drift, and in that moment I had found two new loves, a brewery and a real ale pub. Whenever I am home, the Castle Tavern is an essential port of call, anywhere that gets Timothy Taylor Landlord on cask is going to be a place I want to be at. If Mrs V and I move to the Inverness area in the future, it will be a regular haunt.

Photo credits
  • Pivovarský klub: Mark Stewart

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Old Friends: Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale

The brown ale kick shows no sign of abating, at least not in the immediate future, especially given my next homebrew project is to make another batch of my own nut brown ale.

What seems like an interminably long time ago these days, Mrs V and I went for a weekend to Williamsburg in 2010 to mark our 5th anniversary of meeting in a boozer in Prague. Williamsburg was the colonial capital of Virginia, home of the College of William & Mary, (yes, the Glorious Revolution William and Mary), and all round delightful little place to visit for history nerds like myself. We also took some time to head out to an industrial estate and try the beers from Williamsburg Alewerks, these days simply known as Alewerks Brewing Company.


Alewerks' beer regularly shows up in my annual Top 10 Virginia Beers lists, and their Weekend Lager is something that I am always happy to see on tap in the Charlottesville area, and even happier when the first glass is placed in front of me. My first Alewerks crush though was their Tavern Brown Ale, a beer I first had in August 2010 in a pub near Starr Hill Brewing, where I worked in the tasting room at the time, and it was a revelation. At the time I described it as:
wonderfully smooth and tasty, a great beer for sitting on the balcony in the autumn chill and just watching the sun go down over the turning leaves.
Once again the leaves are turning, and while I didn't sit on the deck, I did sit looking out over the deck to the woods at the back of my property, past the garden where the chickens are making a wonderful stab at eating the weeds and clearing out the raised beds.


Anyway, on to the beer itself, which was a couple of bottles stashed at 54°F for a few days. Poured into my Timothy Taylor pint pot, perhaps my current favourite glass. The beer was a deep garnet, with flashes of dark copper around the edges, the small, tan head dissipated rather quickly, and I have to admit that at one point I didn't think I was going to have much foam in the glass at all. The aroma department was dominated by tangy sourdough bread, unsweetened cocoa, and hazelnuts, there were some traces of toffee and caramel, but not much going on hop wise. The bready, nutella theme carried on when drinking the liquid itself, with some added caramelised oranges and spicy hop bite that reminded me of cinnamon chucked into the mix for good measure.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tavern Brown Ale again, and I think pouring it at 54°F as opposed to the usual chill of a beer straight from the fridge accentuated the complexity, making it a more pleasurable drinking experience. The word that kept running through my head as I drained my pint was that this was a "satisfying" beer, complex, balanced, and moreish, the kind of beer that you thoroughly enjoy drinking. It may just have made itself a front runner to be the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2018.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Session 140 - The Round Up


As the host of 140th monthly Session, I asked people to write something about Czech beer, beer culture, or the impact of Czech beer on the wider beer world. I chucked out a few suggestions as well:
  • reminiscences of a trip to the Czech Republic
  • a Czech beer that is your go to drink
  • lesser known styles of Czech beer, tmavé or polotmavé for example
  • the booming craft beer scene in the Czech Republic
  • small Czech breweries that deserve a wider audience
  • a beer you love inspired by Czech styles
So what did the folks come up with?

A new site for me, Franz Hofer is the mastermind behind A Tempest in a Tankard, and his post regaled us with memories of a few days drinking in the Czech capital. His trip included several of my favourite watering holes from my time there, as well as a few new places that when Mrs V, the Malé Aličky, and I eventually get back to Prague.

Over at The Brewsite, Jon admittedly to being "woefully inexperienced" in the delights of Czech beer, other than a keg of Pilsner Urquell at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Tampa. He also lamented that the Full Sail website no longer seems to list any Czech style lagers.

Stan Hieronymus wondered on Twitter if he had gone off topic by writing about Czech hops rather than Czech beer, but given the importance of hops to Bohemian history I have no problem whatsoever with that slight sideways step, especially as it is a very interesting article.

For my own post, I wrote about a pub that I loved when I lived in Prague but seem not to have written lots about on Fuggled, it also helped that said pub sold the wonderful Zlatá labuť Světlé Kvasnicové pivo 11°

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Session 140 - Of Swans and Bulldogs


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.
As the host of this month's Session, I have a confession to make, I have no idea where to go with our common theme of Czech beer. There are so many potential avenues for my post today. I could talk about how that very first half litre of Budvar 10° in a Černý Most pizzeria has lead to a life long appreciate of the youngest of the claimants to the Budweiser name. I could talk about Kout na Šumavě's magnificent 14° tmavé that was the inspiration for Morana, my first brewing collaboration in the US with Devils Backbone. I could regale you dear reader with tales of kicking kegs of rare, at the time, beer styles with noted beer writers like Evan and Max. I could even ramble on about my ongoing mission to find an American made Bohemian Pilsner worthy of the name, thankfully there are a couple available in Virginia - looking at you Port City and Champion Brewing.

