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


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.


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.

Best Beer Ever!

Shock, horror, a new post at Fuggled! Yes, it has been a while, but mitigating circumstances, I have been heads down writing my first book, ...