As I pondered what to write, I took to looking through pictures that I took in the Czech Republic during the ten years that I lived there, pictures in general and not just beer. In many ways life in the Czech Republic revolved around my favourite institution, the pub. I love the fact that the Czech language has at least 5 words for pub:
  • hospoda
  • hostinec
  • pivnice
  • hospůdka
  • výčep
Naturally plenty of other words for drinking dens have crept into the language, "bar" and "lokál" being two of the more obvious examples. I am sure there are some out there that would want a taxonomical definition of the difference between a hospoda and a pivnice, but it would largely be an exercise in splitting hairs, and thus pretty pointless. The fact remains that the Czech hostelry is to the Czech Republic as the church is to the Southern states of the US, ubiquitous and largely indistinguishable one from the other.


From my experience the pub is the epicentre of Czech life, not just a place to go for a drink. It's the place where after some time you get to know the staff, if not by name then very much on a nodding acquaintance level. If you go often enough to particular places your regular tipple is on the table just as you take off your coat and they will keep on coming until you tell the servers to stop, a tricky proposition when the next beer usually arrived with a finger or so of the current one still in the glass.


Czech pubs are just as much a sociable place as they are a social centre, let me give you an example. You walk into a bar and there are people sat at every table, here in the US you do one of two things, wait for a table to open up or try somewhere else, in the Czech Republic you find the table with enough space for your group and ask if the seats are taken, if not you join that table. There is something about that friendly exchange with a stranger that I miss, maybe because it was this way of doing things that helped me overcome the crippling shyness of my teens and early twenties. When your beer comes, you cheers your new table mates and on you go, knowing the cheers will be reciprocated. In that interaction strangers become acquaintances, and sometimes even friends, and so the pub achieves one of its great purposes as society's greater leveller.


Throughout the decade of writing Fuggled I have no doubt waffled at length about my favourite pubs in the Czech Republic, Pivovarský Klub where I met Mrs V, Zlatá Hvezda where I watched Liverpool twice a week most weeks during the football season, or even Bruska, the place with just tankové Pilsner Urquell on tap, but that was irrelevant because it was a damned good pint every time. One place though that I rarely seem to have mentioned, and also the beer that pulled me there time after time, is U Buldoka - in fact a quick search of the site shows that I have made passing reference to it all of twice. The beer that I drank in U Buldoka was always Zlatá labuť Světlé Kvasnicové pivo 11°, brewed by Pivovarský dvůr Zvíkov. Whenever I throw my mind back to the many, many half litres I drank of this beer, two descriptors come to mind, sherbet and pear drops. Zlatá labuť 11° was a lovely, lovely beer - having not had it in nearly ten years I can't comment on what it is today - and U Buldoka was a great place to sit for an afternoon and just merrily drink your fill.


One of the delights of U Buldoka in winter is the big green thing you can see in the picture above, which I got from the U Buldoka website. That my good people unversed in the ways of Central Europe is a masonry heater, used for radiating heat throughout the room by virtue of a fire in the belly of the beast. These things are phenomenal at keeping a room warm, and so sitting a good distance away in the middle of winter becomes an art form in itself. Come summer, the fire is not lit, so it makes a handy place to prop yourself up against and use for stashing empty glasses. When I was writing the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague, several of the pub tours just so happened to pass close to U Buldoka, so my photographer Mark and I would finish up the chosen route for the day and then pop in for a pint or several, well ok then, just several. U Buldoka has so many of the things that I associate with a "good pub", dark furniture, dim lighting when the evening comes (nothing worse than glaring light bulbs to ruin a place's atmosphere), good beer, efficient staff, and simple but filling food. There are times when I would like nothing more than to take my twins for a stroll along the Vltava, perhaps from Čechův most down to Smíchov, crossing the river a couple of times, finishing up at U Buldoka for a well earnt pint or several, oh who are we kidding, several.


May be one day Mrs V and I will get back there, until then there are always the wonderful memories.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Session 140 Announcement - #Pivo


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.

I was wondering to myself what the theme would be for this month's iteration of The Session, and so on looking at the list I realised that there was no theme for October. A quick scan through themes passim revealed a glaring topic omission, so I pinged Jay and Stan and hey presto they agreed to let me host The Session again!!

In the autumn of 1999 I jumped on a bus at London's Victoria Bus Station and spent the next 20 or so hours making my way across Europe to the mother of cities. The Czech Republic, most specifically Prague, would be my home for the next ten years, although my original plan had been just one year and then moving on to visit as many former Soviet countries as possible, best laid plans of mice and men, and all that jazz. I still remember my first Czech beer in situ, I'd had a couple of Czech lagers as a college student in Birmingham, a half litre of 10° Budvar in a little pizza place among the paneláky of Černý Most. Beer was to be part and parcel of life for the duration of my stay in the country I still wistfully think of home. That my dear readers is the theme then for The Session this Friday, Czech beer. You could write about any of the following:
  • reminiscences of a trip to the Czech Republic
  • a Czech beer that is your go to drink
  • lesser known styles of Czech beer, tmavé or polotmavé for example
  • the booming craft beer scene in the Czech Republic
  • small Czech breweries that deserve a wider audience
  • a beer you love inspired by Czech styles
So let's has a love song to Bohemia and her beers, the land that gave us the original pilsner, and so much more.

A Virginian Oktoberfest

This weekend sees the culmination of the ur-beerfest in many people's minds, Oktoberfest. While I have never been to the only Oktoberfest worthy of the name, nor actually do I have any ambition to go - beer festivals being generally not my thing - I do enjoy the Oktoberfest style lagers that are practically de rigueur at this time of the year.

Last year I bought myself a load of examples of the style to do a comparative tasting, only one of which though was from Virginia. Seeing as though our local Wegman's has a reasonable selection of beer, and customers can build their own 6 pack, I did just that, but with only Virginia brewed Oktoberfest lagers this time. The chosen six being:
In the fine tradition of Teutonic efficiency, I will dispense with the waffle and dive on in to my modified Cyclops tasting notes...


Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Sight - amber, burnt orange, full inch of ivory foam that lingers
  • Smell - bready malts, a touch of hay, spicy hops, traces of cinnamon
  • Taste - bready again, think the crust of a Stollen, muted hop bitterness that fades, clean finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Not a bad start to the tasting for sure, and I have to admit to bashing a fair few pints of this on Wednesday night in DC whilst at the conference. The body is medium to full, with a slightly slick finish that the hop bite just manages to overcome and make this a really easy lager to drink. As ever, Devils Backbone know how to make a good lager.


Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Sight - light amber, half inch off white foam, little visible carbonation
  • Smell - subtle breadiness, some floral hops, traces of graininess
  • Taste - sweet malts, not caramelly just sweet, like brown sugar, floral hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Fuller bodied than the Devils Backbone, almost voluptuous. The sweetness flirts with the idea of being cloying but the hops bring it back into focus. As it warms though is starts to get a bit flabby around the edges, but still a fine beer.


Legend Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep amber, light red highlights, thin off white head
  • Smell - cocoa, milk chocolate, toasty notes
  • Taste - toasty, cocoa, nutty, like nutella.
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
Not a particularly interesting beer to be honest. The cocoa/chocolate thing was really distracting, and the body was lacking, even veering toward an unpleasant thinness. Lurking in the background was an ickiness that I found really difficult to ignore. Blah.


Brothers Fest Bier
  • Sight - dark golden, light orange, inch of off white head
  • Smell - grassy hop aroma, suggesting Saaz or Tettnang, some light toast
  • Taste - juicy malt sweetness, brown sugar, herbal hop bite
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Again a medium bodied beer, though with a slick mouthfeel that the clean finish just about managed to scrape away. Not one that I would hunt out but decent enough in a pinch.


Smartmouth The Princess
  • Sight - light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - sweet Munichy malts, floral hops, touch of lemongrass, slight hint of corn
  • Taste - well done toast, dulce de leche, floral hop bite
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Medium bodied with a noticeably slick finish, really lacking a good hefty hop bite and clean lager finish to improve the drinkability, an odd vegetal note became more prominent as it warmed. Nope, not doing that again.


Port City Oktoberfest
  • Sight - amber, light orange, half inch off white head that dissipates quickly
  • Smell - light toast, floral hops, brown sugar
  • Taste - biscuity, touch of crackers, subtle honey
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
And a good beer to round out the selection. Rich rather than sweet and thankfully with a nice clean lagery finish that refreshes the palette. In the background were some nice subtle orange flavours going on that added to the complexity of a very nice beer. Yay for Port City!


The aim of this tasting was not to rank the beers, but I have to admit that I would only actively chose 3 of the 6 to drink again, the Devils Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Port City ones. So as Oktoberfest proper winds down this weekend, grab a six pack of one of them, a packet of proper German bratwurst, a tub of Dusseldorf mustard and go to town...prost!

Monday, September 24, 2018

What Impact Temperature?

While drinking the Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale used for last week's "Old Friends" post, I tweeted the following:



Having tweeted out this minor rantette, I decided that in the interests of science I would conduct a little experiment. Earlier that day I had purchased one of Sierra Nevada's Fall Packs, containing three bottles a piece of Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale, Torpedo Extra IPA, Vienna Lager, and Ruthless Rye IPA. I put a couple of bottles of Tumbler into the wine cooler, which sits at 54°F (12°C), and the third bottle in the fridge, at about 40°F (4.5°C), and there they remained for a week.

Yesterday I pulled the beers from their cool places in order to do a comparative tasting, though again in the interests of science I wanted to make sure that the same process was followed for both glasses of beer. As such I used the same US pint glass for both beers, washed between pints and allowed to settle back to room temperature. This decision was a sop to the kind of people that would claiming using different glasses would have impacted the aromas and flavours - I have done a mass experiment on this before and concluded that different glassware is largely irrelevant, other that parting a fool from his cash.

I also decided that I would leave an hour between drinks, and have a goodly amount of water to cleanse the old palate in order to avoid recency bias of the taste buds. First up then was the bottle that had been sat in the fridge.


The beer poured a rich chestnut brown, deeply luxuriant, and capped with a healthy half inch or so of dark ivory foam, too pale to be light brown, too dark to be plain ivory. The head just sat there, and sat there, and sat there, leaving a delicate lacing down the glass. The aromas coming through the head were lightly toasted bread, a bit of medium roast coffee, but mostly it was the smell of a pub carpet. I realise that sounds unappetising, but it is a smell that reminds me of going to the bar in the Sergeants' Mess when I was a kid, before dad would give us a stack of 10p pieces and tell us to bugger off to the pool room while the adults drank. The overwhelming taste was a nutty, medium dark chocolatey thing that was smooth with a roastiness that never bordered on the acrid, brought back in to focus with a clean hop bite. With the fridge beer thoroughly enjoyed, I cleaned out the glass and set it to one side for an hour.


After a hour of playing with my twin sons, and generally romping in domestic bliss, I came back to the experiment and poured the cellar temperature bottle of Tumbler into the now dry and room temperature glass. Again the beer was a rich chestnut brown, though as I poured there was a significantly bigger head, about an inch and a half, but it settled down to about the same half inch as previously, again lingering for the duration of the drinking, leaving a marginally more impressive lacing. The aroma was that of freshly baked bread, sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder, and a subtle floral hop thing going on. Missing entirely was the smell of a freshly opened boozer. This time the beer tasted of rich chocolate, with a light coffee roastiness, and the hop bite came with an earthy spiciness that didn't seem to be there in the fridge version.

This experiment was not about trying to prove that cellar temperature beer tastes better than refrigerated beer, but about the sensory differences induced by temperature. The colder beer had a smoother mouthfeel, as the hop bite evident in the cellar temperature version was missing almost completely. The cellar temperature had more pronounced malt flavours, not different, just deeper, and the body was fuller, perhaps rounder than the refrigerated one. One thing I wasn't really expecting was that the cellar temperature beer seems to have a more evident carbonation that the fridge one, which may explain the elevated hop character in that version. I wonder what impact being bottle conditioned had on the experiment, and perhaps I will perform the same experiment again with force carbonated beers.


One thing that was certainly clear from this experiment is that Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale is an excellent beer, and was perhaps just the right beer for this experiment on a dreich afternoon. In my excitement each year for the new Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, I have overlooked what was once my favourite autumn beer, what a foolish thing to do. Perhaps brown ales are once again due their moment in the limelight, preferably without silly shit and fripperies to keep the trendseekers happy, just good old fashioned brown ale, as brown ale should be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

More Than Less

I will just come out and say it, I like a drink.

That fact is probably the main reason I seek out session beers whenever possible. Unless I am in the company of good friends, I am the guy that will sit at a table and be very much on the periphery of the conversation. It's just as well I am something of an amateur anthropologist, I love watching people and how they interact, though it does mean I tend to drink quicker than a lot of people I know, and that's where session beers come in. I simply wouldn't want to drink 5 or 6 imperial pints of standard strength craft beer (between 6.5% and 7% in this part of Virginia) and then drive myself home, regional public transport being something akin to unicorn shit and the Brexit dividend.

For a while a couple of years ago it seemed as though everyone and his mate was jumping on the session beer bandwagon, though this being the US they wanted to say 5.5% abv beer was sessionable. Given that my definition of a session begins at the fourth imperial pint, these beers felt like some cruel joke. For those unaware of Lew Bryson's vital work at The Session Beer Project, let's remind ourselves of his suggested guidelines for an American session beer:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced
Forgive me for being cynical, but there are times when I wonder if anyone is paying much attention to anything but the first point in the definition, maybe the second, though again being grumpy I would say that most session IPAs are too flavourful.

The other three points though appear to be willfully ignored. A sweet and sour fruit infused faux gose is not balanced enough to have multiple pints, remember a session begins at the fourth imperial pint - 4 imperial pints of a watermelon gose? Not fucking likely, most samples of the gack are difficult enough to get through, let alone a US customary pint.

Even though I tend to be the quiet guy on the edges, it is session beer that eventually gets me in to a place where I am happier to jump into conversation. God that makes me sound like some right uptight git, I am just not much of a talker when there are more people in a group that I don't know than I do. After a few pints though, I'll loosen up and dip my toe into the waters of the conversation, and we'll see where it goes, the beer though conducts me into the conversation.

Much like the pricing restrictions of Reinheitsgebot, the idea of reasonably priced beer is conveniently forgotten by all and sundry. For example, during American Mild Month I routinely saw dark milds between 3% and 4% being sold for between $5 and $7 for an imperial pint, the same price as some 7%-9% abv beers on the same beer list. Now, pardon my french, but that is taking the fucking piss. Charging the same price for a 3.5% mild as an 8% double IPA simply smacks of gouging the customer and reaping a much bigger profit margin on the beer.

There is more to creating a session beer than simply being technical with the ABV. To truly have session beer there needs to be an environment where the best bitters, dark milds, and pale lagers are as an attractive proposition as some extreme hop bomb or malt based fruity alcopop. Session beer thrives when the beer culture is one of drinking pints with your mates rather than cruising breweries doing flights. I fear we are starting to lose that culture.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Old Friends: Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

One of my favourite days of the year is fast approaching, the September equinox. The equinox marks the proper end of summer and the onset of cooler temperatures, nights slowing drawing in, and taking the dog for a walk in the gloom. Autumn and winter have always been my favourite seasons, I am not much of one for heat, and even less so when that heat is overload with lashings of humidity. I am one of the few people I know that would be perfectly happy in Narnia, pre-Aslan overthrowing Queen Jadis that is.

The last few days here in central Virginia have been rather dreich, which is actually far more welcome than the possibility we were looking at this time last week, when Hurricane Florence was forecast to batter the Commonwealth. So, in the midst of all this rain, and with the boys settled for the night, I cracked open my latest old friend beer, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.


Samuel Smith's is surely one of the least fashionable breweries on the planet, and a nut brown ale quite possibly the apogee of old man uncool, yet they make magnificent beer for which they are rightly lauded. In common with all the other beers I have chosen for an "old friends" post it was the realisation that it had been so long since I last had Nut Brown Ale that prompted me to pick up a half litre bottle while doing the weekly shop recently.

When I say recently, I mean a couple of weeks ago. For some reason the last couple of weekends have been pretty light on the booze front, I've enjoyed a few pints with lunch but when the evening comes and the boys are put to bed, I haven't fancied anything at all, and so the bottle sat. Thankfully said sitting was in our wine fridge, that's an official term given it has a ratio of 7:1 beer to wine in it, at a steady 54°F - perfect cellar temperature.


As I poured it into one of my Sam Smith's pint glasses, an annual treat to myself is a mix pack that comes with a glass and a few beer mats, a couple of things came to mind. Firstly, clear beer is a beautiful sight, and this was absolutely crystal clear. Secondly, that it was much lighter in reality than in the crevices of memory, where I expected a deep milk chocolate brown there was a shining polished mahogany, with flashes of auburn chestnut. God, this is a thing of beauty. The half inch of ivory foam that remained after I had scraped a knife across the rim lingered, and lingered, just sitting there like an obedient dog.

It's all good and well for a beer to look the part, ultimately it comes down to smell and taste, and Nut Brown is laden with subtle cocoa aromas, earthy hops, and a trace of coffee in there for good measure. Most of the aromas carry on over into the taste department, to be joined by something not unlike a slightly singed piece of toast with a spoon of rich dark honey on top, which tasted far better than it sounds. The malt definitely dominates here, but there is enough bitterness to ensure the beer doesn't cloy.


Nut Brown really was a wonderful beer for a dreich evening, smooth, comforting, autumnal, it was great to get re-aquainted and remind myself what fine company this is. As I sat looking out of the window at the rain pattering on the deck, I realised that brown ales have been scarce in the Velkyal household of late, that needs to change.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Timothy Taylor Landlord - A Public Service Announcement

I have waxed lyrical in posts passim about my love of Timothy Taylor Landlord. Whether bottled or on cask, it is one of my favourite beers on the planet. It is one of the models I used when creating Bitter 42 with Three Notch'd, and is a constant point of reference in my homebrewing efforts when I make best bitters.

Not too long ago the beer underwent a brand refresh, which included a change in the label on the bottled version. Below are the old and the new, with the old first.



On various trips to bottle shops I would see Landlord, but with it's former guise and so I avoided it as I don't want to spend money on out of date beer, my assumption being that the presence of the older label was an indicator of old stock. Well, it turns out I was wrong in my assumption.

Apparently the process of getting a new label approved by the TTB here in the States is so onerous that the decision was taken to maintain the old label for the American market rather than suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous bureaucracy.

From what I have been told by the brewery, the beer has a shelf life of 12 months, and the date on bottles is a "best before" date rather than a "born on". So, American fans of classic English beers, check out the date rather than making my mistake, and enjoy probably Yorkshire's (and by default England's) finest with all the requisite aplomb!

Get thee to a bottle shop...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Florida Finding

As I mentioned in my Top Ten Virginia Beers post yesterday, my little family and I got back to Central Virginia on Sunday having spent a week at the beach in Florida. Most years we go down to Daytona Beach for a week of sitting by the pool, reading copious amounts of books, and generally getting gently toasted as the beer flows. This being the first year with the twins in tow, I failed to read the one book I had with me, got hustled into actually going to the beach (I grew up on an island in the Hebrides and hate sand with a passion), and somehow managed to not finish the 2 12 packs of Sierra Nevada beer that I bought while there.

One thing that Mrs V and I had in mind though was to leave the boys with her parents for a few hours and actually go out on date. Not having family around in Central Virginia to provide free babysitting services means alone time of just Mrs V and I is very much at a premium. When we were discussing where to go for our date, we wanted to avoid the many cheesy tourist traps that Daytona Beach has to offer, and our (well ok then, my) experience of the local craft beer scene has been universally meh. Surfing around the old interwebs, I came across a brewpub in nearby Ormond-By-The-Sea called appropriately enough Beachside Brew Pub.

Situated in a smallish industrial unit within easy walking distance of said beach and the Atlantic Ocean, Beachside from the outside doesn't really look at that promising, never judge a book by its cover folks. We took a couple of free seats at the bar, the crowd seemed to be mostly locals rather than tourists like ourselves and looked over the menu.


When it comes to choosing flights, I have a method that is basically, pick the simplest, most classic styles, and if a brewery does those well then I am happy to try some of the other options, as such from the list above I went for the:
  • 2 - The Pale - American Pale Ale
  • 3 - Gleaming the Cube - Altbier
  • 9 - Amber, The Blond - American Amber Ale
  • 11 - Soignies Stout - Belgian Stout


I didn't take copious notes, I was on a date with my wife after all, but all 4 were more than solid, and in The Pale pretty damned good. Mrs V also had The Pale, as well as Wil Watermelon Wheaton, Beachin Blond, and Heffy's Weizen, of which she stick to the Beachin Blond for the night. Suitably impressed I went on to try the remaining beers, with the Hurricane Swell Double IPA being the standout, yes dear regular Fuggled reader you did read that right. However, it was The Pale that drank for the rest of the night.

Our original plan had been to come down, have a pint and then move on elsewhere, as it was we stayed for a few hours taking advantage of their "rec room" with pool tables, darts, and table tennis. Mrs V and I decided to re-enact our honeymoon and play some darts, with me introducing her to the scoring of a classic game of 501, which I then went and lost.


One thing that really deserves a shout out here is the service, it was excellent. I don't recall our bartender's name, but she was simply brilliant and really made us feel welcome, especially as she and Mrs V traded twin mother battle stories.


One thing I loved about the place was that it seemed to be a local hangout, with a collection of folks known to the bartenders, in an almost Cheers! like way, it was charming. Should you find yourself in the Daytona Beach area, I really recommend getting along to Beachside and support a good local business, well 2 really as they have a daily rotation of food trucks, though we didn't have any food while we were there.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2018

It's that time of year again. On Sunday I drove Mrs V, the Malé Aličky, and Honza the Cairn Terrier home from South Carolina, having been south for a couple of weeks. Coming home from our fairly annual week in Florida is one of the signs of the tail end of summer, another is my annual list of the top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk in the last 12 months.

So without further ado....let's dive on in.
  1. Blue Mountain Brewing - Dark Hollow (10.0%). No that is not a typo, a barrel aged imperial stout really was the highlight of my drinking last year. It is fairly common to read blog posts and tweets about how all beers have their time and place, usually in the context of a paid up member of the craft beer drinking guild having a cold, often adjunct laden, pale lager whilst on holiday. The time and place in question here was at the first evening session at the fiddle camp my wife and I have attended each of the last 3 years. Up in the mountains of Highland County in western Virginia, a bottle of Dark Hollow was the only beer available at the hotel bar that actually appealed to me. It fitted the context, mood, and atmosphere perfectly.
  2. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Virgindia Pale Ale (5.2%). Probably another surprise for regular readers of Fuggled, a hoppy pale ale makes the list! VIPA is made using Virginia grown barley and hops, making it asas much a local beer as is really possible, oh did I mention it's delicious? Hardywood opened a satellite brewery in Charlottesville a couple of years ago and being the abysmal beer tourist I am, it took me until this spring to actually bother to make it round. When finally I did, I had a great Sunday afternoon drinking with Mrs V and our friends while watching the collective brood of children. VIPA was a lovely beer, positively dripping with American hop character, that late spring afternoon, and has since been a fairly regular tipple as summer has worn on.
  3. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Still my go to beer when I darken the door of South Street, which is nowhere near as often as I would like now that I no longer work in the centre of Charlottesville. The subtle interplay of malt and noble hops make this a beer that simply goes down far too well. I think a few pints are in order this weekend with brunch....
  4. Alewerks Brewing Company - Weekend Lager (4.8%). I love this beer, simply love it. Of the recent spate of Helles lagers that have done the rounds in the craft brewing scene, this is one of the best, and whenever I see it on tap at a restaurant I know what I'll be drinking, especially with a Sunday brunch, when a litre of this little beauty pairs dangerously well with a plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and sausage, Just saying, like.
  5. South Street Brewery - Munich Dunkel (5.6%). My Virginia Dark Beer of 2017 and a cracking interpretation of a classic lager style. You may have noticed a common theme with the kind of beers that make this list, balance and drinkability are important to me, and Munich Dunkel has it in spades, and thankfully doesn't use caramel malts to achieve the subtle sweetness that lingers in the background of the beer, mmmmmmMunich malt!
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.8%). If there is one thing in life you can rely on it is Jason Oliver's ability to brew a solid, nailed on German beer. To mark Mrs V's first Mother's Day we took a little family trip to Nelson County to visit one of our favourite wineries, and while out that way decided to pop into Devils Backbone. One thing I love about DB is that for all their growth, and the new distillery is an impressive addition, they really haven't changed in the slightest. Still churning out world class beers in an environment which is welcoming, friendly, and somewhere I would go far more often if it wasn't an hour's drive. The Alt Bier reminded me of Schumacher Alt, and there is no higher praise than that really.
  7. Champion Brewing - Dorty South (5.4%). You don't see that many Dortmunder Lagers around, so when I popped into Champion Brewing on my way home from my previous job, having slunk out early because it was simply too depressing to sit in cubicled corporate hell much longer, to find they had a Dortmunder on tap I knew what I was going to drink. Dorty South is a lovely, toasty, clean, lager that has a delightful balance of malt heft with hop bite, I may have had several pints....
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Mild Marker 20 (3.6%). One of only a couple of redeeming features of an afternoon spent in the new Three Notch'd brewpub watching the Champions League final, the other being hanging out with a group of friends for the first time since the twins were born. Brewed to a recipe that won a homebrew competition down in Lynchburg, this was a nice solid English style dark mild, suitably balanced and quaffable, with neither hops nor malt dominating. There was only one thing missing, the beer being pulled from a beer engine with a sparkler and at the correct temperature, but I am ok to wait a few minutes for things to warm up.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). My porter kick continues, both my own homebrewed ones, projects with Three Notch'd, and drinking an absolutely glorious beer from Alexandria, VA. I read recently that Port City is starting to distribute to the UK and I would encourage all of my British friends to stock up on Port City Porter when it hits Blight's shores. Rich, filling, and practically lascivious, this is my beer of choice on many a winter's night.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (5.2%).Earlier this year I started a series on Fuggled called "Old Friends", where I went back to beers I had once loved but for various reasons not drunk for a while. Coming back to DB's iconic Vienna Lager was like that moment in Ratatouille where Anton Ego is transported back in time at the taste of the ratatouille prepared for him. Obviously I wasn't transported back to childhood, but back to my early days living in Central Virginia, 9 years now, when Vienna Lager was a very common site in my fridge, and a trip to the brewpub was a regular occurrence. Toasty, floral, clean, and most importantly of all just plain good drinking. It also served as a reminder that being a part of Anhesuer-Busch hasn't ruined the beer, nor the company for that matter.
I say this every year, but this is a strictly subjective list based on my drinking in the last 12 months. I am not interested in trying to define who or what is or isn't craft, I just want to drink beer I enjoy. If you have any suggestions of beers that you think I would like then feel free to make add it to the comments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Unknown Sierra Nevada

I am on record across various forms of social media as being an unrepentant fan of Sierra Nevada Brewing. I have absolutely no qualms about saying they are probably my most trusted and favourite craft brewery in the United States today. Whenever Mrs V and I are in South Carolina you can guarantee that I will be stocking up on various SN products that are rarer than hen's teeth in Virginia, and also significantly cheaper in SC. For some reason the beer distribution and retail folks that service central Virginia believe that the following SN products are not worth carrying:
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Kellerweis
  • Nooner Pilsner
Well, to that list you can now add Southern Gothic and BFD.

I came across these new-to-me SN beers the other day as I was wandering around Bottles here in Columbia, SC, and wondering how I was going to unwind after the 7 hour drive. Nooner was a given as it is one of my favourite German style pilsners made in the US, but it was the first time I had seen Southern Gothic, bearing those magic words on the can, "unfiltered pils". Yeah I was sold pretty much immediately, so into the cart a six pack went. The only problem was that there were no six packs in the fridges, dear god people is it too much to ask that lager always be stored in the fridge? Anyway, staring into the fridge for something to drink while waiting for Southern Gothic to chill, my eyes landed on imperial sized cans of a beer called BFD, and at just a couple of dollars for a pint of a Sierra Nevada beer I bought two.


Admittedly I had to check out Sierra Nevada's website for a description of the beer as there was nothing on the can to give much away, other than an ABV of 4.8%, very much in my happy zone for drinking. According to the beer's page, it would be "unfussy, uncomplicated, hoppy blonde ale". They forgot to say just what level of perfection is was too. I didn't take notes, but an imperial pint travelled from can to belly in about 5 mouthfuls over 3 minutes, hitting every single spot necessary along the way. Seriously, this is approaching the perfect summer beer. No silly fruit flavours, no bullshit gimmicks, just a damned good blonde ale that works as both a lawnmower beer to crush quickly and a complex beer that warrants a good few minutes to take all in.


A pair of BFD cans suitably polished off, the Southern Gothic was starting to approach drinking temperature, so it was time to carry on with the afternoons imbibing. Billed as an unfiltered pilsner, I was expected a bit more cloudiness to this one, a sign perhaps that beer being unfiltered has become shorthand for mirk, and as all good beer l overs know unfiltered = mirky beer is a false equivalence. How delicious was this beer? Damned delicious that's how. The interplay of hops, malt, and yeast is superb, leaving the drinker refreshed but not satisfied, longing for more. For comparison sake I had a can of Nooner in the mix too, and Southern Gothic has a more rounded, almost softer, character doing on. That's not to say that Nooner is brash but rather that Southern Gothic isn't as dry and crisp in the finish as Nooner, and while it has a classic lager snap to it, Nooner's clean snap is more prominent and pronounced.

Neither of these beers have, as a far as I m aware, graced the shelved of central Virigninia, so I guess I'll be stocking up...

Friday, July 6, 2018

#TheSession 137: Mitteleuropäisches Bilé Pivo


This month's Session is being hosted by Roger at "Roger's Beers...and Other Drinks", and the theme as stated is:
German Wheat Beers. I would like to clarify for myself the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc. I’d love to read about the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history. Yeah, whatever you’d like to say about German wheat beers will be great.

I wish I could remember what my first weissbier actually was, though I well remember the occasion. I was at college in Birmingham, West Midlands not Alabama, and it was the British equivalent of spring break. There was a small coterie of folks at the college I went to who didn't go home for the week of spring break due to distance. The Outer Hebrides being a 24 journey home meant I stayed in Brum, my best mate Cristi is from Timisoara in Romania, so he didn't go home either. Being at theological college and training for ministry, we were officially discouraged from partaking in the devil's brew, but most of us would have the occasional pint at weekends, oh and I could tell you about a reasonably well known evangelist who was on the idiot box post college absolutely pissed as a fart one afternoon. Anyway Cristi and I had decided we would go to a concert during the break. The Mutton Birds were playing at the Flapper and Firkin and before the gig we wandered into a different pub on the canal, got a couple of pints and sat at a table outside, next to said canal. As I said, I had a pint of weissbier, it being 1998 it was probably Schöfferhofer or something, all I really remember was thinking it was rank to my untrained mind. I had half a mind to pour it into the canal, but it looked polluted enough as it was. I wouldn't touch wheat again until I was living in Prague.


Fast forward about 8 years to 2006, a group of my mates and I were in Pivovarský klub before heading to our regular haunt to watch the footie and one of them is raving about this German wheat beer that they had available, lo and behold the very same Schöfferhofer comes to the table. On a spur of the moment I decided to get one as well, just to see if my tastes had changed, fully expecting to hate it. My tastes had indeed changed in the intervening 8 years and so I had a couple more. The next time Mrs V and I went to Pivovarský klub I tried the Primátor Weizen and I liked it a lot, maybe more than the Schöfferhofer, I was getting a taste for wheat beers. On a trip up to Berlin in 2008 I had a pint or two of Memminger for breakfast, weizen was now a confirmed part of my drinking life.


Something that I was not aware of though as weizens took an increasing share of my drinking habits was the existence in the Czech Republic of "bilé pivo", which translates into English, in common with "weissbier" and "witbier", as "white beer". Apparently "bilé pivo" in Bohemia predates weizen in Bavaria and most historians of beer believe that "bilé pivo" migrated from the former to the latter before falling out of favour in its homeland, so much so that great Czech brewer František Ondřej Poupě is famously quoted as saying "wheat is for cakes, oats for horses, and barley for beer". Today weizen is making a comeback in the Czech lands, both under the modern Germanic name and the older Czech term.


All this thinking about Central European Wheat Beers got me thinking about my need to get back on the homebrew trail, twins inevitably take up the majority of free time that used to be used for brewing, and as soon as time allows I think I will brew another batch of my own "bilé pivo", which I call Böhmerwald, the German name for Šumava on the Czech/German border, which in a nod to the Bohemian origins of the weissbier style is hopped 100% with Saaz and is a lovely later summer thirst quencher.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Blackwall Sails Again

Of the various brewing projects I have done local, and not so local, breweries, I think Blackwall London Porter is perhaps my favourite. It is the only one to have picked up a gong, taking a silver medal at last year's Virginia Craft Beer Cup, it is the only one to date to have been bottled, the label is pretty much as I envisioned, oh and it was a damned fine beer. That's not to denigrate any of the other beers I've done, just that Blackwall has a special place in my beery heart these days.


This weekend sees the return of Blackwall at the original Three Notch'd tasting room here in Charlottesville, but only 2 barrels worth. Why so little? Well it all started a few months ago...

Three Notch'd have moved their main base of operations to a large brewpub facility on the other side of Charlottesville, and the original brewery and tasting room have become their sour house. When I heard that they were going to be producing more soured beers, I sent the brewer responsible for that a message, suggesting that given Blackwall's 19th century roots, we should look at aging a batch in order to get the brettanomyces character that was an integral part of well vatted porter. Brian, the brewer, was enthusiastic about the idea, it was just a case of finding time to do a run.

Eventually, using the original Three Notch'd pilot system, a 3 barrel batch was brewed, with a single barrel being put into an oak barrel, with brettanomyces added for good measure. How long will it sit there? Not sure, we haven't talked about it yet, but as I said, the unaged version of Blackwall has been kegged and will be available from this weekend at the tasting room.

I am confident it won't last long, so if you're around, get out and get some. I might pick up a growler or two, and a bottle of Orval for the dregs to do my own souring.